“Will you be doing that trail that people take to find themselves?” I was asked by my Sister before I actually thought, “Huh, why not?” about two years after.
I had run away from winter 2017 to South East Asia- the reason for this blog title. I stayed in India for about 1.5 months. This country is a separate world, full of contradictions where love and exploitation go hand-in-hand and are received from everyone around you. I flew to Thailand where, after I volunteered as a Shepherd for a few weeks, I hitchhiked all the way down to Singapore to catch a flight back to Bulgaria for the spring (I arrived during a blizzard so I don’t know if you can call it that). I felt like a prodigal son of sorts. When the plane landed, I felt as if I was coming back to a place of safety and love. An interesting experience for sure.
But all of this is not the purpose of today’s blog post. The point of the above is to explain just how I came to have no more money, and this is an important event in my life which would lead to a grand change in my personal thinking, travel style, and relationships with others around me. What was this event? Well, primarily, I was robbed in Malaysia. Womp, Womp, Womp.
Kuala Lumpur, city of the most disgusting fruit, Durian, I have ever put in my mouth (Imagine soggy bread that tastes like onions). Left my bag for a few minutes at a café/bar and bam, all of my emergency cash was gone. Left my passport and debit card which I am grateful for. But what to do, aye? I already paid for my flights for the next few months. Well, no need to worry for now. Stayed in Bulgaria for a month before flying to Berlin to meet a friend and hitchhike across Europe- Needed to pick up my hiking equipment in Zakopane, and then make my way to Spain for EL Camino.
There are a handful of different trails all labeled EL Camino, but with different traits which they are subtitled for: Camino Frances, Camino Del Norte, And more. I spend a little on a bus to Irun for the Northern Camino after learning about three stereotypes for this particular walk- 1. Significantly less people, 2. More beautiful views, and 3. It’s more difficult. All three of which were true. Well, what was my problem? I only had 120.00 Euro and only 14.00 USD in my bank account.
Many people, I believe, would have not thought about doing the trail with this depressing financial situation. Fortunately, I’ve never been like most people, and this was my thinking,
“Okay, if I do not try the trail, I definitely fail. But I could try to complete the trail with this pocket change, and that way I have at least a small chance of success.”
I had some rules however.
- Never ask for anything other than water.
- Accept only from people who want to give, do not use guilt speech.
- Do not be angry if people do not give.
Thus began my journey of sleeping outside in rainy weather, having shoes that were literally falling apart at the seams, being dirty almost everyday, and going hungry often. Here are some lessons, and maybe bits of wisdom which I have gained from this adventure.
Upon Realizing You Have No Money.
Well what can I say? I panicked for a few minutes, but with a hefty resume of traveling around the globe, I was already used to applying a technique to remain calm- state what is true in your life concerning your basic needs, “I have money today to give me what I need.”
At the time, I had 120 Euro. This is not enough to hike the next 30 days, but it was enough for at least a week or two, so I focused on this instead of what would happen to me after these weeks. I was worried, and this stress was constantly turned on like a leaky faucet, not really noticeable, but it builds after awhile. The first time the water was let down the drain was when the religious community ‘Twelve Tribes’ gave me tea, eggs, and the most delicious bread I have ever tasted. It was only the first day, but I cried from this free love. A ferry man let the 1 Euro fee pass for me, and the same religious group offered me a place to stay and food in exchange for work. “You can stay as long as you need to, my friend.” I moved on however, and they gave me more food.
There is a lot of flapping back and forth between serene peace and desperate anxiety. But I worked through these sprouts of doubt, reminding myself of biblical teachings such as “The Lord God gives even to the sparrows their daily food, how much more will he give to you?” along with constant reminders that I have made it this far just fine, and that I need not worry about tomorrow. This was a lesson for me: I ran out of money, and still there is a way- the way of Love.
Upon Status and Relationships.
Everyone you meet along the Camino asks you for your story. They seem interested, until the words, “I have no money” fly from your lips, and then they want to run away from you. This happened countless times, the judgements come like the rain which accompanied almost every day of the trail. When you have no money, somehow everything you say is heard with suspicion, your advice is scoffed at, and your lifestyle loses credit. This was an incredibly interesting experience for me, as I am quite used to be listened to and asked to share the wisdom which I have. To go from a popular world traveler to a homeless and dirty bum was a very powerful transition. I felt very lonely at times, and often like my value as a human was only based on where I stood on the economic ladder.
