Escaping The American Dream
 

May 2, 2014

10:00 am European Time

Paris, France

 

Butterflies tumbled over each other in her stomach, racing to get out of the plane as it landed, unsure of what to expect but anxious to arrive nevertheless. All the sounds hit her at once, swirling streams of French flowing about her head like a swarm of gnats, dodging smells of croissants, sweat and coffee, each new sensation swallowing her whole, and suddenly she felt like she was drowning or floating, she couldn’t tell which. Bumping into and off of travelers like one in a thousand inside a pinball machine, the weight of her backpack controlling her movements, swaying her into and away from those she passed. Heart racing and hands sweating, she raced to the closest bathroom, dropped her bag and sat on the covered toilet. Head in hands and two deep breaths, she let herself accept what she had just done. She had left. Escaped. She was alone. This was happening. A woman knocked on the bathroom door but she didn’t answer, she just let the stranger keep fumbling with the locked door. One more moment of peace before she entered the chaos and the unknown. Breathe. 1,2,3 … she was gone.

There are a thousand moments in life whizzing by you, missed opportunities, mistakes, chances … they fly past you at the speed of light like a galaxy of unrecognized stars, blurring into background noise. One can grasp them, take hold and take flight, or ignore them all together. Some are monumental and some insignificant, but moments all the same, choices to be taken or passed up. But some moments change the course of a life. Some stars, previously seeming so far from reach, are only caught with a massive leap, without knowing for certain if you’ll catch them at all, and even if you do, whether you’ll be able to hold on through the ride. Those are the chances that most of the world passes by, the stars too fast, too bright, too high and too far to grab hold of. Most of the people stop recognizing them all together. But those are the stars that can change everything. And this was one of those moments.

Something happened with mankind between the time civilians built pyramids and towers to reach the gods in the sky, and the place where they unknowingly put a ceiling in that sky, masked as the “American Dream,” a way to reach the top. Somewhere between 5 and 10 years old, I realized that the “you can be anyone or anything you want to be,” motto of our culture was a scam. What they really meant was, be anything you want to be within this box that we have defined as America, reach for the stars, but wait … no, not that star … these stars, down here. Follow the sequence, fall in line, be a productive member of society, but dream big.

And by 10 years old, the facade began to crumble already, and my tiny prepubescent brain found the first holes in this lie that I had been told. By 17, the amount of reachable stars became even smaller, and by 21, they were borderline chosen for you. Here are 5 stars you can ride; here are the steps to get there. An artist? That’s interesting, but what’s your real job? How are you advancing? How will you reach the top. Art could never get you the American Dream. An actress, a musician, a writer … they got you a pat on the head and a sympathetic, patronizing smile - that’s a nice hobby, keep it up, but don’t quit your day job.

It was early on that I felt jipped, betrayed and lied to by all those encouraging adults and parents who had raised me. How dare they tell me to dream big and then box me into confines once I did? This is not what I was promised. This was not freedom. This was not the land of the free that I had been taught, where possibilities were endless. It was a billion tiny ants racing and climbing atop and smothering one another up the mountain to reach the peak first. Each of them knew there wasn’t enough room there on top for all of us. But if you “dreamt big” and “worked hard” and “played by the rules,” maybe you’d be one of the lucky few who surpassed the rest. This, is by no means, any dream at all.

I have a hard time believing our forefathers foresaw this when empty land and unchartered possibilities were vast. But there was no more room for everyone to profit, no more room for artists and dreamers who sought beyond what was put in front of them. Money. Money got you the American Dream. And what sort of dream was it anyhow? Get good grades in school, do extracurricular activities not for the joy of them, but for what they will get you in the next stage, get into an elite college, make connections, score a coveted internship, go to graduate school, get your masters, get in with a good company, hospital or firm, marry the person who comes at that precise stage where society has told you that you should be married, but make sure you’ve accomplished the aforementioned tasks beforehand, God forbid you don’t have a secure career and a comfy nest egg before you bring life into this world. Plan out the lives that you will bring in and how many according to your income, abort the lives that do not coincide with this plan or may cause it to fail. Throw yourself into your job until you’ve reached the top, and then climb higher. It doesn’t matter if you enjoy what you're doing - you’ll have time to enjoy life later- when your money and your children have grown. Retire comfortably and then seek out your heart’s desires. At this point, the sky is the limit- whatever your 70 year old bones could want. Look back on your life and know that you’ve have done well.

Something about the whole script just didn’t sit well with me. It never had but I couldn’t figure out why I seemed to be the only one who realized this flaw, this grotesque injustice, the only one who felt betrayed and lied to - told to dream as big and far as I could fathom, and then told to reign it back in with a pitying and condescending smile. And as much as I tried at times to mainstream myself into accepting it, into following the steps I was meant to take, achieve the milestones at the precise times laid out for me, tick off the boxes, complete the checklist, I just couldn’t accept that this was the “Dream,” that this is what people fled from countries across the sea to obtain. It wasn’t a dream, it was a paint-by-number staircase with footprints to follow. It wasn’t big, or bold; it wasn’t limitless or life-giving. It was calculated, planned, all lined up for you. A “How-To-Guide” to life, an all-you-can-eat buffet with 3 options, a beautiful brochure with fine print. You can have anything you want. You can do anything, be anyone. The sky is the limit. Your life is yours to create (*Please see fine print for details: You're choices range from A-Z but please choose one of the following options- A, B, or C. We are currently out of stock on D-Z.)

Now, wait a second … this is not what I signed up for. This is not what I was promised. Why didn’t anyone read me the fine print when I was 5 years old on Daddy’s knee listening to him tell me to be all that I could be. I felt crazy, like the only one who had found the holes in this blueprint. Everyone else went along, filing in two by two, ready to take the next step. And that's when I knew. I had to go. At 25, the only thing I was entirely sure of in my small life was that I would regret it forever if I did not at least find out. And the only thing I feared more than leaving itself, was never leaving at all. 

 
The Stillness
 

I love the night, after the world has gone to sleep. There is a stillness, a peace, a creative silence that I can't find in any other time of day. When all the minds have gone to rest.... that's when mine comes alive. 

Up on the Teia mountainside, a cooing Summer breeze is the only thing to accompany me tonight. My thoughts come alive. I can almost hear the soft whispers from the sea, carried in the rustle of the trees, dancing along the 15-minute clock church bells ... it's the only reminder that I am not alone. 

I can't remember when I began to crave the silence, but I do recall a time where I filled every empty moment with noise, although I can no longer remember why. Silence, I found, is the music that we often forget. Just as the melodies and rhythms make a song, so, too, do the breaks and hesitations. You cannot have one without the other. Otherwise, the song is lost entirely amidst the chaos. 

I may not be able to write melodies, string a series of magical chords, but I hear them all around me. I hear them tonight in this breeze, in the closing of shutters next door, the distant barking of a dog, and the rustling of palms. A faded Catalan argument in a nearby house, the clinking of pots and pans, and the scratching of pen against paper- all sounds suffocated and lost in the light of day. 

In these moments, I can hear my thoughts clearly. I can feel the words swarming up within me and emblazoned on my skin. Sometimes they do not come until my head has hit the pillow and my weary body craves sleep. Only then do they come baracading through the gates, demanding to be heard. 

Some nights I repeat them over and over as they come, draped in blankets and heavy eyelids, too tired to get up and capture them, willing them to be there when I wake. They never are. Other nights, I groan, giving into their persistence, and tossing the covers aside, I grab my phone, lap top, or journal, scribbling them down like they ceaselessly demand, before crawling back into bed again, angry at their disturbance, but slave to their inspiration. Sometimes, the words come out in a waterfall, like a flowing river after a broken damn. Other times, they float in as mere sentences - beautifully constructed words woven together like musical notes that at the time mean nothing to me at all. 

Most times, I'm not sure I'm the writer at all. Without the pain and agony of desperately trying to a pull a story out of a blank page or painting an image as if carefully unweaving every single thread from a quilt, I can't possibly claim the words as my own. Without this magic and inspriation, writing can be like trying to carve The David out of a block of tar, and every sentence is a painful crack in the chiseling of the rock. But these other moments are much different. In these moments, I am only the vessel, the pen who furiously etches the words that come from some unknown place before they have vanished. Like trying to capture the wind as it blows through your hair, or the rain as it trickles through your fingertips. In these moments, laziness cannot be afforded; sleep cannot be surrendered to. For in the morning, these melodies are always gone, their song passed along to someone else. And no matter how hard I try to recapture and recall their rhythm, it never fits again. 

And so, I sit in the back garden of a modest, Spanish house, in an unrecognizable Spanish town, scribbling words as they drift in on a midnight, July breeze while the town sleeps, after groaning and surrendering to their call, dragging myself from bed just as sleep had settled in.

If it's a single raindrop or a wisp of inspiration that wakes me, in the form of a single line, I know that after capturing it, I will be released and find sleep soon again. But it's these tidal waves and sandstorms that sabotage my following mornings and I know once my pen hits the page, that sleep tonight has already passed me by and tomorrow will be hell. 

 

But the song is nothing without the silence. In fact, it isn't a song at all. 

 
Reckless Living
 

Always looking up at the sky, her earnest face searched the southern French skies for her father’s plane. He was due back from Peru any day now, she said. She knew each plane by owner and color. Whose was whose and whose was not. A pale, make-up-less face peering from behind a wild mane of dark, unruly curls. Lisa is 15 but with all the confidence and independence of a woman who has been on her own for 35 years. Bounds of childlike energy with an air that demands respect not only from horses but from everyone.

The day was bleak - the sky grey and the earth brown, barren trees and muddied fields. I had been living in Eaunes in the South of France for approximately 5 days and today was the first I’d done any living. Everything was cold and wet, dismal. Even the white coats of the horses were muted, matted with caked brown earth.

I hadn’t seen a saddle since I’d arrived at this place and my heart raced as we approached the horses without them, but I followed Lisa with a false confidence never-the-less, willing an aura of horsemanship credibility that I had promised but absolutely lacked.

She tossed me a bridle and lead and nodded towards Telissa - preposterously tall and proud, her chin held in the air, jerking away from me each time I tried to fit the bit into her mouth. She hated me already. I watched as Cochise ran towards Lisa, the stumpy and short male of the three, a fat canvas of reckless white and brown paint. The pony had been given to Lisa as a child and he rejoiced in her homecoming. Eagerly, he allowed her to fit him with the reigns. Failing miserably with Telissa, Lisa stepped in and struggled with the youngest, untamed, white lady for me, bridling her and handing me the lead, I followed as she led Cochise out of the messy field, undressed and unsafe.

