Why I Don't Care about International Relations

accomplishments do not make the Western paradigm exceptional or suggest in any way that it has or ought...

Pure Light, Pure Life: A Costa Rica Snapshot

At the edge of Ciudad Colón, Costa Rica, in 6 am light The light falling through my windows at 6...

On Growing Wings & The Value of Figuring It Out for Yourself

I have the clearest memory of asking my father for help tying my shoes. I was sitting on the...

But Still: A Short Story on the Wisdom of Trust

“Trust no one,” the wise ones said. Deep-lined faces, milk eyes clouded with all the memories of all the misfortunes...

How to be an Incorrigible Optimist, or, What I’m Doing in Costa Rica

“We are the crazy ones who choose to believe in peace,” he concluded. One sliver in a blurred progression...
Central America, Peace
Why I Don't Care about International Relations
Central America, Nature
Pure Light, Pure Life: A Costa Rica Snapshot
Adventure, Central America, Travel Advice
On Growing Wings & The Value of Figuring It Out for Yourself
Adventure, Poetry & Fiction, Travel Advice
But Still: A Short Story on the Wisdom of Trust
Central America, Culture
How to be an Incorrigible Optimist, or, What I’m Doing in Costa Rica

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About Me

Hi, my name is Toby Israel.

I like to call myself an incorrigible vagabond. (It hasn’t caught on…yet.) I search for dragons, searches, and cross-cultural understanding—and then I share those discoveries with you.

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wandering, kenya
Europe, Nomadism

In Defense of Aimless Wandering, Revisited

I’m riding from Sweden to Finland on a ferry named Grace, pondering over aimless wandering. I’ll come back to that.

Grace is probably ten stories high. She has a club room and a casino, cafes and restaurants, cocktail bars and a dog toilet. She is more floating apartment building than ship, but she floats as she is meant to and she will bring me from Stockholm, Sweden to Turku, Finland in just over eleven hours. For fifteen pounds, that was a slow travel bargain I couldn’t pass up.

I’m the foggy kind of tired after a weekend of midsommar celebrations, camping adventures, and repeated sunrise-instigated wakeup calls at 4:30am.

The weather sympathizes. Thick clouds crowd the sky and cast the archipelago (stunning, by the way) in monochromatic grayscale. A drizzle comes and goes; the “sun deck” is slick and empty.

I sip sour-tasting ferry coffee, which does nothing to clear my head, but successfully destabilizes my hands, and watch the procession of tiny islands. Some have just enough space for a single house; others boast dense stretches of pine forests. I daydream up a contraption that could hitch to and unhitch from the passing ferries and allow me to island hop. (I realize they’ve already invented one better…it’s called a motorboat.)

And I’m thinking about wandering. Aimless wandering.

In fact, I’ve been thinking about aimless wandering since it came up in discussion during the week-long wild wandering school in which I participated earlier this month.

Actually, I’ve been thinking about aimless wandering for much longer than that—since one of my first forays into vagabonding in early 2014—and just briefly forgot to think about it until that discussion reminded me.

For the past couple of years, my wandering hasn’t been so aimless. With so much work to do and so many friends to visit, I’ve planned my travels more often than not. “You’re in London in July? Great, I’ll come to London in July.” “I have one week free after Portugal…perfect, I’ll see you in Barcelona.” “I need wifi for work this week; I’ll just stay in the city.”

But there is value in wandering aimlessly. So much value. I still believe that.

As I gather the skills to wander ever more gracefully, I hope to welcome more aimlessness back into my life. I’d like to invite you to do the same…

What is aimlessness? It is space, and it is time. Space to move without restraint or reservation, and time to observe without hurry. Space to expand, in body and spirit—and time to be utterly still. Space for silence. Time for reflection. Space for reflection. Time for silence.

Aimlessness isn’t purposelessness. Not to me.

Aimlessness isn’t meaningless. Quite the contrary.

Aimlessness isn’t absence from life; it is full-bodied presence in it.

To wander aimlessly is to move through the world without the conceit that we actually know what is coming next. That is, to move through the world with grace. (Told you we’d come back to it.)

So here I am, sitting on a ferry named Grace, thinking about aimless wandering.

And I’m thinking that maybe aimless wandering isn’t a choice, but a description of how we are, all of us, moving through life. Whether we like it or not. Whether we acknowledge it or not.

We don’t know what’s coming next, but we can go to it with purpose. We can go to it dancing.

There is space to expand, and there is time to be still.

Why not embrace it?


Leaving Stockholm:

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toby wolf rewild sunset
Europe, Nature, Poetry & Fiction

“Smile As You’re Dancing.” Thoughts for Those Seeking to Rewild

I first published this piece well over a year ago on Rebelle Society.

