Posts tagged Reflections
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. 

 
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!

 
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.”

27 Hours

I don’t know whether to blame my underlying stupidity, refusal to plan, or stubborn outlook on life for believing that winter in South Africa was a myth. But I did. And it wasn’t. Completely unprepared with shorts and summer attire, ready to surf the Cape Town waves, frolic on the beaches, and leave myself to a wild tribe of African tigers (they live in Asia, I have recently been informed), I was pent up in a beautiful 18th century African bed and breakfast (Villa Rosa), run by what could only be Nelson Mandela’s daughters, with fits of cold wind and rain pelting against my glass windows.

I had arrived in Cape Town two days ago with no clue as to what time zone, time period, or day it was, feeling like I had just battled through 3 world wars in 17 different countries. I’d slept for maybe an hour over the course of 27 hours on 3 different planes in 3 different countries, and by the time transport spit me out at Cape Town International, saying goodbye to Meg in Athens’ airport the day prior felt like a distant dream covered in a foggy haze.

From what I remember, those 27 hours were comprised of (but not limited to) the following: 3 different types of drunk, 3 rare form hang overs, tearful fits during 3 different movies including the god damn Lego movie, a 9 hour layover in Turkey spent in an air lounge with (who I can’t be certain, but am absolutely positive was) Lock from the TV show, “Lost,” 9 glasses of wine, copious amounts of different language barriers, some terrible make shift homemade Irish coffees, and a chain smoking cage box in Istanbul. Oh, and I’m pretty sure I almost got involved in a possible drug smuggling business carrying packages into different countries in exchange for free flights and 400 USD.

A stranger to myself, as if waking from a head injury, I am left wondering what the shit just happened in the past 27 hours … not to mention, for the love of God, why am I in Africa? And why have I chosen the furthest place possibly south in this giant continent. Also, I’ve just found out it’s winter here so that’s unfortunate.

I stand at baggage claim watching the backpacks and suitcases spin hypnotically by me and I’m almost certain I’m a figment of my own imagination. I think that my bag is probably lost and I hope that it is. Unfortunately, the bastard comes rolling through, the last on the line.

Somewhere in the back of my mind there is a faint and vacant hole where once headed African advice had been, but I can’t locate it so I get into the first taxi I find. Being the travel extraordinaire that I am, I shortly realize I have no clue about social customs or norms here, nor did I even think to look into them prior. Do they tip? How much should a taxi be so I know I’m not being ripped off? What the hell is a Rand and how many USD does 1 equal? Am I going to be driven off the grid and sold into slavery? No one knows and no one cares.

The taxi driver’s voice drones in and out of my consciousness as he talks about Table Mountain and such. He asks me what I think of South Africa and so far it looks pretty much like any other place in the States I’ve ever been. We drive down a regular looking highway towards the city with regular looking land on either side and he nonchalantly points out a “township” that we pass being the largest in Cape Town. I follow his arm motion and squint out my window. I’m not sure what a township is but I can’t make it out with this massive heap of trash in front of me. Some sort of dump or landfill, I presume.

“What’s a township? I ask sleepily, “I don’t see it.”

“Right there,” he says motioning to the heap of trash and scrap metal on the side of the road, “Townships are very poor towns here in Africa.”

“That right there??” I ask, bewildered, “That’s a town? People live there?”

“Sure do,” he says with nothing but normalcy in his tone, “gets awful hot in the summer and dreadfully cold in the winter, what with those dirt floors, ya know.”

I stared out of the window with my jaw dragging on the concrete behind our tires. It looked like a stretch of land covered in cardboard boxes, scraps of metal, sheets, and trash, all piled on top of one another. I ripped my gaze from the place and looked over the back seat. I could still see the airport and Victoria Wharf, the sophisticated and exquisite set of shopping centers, restaurants, and high-class condos. How was this possible? These people lived next door to each other, in neighboring towns. How did people pass this everyday, leaving their fancy homes on their way to their fancy jobs?

That was the day I first saw the expansive gap of inequality between rich and poor in Africa that everyone speaks about. A third world country and a first world country living side by side, and often in adjacent neighborhoods. I couldn’t believe it. Suddenly, the past 27 hours were irrelevant, shamefully miniscule. Now I was fully awake.

I would quickly find over the following weeks, that these townships sprung up everywhere, all clustered together climbing up hills, and squeezing between mansions, anywhere they could find and they grew almost overnight. Depreciating wealthy neighborhoods in a matter of days, turning their backyards into places of crime and fear. Unlike anything I had ever seen, I couldn’t wrap my head around it. We had poor areas back home, sure, but this stark contrast living next to and on top of each other was staggering. And furthermore, who had let this happen??