“Mom wants you wear helmet,” she said tossing me a classic English, her sentences broken and restricted. I put it on without hesitation albeit noticing that she did not have one on herself. “Try get on,” She instructed while holding Telissa’s lead still.

Laughing nervously, I looked from her collective face, porcelain and cloaked in youth under a black hood, to Telissa’s white coat high above my sight line. Um ok.

“Go,” she nudged. Three embarrassing jump attempts had me bouncing off the horse’s side backwards as Lisa giggled.

“I show you,” she said sweetly as she backed up and with a fistful of Telissa’s silver mane, swung her body on top of the great beast. “Now you,” she dismounted.

Several failed attempts that left me feeling at least 700 pounds and not the least bit athletically coordinated had Lisa lending me her hand as she hoisted me atop Telissa’s back.

We started off slow as Lisa assessed my bareback skills, which were little to none. (And by little I mean once. And by once I mean nearly dying in a Fijian stampede.) I held my head high and did all I could to look in control but my body swayed with every step of the horse beneath me, each of her hips sending mine upwards, swaying left to right. Side by side, I looked down at Lisa, my feet at the level of her seat on the pony.

“She feel what you feel,” Lisa cooed from Cochise once front of me, “You need feel peace.”

I was terrified. The woods were muddy and the trail scattered with fallen branches. Telissa tripped over the rocky downhill terrain constantly, stopping at a whim and turning on will, determined to dispute any commander. Riding without a saddle was worse then riding a bike without peddles, a motorcycle without breaks, a rollercoaster without a seat; like driving a car with your hands tied behind your back. My legs hung limply against her muddied white sides and Lisa’s boots hung off my heels, far too large for my feet. With every sway of her hips, my body rocked, unbalanced and unsure. With no stirrups to brace myself in, every trip of her feet sent my legs instinctually clenching around her sides to keep myself afloat, sending her mixed signals that I wanted to go faster. I did not want to go faster.

Desimo,” Slow. I repeated as she pushed to trot.

“She know if you scared,” Lisa called back and I strained to make out her words soaked in a French smog. “You think oceans and calm days and she feel that.”

Telissa’s knees buckled underneath me reminding how high and fragile I was atop her - completely at her mercy. I watched as Lisa yanked and scolded her pony in commanding French, owning this wild horse completely. Closing my eyes, I breathed in deeply - all the fear and uncertainty- envisioning the slow lapping of breaking waves on an abandoned beach, the caress of soft sea breeze against my face- swallowing the feeling and breathing it out slowly, demanding that it leak through and out of me, trickling down through the horse, calming both of our nerves. Over and over again.

Dusk began to fall and the mud trenches of the uphill climb had the horses sliding and begging to turn around. Lisa called out a command in what must have been her mother’s harsh German, slapping the backside of Cochise, urging him forward and I reluctantly pressed Telissa to follow, although completely on the horse’s side and inwardly begging to turn back. With every slip of the hooves in the sinking mud and heart-dropping buckle of the knees, my life flashed before my eyes. Breathe in. Ocean waves. Warm sand. Soothing breeze. Breathe out.

“Okay we switch,” Lisa hopped off of Cochise at the top of the hill. The gutted trail stretched forward before us in a slow and steady increasing slope. I looked down at her confused. “Switch. We run now. Galoper” She urged.

My eyes grew wide and I shook my head, realizing what she meant, “No, I’m not ready.”

“You good balance. I watched,” she nodded in reassurance.

“I’m scared,” I laughed to mask my panic. All of my insides clenching up in pure fear. Falling off of a galloping bareback horse on a beach in the open was one thing, but here in the woods with the fallen tree branches and muddy hills was entirely another. All the lies I had told Ursula on our first Skype meeting to obtain this helper position piled up in my head like sudden overdue library books. Yes, I’ve been riding all my life. (Once a year on a guided walking tour where I don’t have to do a thing.) Yes, I’m comfortable riding bareback. (Once. A few months ago on a beach in Fiji and almost killed myself.) Of course I am comfortable riding alone when you are away. (Never have I done such a thing.) These were not the American stable horses I had ridden before. They were anything but. Wild through and through, just so happened to be owned by people but free to roam the land, resisting any control what-so-ever.

Oui,” Lisa nodded calmly against my resistance, her feet in the mud with Cochise’s reigns in her hand. He pulled against the lead, back tracking and stumbling, pushing forward, eager to run. “They know galloper here always,” she responded in answer to the horse’s eagerness.

I had no choice now. Lisa was either trustworthy or completely reckless and I couldn’t decide which but there was nothing to do now but to obey. Alone in the forest with this girl I had just met who I could barely communicate with and a horse who hated me that I absolutely could not communicate with. I relinquished Telissa’s reigns to Lisa and dismounted; the borrowed. oversized rain boots sinking into the mud underneath my feet. With no one atop them, the horses bucked and yanked against us; Lisa’s arms stretched between the two holding both of the reigns. The mud beneath us like a river sliding - a quaking foundation - and my heart raced harder. Everything in me told me to refuse this but there was no way back but to ride. Lisa crouched and locked her hands next to me, and propping my left knee in them, she sprang me atop Cochise. He immediately disliked me, resisting anyone but his beloved Lisa, tramping in the mud, hoof after hoof, shaking his head and yanking against the bit, dark hair like fence wire whipping against my arms in a temper tantrum.

We struggled to get a footing on the incline, Cochise and I, while Lisa attempted to mount a rebellious Telissa, and suddenly I was relieved to at least be given the smaller stouter Cochise in comparison to the white haired wild beauty.

“You grab some hairs, like this,” Lisa nodded to her own fists, her hands on the rains, open palms and spread fingers, she clutched the horse’s mane at the roots, “You hold tight.Won’t hurt them.” I craned my neck backwards watching and waiting as Lisa situated herself atop Telissa, steadying her rampage. She was stomping like a race horse behind the gate waiting for the gun to go off but Lisa didn’t seem to notice. She spoke calmly and patiently.

Before I had time to turn and tangle my own finger’s in my beast’s mane, it was too late. Cochise took off, thundering weight against the slinking earth, beating loudly into my chest. My feet flapped against his brown and white stained sides as I bounced above his back, desperately resisting squeezing my legs around him - God forbid he go any faster. I yanked on the reigns, pulling backwards, begging him to slow but to no avail. Terror flooded through my veins. I couldn’t hear Lisa behind me. I could see nothing but brown forest, nakedly cracked and aching trees leaning in on each other above my head like death traps, I ducked out of the way as the path curved and waned in-between them. Completely out of control with no ocean waves or calm breeze within me. White knuckled, I clutched my fingers deep into Cochise’s salt and pepper mane at the roots and closed my eyes. I was immediately anchored into his strong body, mine pressed down against his, I leaned forward, opening my eyes, now secure, as he led me wildly through the forest at speeds I had never imagined reaching, propelling us forward, leaping through the air.

Holding myself steadfastly against him now, I let it all consume me. No longer was I clumsily bouncing along against this creature, but gliding with him. I felt wild. Insane. Instead of falling through the sky at a million miles an hour, I was flying. We were one. Man and beast. Rising and falling together. Our breath heaving through our chests in rhythm, punctuating grunts each time we hit the earth again, the weight sending pressing punches against my lungs like a dropped beat. I could feel the overwhelmed smile spreading through my being before I knew it was on my face and I if I had any breath to laugh with, I would have. For I was truly, completely and wholly alive. Finally.

 
Kristen Thomas
Fear, Love and Magic
 

February 9, 2015

kris fear love .png

There is an extreme distinctness about this that feels crazy, a deja vu, a primordial warning ... the tired kind that still hasn't relented after all this time, sighing and flagging the situation, in vain, as dangerous, knowing all the while that I will walk right into it anyhow. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I asked myself what the fuck I was doing, at least 57 times on that drive.

The French back country road wound around and between the trees like a rubber band, slinging us forward into the darkness; the night ominous and vacant, the chill of midnight February air held still - all of our surroundings in a time capsule, frozen at bay. The remnants of what could hardly be classified as a town, scattered and long since abandoned. With no street lamps, the only movement - the stark shadows of tall trees cast in the car’s high beams before us as we crept onward.

“Um,” I leant forward to better see the driver’s GPS from the back seat, squinting in the blackness to make out the directions, and then up towards the eerie abyss in front of us. “It’s saying that the house is just up this road a bit, right?” I bit my lip, glancing nervously at the calm faces of the strangers beside me as the silver four door sedan climbed forward.

A German, an Austrian, an Indonesian and an American. All strangers headed to different places in the name of some common direction, inhabiting the same car, brought together by chance and convenience. I had shared cars with so many strangers before but on this February midnight on this uninhabited, pitch black country road, I wondered again if this was all some elaborate scam to kidnap and eat me. I looked down at my dead phone, pressing the center button repeatedly and willing it to come alive. Dead. I was alone.

I had never met the woman they were delivering me to, and the notion that they were all in on the scheme together crept its way up the back of my throat. Maybe there would be a ritualistic sacrifice and field burning and I’d melt away into a pile of smoke and ashes without anyone knowing where I had disappeared to. I would never be found again.

I thought of Steve, having only left him 8 hours ago in Paris, of his gloved hands on my cheeks, his misty blue eyes, holding tears captive behind a penetrable film of glass, piercing right into mine. I had stood for a long while on the corner of that street in the grey morning, after our goodbye, watching the blue double decker bus that ripped us apart, taking him back to London and leaving me to head south- further into the belly of France. The warm face I had come to know so well disappeared behind black tinted windows as his bus rolled forward, but I could feel his palm pressed against the window looking back out at me, and the tears ran down my wind burned cheeks, freezing against cracked skin as soon as they slipped.

Sometimes you fall in love all at once - reckless and face first. But most of the time, you fall slowly - a collection of moments, a tangle of yarn starting with a simple twist, braided strands weaving together, until you wake to find that you are so completely knotted in one another that there's no foreseeable way to pull back apart. And that’s how it was for me with him. Slowly but inevitably, like the trickling of a downward stream.