Since, I have gone much deeper into my exploration of rewilding. Back from my week in the Greek wilderness with The Wandering Wild School, I am still in the process of unpacking my experience.

In the meantime, I offer you this:

rewilding, rewild, moon

Rewild

Hello, old friend. It has been a lifetime since last we spoke.

You thought you lost me, but I was only resting.

Now, I am back—and stronger.

The roar of the earth has shaken me—awakened from my complacency—I find compromise a cage that may no longer contain me.

So now, old friend, it is time for you to remember:

The cruel wind of barren peaks in your nostrils.
The hot sands of a wild beach between your toes.
The swirling ice of mountain lakes upon your skin.
Beneath your chest—unruly, irrepressible passion.

Think again of what you known:

Monsoons have kissed your face;
Ancient moss has cradled your feet;
Iridescent seas have caressed your body;
And you have made love to the sun—

Old friend, do you remember yet? Has my voice called up your recollections?

You are the tiger in the forest, and I am the ferocity in your jaws.
You are the hawk in empty skies, and I am the space within your bones urging you to fly.
You are the serpent at the heart of the world, and I am the knowing in your blood.
You are fire, and from your immolation I rise.

Do you recognize me now?

I am the wildness inside.
And it is time for you to remember. To reclaim. To return. To revive.
To rewild.

Jump again from moving buses;
dive again to swirling depths;
rise again from your own ashes;
die again a hundred deaths.

For the wildness inside you will never perish;
I only tire, then surge afresh.
I am the heartbeat that called you to the forest;
don’t you hear me beneath your chest?

Go into the mountains, and give your breath to the wind.
Go into the wilderness, and surrender your fury to the sands.
Go into the ocean, and bow your head to those waters.
Go into the empty blue, and free your self of your fetters.

Smile as you’re dancing;
smile as you dream.
Smile the smile of a creature released;
smile a smile with power in its seams.

Old friend, you never lost me; my pulse is still your own.
I am the wildness inside—now do you remember my song?

Touch your finger to your wrist.
Feel how we have grown.
Catch my reflection in every surface.
Let me carry you home.

 

Originally published on Rebelle Society.

Photo Credit: [1] Casparo Brown of The Wild Wandering School; [2] Sea Eyemere

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wilderness, wildness, wild
Adventure, Nature

The Wild Song and Where to Find It

Seek. Wildness.

The signals have been clear for a while now. Years. This is one of the most important things we can do in our overly sanitized, regimented, domesticated world.

This is the wordless impulse that drives me ever further into the waves, the mountains, the physical and spiritual frontiers of the man-made. That galvanizes me to push the limits of my body, break past the boundaries of my known experience. This is the imprecise call that sent me on a vision quest, on an 800-kilometer trek across Spain, and next on a week-long journey into the wilderness of northern Greece.

There is a song; I believe we all know it, whether we recognize it or not. It sounds like the sun on pine trees and tastes like bold green and smells like an almost-forgotten dream. It instructs us to seek wildness.

Every so often, I try to do its bidding.

If you have the slightest interest in eco-restoration or rewilding, I highly recommend a book by environmental writer George Monbiot called Feral. In it, he imagines a world—perhaps utopic, but nonetheless exhilarating—which is not free of humans, but free of human arrogance. In this world, elephants and lions, wolves and bears once again roam their natural habitats in Europe. In this world, human beings have relinquished the delusion of mastery and allowed a far wiser, far older system of order to reestablish.

In that world, we wouldn’t need to seek out wild places, because they would exist in abundance. Perhaps the same would be true of our internal landscapes…

In the meantime, however, it is not always so easy to immerse in wildness. That is why I am traveling to the mythic, mystical island of Samothraki to participate in a Wild Wandering School run by my good friend Casparo Brown.

There I hope to learn a few more of the words to the wild song that so enchants me.

But I’m not writing this post out of self-congratulatory narcissism (that’s what mirrors are for). I am writing in the hope that you will stop, for a moment, and listen.

That song—the one that sounds like pine and tastes like green and smells like a lost past… you don’t have to travel so far to hear it. Sure, the wild places in our world are harder and harder to reach, but the ones within haven’t gone anywhere.

I hear that wild song in un-self-conscious dance. In play. In getting lost. In risk. In fear. In hunger. In wonder.

If you listen, maybe you will hear it too.

Seek wildness.

Put down the screens, the structure, and the insipid sterility for a minute and close your eyes. Underneath the rules ripples a harmony far wiser, far older than you or me.

If you listen, maybe you will hear it.

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life lessons travel
Adventure, Nomadism, Travel Advice

7 Hardcore Life Lessons Travel Teaches Faster

Travel is a relentless teacher.

There are no bathroom breaks, no question and answer sessions, and no weeks off for study or review.