I was often laughed at when I said that more people should travel. I was advised to leave my “silly” lifestyle to pursue something that is beneficial for my bank account. All of the people who told me these things were, very often, deeply unhappy with their lives. And yet I, with no penny to my name, was smiling everyday.
Not everyone judges you for this of course, and I did meet many people (mainly towards the end of the trail) that were inspired and excited for the way I lived. They encouraged me, interviewed me in one case, and talked of me to their family members. One man remarked, “I told my mother about you and she was so amazed that you have such a positive attitude in your circumstances, it’s really inspiring man!” And many other similar statements. I met some people here that I am greatly looking forward to seeing again, hopefully I will make this happen in the next year.
Upon Receiving What You Need.
Sometimes, travelers gave me money. Sometimes beer, a hot meal, or they paid for my groceries. This was not so common for me however, and so still the little that I had slowly declined more and more. I never had to pay for accommodation because I had my tent with me. Two or three times, the Camino Albergues allowed me to stay for free or sleep on the floor. “You can sleep here… but I’m not telling you this…” Yes sir, thank you sir. Many Albergues would straight up say, “NO, This is not a charity house!”. And in one case, I wasn’t allowed to use the toilet or get water from the tap because “This is not a public toilet.” I have received much strife from the people, but in the end I always found a way to sleep someone safe and usually dry, which is the important thing. There is no rule that says people must make exceptions for me, or to give me kindness. I know this now, but I hope that I can now recall the feelings I had, and give to those who ask of me in the future.
There is also something VERY humbling about having to rely on those around you. I had no power. No say. No independence. I had to take what they offered me. I had to admit that I could not do it alone, that I, in fact, needed other people like a child needs a parent. I felt very ashamed of this for many days. It took me a long time to simply receive from those around me what I needed. Though I learned that some people wanted to give to me, and if this was the case, I felt very happy. These sorts of people never treated me like I was nothing, but instead saw me as a human being. I liked these people very much, and they taught me how to take what I need from giving hands.
Upon Obeying Convictions.
Okay. It is important to talk about something which came to me a week into the trail. I would offer everything I had been given to those around me. If someone bought me a beer, I would offer half of it to someone who had no drink. My philosophy became,
“What is freely received ought to be freely given.”
This later transformed into the understanding that everything I own, in fact, are simply consequences of having received something for free. My clothing, my backpack, all of my things came from an income that came from a job that came from someone offering me a job. I didn’t do anything to accidently bump into someone who knew of so-and-so and that whats-his-face needed a worker, etc. My very first job at 16 years old was given to me because my elder sister was already working there and put in a good word for me. My job at DEC came to me because a Ukrainian woman told me about it. I did not choose to be born in America with the family I had or the opportunities that came to me- all I did was take the fruits of life at my feet. I didn’t produce a single one. And so, I began offering not only what was given to me on the trail, but also what I had already.
At the very time I was contemplating all of this, I stayed at an Albergue by donativo. These were donation based places, often in dormitory style, sometimes with food included, but mostly with cold showers (or no showers), and sometimes risked bedbugs. But this one was beautifully run by a man named Abuelo Earnesto. I was told about the projects he has done for Spain including a youth project by working free trade over seas, a prison project where convicts could volunteer in the Albergue instead of staying at the prison, and the Pilgrim project to create a safe place for those who walk the trail. So moved was I about the work he was doing, so touched by his devotion to prisoners, that I felt a still, small voice inside of me, “Give all the money you have to this group.” I already knew that the entire place ran on money donated by the pilgrims, that no government or religious institutions funded this spot.
I had a great fight inside of myself at this point. “I need this money for myself,” I thought, “Just give 10, and be done with it.” Things like this came and went from my mind. Donate money when I make more money, you deserve everything you have, etc. At this time over dinner, I spoke with two lovely Australian women who said to me in a topic totally unrelated, “Sometimes you just need to let go of your fears and do something crazy for the life you want. Don’t let fear run your life.” And they had no idea that they gave me the last push to drop all my remaining currency (Which had gone back up to 120 that day from a person who gave me money for new shoes), into the donation box. my thought was, “Well, that’s that.” and somehow I felt freed from something deep inside of me. Maybe being unchained from money, something I had my entire life, was a deep fear that when I let it go, I realized it was only an illusion.