The right side of my head, pressed to the cool back seat window, left a foggy halo of condensed haze against the glass. Rolling, French hills raced past us; the cacophony of German, Austrian, and Indonesian language hummed about the car, a swirling buzz, leaving me in a dazed sort of state outside of time. Beyond the glass, the world outside was magic. It was one of those setting skies that seizes you whole instantly. The kind of light that pierces the clouds tangibly, forcing you to resist every urge to reach out and touch it. And you just know that Heaven is looking down upon you in that glow. Someone has to be. The metal windmills, scattered across vacant fields, churned on in its presence and it struck me as odd that we would ever think to harness such forces with something as powerful as that sky so far from our control. I didn’t reach for my camera or my journal. I just sat, inevitably going south as Steve traveled north, watching those three fluorescent vapor trails scorching the sky. Tiny but powerful like rockets blazing on. And I knew wherever he was, he was watching them too.

“I think this is it,” The driver, Phillip, announces as the wheels slow in a steady rumble against the gravel.

Fingers on the door handle, I squinted out into the darkness as the sedan came to a halt, and could just make out the silhouette of two figures aside the road waving, a weak light straining through tall hedges behind them, casting warped, slender, giant-like shadows stretching out towards us against the road. Taking a deep breath, I thank these strange travelers, open the backseat door and get out.

Phillip follows first, exiting the driver side door, making his way to the trunk. Startled, I turn back to the car as the passenger door opens, as well as the remaining backseat door. Exit the German, the Indonesian, and the Austrian. This was it- they were all in on it - this plan to burn me alive. One by one, they each hugged the strange French woman who I was about to spend the next few months of my life with, took my bags from the trunk and gathered round her and her boyfriend like they were saying goodbye to old relatives. (Or Hello to partners in crime.) I thanked them each again, kindly and urgently, willing them to go before this did in fact turn into some ancient deity sacrifice. They seemed hesitant to leave and I wasn’t sure which I was supposed to be more afraid of - my deliverers or my welcomers...

 
Dear. God. America.
 
Original Sketch by: Kris Thomas @agypsybreeze some many years ago

Original Sketch by: Kris Thomas @agypsybreeze some many years ago

August 2, 2015

Maryland, USA

The Darkest Hours of Night

Home Is Where the Heart Is?

There is something ineffably ugly that creeps up inside me now. A sinking sort of desperation to fight above a surface that is fading out of sight. I can no more explain it as I can categorize the feeling into a single compartment.

To avoid sounding like a complete traveling brat, I refuse telling others that they couldn't understand and keep the world knowledge I’ve gained over the past year to a three word minimum when called upon - “It was amazing” - “You have no idea” - “I don’t have an answer to that” ... which usually follows asinine questions such as “What’s the best place to go/ the most intense place" (seriously … what does that even mean?)/ "How did you do that by yourself" to "But what about the sex slave trade? Haven't you ever seen 'Taken'?” Please stop. You're an embarassment to yourself and your nationality. ( I'm talking to you, America.)

But in all seriousness, after leaving my job and home 14 months ago to follow my dream of traveling the world, embracing as many of this beautiful earth’s cultures, foods, and wines, and writing along the way …. coming back to America is more than just a *culture shock.* If I were to embrace hyperbolics (which, lets be serious, I always am) it's a depressive induced panic attack. And I spend every day plotting ways to get deported from my own country.

With 3/4 of a book written, a 6 month journey turned into 13, and bank account fumes, I landed at JFK for what I promised myself “a brief visit" on June 13th. Though I had no set plans of where and when I would get out again, I felt confident that I would. I started without a plan and I would continue with what scrape of one I had accumulated.

Now I sit outside on my parent’s deck at 4:48am with an ice pack strapped to one eye with a rubber band like an inept pirate patch to numb down the tears and swelling before work tomorrow. Seven weeks home and it’s now all finally leaked out.

Let me be perfectly clear - I am so beyond happy and grateful for this past year’s experiences. I am grateful to everyone who supported me and grateful to myself for pushing beyond my comfort zone and following my heart. That is a decision I couldn’t regret in a thousand life times. But still, America calls and landing doesn’t come without the responsibility of working within this corporate world; I have to pay off those debts somehow.

Waitressing and Bartending are a routine that I’ve done ever since I was 18. Like riding a bike, right? Yes, exactly like riding a bike. Riding the same red, white and blue slave ship of a bike the rest of our country is and suddenly, I’m scraping at every circumstance and memory and horror I’ve experienced over the past 13 months abroad to keep me sane, to remind me it wasn’t a dream, that I really did escape this. (How the fuck am I back in it?)

“It’s a means to an end,” “You’ve experienced so much worse; this is nothing,” "You are strong. You are brave. You are an adventurer," "This is just one more brief expedition," are mantras I repeat to myself on a daily basis as I serve the city’s finest steaks and wines to guests. And it’s not bad. It’s really not. But I can’t find the heart or the soul to live in it. I can’t find a way to care, to assimilate, to be one of *them.*

It’s not the place, it’s the ideology of our country that I can’t get behind. The entitled and the slaves to the world, working so that they can keep working. It’s even more stupid to me now than it was before I left. My mind drifts to afternoons alone in the South of France writing or painting by the sea or horseback riding in the country side, anonymous and blissfully at peace doing what I love. The memory single handedly gets me through the day while simultaneously handicapping me.

As for the future, I’ll have to play this game for awhile until I can find another way out. And trust me, I will find one. That I’m sure of.

In the mean time, let me re live the past *unwritten* 7 months with you on here.... Enjoy. 

 
A Letter: The Bitter Truth
 
"For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has been 'No' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something." - Steve Jobs

"For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has been 'No' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something."

- Steve Jobs

... A raw, honest, and unpoetic status between then and now ...

 

My Dear Readers,

Yes, I am still alive. I know it's been awhile since you've heard from me (I admit this behind the monkey emoji covering his eyes) and I am so sorry about that. So much has happened since I last posted - good and bad. I have hundreds of new stories for you all, and have been compiling and hoarding them all for myself (evil laugh.) Kidding! I have been saving them all for the book I have been working on for the past year (slowly but surely), finding it hard to determine which stories I should release and which I should hold back, saving them for the adventure compilation. However, it's been too long and due to popular demand, I have decided to release small teasers / excerpts from what I am working on for you all to wet your appetite until the final product comes to fruition.

First, a quick update for those who don't know me well and haven't heard from me since my last post when I was in Budapest during the winter of 2015. The following 5 months were unlike any of the previous ones. If I didn't have a plan before, I had less of one then, making my way to different homes and exchanging work for accomodation and food (no, not prostitution, you filths.) I was completely broke and determined to keep traveling until I was running on fumes.

I ended up returning home to the States June 13th, 2015 - sunburnt and bleached blonde with libraries of tales and negative $7000 to my name -  and I've been here since. Because you have been so loyal and amazing to me, I feel that I owe you the truth, though I hate to admit it some of it. Adjusting to life back at home was a devestating and crushing reality shock to say the least. To distract myself and due to necessity, I got a job right a way to pay off the unsurmountable mounds of credit card travel debt and each month in, I sank further and further into the black hole, losing vision of what was once so completely in my grasp and all the peace, hope and assurance I had found on my trip. I no longer wrote (in fact, it took me 5 months to start writing again and pick up where I left off on my book); days and nights blended together between work and sleep as I numbly tried to pass each one fervently and quickly until I had enough money to leave again, piling up dates on a calendar like cinder blocks from rubble. (The next post will be a dark one from this mentioned time - be forewarned.)

It has been an uphill climb and I am still hiking, but today, I am more determined to finish my book than ever before, and to not leave you hanging in the balance meanwhile. I am re-committing myself to engaging your imaginations through glimpses into the adventures I had that you never got to see, and promising you my honesty even when it isn't pretty. I hope that you enjoy these little blurps as much as you did their predecessors and that one in seven may spark a desire in you, inspiring you to go after the world in its entirety.

Keep in mind that the following posts will be excerpts from the book and therefore leave you hanging, purposefully.  Please feel free to comment and give feedback. I love to hear what you all think / want. Any recommendations for posts or answers to travel questions or advice you desire is always welcome. 

I am truly grateful and blessed beyond words for all of your support, encouragement and patience over the past two years. It means more to me than you could ever know. You are what keeps my dreams alive <3 

 

All my Love,

Your Gypsy Breeze 

 

P.S. A Gypsy Breeze Pt III is already set and just around the corner. A new adventure awaits and I couldn't be more excited to embark again, taking you all with me!

 
A Gypsy Budget PT II : Austria and Hungary
 

3 Weeks. 6 Countries. 8 Cities. 500 Dollars.

GERMANY. CZECH REPUBLIC. AUSTRIA. HUNGARY. ITALY. FRANCE.

~ Berlin. Prague. Vienna. Trumau. Budapest. Milan. Florence. Paris ~

 

A Gypsy Budget PT II: Vienna, Trumau, Budapest

 

Austria

Oliver is a strange man, stranger than strange, with a catcall laugh that makes my skin crawl. Somewhere in the dead of night on a road I can’t follow, I sit behind him as he whizzes through the darkness, cackling at every turn. Nige is asleep on my shoulder and I am now positive that Oliver is on drugs. Bla Bla Car wins again.

On the outskirts of Czech, rising up from nowhere, lies a seedy line up of casinos and strip clubs. This, Oliver explains, is the future according to the Czech Republic. A mass attempt to squeeze every last euro (or more specifically Koruna) from weary travelers before they cross the border into Austria. I offer up a silent, panicked plea that this mad man doesn’t count this as a usual stop and let out a sigh of relief as we pass the neon lights, whizzing through the vacant border control and into Austria.

---------

Hidden amidst the snowcapped Austrian Alps; on the outskirts of sleepy Trumau, lies an ancient, forgotten castle from 1138. After 5 very grey days; the sun has finally decided to show her face and at sunrise today, she’s never looked better. Pouring pinks, purples, and oranges over the old, majestic stone; reminding the schloff that he is yet to be forgotten.

How we found ourselves here at a Theological Institute an hour outside of Vienna is another story entirely, but somehow we had arrived - a British boy and an American girl, strangers to each other only 9 months ago. The Catholic dormitory rules were only to be expected and I laughed at Nige’s bewildered stares that first night at everything from the separate floors to the Jesus cowboy serenading us during dinner. The days creep by in frozen darkness and we cling to every last penny we have, eating boxed granola and wondering what we are supposed to do here in this desolate little town.