We jump in, and there we are. We learn on the fly, or we fall on our face. Or, we fall, and then we learn to fly.

Whatever the order of events, we learn, and we learn fast when we get out there. These are a few of the life lessons I’ve found travel teaches fastest:

1. Let Go of Expectations.

That time you think you bought an apple pastry at the Finnish supermarket, but when you bite into it the orange mush inside is anything but apple—and it might be tuna fish. The time you order the cheapest thing on the menu at a rural Kenyan restaurant, and of course it turns out to be beef tongue. When you board your train to Rome, and find out you’re heading to Geneva…

Yes, life is full of surprises; never more so than when we don’t speak the local language, or are in too much of a hurry to ask questions. At some point, I realized I’m more surprised when I do get what (or where) I wanted than when I don’t.

Welcome the unexpected.

2. Eat the Food.

I’m not vegetarian, gluten-free, paleo, vegan, low-fat or high anything else. While I’ve met many brave souls who stick to their dietary restrictions while on the road, I’ve learned it’s a hell of a lot easier (and maybe healthier) to eat whatever’s available. Not to mention unique culinary-cultural experiences don’t usually follow our rules. I frequently choose to eschew the privilege of choice (the eschewing of which, yes, is a privilege in of itself) in favor of honoring a friend’s hospitality or sampling a street snack I’ve never seen before.

Eat the food. Maybe we regret it the next morning, but in the balance, it’s worth it.

3. Be Flexible.

Would you sleep in a boat? Would you sleep on a coat? Would you sleep on the floor? Would you sleep while they snore? It’s not Dr. Seuss; it’s a night in the life of a traveler. Parks, boats, train hallways, packed dirt, wooden pallet, moldy shack, noisy dorm—if you can name it, I’ve probably slept there.

Flexibility is a skill, not an inbred talent, and one which I’ve cultivated over many years. Be it food, sleeping quarters, hygiene or travel arrangements, I’ve learned—had no choice but to learn—flexibility is king of the travel kingdom.

Travel will teach us to be flexible like a ballet class on steroids.

4. The World is your Toilet.

Lest this be misconstrued, I’m not suggesting you relieve yourself in your friend’s bedroom or the public gardens. Rather more in the vein of number three, we don’t always get to be picky about our WC. London city street at three a.m.? Hey, everything’s closed, and the next bus is an hour away. Edge of a Himalayan field? The alternative is the middle of the village road.

Bottom line: we can’t be prissy about where we piss, and sometimes we have to get creative.

5. Technology Won’t Save You.

Sure, Google Maps is super handy for getting from point A to B in a new city, but it has never helped me get back when my phone dies. I’ve seen enough power blackouts and internet outages to firmly believe we can never rely on technology. It may disappear without warning—or it may not be useful once we drop far enough off the map.

We have to be resourceful—without any resources.

6. People Will.

When you’re outside the service zone, a friendly shepherd will give you directions, and he and his three dogs and two dozen goats will accompany you for the next kilometer of your journey. When you’re stranded on the side of the road, well-meaning strangers will (usually) stop and pick you up.

When emergency strikes, technology won’t save us, but the human beings around us will.

7. No Fear.

When I said yes to a stranger’s invitation to dinner in Nepal, she became a friend, and her family’s hospitality gave me one of my most memorable experiences of the trip. Jumping on another friend’s motorcycle for a two-day ride from Mustang to Pokhara tied it for first. Wherever I go, I try to say yes to every (reasonable) opportunity.

Not everyone will agree with my “yes-woman” policy, but I stand by it. From hitchhiking to midnight swims, and mountain climbs to backstreet wanders, it has led me to a treasure trove of adventures—and no regrets.

In short: leave fear behind, along with the high heels. Where we’re going, we won’t need them.

 

What did I miss? Please share your travel-taught lessons—I’d love to hear them!

***

Originally published on elephant journal.

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struggle
Culture, Europe, Nomadism, Travel Advice

Struggle: A Travel Manifesto

If you travel (or live), where the mother tongue is not your mother tongue, you will struggle. The mundane will become complex and challenging, and you will no longer take your habitual fluency in the everyday for granted.

This is a good thing.

It shouldn’t be easy. (Or at least, I strongly believe that it is through challenge, discomfort, dis-ease that we grow best.) So, this is my travel manifesto for you…

Go out into the world, and struggle:

Struggle, to purchase underwear.
Struggle, to ask directions.
Struggle, to talk about the things that matter to you.

Comprehending the cost of your coffee will be a minor victory.
Catching a compliment on the first go will be cause for celebration.
Navigating a simple interaction will thrill you—as it never could at home.

These are all very good things.

For it should not be easy, this day-to-day living.
It should not be easy, this being in the world.

So struggle, to take the bus.
And struggle, to order at the bar.
Struggle, to understand.
Struggle, to say you have understood.