But I was very afraid. I prayed to a God that I felt distant from, “What will happen to me now?” and I cried.
Santander, me, and my guitar in the streets of the city- I made 7 Euros in 30 minutes. Okay, so after I left Earnesto’s place, I thought what I could do. I had a guitar with me for the last year. Well, maybe I could busk. This was something that was a great fear for me, but I remember a friend of mine telling me,
“When you are hungry enough, this fear will go.”
And he was right. I had Busked in Malaysia which helped me get over my fear a bit. But now it was do or starve. So I did in Santander, I Did in Gijon, I did in Ribadeo and Santigao- and I made bank, guys. I made about 10-13 Euros every hour of playing. I had no Amp, and no electronics. Just me, my guitar, and my hat on the pavement in front of me. But I did it. There were times where I got to the next city with only 1 Euro in my pocket, such as when I eventually made it to Santiago, and again these times were frightening. But you can’t think about such fears, otherwise you don’t have the energy to make it further.
Upon Living With Little and Finding Happiness.
I made it to my goal. 30 days of hiking, 20-30 kilometers everyday, 9-10 kilograms on my bag. With shoes that had the largest holes in them, shirts with rips, damaged backpack, straps were breaking, my socks smelled so bad one could throw up, and I could only shower every 5 or 6 days. I went hungry sometimes. But I always smiled.
In Santiago, I met many other people who completed the trail with no money. A friendly Irish lad, a rainbow German girl, and a very crude American guy who sang about vaginas. In the city there, I was instantly accepted into a community of homeless people when they saw me on the street with my guitar. I stayed for a few days and made over 200 Euros, I slept in a park by climbing over a very tall fence after midnight (and leaving around 7am), but I learned something. I don’t need much.
And the adventure. A dear friend once told me that once you run out of money, the real adventure begins. There’s just something surreal about sneaking over a 3 meter fence at 1am, setting up a tent with the silhouette of a cathedral being lit by the moonlight, trying to be quiet. And there’s something so powerful in making it to the end of the world with shoes crumbling with every step, to succeed, to find new shoes just sitting on a rock, to eat food with the hippies, and dance around a large fire on the shore with good company and beautiful connections. I can do all things.
One day, I hope to walk another Camino, but when that time comes, maybe I’ll have some money in my pocket. Now, I work at Ukraine once again for the summer to make some money once more. Life is good, life is beautiful, and always life will give you what you need when you need it.
Any questions, write in the comments below, subscribe to the blog, and live the life you want. If I can walk for 30 days with no money saved, so you too can do all things.
Today, I will choose happiness.
Cold. So very cold was the night that I could hardly sleep at all, and spent most of my time rubbing my feet together within my sleeping bag. I remember reading a book that my friend Jim lent me: ‘The Gentle Art of Tramping.’ In it, the author Stephen Graham recommends heating rocks, shoving them into a pair of socks, and throwing the bundle into bed with you to keep warm on frigid nights such as this one. I lit a fire, and followed his advice. This was excellent… for about 4 or 5 minutes before my socks burned up. One pair of socks less, still icey in the morning, I trekked on to my goal. I have been visited by wild pigs almost every night- their tramping, digging, and vocals made their presence known.
On one particular night, as I was recounting the day’s events in my journal, I did hear a very loud screech in the distance. My eyes opened wide, ears alert, as the sound echoed through the forrest where my camp was set. No one near me for miles; I was alone. I thought it better to ‘lock this one in the vault,’ not think to much about it, and sleep as best I could. These screams and coughing sounds would persist every night on the trail.
I became dirty from the trail, weary from the walk, and sleepless from frozen nights or sickness. And yet, there was a goodness that the experience birthed, a freedom.
This is a map of the Kektura, which I walked along:
Hungary, a land that has gone through the hands of many. A beautiful place filled with hills, fields of yellow and green, lakes and streams, and a generous populous. On March 20th, Starting at the Austrian border, I made my way East all the way to the tiny village of Hollohaza, 1,128 kilometers later, on May 8th. Could have finished earlier, but a specific Hostel in Budapest and a bad virus kept me a week or two.
Though persons rarely spoke English, a surprisingly high number knew German which certainly helped me in communication, as I had picked up quite a bit of the language from my time on the horse farm with Steffi and her family. One man asked me if I was alone,
‘Und wo ist deine Frau?’ (and where is your woman?)