The bitter January air is slightly less offensive that last morning and even the horses are prancing in the sunrise, their mahogany manes dancing behind them as they welcome the sun’s return. Gone is yesterday’s black hole, its grey sky draping the dead earth in gloom. Today the sun is triumphant in her waking, piercing the past and rejoicing in a new day, illuminating every oak branch and blade of grass in its presence, and I’m thankful for having seen Trumau like this before we leave.

Back in Vienna, the city comes alive for us on our last Austrian day, and we are like new people. Former shell casings of human fragments on that first day in the bitter cold, surrounded by grey and eating makeshift ham sandwiches in the shelter of the underground subway. Today, the city is full of life; daylight dancing playfully off of every grandiose building and peeking out of each cobblestone alley. We hate to leave now when we’ve only just begun to appreciate the place in our last hour, but impulsive decisions had been made the night prior and instead of heading to Munich and Switzerland, we were eastern bound. This close to Budapest, we simply couldn’t pass it up.

 

Hungary

Salvo is a simple man and it strikes me as odd again that we are traveling across country borders alone with a man who can’t understand our language any better than we can his. But we are and it’s actually not weird in the slightest. The road is long, vacant and dark, blanketed in a sheet of snow and we wait out the 4 hours between this country and the next.

We arrive in Budapest all at once. Roads bordered by spectacles of nothingness suddenly open up to a city draped in gold. Refracting light showcases each majestic building on the Danube, lest you forget in darkness who rules this place. Excitement floods our veins again and we are like giddy children in the backseat, oohing and aahing at every building we pass by.

Salvo drops us off at some sort of decaying glass castle that parades as a train station. Below the earth, we await the metro, Nige proudly leading the way, some sort of metro genius whose directional skills apply only to underground railway systems, no matter what language. A rickety rail cart rattles its way to a stop next to us and my jaw drops observing the rusted pale blue exterior. It cannot be any younger than 220 years old and looks as if the last maintenance it endured was in 1820. At 11pm on a weeknight, we stand crammed in-between exuberant Hungarians as the train rumbles along the underground.

Arriving at a small and seemingly vacant guest house atop a long winding hill, we are met by the owner. A Helga-type, small, round woman with a face permanently set in disapproval; she leads us up the stone staircase and into a back room only big enough for a bed and then disappears. I drop my bag and let my body hit the mattress. The blanket on the bed feels like a cheap napkin and the pillowcases which had only been laid atop the pillows fly off under my weight. Well, it’s a bed at least and a private room which is more than we can say for the previous part of the trip.

The “common kitchen” is actually Helga’s own, hidden in the basement where her entire family lives. Her teenage daughter lay groaning on the couch as we make our soup in silence next to her, eyeing each other and trying not to laugh. We are the only guests here. Just the two of us and Helga’s family. None of them speak a word to us, feigning ignorance that we have invaded their home.

I love arriving new places by night, the mystery that lies in the darkness is discovered all over again the following morning. Reluctantly, I allow Nige to wake me before the sun on one of our last days and drag me outside into the silent chill of a January sunrise over Budapest. Sat atop the highest castle somewhere far above the world below; a grey indistinguishable city is doused in light, slowly, gracefully illuminating its peaks and domes in all their glory.

Way up here, observing with the birds, I can imagine the crawling hustle beginning below. The street cars screeching to a stop as the people busily make their way to where they need to be. The smell of chimney cakes as the bakers wrap their sweet dough around coal cylinders. Goulash wafting under wooden doors and the joyful shrill chatter of Hungarian children.

But not up here. Here – this place is mine. Before the tourist busses flood in and the cafes open. Just me and my castle peering down on a world far below.

We awake on our last day to the realization that our ride – Ragu (yes, like the tomato sauce) – has utterly screwed us over and we now have no way out of Budapest. Our gypsy budget lifestyle hits its first snag and we are forced to book a very expensive, last minute train back to Vienna and then a subsequent one to Milan. An unhappy Helga awaits us as we pack up and without a word escorts us out the front door, promptly locking it behind us.

 

The 14 hour overnight trek is straight out of the Polar Express. White sky. White earth. White wind. I don’t sleep much. Actually, I don’t sleep at all. I watch silently as the falling snow whips past in the darkness, blanketing the train somewhere on European terrain. I listen but there is no sound other than the steady rumble of the wheels against the track beneath me and I feel further from home than I ever have, small and insignificant on this night train lost somewhere in this whiteness.

-------------------

Okay, so here are the overall / average Poverty Numbers:

FLIGHTS

€30 London to Berlin (Ryanair)

€40 Milan to Paris (Ryanair)

€70 Total

 

FOOD

€5 per day

(Can easily get by on €1.65 x 2 meals + box of cereal for week. However, add to this what you may to factor in restaurants if you desire. We relied on cheap groceries and food stands.)

€105 Total

 

TRAVEL

€6 – €10 per day

(Assuming BlaBlaCar averaged €18 a trip, and €72 in total;  roughly €4 a day plus an average €5 day travel pass on metros whenever available)

€126 - €210 Total

 

ACOMMODATION

€5.14 per day

(Mix between hostels, hotels, couch surfing, and 3 nights of charity. However, if you couch surfed the entire time your accommodation expenditure could be nil.)

€97.68 Total

 

EXTRAS (Wine, coffee, ect.)

€1.25 per day

€23.80 Total

 

TOTAL AVERAGE COST

Per Day :

€20.59 - €24.59 = $22.40 - $26.75

(excluding the 2 flights)

Overall :

€422.48 - €506.48 = $459.57 - $550.95

 

.... Road trip continued in subsequent post.

 

Want to plan your European road trip on A Gypsy Budget? Contact me for advise, travel tips, and answers to your detailed questions for free at agypsybreeze@gmail.com or post your questions here under this post and connect with nomads from all over the world!

 
Kristen Thomas
A Gypsy Budget PT I : Berlin & Prague
 

3 Weeks. 6 Countries. 8 Cities. 500 Dollars.

GERMANY. CZECH REPUBLIC. AUSTRIA. HUNGARY. ITALY. FRANCE.

~ Berlin. Prague. Vienna. Trumau. Budapest. Milan. Florence. Paris ~

A Gypsy Budget Part I: Anywhere But London

My 28 days with my pack of British misfits (http//www.agypsybreeze.com/apps/blog/show/42480241-snow-white-6-dwarfs-a-joffrey-pt-i ) in London was up and I had to go unless I wanted to be deported. Anxiety riddled inwardly as money dwindled. I knew the decision to come to London in the first place as soon as I had returned home in November was one that was not approved by my family or friends, but I had done it anyway. And I wasn’t ready to go back yet.

First things first, I just needed a ticket out of this country and I figured I could work out my next move once I exited. A cheap one-way ticket to Berlin was booked impromptu over careless whiskey dreams around 3 am and this time I was dragging one of the guys with me. Nige had 3 weeks off in between jobs and as always, he was eager to jump aboard A Gypsy Breeze.

It was the day before departure over lunch with Nige and his Dad that I realized how foolish I must look. I had no plans and no answers to Mr. Prescott’s questions about where we would be going, what we wanted to see and how we were going to travel. Really it didn’t matter where we were going; all we knew is that I had to be out and we weren’t ready to say goodbye so we were going anywhere but here. The phrase, we’re just going to wing it, was met with a bewildered and confused stare and I cringed inwardly knowing that my travel philosophy was not going to go over well as an explanation to anyone, especially any further border officials I might come into contact with that may be as angry as the one I had encountered at Heathrow airport on my way in.

Five hours before our early flight, a makeshift sketch of a plan was drawn. I had $500 left to my name and nothing coming in anytime soon. A wiser girl would have packed up her things, booked a ticket back home with that money and called it a day, but I wasn’t ready to quit yet. I lived for this thrill. We set a challenge for ourselves: 6 countries, 3 weeks, and $500 to get us from Germany to Paris where we would part ways at the end of the 3 weeks – Nige going back to England and me getting on a plane home unless I figured out a next move free of charge. We decided on Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Munich, Switzerland, Amsterdam and France…. an outline that would change course the further we traveled. We’d plan our next move in the current city we were in and so forth.

Germany

Descending into Germany was like falling into a grey abyss. The sky was grey. The ground was grey with dirty snow and the buildings were grey. It was freezing. Half expecting the German guards to deport me to America immediately less I reek havoc on another European country, I shakily handed my passport to the man behind the glass. After thoroughly inspecting me up and down and flipping through every page of the worn little book, he stamped me through and I heaved out relief as I entered.

Berlin was a strange place. Half of it in ruins and the other half built up with modern cityscape structures. It was all very grey and militant, as one would expect Germany to be. Heavy smog hung low over the ground leaving the earth indistinguishable from the sky. I wondered if we might be hidden from the rest of the world, some lost piece of land under this cloud, undetectable from those above, looked over and passed by without recognition. No one in. No one out.

The days lulled on- gloomy and sad with an oppressive presence that the people long ago seemed to give up on lifting. They carried on, as one often did in such conditions. But I couldn’t help but wonder … Did they remember what the sun felt like? The way daylight dances off of the rivers and buildings?

 

Darkness fell and gave the city an eerie glow, a beautiful brokenness. The Brandenburg Gate lit up at night powerful and victorious, proudly welcoming a past that stood before destruction. And the ominous Holocaust Memorial shrouded in moonlight with its stone rectangular blocks, taller and taller the deeper you crept, engulfing you in the sorrows of a thousand nameless faces.

 

In Eastside Gallery, strangers passed the colorfully graffitied Berlin wall ordinarily on their way to work and I wondered if they ever forgot the history here and what it represented. Dragging my fingers against the cool stone as I walked beside it, I wondered what it might be like to grow up here caged in by this wall before it was just a symbol. How many hands had touched this spot where mine now lay? How many men and women looked up to the top right here and dreamed of the day they could be reunited with their families on the other side? Were the tears of the long forgotten broken-hearted stained on the stone behind this paint? I wanted to be a part of them, to leave my mark that I was here. Rummaging through my purse, I found a dark red nail polish and painted my message into the wall with the rest before it was time to move on.