This starch contrast in quality of living is an epidemic in South Africa and no one knows what to do about it. Men sit out on every street corner waiting for construction work or anything to compensate their labor, but there aren’t enough jobs for the poor, so after all attempts at making money fail, they take it, turning their wealthy next-door neighbor’s world upside down. Women walk the streets in ragged skirts with babies tied to their backs in sheets while they carry an even smaller one on their hip or shoulders. Babies are everywhere. The crime has reached hideous levels where driving out of your two door garage and three story house, down the road is no longer safe. Last week, an elderly man was dragged from his car and beaten almost to death with a bat for his cell phone. The week before another infant was found in a dumpster. This happens everyday. Trash cans, gutters, lakes, fields. Live, breathing, newborn babies are abandoned and left for trash. And no one is doing anything about it.

The government pays these township people a stipend (about $300) for each baby they have, in attempts to help them, but instead of providing them help, they’ve provided them with a perceived way out, a means to live. Keep birthing children and then trash them when the small amount of money comes in. I feel physically ill when I learn this, passing two women carrying at least 3 children each. Wondering how many more they had and discarded.

Frequent rants and complaints from the President are aired daily on the radio. He’s angry that the government cut his budget for his mansion renovation. One of his 6 wives or 23 children aren’t happy or aren’t well. This is a man who, prior to his election, raped a HIV infected woman, and responded only with a public statement about the impossibility of him contracting aids because he had showered after the encounter. This man is not only running this country, but somehow got put in the highest position of power by the people themselves. Contrary to American politicians who sweet talk and maneuver their way through elections, politically correct at every turn … this man’s flaws and injustices were not unknown to the public, nor were they hidden. And by the sound of it, solely due to his lack of intelligence or regard for anyone else. So how did he get here? Who voted for him?

Easy. By offering a glimmering promise of hope to the people of these townships, the lowest levels of poverty who make up the majority of the population. Promising them housing, a future, and a chance at a better life. If the votes are in the numbers and the numbers can be found in the most desperate and broken people, than the victory is as good as given. They will soon forget that this man did not deliver on any of his offers, nor make a slight attempt at pretending to do so, and they will grasp at the chance when the next candidate comes along, failing them again.

The radio announcer reads off a list of current news and I can make out just enough through the static. Another infant found in a nearby lake; two found in the underground gutter system by construction workers, an old couple pulled from their car and beaten – their phones and wallets the only things missing, a single mother lie bleeding in an alleyway after someone caught a glimpse of her iPhone, a neighbor’s car window smashed in – a laptop gone.

I feel sick again and look out the window past the woman draped in sheets with a toddler strapped to her back with a tied blanket, his back arched unnaturally, drooping in the makeshift sack with his cheek pressed firmly against the woman’s middle back and his eyes wide, seemingly lifeless. I force my gaze past them to the victorious mountains behind them, surviving wildfire after wildfire, covered in yellow shrubbery and the bright blue ocean glistening from around every corner. How could a place this beautiful be so broken?

(Epilogue: it wasn’t until I met a few of these township folk, that my world was irrevocably shaken….) 

^See subsequent Blog post “Elma & Me”

OIA SUNSETS: Drenched in Satin

There is something undeniably magical and God-like about sunsets. I don’t care who you are. Everybody loves a sunset. It just so happens that in a tiny town, on a tiny island, in a tiny country far away, the most infamous of all sunsets can be found. Thousands come from all over the globe to visit the picturesque town of Oia, set high atop Santorini’s cliffs, Greece’s most visited island in the Cyclades. This sunset is not just something a few passerby’s stop to admire and capture; it is an event. Every single night.

Never have I seen the sun so overwhelmingly massive and close up, encroaching on us as if it’s about to swallow the world whole. This morning’s bright blue sky and sea now dripping in gold. The hustle and bustle of Oia’s quaint marble street shops and overlooking seaside restaurants goes silent; villagers and tourists alike stop in their tracks, haulting with baited breath to observe this majestic display of nature. The famous windmill is a favorite spot to watch the sun’s performance, although I believe that Meg and I have the best seat in the house sitting atop Mimaw’s roof (see previous post), basking in the evervescent glow of the sun as she drapes this tiny island in her most glorious and extravagant silk.

A public terrace nearby plays Charriots of Fire (it's all very dramatic) as the galaxy’s most brilliant star is coming to her final piece, shooting gold, orange, pink, and purple hues out across the sky. The Aegean Sea, hers to own, held captivatingly blue by daylight, is now set afire with swirls of warmth, a giant looking glass for her to observe herself in. When the sun has finally danced her last number, bowing behind the mountains over the blazened sea, the entire village erupts in cheers and claps, begging this great performer for an encore that no amount of claps can bring. This happens every night, 365 days a year, and each time is like the first time no matter how many of her dances you’ve witnessed.

