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The Vast Expanse, Acknowledged

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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.


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Photo Credit: Adeline
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Photo Credit: Adeline

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.

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The face you make when your car breaks down in Albania- just accept it.

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:

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This is the Bektashi World Center- a Mosque hidden behind old roads. While there, we were given a private tour underneath (Even though we didn’t understand any Albanian). The Bektashi are a branch of Islam that are quite liberal: the consumption of Pork and Alcohol for example are permitted. 

 

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The Pyramid here causes great controversy. Built for the last Albanian Dictator, half of the population calls for its destruction while the other half want to use it for public activities.
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I don’t care about controversy, so we just climb up and take naps. Going down was a bit frightening, though. 

 

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Will Work for Food

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

 

Passport: 52 Page Book

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When traveling outside of America, a Passport is required for the majority of countries you will be visiting. It is important to have a Book that not only has a long expiring date, but also many pages.

My Passport is almost out of room because of my travels through Egypt, Jordan, and Israel, not to mention layovers like Vienna. I only have a few years left as I got it back in 2010. I believe that passports usually expire in 10 years.

Before I go, I will apply for a new Book and request the 52 page option. This is free of charge.

An American citizen may have multiple passports, so I plan on utilizing both of them for longer stays and less worries. Sure, it will weigh me down slightly, but it is worth it in the long run.

If you are planning to visit several countries for longer periods, I suggest opting for the multiple pages, and possibly multiple Books.