Prague

We had survived the first three days off of German street side currywurst and cartons of wine, rationing our money as best as possible. It was time to move on and it was decided, Prague simply could not be overlooked as we traveled south.

I introduce Nige to Bla Bla Car, a surprisingly “reputable” (if you could call it that) car sharing service I had used a time or two in my travels. Our driver is a very matter-of-fact German named Ivano. He picks us up after dark at the airport, hollers a bit about us being late, drives fast and sharp and then drops us off in Prague a few hours later. An impossibly tall youth helps us find our way through the metro, although Nige wouldn’t be inclined to admit as much, confident in his metro navigation with a hint of resentment for the 3 feet the boy had on him. The city is cast in darkness as midnight encroaches. We only have one day in this city but I’m determined to be swept away.

 

Prague by daylight is a different thing entirely. It’s cold and wet, snowing and grey. But as soon as I step outside this morning, my heart swells and I instantly regret only having one day here even before its begun. The colorful buildings and ornate architecture are something out of a whimsical fairy tale. Music and church bells fill the air and even on a cloudy, snowy day in January, I am in love immediately. Bubbles dance through the air everywhere, dashing color against the grey sky. Magic wafts through the air hinting of cinnamon and every turn down each street is more majestic than the next. This is the Europe I love.

There is so much beauty and old world glamor here compared to Berlin. I don’t know what I expected from the Czech Republic but it certainly wasn’t this. The temptation to see and do everything, cram in all the sites into 9 hours was not one that tempted me. Instead, I only wanted to do one thing… I wanted to get lost in Prague, swept away in its magic, so that is precisely what we set out to do. One day could never be enough and yet it captured everything we hoped to find.

With his frozen hand tucked into my mitten, we made our way down the cobblestoned streets, leisurely turning down each curving, narrow road we pleased in anticipation of what we'd find next. My eyelashes fluttered to see through the snow flakes and I giggled at his red nose. "What?" Nige asked in that adorable sideways, shy grin, blinking his bright blue eyes.  "Nothing," I smiled and swung his arm as we passed a bread shop, the air outside it swirling with warmth and exotic spices. 

Here in this moment, on this winter day, in this foreign European city, it seemed inconceivable that this was the same boy from under that bridge in Lisbon. That we were those same two strangers that had just happened to meet on that sultry night last June under that Portuguese full moon. Now, 9 months and 6 countries later, we were lost to the outside world, swept away in Prague...

 

 EXPENSES:

Flight - London to Berlin: €30 with Ryan Air

3 Days in Berlin:

Bratwurst/ Currywurst - €1.50 ( 2-3 times a day)

Wine - €1.70

Train - €3.30, €2. 70 (Note~ If you attempt to screw the German honor system for their metro by not purchasing a ticket, they will inadvertantly screw you back with a €40 fee.)

Groceries - €6.20

Ride to Prague - €15 with Bla Bla Car

Hostel: €8 per night

.... Road trip continued in subsequent post with overall trip expenditure logistics.

Want to plan your European road trip on A Gypsy Budget? Contact me for advise, travel tips, and answers to your detailed questions for free at agypsybreeze@gmail.com or post your questions here under this post and connect with nomads from all over the world!

 
Deportation Upon Arrival?
 

“I am this close to putting you on the next plane back home,” the customs officer bores his intimidating stare into mine, “so, be careful.”

My cheeks flush and my eyes sting. I can feel all the glances of the impatient line behind me prickling on the back of my neck. They are angry. This border control officer is angry. I’m angry. It’s been 45 minutes.

Naive and stubborn enough to believe I could book an exit ticket upon arrival should my one way ticket in be a problem, I now stood before this scary man trembling and sure this airport would be all of London I would see after such a long journey. Apparently it’s the “intent” that matters here, so booking an exit ticket now was worthless to this miserable man.

Whenever I am approaching the front of custom lines, I have a habit of scanning the men and women behind the counters, watching their interactions with their current advancers – how fast they are, how many questions they ask, their smiles, their eyes … do they laugh? Are they dead inside? – Picking out the one I want to approach and then holding my breath in hopes my spot in line will fall to them. In my mind, for whatever reason, this always works. I almost always get the one I want and I have never had a problem.

That December morning at Heathrow airport, the line was uncharacteristically short and still scanning, unable to choose, the woman in her British blues directing traffic motioned me down to the last man on the right. A very tall man by the looks of it (or at least with a very long torso) sat broad and straight, high above the rest of us. His navy blue uniform was perfectly placed and in pristine condition. An older man with a rather unpleasant pale complexion, thin lips that lay pressed in a straight line and thinning grey hair had just stamped the previous woman’s passport and sent her through with no smiles and no hassle. He looked bored and I felt confident approaching his cold exterior, that I’d be the one to warm his day and his heart.

“Hello,” I sang in my most cheerful voice, flashing him a genuine smile and sparkling eyes.

“Passport,” he responded robotically without looking down at me.

My chin barely reaching above the counter, I handed him my passport and entry card with a second attempt, “how are you today?” He took it in silence so I waited without another word, wondering how he got so many wrinkles if he had lived a life without smiles or laughter.

“Where is your return ticket?” He looked at me now. Dark grey eyes murky like muddy stones.

I knew this was coming. “I haven’t booked one yet, sir, because I’m …” I started

“Why?” His interruption was flat and curt and I ignored the fact that had he let me finish, he wouldn’t have needed to ask. He held my eyes with an eerie gaze.

“I am not sure where I am going next. I’m a travel writer, you see, and …”

“What are you talking about?” He asked incredulously, letting his face push back in disapproving expression.

Taking a deeper breath, again ignoring his unnecessary and rude interruption, I tried again, forcing the same light and confident voice, “I am attending a travel writing conference here and hoping that one of the magazines will send me somewhere afterwards to do a story for them.”

His lips snarled in condescending disgust as he sat back in his seat, crossed his arms and looked at me with one eyebrow raised. Now my blood was starting to boil. “What are you talking about?” He asked again, “You can’t do that.”

My mouth opened but my voice hesitated and it closed again as he spoke.

“When is the conference?” He questioned

“January 16-17,” I answered matter-of-factly.  

“Why are you here so early?”

“I am visiting friends.”

“Who? Where do they work? Where did you meet them?” He looked at me now.

“I met them in Portugal in June while traveling. I don’t know where all of them work,” I answered honestly.

“How long were you with them in Portugal?”

“5 days.”

“And you flew all the way here on a one way ticket to visit these people you’ve known for 5 days …?” He asked skeptically.

“Yes. But I’ve been in contact with them since and one of them visited me in Thailand,” I didn’t know why this was so hard to believe.

“So you’re a world traveler? Aren’t you going to go anywhere else in England then? Scotland? Ireland?” He pressed in a mocking tone.

“Well, yes, I’d like to.”

“Well, are you?” He pushed

“Yes, Ireland probably.”

“Which part?” He asked with his nose a little closer to my face than it had been before. I scrunched my own reflexively as if his gnarled down turned snout would pierce my own, bolting down like a carnival ax.

“South…” I guessed immediately, mentally trying to remember which part of Ireland belonged to the UK, less he trip me up this far in the game.

“So you came all this way with no plans and no return ticket to stay," he scanned the address I had written on my entry card, "in BARNET?!” He heaved out air in one of those mock condescending sighs and I felt my shaky fists clench.

“Um, yes, but…” The violent shaking of his head had disrupted my thoughts and now I was literally stuttering.

“Nothing you are saying makes sense. You are contradicting yourself around every corner,” He closed my passport and sat back in his chair looking down at me. I felt the lump enlarge in my throat and I tried to swallow it. He was getting loud now and I knew every one waiting behind me could hear. “So which one is the truth then?” He snarled, “You came for the friends or for the conference?”

“Both,” I croaked.

He shook his head again and this time I knew I was physically wilting. “You are not helping yourself like this. Just tell the truth,” his stern voice was laced with a resentment that I was not equipped to combat.

I was telling the truth. And now that it was out loud to a border official, it did sound ridiculous. I had made no plans because I would go anywhere and do anything. Literally. But he was trying to trap me around every corner and I was not helping myself, tripping over everything he threw at me and inserting possibilities as answers to appease him in any way I could.

“You don’t get it,” he said, “how do I know you aren’t trying to get in here and work illegally?”

“I can book a return ticket now if that helps,” I was forcing calmness into every tone of my voice.

“Nope. Doesn’t matter. That does nothing. Your intent has already been shown. You’ll just rip it up as soon as I let you in,” His head was shaking on a swivel now.

“Ok,” I nodded, seeing now that the only way I was crossing this border was agreeing with him every next step of the way.

“It’s not ok!” He was yelling now.

“I didn’t mean …” My cheeks were crimson and flames were lapping up the back of my neck.

“You Australians and Americans think you can just waltz in here and do whatever you want," He accused.

“I don’t …”

“Don’t interrupt me!” He shouted, enunciating each word slowly and forcefully for everyone to hear.

Pinpricks were shooting up my lower spine; I knew the crowd behind me was watching. “Ok,” I bowed my head in defeat, submission, and respect, anything to cooperate with this man.

“It is not ok!!” His voice climbing as he leaned forward glaring down at my misty eyes.

I felt panic rising in my throat like stomach bile, “I only mean that I understand.”

“You obviously don’t,” he waved my passport in my face and let it fall to the desk before sitting back into his seat and crossing his arms.

I bit my lip hard to stop the “ok” from escaping my mouth. Clearly there was a language barrier here.

He took a deep breath, opened my passport again and looking over it, said, “Well, you’re going to have to tell me more because I can’t let you in on this.” Again, 'ok' was the natural response that rose but I suppressed it. “Tell me more about this conference. You are networking? Let me see your business card,” he held out his hand.

“I … I don’t have business cards for this,” I stuttered, “but I have one from the winery I worked at in the states.”

His eyes rolled into the back of his head and he threw up his hands. “Do you know what you’re doing in any capacity? Is this a joke? How do you expect anyone to notice or remember you? Or for me to remotely believe this?” His open palm upwards as he waved his hand in front of me like he was serving a dish in disbelief of what stood before him.

“I’m working on something. And I’m just starting out. I’ve traveled around the whole world for the past 7 months and I’m a good writer. I need to go to this conference,” My voice regaining power with my right foot firmly planted into the ceramic tiled floor, I looked up at him with the most self-assured eyes I could muster.