‘Ich möchte kein Frau!’ (I don’t want a woman)
At my response, he threw his hands down as if to say, ‘Bah, Humbug.’
Why did I decide to do this? It is still somewhat of a mystery for me. It seemed so clear at first, but as I moved, everthing slowed down. Life on trail is unbelievably slow, almost to a point where all time merges into one stream, where there are no consecutive days, but rather one long, never-ending time line. Did I meet that couple yesterday or two weeks ago? It all seems the same to me, words like ‘monday’ or ‘thursday’ mean little to nothing, and this created something of an other worldy environment. Two opposing phenomina occur simultaneously- the memory of starting a single day past, and the feeling as if I have always been livng this way. In this manner, all life comes to a halt and nothing moves until I deviate from this path.
The trail itself may look, depending on your own tastes, rather boring or plain, though I found it stealing my breath on a regular basis.
My diet consisted of tomatoes, cucumbers, bread, sardines, and a plethora of sugary sweets to keep my sugar high. You would be amazed what a Cola can do to you when you feel exhausted. On average, I walked about 18 miles a day- 11 being my lowest, and 24 my highest. My feet were very displeased, and they sure took a beating. If they could talk, I am postive they would say, ‘Good God man, what the hell are you doing? Stop it this instant!’ and they would recite this phrase in a British accent.
I avoided blisters by sticking to a very strict ‘easy going’ strategy:
- Wake and break down camp.
- Walk for five miles
- Take a rest, eat breakfast and remove shoes and socks.
- Walk for another 5-10 miles.
- Take second rest, eat lunch, remove shoes and socks.
- Walk for another 5-10 miles, set up camp, change clothes, dinner, and finally sleep.
My breaks lasted about 1-1.5 hours. I often would nap during these times if it was warm enough, or simply sit and read a book.
The trail is littered with stamps. 147, I believe. Though, I was only able to collect about half of them, as many bars would bring them inside their business, yet would be closed for the day. Which, while we’re at it, let’s address the village schedules.
Every single village has 4 main buildings in addition to civilian homes:
- A church
- Municiple Building/Post office
- A Bar/Restaurant
- A small grocery store
All of which are close promptly at 4pm. This is absolutely inconvenient since you cannot always get to a village in time to buy food for the next day. And you never knew if there actually was a market or not.
There also several blue water pumps scattered through each one which had fresh drinking water. (Yes, I would drink this). And thank god, they were there, as the Easter holiday shut down every grocery market for two days in a row which I was unaware of. There was a time where I had only peanuts and water, hiking up and down hilly areas all day. THAT was an exhausting time. Though one cyclist gave me some protein cookies.
The main mode for sleep is in a tent, which as I already mentioned above, can get quite chilly in the nighttime. After the burning socks incident, I tried a new technique- boiling water in a thin metal bottle, stuffing it into a sock, and putting it in the sleeping bag. This worked wonders. I also bought some large wool socks to put over my normal pair as I slept, as well as thermal leggings. Camp sites would ideally be in a meadow (I feel safest in meadows?), in one of the few specific camp site areas, or near a Kilato watch tower like in the photo above.
Though, occasionally, when I traversed a particularily hard day, or when I became very sick, I would splurge and stay at guest houses (Anywhere between 14-25 Euro a night). Also there was this one day I had walked 24 miles in the pouring rain:
When it Rains, it Pours
And this could not be truer than for Hungary. My morale was low, and I was quite unhappy with my situation, as all my things were soaked, myself included to the bone. But as the sun was setting, I thought to myself, ‘You know what? This is the only time in my life when I will be here, walking this day, in this rain. I am already wet, so what will complaining do for me now? If happiness is a matter of the will instead of a matter of exclusive factors, then I might as well choose happiness. I pulled my hood off to get the full effect and I continued singing as the sky cried down upon me.
In the next hour, I came across a Monestary where, after speaking with some men in German, I found myself with a bed for the night, dinner to fill my belly, and an excellent conversation about Hungarian literature with some professors. As I hung my things to dry, I played music into the night, reflecting on how the universe, or God, seems to smile on me. Something that has also perplexed me. Life is full of mysteries.