You simply cannot watch this sunset without being a very part of it. My eyes hold her gaze as she pulls me into her while pouring herself into me, overflowing my swelling soul with all the beauty and wonder that our humanness cannot hold. Standing atop that white cement roof, drenched in otherworldly colors and wonder, I feel smaller than I ever have, yet stretched to capacity and larger than life, holding on to as much of this universe that my little heart can grasp. And I can’t help but wonder if this great performer notices us at all from her grande stage and why she graces this tiny island with the very best she has to give. There is something in the way she sets the entire sky and sea afire with passion in this particular spot, and I know that this tiny island holds something special above the rest of the world in her eyes. She goes on to set elsewhere each night for those who pass by without noticing her elegance and beauty, monotonously fulfilling her duty, but she must adore this praise, this place, these people. Proudly shining larger and brighter for them, bowing as gracefully and majestically as possible for these loyal and appreciative fans, waiting in anticipation each and every day until she can dance for them again.

Finally, she bows with a blushing glow, sending fireworks shooting across the sky, disappearing behind the distant and abandoned island, relishing in the uproar of praise that follows her exit. Awaiting the next 24 hours with anticipation and adrenaline to again perform for her favorite place in the world.

The Secret to Life

{In honor of being in Italy, my first love, again 6 years later ... I'm going to share with you an excerpt from another trip journal - the end of an Italian journey 6 years ago and my first time in Rome. Unedited and straight from the pages of a 19 year old Kris's journal}

"There's a new wind blowing like I've never known and I'm breathing deeper than I've ever done." - Keith Urban

The endless possibilities of life are more enticing than ever and the unsteady mystery of not knowing what lies ahead has never been so appealing as it is now.

I've found the secret to life...to live each day as an adventure, to make the ordinary magical, and to see the good in all of the bad. To stop to breathe and take it all in. I mean, really let it sink in deep. The smell of the air, the feel of the breeze and the taste of joy. Never have I tasted something so simple, yet intoxicating. And to find this joy in any place. In observing people, in a laugh, in a tear, the crash of a wave, or the sound of a song, in the cry of a bird, the rain against your face.

It's found in a child's spirit. The spirit of mystery, of unfaltering faith and joyous wonder. This is the secret to life. To live as a child with all their simple awe and simple joys. To live with this spirit within you

Waking with the Sun

I awake fairly early as the sun pierces through my bedroom curtains and get up from my white, fluffy cloud and walk to the window. Rubbing my eyes and yawning, I push the curtains aside and fling open large double windows. Gasping, I am frozen still in silence before I start laughing in disbelief. It is the most unexpected and breathtaking view of my lifetime to date. I am somewhere up in the sky, between two lush, green mountains, scattered with tiny pink villages below around them and opening up to the vast blue sea. I hadn't been able to see any of this last night, coming in blind with no idea where I was. 

Every morning, breakfast is served out on the terrace - an assortment of breads, cheeses and charcuterie. My usual routine becomes sitting out in the garden or swimming in the pool for awhile afterwards, before drifting back to sleep in my cloud back in the room. (I simply cannot even sit on this bed without falling asleep.) That first afternoon, I wake up from a nap with church bells ringing off the mountains and delicately making their way through my open bedroom window. This has to be the quietest, most peaceful place I have ever been. 

From the window, I see a small stone village with a church and about seven other buildings so I set out to explore. I walk down the winding gravel road as light as ever and the last time I can remember feeling this carefree, I was about seven

years old, singing while stealing flowers from neighbors' gardens. My headphones are blasting the most beautiful flute melody that feels like it was born here and everything is giving me chills despite the warm sun kissing my face and shoulders - the music, the view, the air. The beauty of this place is staggering. Water and mountains are the only things around me; and flowers are everywhere blowing in the breeze - pink, violet, yellow, coral, white - of every shape and size. Butterflies flutter past me from every direction. I'm singing now and laughing out loud, twirling in my dress as I walk, and I feel about five years old. 

I sit outside on a cliff terrace overlooking the valley and the sea and have a glass of sparkling Corsican wine. I am so high up that I am closer to the clouds than anything else and they dance around the mountain tops in whisps as the sun pierces through. A flock of joyful, singing swallows swoop down and fly past, so close to me that I think I could reach out and catch one. And I feel so light that I might inevitably take flight and join them.

 

(Thank you from the bottom of my heart to the most generous person I know, who booked this hotel for me and wouldn't take no for an answer. You know who you are.)