“How do you know you’re any good? You’re clearly not a good traveler. I don’t know how you made it into these other countries,” He thumbed through my passport again, huffing a sort of exasperated laugh with each page.

“I never had any problems in those countries,” I responded coldly.

"You said you're a blogger. Do you get paid?" He interrogated further.

"No. But sometimes I write in exchange for accommodation," I answered truthfully.

“Then how do you know you’re even any good?" 

“Well, I have a lot of followers in countries all over the world,” I muttered.

“So you have no job, no income, you work for yourself on this blog and are hoping to network at this conference … without business cards,” he added with a light chuckle that I refused to acknowledge.

“Yes,” I answered looking him directly in the eyes.

“So you’ll be blogging while you are here then?”

“Yes,” we seemed to be getting somewhere.

“Do you have a visa?” He asked without looking at me this time.

My brow furrowed in confusion as I shifted on my feet, “ No, because I’m not working here.”

“You just said you were. You work for yourself on this blog and you’ll be blogging here. You need a work visa for that.” His eyes flickering between me and the computer.

“But it’s not a company. I don’t get paid. I don’t pay myself,” I could feel the frustration leaking out and drenching every word.

“Doesn’t matter. You are trying to further your career in our country. That’s illegal work,” He looked down again at my passport, shaking his head.

I knew he was lying now. “But I’m just writing,” I pressed.

“For followers or whatever you say justifies your blog. That’s work. I can’t let you in,” he closed my passport and stopped taking notes.

“So, I can’t write here?” The teenage attitude was multiplying, “It’s illegal to keep a journal? Is that what you’re saying?” I was furious and nothing could hide it now.

“You better be careful,” he dangled his power in front of me, “you factitious young girl, I am this close to sending you back to where you came from,” one large palm on the desk in front of my chin, he hunched down towards me pinching a tiny space between his thumb and forefinger of his right hand, “The next plane out of here.”

“I’m sorry. I’m not trying to be … I just don’t understand,” I pleaded with gritted teeth willing the tears on the verge back from their ledge.

Twenty more minutes and ten idle threats later, I was entering London with a begrudging mark on my passport warning of deportation or banishment should I step out of line or over stay my welcome.

“Thank you. Thank you,” I smiled and bowed my head as I walked over the yellow line.

“Maybe you should write about THIS in your blog,” he scoffed, rolling his eyes and turning to whisper to the officer approaching this problem situation.

“Oh, I will,” I promised. Clutching my passport with shaking hands and weak knees, I stepped into the royal country, knowing now that there had to be something bigger that had brought me here. 

 
englandKristen Thomasengland
Kava & Cannibalism in Paradise

I felt my head dip in and out of hypnotism as I watched the muddied water sloshing in the wooden bowl between our feet; the even drumbeats of rain on the dash resounding a rhythmic truth I could not escape. My mouth was numb and my mind sleepy as I tried to find any feeling at all to connect with here at the end. I couldn’t grasp a single root of emotion amidst the sticky heat inside the car. Everything smelled of mud. Everything felt numb.  

Flinching as Mesi nudged my arm, I felt my sun scorched skin crack under his touch. He took one dark arm from the steering wheel and motioned to the bowl, quizzically lifting his left eyebrow as if to ask ‘ready for some more?’ I nodded and reached for the small cup floating in the bowl. The dark wood warped and hard under my fingertips, I gripped harder tracing its details with my eyes, trying to make this moment feel real. Dipping it into the brown liquid, filling it up and lifting it to my lips, I let the lukewarm, dirt flavored water slide down my throat and the tree root work its magic, sending tingling electricity zapping across every nerve of my tongue.

“Make you sleepy, aye?” Mesi laughed peering over his left shoulder at my lazy eyelids as I swallowed the root water. I smiled, sunk into the passenger seat, nodded, and filled up the small cup from the Kava bowl again, this time passing it over to him.

Kava was a way of life here in Fiji; a ritualistic form of creating friendships and one I was well accustomed to now after three weeks on the island. So when my taxi driver, Mesi, had offered to stop by his home and pick up some Kava from his wife for our 2-hour ride from Nadi to Korotogo, I did not argue.

This ceremonial drink comes from the yaquona root. The root, itself, has no mind altering characteristics and is far more common here than alcohol. One to two cups will have your mouth humming in a numbing buzz; four will have you completely relaxed, and seven will knock you out cold – fast asleep. But unlike alcohol, your mind remains. Call it trying to forget or trying to remember, but either way here I was – drinking Kava with Mesi while he drove us through a torrential downpour to my last stop on this 7-month journey.

My head hung sleepily against the murky glass as I mindlessly noted field after field of sugarcanes, imagining what it might feel like to lay under them after a storm like this, letting the sweet sticky rain water drip across my face. Barefoot teens splashed in the mud on the side of the road and tired farmers attempted to drag their horses into shelter from the storm but to no avail. Human and horse alike, it seemed everyone wanted to remain in this moment, in this heavenly downpour.

Five Days. That was all that remained and as Mesi dropped me somewhere inside a drenched jungle 2 hours later, I was determined to make these last five days about me, somehow finding peace in the end of a book that I never wanted to close.

There is so much green in Fiji that it seems impossible to believe they have just endured a four-month drought, but they have and many of the villages have been without any drinking water for some time. In this particular place at this particular time, somewhere in the jungle off the Coral Coast, the rain is endless and the people, overcome with a grateful joy. The lush brightness of the jungle comes to life under the downpour like parched skin desperate for moisture after months under the sun. Hidden here amidst a coconut plantation on its own private beach lies Fiji Beachouse - a paradise far away from the rest of the world.

I fall into a shalom like state for two days of relaxing rain and still I feel nothing. On the third day, I awake to the recovered vengeance of the Fijian sun beating me into consciousness and everything feels brand new among the quenched vegetation. My toes scraping the sand from where they hang out of the hammock, the sound of the calm turquoise waters lapping up in front of me and the gentle caress of the early sun against my face as I sip strong Fijian coffee. So still. So raw. And I feel every bit of it all at once.

Three more days.

The beach is nearly empty and for this remainder, the world is mine. Kayaks lined the bank to my right – orange, blue, yellow, and green – begging with puppy dog eyes to be taken for a ride and I must indulge them. A turquoise vessel to glide across the turquoise sea, I drag it out into the warm shallow waters. A hefty stretch of disabled coral lies between me and where the waves break, far out in the distance, and I glide along the translucent blue above them as if floating on air. Far from the shore, yet still short of the surf, I lay my paddle next to me as I stretch out on my back. One foot dangling overboard and my eyes closed, singing to myself, I let my kayak drift wherever the current pleases and not caring in the slightest where that may be.

“Do you want to join us for Kava tonight?” The voice shatters my daydream and squinting up into afternoon sun, I see a local Fijian standing over me in the water. I shift myself upwards and crane over my shoulder to find the beach a few feet away from me. I hadn’t realized I’d drifted back to shore.

“You’ve had Kava before, yes?” His pacific island accent dances across the shallow waves and the sun glistens off his dark skin like the sea. I nod and smile, yes … yes I have and yes I will join.

Sat around the large wooden bowl that night, I watch Lemi strain the dried root with water, squeezing and pressing it inside a hemp looking bag, turning the liquid into muddy rainwater. Brushing the thick dread locks from his face, Lemi takes the small cup, scoops it full of the murky root juice, and hands it to me first. “Drink all at once,” he instructs and I down the bitter refreshment in one go as I had learned to do previously, and then pass it along to the next in the circle. It tastes horrible as it always does, but for some reason I still can’t get enough of it. The ritual continues for hours into the night, the seven of us in a kava merry-go-round. Barriers fall, songs are initiated and tales of Fiji’s dark cannibal past begin.

A crumpled idea of a man with a smile larger than his face hushes the guitars and voices. In a husky whisper, he begins an ancient tale of a human hunt and bloodthirsty tribe. His English is limited but his voice coats the group in melted chocolate, deep and enchanting, before breaking into gruff reverberated tones. Glistening white teeth in the darkness – the only sign that the sound is coming from a man before us. The circle falls into a lulling silence as we hang onto the ancient Fijian’s every word. He halts abruptly mid sentence and removes himself from the circle. Still, no one utters a breath in his absence.

Returning with ancient wood carved, hunting weapons, the storyteller boasts them above the crowd, rekindling his story of the tribes long ago that used them in their dangerous games. Grabbing a local boy by the back of the neck, the group shrieks as he brings down the wooden sickle in a mock beheading. I stare wide-eyed amidst the other’s laughter as the man demonstrates how another weapon was used to crush bones. The group begins to poke at me, laughing and teasing in their island charm. And I’m sat in front of the men, laughing nervously in reciprocation while simultaneously wondering if they will in fact eat me.

 

{... Continued in subsequent blog post : "One Last Day"}

FijiKristen ThomasFiji
Crazy Dave in Byron Bay

Already, the impending dawn is screaming through the jungle as the birds mock my lack of joy for the morning. Miss Germany, our non drinking, orchestra collecting and productivity obsessed roommate is doing some sort of inventory of everything she has thus far collected (which includes, but is not limited to: a guitar, piano, surf board, tent, pots and pans, and most likely, soon to be, a car that she will no doubt house right between our bunks.) She does this every morning, pacing the wooden floor beams of our tiny river wagon with the vigor of one who is hastily packing for a yearlong trip. She has yet to go anywhere. The whole process lasts from about 6 am to 10 am. It infuriates me.

I can hear what can only be a rooster pep rally across the mossy river. I imagine them circling a fire in tribal dances with feather headdresses as I drift in and out of sleep. I’m not sure why they are in headdresses, but somewhere in between dreams and consciousness, they are. I pull the sheet over my head in attempts to drown out the chaos and mentally note that I have not heard Jeff yet this morning. Jeff is the bastard rooster that visits our lake tent every time he sees fit to wake me. Walking right in through the screen door, his barnacle toenails are usually the first noise to prick my ears, scraping against the wooden floorboards as he approaches. From the sounds of it, he’s decided to stay out with the others, squawking around the fire. Either that or his toenails have been lost in the sounds of Germany’s pots and pans.

Every morning is much like this. Rachel and I wake with groans and unprecedented laughter recounting the criminal thoughts we had been suppressing for the first 4 hours of the day. Rachel is about 6 foot and I come up to her hip. She is a fiery, red-headed Aussie that I met months ago in Spain who detests sport and loves all things musical.