What did I do to entertain myself while walking? Sing. An over abundance of singing. I would also have theological and philisophical debates with imaginary figures, tried to deal with the burried pains of the past, self reflected on my life’s worth, and much more. It is truly amazing just how much baggage you can ressurect within you as you go along slowly in solitude. This is, perhaps, the greatest benefit of a solo hike.
In the end, I eventually made it to the small village. I can’t say that I walked 100% of the Kektura, as I often lost my way or had to move quickly t make up for lost time. But I did walk 700 miles all the way to Hollohaza, where I sat down, breathed deeply new life into my lungs, and reflected back on everthing that had brought me to this very point in life. How every action, as small as buying a candy bar or tying shoes, and as big as moving across the world, is a consequence of past choices, both of our own and of others, however willful or nonconsensual. How my entire life, and the lives of my parents, friends, even of people I have never met before, is altered by the decisions around me, behind me, and in my future. And if anything can be considered a miracle, surely it’s this. How God has directed my life is a knowledge that will forever be unknown to me.
Until Next Time, Share this post, Subscribe to the blog, and I’ll be around later.
A man came to the Hostel I was volunteering at. We spoke for a bit sitting on opposite ends of the room. He did most of the chatting and at one point said,
“You just don’t know how foolish it is to be doing what you’re doing. You can run around and act like a child now because you’re young, but soon reality will hit you and you will realise it would have been better to have started your career and made money to take care of yourself.”
After talking some more, it was revealed that this man was unsatisfied with his personal life, feeling unhappy and empty with his own career choices, relationships, and quality of life. Of course, I said nothing of this, only simply thought to myself, “How strange, that someone who is so unhappy is telling me how to be happy.” Obviously this is a form of false logic, but I read once that we should take advice from those we aspire to be. So far, all the people I’ve admired have all given up the “normal” life and the things that are “common sense” to pursue what they really wanted. None of them had regrets.
A wonderful couchsurfing host in Kiev told me,
“I can find you tons of managers who wish they could quit their job to go traveling, but I can’t find you a single traveler who wants to quit traveling and become a manager.”
And while I don’t necessarily propagate that everyone has this innate sense of wanderlust, there are endless single-row lines of men and women who are dying to themselves everyday for the sake of normality and unoriginality all awhile trying to convince themselves that it’s what they want, or what they ought to want. This guy was just one of millions.
As for myself, I spent most of my winter in Albania volunteering in a cold Hostel with little to no heating, and where temperatures drop to -9 at night. Ha, at one point the water was frozen in the faucet. No water, no HOT water. Believe it or not, this is actually a tame beast compared to Kosovo, which was -24 a week ago, or Ukraine which can sometimes hit -30.
(Yes, those are orange and lemon trees. Nothing like fresh fruit picked in the morning sun). I worked at reception mostly, and I met some of the most beautiful people there. So many of them have come through to this little Narnia despite the frozen roads- cyclists from Scotland, France, Austria, and Switzerland, Motorcyclists from Germany, gap year students from the US and UK, world travellers from Singapore, the Latvian-Irish woman who taught me about bluntness, and a lot of vacationers from Italy and Macedonia, and more. All of them have been incredibly interesting, with all sorts of stories from their personal journeys. I have made several friends here, and as always find it difficult to say goodbye. HSP problems, heh heh.
I realised, after spending time with specific guests here, that travel is an eyeglass which we use to gaze into the great open spaces of ourselves. It is sobering how clearly you begin to see yourself- the good and bad, the pride and the shame, the complications and simplicities- you cannot hide from you. This is terrifying, but oddly relieving as well.
I went paragliding over the edge of a mountain. We were picked up in Tirana and drove south to Berat, and up, up, up a mountain, the road shaving down to a sliver, and I do believe I was more afraid of falling off the edge than the actual gliding. Not to mention that the jeep broke down half way up! Oil was boiling and gurgling out the engine like a bubbling geyser.
I volunteered to be the first to go, though my legs were shaking and my lungs were unsteady with fear. When explaining the coming events, I was told to just run, to book it towards the edge of the cliff. I was geared up and clipped onto the front of the host; my whole body was shouting, “Hell no!” but we pushed on anyway until the wind, like invisible hands stretched from above descended and plucked me off of my feet. Where my feet once had met the earth, they now met nothing, and they kicked in the air- I was flying. I wish I could say my landing was graceful, but in reality I tumbled like a weed. Face first, mud on my clothes, but I jumped up and gave a shout into the frigid air, “WOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!” because I flew. And through this experience and others, I learned something important about possibilities: They are endless.