A Day in Nice
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Nice is absolutely gorgeous and I curse myself for not even having a full day here. There are these little trees in the squares everywhere with pink wisher flowers and the water is painfully blue. I am reminded how the French builidings make me feel ... so creative and love struck and swollen in my soul. I forgot how much I love the South of France, distracted by the music and energy of Spain. There is so much beauty in this world that I simply cannot cope. Last night, I would have cut off my right arm to be home and today, I don't think I can ever stop living this way. 

It's overwhelming. All of it. The people, the strangers, loving and leaving new friends, room after room with stacked bunks, getting lost and then having to leave once you've finally found your bearings to a new place just to get lost and do it all over again. The late nights, the laughs, the language barriers. The long rides and sleep deprivation and filthy clothes. But the most wonderfully overwhelming of all is the beauty. It punches you right in the gut and knocks the wind out of you. And I fall in love over and over again with new places and have to tear myself to leave them, not knowing if I will ever touch them again. I think that nothing further could possibly be this beautiful and fill me this way. And I'm wrong. I'm wrong every time. 

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Daring Possibilities
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Sometimes it hits me again out of nowhere... that this is my life and I am actually doing this. Living this dream I've had for so long. No need for bucket lists when you're on one. And I'm overcome with fits of giddy, childish laughter and joy. I'm sitting atop a ferry heading to Corsica and the crystal blue Mediteranean Sea stretches in every direction as far as I can see. I'm completely alone and I've never been so happy. 

This life. This one moment we have - it's ours for the taking. It's whatever we dare to make it. I know we've all heard that a thousand times before, but it's an entirely different thing to feel it down to your core. The more I travel and the farther I've come, that enticing myth you are promised on Daddy's knee as a child - "you can be everything and anything that you want to be" - becomes more and more real. A fable in America, a past-time dream meant for the priviledged or those who sacrifice all, is now scarily real for me. Anything and everything does seem perfectly possible. Every foolish and far away dream before is now 100% in my reach if I want it. This great big world that seems so scary when you're in your comfort zone suddenly explodes wide open with a million opportunities and paths as soon as you break out. It's opened itself up to me and is now bigger than ever before. And I realize that everything that I ever thought was scary really isn't that scary at all. 

Onwards :: Lisboa
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The train is about 4 hours long from Oporto to Lisboa (which, later, when I look back upon, will be a very missed, fast and easy luxury) and we finally pull up to my stop. Here I am rocking a hot mess of an outfit that in no way goes together, a tangled cat of curls on my head and 50lbs on my back; and this little platinum blonde tart in a satin glove of a jumpsuit as chocolate as her false lashes and Portugease skin, is struggling over 7 suitcases the same shade as her pink lipstick. 

I am again, blatantly confronted with how homeless my neglected appearance has become, which almost sends me into giddy fits of laughter. Never have I been so happy not to be juggling all the weight of beauty and worldly possessions that this hot young thing is. I help her get the 60 lb. bags off the train, handing them down to her on the platform one by one. I'm wondering if she's moving here and if so, for the love of God, why didn't someone drive her?? Then two mid-driff baring twigs of girls come barreling down the platform towards us. An english speaking one exclaims how it is going to be the best summer of their lives. This time I laugh out loud. 

Despite being so ambiguously frightful looking, four even more frightful cab drivers surround me instantly, balking in Portugease, poking me like crows. Where am I going and who is going to take me? I hop in a cab with a very smelly, old man that makes me feel like I am in pristine condition, and head to Costa de Capirica, a small beach town on the coast of the Pacific outside of Lisboa's city center. 

I am staying in a hotel for two days and for the first time since leaving France, which is a most welcomed break from the chaos of the exciting past 10 days. My hotel is called Mar e Sol, meaning "sun and sea," on Ruo do Pescadores, or "Fisherman Street" and I arrive covered in grime and sweat. The boy at the desk examines me with wide eyes, fearful that I might disrupt the pristine conditions he has just finished preparing. Once inside my AIR-CONDITIONED room, I drop my bags, take all my clothes off, and collapse on the bed. 

After the best shower of my life, I walk along the beach and watch the sunrise and the surfers. I decide that I must meet one and have him teach me how to surf. Restaurants in glass-like, open trailors line the beach and couples sit out on the rocks watching the orange sky as it fades over the dozens of surfers below. I eat dinner near the hotel and it is a lovely, romantic setting for one, complete with candle light and butler-like service. I order Spanish Risotto (before remembering I am not in Spain), and it is delicious. Pama ham, asparagus, and peppers smothered in cream, with a glass of Vihno Tinto. Completely stuffed, I walk through the little beach town looking in shop windows and outdoor displays of hats, bracelets, and sandals. And then I have the best night sleep since France - completely dreamless.