Each night, sleep is a battle; completely mummifying ourselves in sheets to keep out the brown recluse spiders, which Rachel is convinced are going to eat us alive. Her screams throughout the night are never far off. We go to sleep shivering and wake up in mating call sweats to the sounds of aboriginal bongo circles.

Two nights has turned into six and we can’t seem to leave. Stuck somewhere amidst the poppy fields of hippie Byron Bay as everyone in this lazy, coastal town seems to be, we’ve all entered with a mission and fallen into an opium like sleep preventing escape.

I wake and stay awake after Germany’s charades have proven to last well into the afternoon and walk into town to scale the coast. Or more likely – wander aimlessly as I seem to be doing these days in the Land of Oz.

After spending a month in Asia and Africa prior, landing in Sydney almost a month ago had been a reverse culture shock – coming back into such a western world. Australia was beautiful, sure. But everything was over priced and everyone, over-privileged. Over-indulged. I may as well have been in America and it made me sick. Cigarettes were $25 a pack, salads were $19, burgers $29, and beer $10. I was out of money and steam, now spending my days talking to roosters and sharing coffee with giant lizards. And I couldn’t for the life of me explain where the time had gone or what I was doing here, wasting away each day without so much as a direction or purpose. 

Until I met him. An unlikely character that would somehow remind me, in a most unconventional way, why I was doing all of this in the first place.

******

He came from the other side of the road, with a pack the size of him on his back, his bare feet blackened by the road under his cuffed up jeans. Rachel had met me at the bus stop and here we were next to a few other vagrants as Crazy Dave approached. Following a dark haired mangy woman with blue and black paint stained hands. Both with leathery tanned skin, proof of a life lived harshly and wholly.

“I’ve got a message for you,” Looking directly at us, he smiled through his missing front tooth before breaking into song. “Don’t worry about a thing. Every little thing is gonna be alright,” he sang with his arms wide open and swaying side to side on the soles of his naked feet under the weight of his pack.

I laughed. His sun soaked smile was infectious.

“I had a guitar but someone stole it. And my boots,” He points down to his naked feet. “Took them too. Who the fuck takes a man’s guitar? The most thing I love, besides me wife, is that fucking guitar,” He shakes his head in disappointment and lowers his gaze under his ripped and hole covered grey beanie.

“This is me house,” He explains as he sets his pack down with a thud on our bench. A blanket tucked into one side and a tent rolled up in the other. “That’s what a man does. He carries his house for his woman,” He points over to his paint stained wife, beaming proudly with that crooked smile.

I nod in agreement as if every man should carry his house for his wife, and Crazy Dave sits down on the concrete against the pole and puts his black feet up on the bench, quite at home and staring right at us. There is another man who appears homeless and shirtless. His belly flops over his ripped jeans and his red baseball cap hides his booze swollen face. A grey haired woman sits behind him dressed in Salvation Army’s finest and I wonder how an old woman like her survives without a house or a man to carry one for her.

“I was in a bad place last night if you seent me. This close to suicide,” Dave motions a tiny space with his finger to the homeless group we are apparently now part of. “I smashed me guitar. I fucking loved that guitar. Went to bed at 4 am and woke up at 5:30 am a new man. I realized me life. It's a good life. Crazy Dave is back!” He stretches his hands and his smile out to either side as he sits on the ground in front of us. I watch him put on his show for the others and giggle to myself. Smashed or stolen, the guitar appeared to be gone and although unhappy about that, Dave seemed rather overjoyed about his simple life. I listen to him go on.

“All these people have too many things,” he shakes his head in disgust. “You have two cars and a nice house and all you do is fight with your wife. Me and mine," he winks at her, "we make love three times a day and even more. That’s a beautiful thing,” He tells the others.

“We got to flee from the rangers,” he turns his head to me to explain an unasked question. “So we keep moving up the beach. Three thousand dollar fine when they found me pots and me tent. But we look after the animals. I love the animals. Ran after a Turkey the other day. He had fishing wire caught around his legs. Tackled him to get it off. He was pecking me and me wife helped me hold him down. But we got it off,” Dave reenacts the scene tackling the air in front of him. “He wandered off once he could walk again. Turned around and gobbled something to me. You know, I think he was saying ‘thank you,’”

“I’m sure he was,” I smiled at him.

The six of us part ways – Rachel back to the hostel and me on my way to the beach, leaving Crazy Dave, his wife, and his two home carrying friends to whatever it is that home carrying people do.

The heat of the afternoon sunshine had gone chill and the beach lay abandoned in its wake. I couldn’t keep the smile from my face, thinking about Crazy Dave. So free to roam simply and so happy to be doing so. So full of love and life. 

The Australian wind whipped the hair around my face and the white caps in the sea were charging like stampedes of a thousand white horses. The coastal clouds turned to divine sorrow, surrounding the kite surfers that soared the air in their wake.

That feeling washed over me again. The one I had left somewhere in the sky between Maylasia and Australia. Dense and thick as smog, consuming me with clarity and gratitude. Who was I to be blessed to walk across this beautiful earth barefoot and unbound? Smiling, I knew ... I was just a girl who had refused to stand still. A small pair of footprints desperate not to be washed away. And that’s all any of us can do if we dare to. Me and Crazy Dave, we didn’t seem that different after all.

The Liebster Award

Having started this blog only 8 months ago, you can imagine my surprise when I was nominated for the Liebster Award by a stranger on Twitter three months ago while in Australia (Yes, I am very late in my reply.) Thank you Victoria (@EveryAdventure_) for nominating me! Check out Victoria's travel blog at  www.everydayadventuresblog.com .

I was unfamiliar with this award so I did a bit of research. (I know, so unlike me.) The way it appears to work is in a "pay it forward" sort of movement. Bloggers helping bloggers and acknowledging new or upcoming blogs that they enjoy by nominating 5 of them (with under 500 twitter followers) after being nominated themselves. Eleven questions are sent out to these 5 bloggers and in turn, they each nominate 5 other blogs with eleven of their own questions. So here goes - my (very long overdue answers) to Victoria's questions ... 

Favorite travel destination?

Ugh! This question seems to haunt me wherever I go now. Having spent the past 8 months traveling the globe, everybody always wants to know what my favorite place/country was. And it is simply impossible for me to chose 1 of the 16 countries I've just traveled through. I love the electric energy of Spain, the dreamy romance of France, and the indulgent beauty of Italy. The fanciful island life of Greece, and the majestic soul of South Africa. Thailand is a curious and exotic place, and Indonesia's Bali has the peaceful tranquility of Balinese life. I could probably do without Australia, but New Zealand's beauty knocked the wind out of me. And Fiji, my love ... I'm not sure if it's because you were last, but you have stolen the biggest piece of my heart among them all. 

If you could travel with anyone, who would it be?

Personally, I have learned through this ongoing trip that I prefer solo travel. It’s exhilarating and scary and exhausting and lonely at times, but there is just something about being completely alone in a new land and culture that is irreplaceable. That being said, those overnight bus rides and hideously long travel treks are a lot more fun with a friend by your side. I was recently asked which 3 celebrities I would take along traveling if I could, so to avoid any real live hurt feelings, I'll answer this question like that as well. 

Jennifer Lawrence.

Specifically Hunger Games Jennifer Lawrence, so that I could save money on accommodation and food sleeping in trees and eating squirrels. 

Shakira.

So that there would always be a dance party wherever I went, especially in the middle of an African game reserve surrounded by lions and leopards.

Vince Vaughn.

Because I can't think of anyone I'd rather sling beers back with while choking on laughter, interjecting into my stories with his Vince Vaughn banter. 

Tell me about someone you’ve met travelling that’s stuck in your mind. 

Crossing and intercepting paths with strangers you may never have met otherwise is my favorite part of travel. There are at least 7 people who have drastically stuck with me in my mind once I left them behind. But one woman, in particular, has changed my life forever without even realizing and for reasons I have yet to grasp. Sixty-five years old and as fit and lively as any woman in her twenties that I've ever met, it was only a matter of hours before she had me skinny dipping in South African damns and spilling my heart to her. A stranger two days prior, I just happened to have come into her life the day she found out she had cancer. A deep and profound friendship erupted quickly. I knew I was exactly where I was meant to be. I only stayed with her one week, but I still think about her every day. 

Favorite cuisine whilst traveling?

One of my favorite things about traveling is the food and how different and unique it is from place to place. I will eat just about anything at least once and I get a sort of high from ordering food in places where I don't understand the language or anything written on the menu. I like to be surprised and often ask whoever is serving me to surprise me with their favorite dish. I also always try to opt for whatever is the local favorite when eating at stop and go, hole in the wall joints. 

Hands down, best seafood I have ever had in my life was from Galicia, Spain in a little town called Cambados, a few hours north of Portugal. This little fishing village is overpopulated with the sea's most fresh and exquisite creatures. The town is made up of a humble people, a working class of fishermen and family men. They spend their days out at sea and each day before the sun begins to fall, you can find them on the docks with their outpouring of mussels, crabs, octopus, squid, and mollusks. 

Next to Galician seafood, I would have to say my other equally favorite cuisine is Thai. Aside from the fresh flavors and spices, I fell in love with the whole idea of it, the feel and nature of these people and how they see food. Street vendors ride bicycles or scooters with little carts attached, pull up on whichever street they fancy and set up shop with bowls of fresh herbs, meats, and a pot of boiling water, ready to cook for ayone who passes by. I love how even breakfast is a spicy curry or herbal rice soup. I love the way they sit on cushions on wooden floors around wooden tables and how every meal is a communal shared experience. 

What do you miss most about home?

I am blessed with two amazing parents and three younger siblings that are all my best friends through and through. I definitely miss my family the most. There are little luxuries that I missed during the beginning of my travels - my own bed, a shower, clean clothes, Q-tips! But I can't remember any of them now ... they've all faded away as irrelevant and unnecessary. The only thing I still pine for is my family. 

As much as I love being constantly on the move, waking up in the morning and asking myself where I feel like going that day, there is something to be said for having a home base - even the gypsy in me has to admit that. For having a space of your own where you can be alone and rest. It's a funny thing - traveling solo like this - contrary to what I expected, it's pretty hard to find time, let alone space, to debrief with yourself. In a constant stream of hostels, couch surfing, buses, trains, boats, and planes ... solitude is rare.