Only through traveling have I come to this conclusion; the vast expanse, the stars shine bright, and they come out to play, to brag and revel in their prideful glow. On quiet nights, I can look into their eyes and I feel them, I can hear their breathing, and in unison we sigh together- a sort of choreographic dance, basking in all the glory we share between us. Every second, a new opportunity presents itself to be, requesting that we take it gently. And we do.
If I had to give one serious complaint about Albania, it would be the sexist attitude that remains questioned. Unlike America where sexism is at least acknowledged as wrong (“I’m not sexist but…..”) here it isn’t an issue. One guy, when discussing acceptable age gaps in relationships, remarked that a woman should never be older than the man because the man must lead the woman, and how she should never have any authority over her husband. It seems that Christian, Catholic, Islam, and Orthodox fundamentalism still have a firm grip on perspectives on gender in many of the Balken countries.
Winter depression has kicked in, a few weeks ago, as it does every year. The only difference between this year and the previous ones is that I will have to live on without inviting old friends over to me during its occupancy; no cup of tea at the table, or no monopoly fight or community cooking. This is a new experience for me, but I have survived thus far by going to Ballet performances (4.00 Euro tickets?), reading some wonderful books, and watching TV series huddled under blankets, hiding from the cold winds outside. And with a big mug of hot chocolate in my hands, I sit cozy until the spring comes around when I can absorb the sunlight and use the new energy to move up North come this March.
Peace out people, stay warm. I hear it’s also quite cold back in New Jersey, but the Knight Riders are probably still running around “scaring horses and old people.” Till next time, here are some bonus photos:
I board a bus headed to Pristina, Kosovo, and as the vehicle rumbles to life, I plug my ears with headphones and cue “America” by Simon and Garfunkel. It breaks down, and the drivers pull of some wizardry, because I cannot explain how they got the wheels replaced with, and I’m not joking, no tools or lifts or anything. Magic. What a way to Leave Serbia.
Nostalgia: this one word can accurately sum up the after effects from my time at Goodbye Lenin Hostel. Like a dream that I’ve just woken from, I wonder, “Did all of those things really happen? Is it possible that I could have met so many people, and have done so many things?” Of course the answer is yes, but sometimes it feels as if my life is completely fake. Am I really this adventurer, or am I somehow a child playing Make-Believe?
In any case, my plan has burned down to one priority: Escape Winter. Life has become a larger version of Hide and Seek- me hiding, and Winter finding everyday; it bites at my fingertips and toes. If only these roles were reversed, I would feel no guilt playing the bully that leaves the Hider alone forever. Can you believe that it can get down to -35 degrees celsius? Cold enough to die, seriously.
With this in mind, I have put both hitchhiking and camping in the garbage bin of activities until my world, and my body, thaws out in spring; this leaves me the duty of finding refuge for 3-6 months.
Bad news: I have been going over my budget consistently for the past months. I plan on putting to use some strategies to quell my spending and get back on track… We’ll see.
More bad news: I got a workaway in Romania, but it turned out to be terrible! So I left because, hey, I’m traveling dang it! And I can do that sort of thing. Peace out! Shout out to the other two amazing volunteers Faith and Beverly for keeping me sane in that spot.
Good news: finding work in the Balkens is easy. Sort of. And I also purchased a full size Guitar- zero self control, but I feel so remorse or regret!!! Actually, I went into the guitar shop and saw this beauty. A friend was with me, and he asked the owner how much it cost. I was sure it would have been 300-400 USD, but to my complete shock it was 90.00. I thought it over the night, and decided to get it. the price was lowered and when I asked my friend Illia how he got it down, his reply was,
This is Ukraine, you can do this sort of thing.
I flew through a few more countries: Ukraine (not as scary as I was led to believe), Moldova (the poorest country in Europe), Romania, Serbia, Kosovo, and now I am volunteering in a beautiful hostel in Albania. I certainly underestimated the challenges that Winter brings, but certainly this has been a learning experience.
Speaking of experiences, I’ve been able to help out a little at the LGBT center in Kiev, I’ve been followed by numerous stray dogs for hours because I pet them a little, people have thanked me in Kosovo because I am American, and I climbed up cranes in an abandoned theme park. So! Just letting you all know that I’m still kicking, and hopefully I can go North slow enough for Spring and Summer; I’ve got my eyes on the National Blue Trail in Hungary!!
“It’s dangerous for a woman to go traveling alone! That’s why I don’t travel. Sure, you can travel the world, but that’s because you are a man!”
I have heard this sort of phrase from so many people; it seems to be the ultimate justification to live a life that does not fulfill one’s dream. They let this common myth decide where and how they go- but that’s all it is: A myth. While couchsurfing in Krakow, Poland, I met the inspiring and admirable “Cindy.” She was a nurse living in Korea and decided one day to travel the world to get a break from her “heavy” job. “Working everyday and seeing people die was very hard for me,” she says. And so, she took a break. A very long one: two years. She travels very similar to the way I do- Hitchhiking, couchsurfing, walking, carrying all her belongings in a backpack and experiencing everything there is to experience in this world. She has traveled throughout East Asia and Europe, and now says she is ready to go back home.
When asked how she would assimilate back to a stable and routine life, she replied, “I don’t think I am done traveling. I will go again.” Cindy recalls only once when she had a bad experience hitchhiking. But even then, she did not feel in danger- the guy was just a little creepy, asking for “Favors.” There is no doubt that when you travel there will be dangerous situations, obviously. Nevertheless, we need to remember that there will dangers around the corner of our neighbor hood, perhaps more severe than those on the road. I’ve been reading a book about Jessica Watson, the 16 year old Australian girl who sailed solo around the world, and in it, she stresses these exact same points: You can’t let fear of danger stop you from living an extraordinary lifestyle. John A. Shedd says,
“A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for”
Yes, it’s scary to go out of the Harbor. But Shedd wisely points out that we were made for more. Cindy is now finishing her first journey, and I couldn’t have been more excited for her and her adventures. Let us see these women for what they are: Powerful, but utterly and completely human. Normal, weak just as we all are. Even so, they still decided to take the “risks” (which are no more risky than staying home) and they both regret nothing. Cindy would like readers to follow their dreams, take into account the consequences and dangers, and then travel. As she says, “You will not regret it.”
I’ve heard it said that a person is never their true self unless they are sure they are alone; if this is true, then I must truly be a lunatic.
I have found myself, when walking in fields completely absent of others, reciting and reenacting whole musical scores such as “Jack’s Lament,” from The Nightmare Before Christmas or “If I Were A Rich Man,” from The Fiddler on The Roof. I leap from fences and logs and stumps, thrusting my hands to the sky, becoming quite animated- which made it all the more embarrassing when I walked right past someone I hadn’t seen. C’est la vie.
The Netherlands was a fun country. Rotterdam was cool, Amsterdam was overrated and smelled like tourism, marijuana, and sex but it was the ghostly sound of Dutch that seduced me. I love the way they say good morning, sounding like “Huda Morgen,” with a windy whisp of the throat and tongue on the R. And oddly enough, I thought I could understand them, even though mentally I knew that I didn’t. Such were the similarities between our respective languages.
It was in Amelo, far east, where I met someone that ended up more than a traveling acquaintance. Linda became my friend, and I actually spent more time at her place than I planned!! A first for me, as I am usually constantly moving. She introduced me to her Italian friend, and I cooked spaghetti with my homemade vegan recipe. Frederico said it was perfect, a great feat apparently, that a real Italian enjoyed a traditionally Italian meal prepared by an American.
As I live and breath, my favorite part of traveling is meeting new and interesting people who are willing to share their life with me. I have felt this multiple times with many, a sort of vulnerability that makes possible the great connection I feel- like a secret knowledge we share together. This is still somewhat of a mystery for me, however, and maybe I can understand it as I grow.
I have felt the first pangs of loneliness while sitting in a campsite in Amsterdam. I knew they were destined to come sooner or later- you can´t expect to uproot one`s entire life and not feel even the least bit lonely. But come the morning, I felt quite alright, and ready to take on the world once more. I regret nothing of leaving. I truly feel alive, a little anxious, but blessed all the same. Solitude is a gift, and I recieve it gladly. But it is still okay to miss people now and again.