What’s the most important thing you’re looking for in the places you choose to stay?

An unnerving lack of comfort zone. Cultures and places so vastly different to my own. The more different and uncomfortable for me, the better. 

However, with travel dreams and desires that expanded the entire globe, and barely enough money to get me through 6 months, I had to find a way to choose which countries I was going to backpack through. Enter Wine. Having always had a passion for wine and spending the previous 18 months prior to departure working for a winery, I let the wine guide me. Without it, the mountainous task of narrowing down the places I chose to stay would have broken my brain. I wanted to see it all. Every single bit. But folllowing the vines, I chose the countries accordingly. France, Spain, (An impromtu and lengthy stay in Portugal), Italy, Greece, South Africa, Thailand (because I simply couldn't leave it out,) and Bali- because why would you not stop in Indonesia on your way to Australia, New Zealand, and finally, Fiji. 

City or country, and why?

This one varies from country to country definitely. Here are a few of my opinions:

France.

It has to be a tie between city and country here. While France has the romantic and unbeatable rolling country vineyard sides that take your breath away, its cities are equally as alluring and dreamy. 

Spain.

This one completely depends on where in Spain you happen to be. While cities like Madrid and Barcelona are must see places, I found Barcelona to be on of my least favorite in all of Spain. After all the hype around it, I'm not sure what I expected, but it was much like any other city anywhere else in the world except most people spoke Spanish. In the south of Spain, however, you have the intriguing city of Sevilla and even further south, quaint and beautiful, little Jerez, caught somewhere in-between a city and a town, but with an identity and personality all it's own. Logrono is also a beautiful, charming city in the north, but those Rioja Spanish vineyards in the country are hard to beat. 

Portugal.

City. I feel quite under qualified to determine this one for sure because I spent my entire time in the cities of Oporto and Lisboa and only saw the countrysides by means of trains and busses. However, these cities are overwhelmingly captivating. Aided by the steep sloping landscape of this country, they make for the best views from absolutely any angle and height. They don't, however, make for a fun walk or attempt at navigating home. 

Italy.

What can I say about Italia? We all know it is pure beauty around every corner whether country or city. Cities like Florence and Rome will always make me catch my breath every time I am privileged to step into their art filled world, but what really gets me in this place are the countryside towns, whether they be the small fishing villages of Cinque Terra, the glass blowing islands of Murano and Burano off of Venice, or the god-like juxtaposition of the Amalfi Coast and Capri, there is without a doubt something divine about this place. 

Greece.

Country. Definitely. And by country, I mean island. Athens is a strange place and while it hints of an Olympian-esque era, the whole city seems to be quite forgotten and neglected. Greece, being in the economic catastrophe that we currently find it, seems to have taken habit to starting overzealous construction projects and then completely abandoning them when they realize they can't finish their plate. Just leaving these half attempts at greatness lying there while everyone pretends not to notice, avoiding and refusing to accept them as if these half constructed ideas had never been attempted in the first place. 

The Cyclades, however, hold that mythological beauty that we've all grown up fantasizing about. You can feel Aphrodite wailing over a broken heart in an abandoned rock temple on the coast of the island Paros, and the wings of Heremes shoes fluttering in the morning sea breezes as he busies himself delivering messages all day. Poseidon lurks in a protective righteousness under the crystal blue waters that surround Thira (Santorini) and everyone knows why. You'd be constantly on guard too, to keep everyone from stealing this gem of the Agean. The gentle summer breeze rustling over the blue roof tops and white washed buildings, and through the magenta canopies of flowers carries with it echos of the nymph songs so long ago trapped as these very islands. 

South Africa.

Country. Country. Country. While Cape Town is a popular city destination for tourists, wine enthusiasts and surfers alike, I did not come to Africa for the city. And this city, much like every other westernized city, turns me off immediately. Oh, but the beautiful landscape of the South African Cape has an enchantment that is all its own. 

Thailand.

I cannot stress enough the contrast between the hideous grey and overpopulated cities with the unparalleled beauty of the serene, exotic islands that surround them. You couldn't pay me to live in the unjust filth of Bangkok, the seedy streets of Pattaya, or the sex pumped chaos of Phuket. But take me to the uninhabited island of Koh Chang, or Railay beach off the coast of Ao Nang, and you'd have to drag me out in order to leave. 

Bali.

Oh, Bali, the impossible peace of those country rice paddies high above Ubud and the hidden tranquility of Anom Beach. I fell in love as soon as I stepped off the plane - that airport with its artist touches and hand-crafted intricacies. Places like Kota or Gili T made me cringe, infested with young, drunk, western tourists like termites eroding paradise. But the authentic charm of Ubud's modest town and rolling country hills had my heart instantly. 

New Zealand.

Without a doubt - country. It seems to me that everyone aside from myself was fully aware of the unparalleled beauty that this country holds. Uncomprehendingly unprepared, I was absolutely knocked off my feet by the vast array of stunning landscapes that these two small islands hold. The country has it all. Snow capped mountains, bright blue sea, wildlife, beach, waterfalls, and that Lord of the Rings majestic quality unlike anywhere else. 

What’s your favourite travel/adventure activity?

Getting lost. New cities or towns, back country roads, doesn't matter; I absolutely love it. My favorite thing to do when I get to a new place after dropping my bags wherever home may be for the time being, is to walk out the door without a direction or destination and just explore. No map. No goals and no idea quite how to get back. I find this especially thrilling in countries that speak a foreign language - Spain, France, Italy, Greece. There is something so exciting about wandering aimlessly through a culture completely foreign to you without being able to understand a single word,. Like free falling through the atmosphere with no parachute. But hey, that's just me. 

Have you had any pivotal or life changing moments whilst traveling?

Oh my gosh, yes. Not so much booming epiphanies, but more like a string of awakening clarities all along the way. People, interactions, moments - each adding a pearl to the necklace. I've learned that the world is a far less scary place than everyone makes it out to be, and that the lives that cross your path indefinitely do for a reason. I've seen third world poverty and found the happiest and most beautiful people in these desolute places. I've learned what it truly means to be free and what true bravery actually feels like. 

Tell me something you have learnt from a culture you’ve visited, that you have taken with you.

The persistent joy and humble gratitude of the Fijian people. Their lust for life and simple happiness in day to day routines is something I haven't found anywhere else. 

A pradise comprised of struggles, hardships, a cannibalistic past, love, and cava, this island has one of the most unique religious cultures I have yet to witness. Primarily Christian, with a large allotment of Hindus, all religions come together here to celebrate and revere each and every holiday, no matter the faith. The Christians join in Diwali, the Festival of Lights, to honor Lakshima, the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity, and likewise, all celebrate Christmas.

The poverty is staggering but the people are impossibly happy. Singing, guitar playing, flower wearing, sarong wearing natives with dark skin and the brightest smiles you've ever seen. Unlike a majority of places that I have visited that abhor tourists (we're looking at you France) and their annoying flock invading their lives, the Fijian people welcome you. Forever indebted and grateful for what toursim has given them - drinking water, homes, jobs. 

"Bula!" they cry as soon as you arrive. A phrase you will hear sang to you no less than 73 times a day. Not a soul passes you by without a Bula greeting and genuine smile. 

Where's next in your travel plans?

Part I of A Gypsy Breeze - a solo circumnavigation of the globe - came to completion mid November 2014 when I rounded the earth and landed back home in Baltimore, Maryland. A three week visit with the family and I was off again. 

Part II is completely unscripted. I landed in London with a one way ticket on December 11th and after an excrutiating 50 minute interrogation, finally walked across onto British soil. 

What's next? Well, I can't tell you that! But I can give you a clue ... it'll start in Berlin. 

 

 

Nominations:

THE TRAVEL LUSH

http//travel-lush.com

This blogger has more than 500 twitter followers but I really connected with her blog, relating to her anxiety and uncertainties after backpacking for 7 months. A great read about an American couple who sold their belongings and bought a one way ticket to Bangkok. She is now living in Indonesia and I am excited to read about her transition from a backpacking life to that of an expat.

AWKWARD AMERICAN TRAVELER

https//awkwardamericantraveler.wordpress.com

Funny and indeed, awkward, this travel blogger tells it how it is. Through many trials and errors, she has been wandering for the past 3 years. With honesty and quirky inflections in her writing, this blog is anything but boring. 

WINGS OF A FEATHER

http//www.wingsofafeather.net

A Canadian wanderluster who has traveled all over the world. With some great tips, honest realities about traveling, and awesome pictures, her website is a must follow. She has a little more than 500 followers on her twitter account but I love her nomadic lifestyle and had to include her.

WILL SHE GET AWAY

http//willshegetaway.wordpress.com

An honest and engaging story of a girl who left a steady journalist career in the UK to follow dreams of travel around the world. Risking certainty, she is now a freelance writer in Southeast Asia and definitely has a way with words!

COLLEEN BRYNN TRAVELS

http//colleenbrynntravels.com

Although she is determined not to be lumped into the "travel blogger" category, I had to include Colleen Brynn Travels in this nomination (whether she choses to accept it or not). She is a brilliant writer and inspired individual with a true passion for traveling. Her blog is not a site for travel advice or how-tos, and she doesn't seem to care who follows along. Writing for writings sake and traveling for the love of it, her blog is unique and enticing with everything from food to sport, languages to lipstick.

My questions to you ... 

1. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

2. Do you prefer solo travel, group travel, or traveling with a close friend?

3. What's the most outrageously adventurous thing you've done traveling?

4. The scariest/ sketchiest situation you've been in while abroad.

5. A place you've visited where you were the most uncomfortable or out of your comfort zone. 

6. The one item you fear losing above all else while traveling. Have you ever lost it?

7. What was your reason for traveling? The final straw that made you get up and go. 

8. What types of travel stories or blog posts are your favorite to read?

9. Do you have a guilty pleasure while traveling? Something you justify spending money on even when you don't have it?

10. The most useless item (in hindsight) that you've taken with you while traveling.

11. What is your number one tip for blogging on the move? 

Rules:

“Thank the blogger who nominated you, and include a link to their blog.

Provide answers to the eleven questions from that person.

Give nominations to other bloggers, who have less than 500 Twitter followers.

Ask them eleven new questions.

Let them know about their nominations, so that they can proceed with the award process.”