I walked across the German border and took a train to Munster. Not sure where I should stay, I began walking towards a green splotch on my map (a possible Forrest?) and took a small break in a thrift store; I hoped to find a book in English, as the one I had was almost finished. In broken German, I tried to ask for one when a woman of about 50 or 60 spoke. “I have a book in English in my home if you’d like. It’s one of Steinbeck’s, but it was too complicated for me.,” she said. Of course I accepted. I made myself comfortable and waited for her return. A bad smell lingered on my clothing, and my thoughts were filled with doubts- “where would I sleep? It was getting late. What would I eat? Where can I clean my clothes” and so on. Upon returning, the woman gave me not Steinbeck, but a small collection of short stories, and then offered me a bed for the night.
“I invite you in because you have a good energy in you, and I hope that somewhere someone will help my own traveling son as I help you,” she explained. This isn’t the first time I’ve been told I had “Good energy.” A French man asked me where it came from and I honestly didn’t know what he was talking about. The woman gave me beer, cheese, bread, and other food that night. She helped me clean my clothing, and I slept like a baby.
Hannover was amazing: I met a group of couchsurfers and found a place to stay there after my CS plan fell through. Tip for anyone wanting to use it: Make sure you confirm everything so you don’t misunderstand like I did. All of them were interesting, to say the least. Garret, the guy who helped me, had hosted hundreds of people. There was a Frenchman who, “Didn’t know why he was in Germany.” He was quite hilarious, with a snarky and sarcastic sense of humor. Rebecca, a German shoe maker who invited me for tea the next day was an intelligent and kind woman. Upon meeting her she said, “You’re English is very good!” Which gave us all a laugh because I should hope it’s good- it’s my native tongue!!
I made my way to Berlin to meet with Claudia, one of the coolest, most chill persons I’ve ever met in my life. Actually, she reminded me of my dear friend Alex, and I told her as much. She took me to “The REAL Berlin,” where tourists don’t often go… Ever. This tour included three spots: Tippie Land- a homeless community where you can set up a tent and stay in, Kopi- a punk rock squat, and Yaam an African hang out. Kopi was amazing. The sign on their door read:
“We will not tolerate Facists, Racists, Sexists, Homophobes, Tourists, or Cameras.”
There was a drunk Italian man, fat, with a head too large for his body equiped with a winter hat way too small for his head. Other memorables would be the loud American girl, pierced to the nines, who sleeps in graveyards for their cheap and peaceful qualities, and a Finnish rock musician traveling around Europe.
After playing music with Claudia the next morning, swapping the guitar back and forth, I decided that I couldn’t take it anymore and bought my self a small guitarlini. Decked me 130€ but if I play on some city streets… 😀
I gathered by things and made my way to Karstadt, where, after missing my train twice, I met my first workawa hosts! They took care of six horses: Santos, Argus, Akazie, Arik, Abbe, and Aiva. I spent the next two weeks (ish), shoveling horse crap into buckets, painting doors, cleaning stables, and antagonizing the pet dogs (Not really, but come on, faking fetch throws is classic). One of the dogs, a black and white poodle named Nemo, seems to have taken a liking to me; whenever I would play the guitar, he would find a way to stroll over and lie down next to me. This, as you can imagine, made me feel quite cool. The other dog, Mahjo, was far too cool and highclass for my rugged ways. But after sneaking her some delicious treats, she warmed up to me.
At one point, I was playing the guitar and this huge, fat cat waltzes right up to where I am. It looks at me, and I look at it, and this must have signaled the creature. It jump upon the table in front of me, and steped right over the guitar and found its way comfortably resting in my lap, purring loudly, rubbing its head against me. Thanks a lot, cat. What did I do? The same thing any one who has been chosen by a cat does- pet the crap out of that thing and earn more purs. Teddy was his name.
Steffi, the daughter, works with training horses via positive reinforcement: a system of training that I can definitely support, with no beating, whipping, or otherwise painful wazs of mistreating the animals. She uses a clicker strategie and took the time to give me some basic lessons. I now feel quite confident that I can teach a horse (or any other animal) that a click means a treat, and a treat means I liked what you did, which then causes the action to resurface again and again. I learned so much from this workaway, that I am quite excited for the next ones. You can see her website here. Its in German so beware.
I am back in Berlin, spending a few days here before I head towards Poland and the Zakopane mountains. Packed up my bag again, ready to hit the road once more, only this time I am a little more musical, and know a little bit more in this world of endless knowables. Till next time, share this post, subscribe, comment below.