For it should not be easy, this everyday living.
It should not be easy, this quotidian life thing.

When it is easy, we forget—

We forget that buying our coffee is in fact a minor victory,
that a compliment is cause for celebration,
that understanding is a miracle,
and being understood doubly so.

So struggle,
and don’t forget
that it is a privilege to move through this world with grace.

And when you do forget,
as, invariably, we do,
Go out again
and travel.

Remember what it feels like
to struggle for the simplest of rewards.

Remember not to take
anything for granted.

Remember how to move
through this world
with grace.

 

— Monday, 15 May; train Barcelona—Paris

 

*Image photographed in Belleville, Paris. Artwork by rnst.

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sagres, portugal
Culture, Europe, Travel Advice

Some Stuff I Liked in Portugal: A Rough and Tumble Guide

Portugal has made it onto just about every top travel list this year, and with good reason.

I loved the month I spent there in every way, and I want to share some of the goodness with you.

If you’re looking for the definitive guide to the country, this is not it. On the other hand, if you want to know about some of the places, food, and other things I really enjoyed, I’m so happy to share my favorite spots with you.

Enjoy this rough and totally incomplete guide to sunny Portugal. And feel free to ask if I didn’t mention something you want to know about—maybe I forgot!

I give to you…some stuff I liked and things I did in Portugal, in no particular order:

Praia da Areia Branca

Just 70 kilometers (1.5 hours by bus) North of Lisbon, Praia da Areia Branca is (one of) the chillest spot(s) I know to surf, yoga, and write songs in Portugal. Granted, I only went to two areas on the beach, but I’d go back, and that’s saying a lot. A week is perfect; I think less than that would be too short.

Stay:

Lemon Tree Hostel

Gorgeous garden out back, choice of shared or private rooms, super affordable if you go in low or mid season and opt for the surf-yoga-stay package. Comfortable, clean, and graced by the warmest and most welcoming hosts.

Pura Vida Surf Hostel

Dorms, doubles, and privates. Not actual sure how it’s different from Lemon Tree. Maybe cheaper and closer to the beach?

Surf:

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Ripar Surf School

Nicest (and, in my roommate’s opinion, cutest) surf instructors around. Great value for money. Packages available for surf/yoga/stay, or just surf/stay. As it turns out, I don’t like surf lessons, but if you’re looking to learn, this is the deal for you.

Yoga:

Yoga lessons with Carla (organized through Ripar/Lemon Tree) are a necessary complement to hours of surfing in the cold Atlantic. She is a gem of a teacher, and I was lucky to wander into her class for a week.

Eat/Drink:

Foz—

Fresh seafood, sunset views…what else is there to say? Go for one of the grill options. I won’t ruin it for you, but the skewers are served beautifully.

Sol Mar—

Catch the sun from the open terrace and relax to the sound of the waves, or sit inside and enjoy some particularly well-chosen beats. Veggie burger isn’t bad, and I hear their beetroot salad is excellent. Lemon-ginger infusion is perfect for post-surf warm-up.

Bar Central (or maybe it’s Cafe Central…you should probably ask) (Lourinha)—

If you have a car, or a friend with a car, this cafe is worth the 10 minute drive from Praia da Areia Branca for some of the tastiest Pasteis de Nata in the area. Buy a box and bring some back to share.

Dance:

Baracca Bar—

I did not go on working-surfing holiday expecting to stay out dancing until two in the morning, but that’s exactly what I did my last night in Praia da Areia Branca. The DJs on a Saturday night were unexpectedly exceptional.

Shop:

Kidding. This is not where you go for shopping.

Porto

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Porto and I are totally going steady. Portugal’s tiled, hilly, artistic northern city won my heart within twenty-four hours. I even forgive it for being uphill in every possible direction. A three-hour train or bus ride from Lisbon, it’s an easily accessible (and, in my humble opinion, unmissable) stop for any itinerary.

Stay:

Salema Cosy Home

I would highly recommend the Airbnb studio apartment I rented just to the north of the city center. Ideal for solo travelers, couples, or really good friends. Hosts were kind, solicitous, and excellent communicators.

Eat:

Ristorante Sai Cão (Rua do Bonjardim)—

Keep walking up past Trindade metro, cross the main road, and look for a blue awning on your left. Great local spot—according to my hosts people come from all over Porto to eat here—and menus for 4-5 euros.

Raiz—

Menu looks great. Comes highly recommended. I didn’t actually get a chance to eat here.

Foz Fish Restaurants—

Follow the Douro River toward the sea (walking). When the ocean comes into view and Foz is just around the corner, you’ll come to a strip of seafood restaurants on the sidewalk. Pick the busiest one, and enjoy some of the freshest, cheapest fish around.

Francesinha—

The famous Porto sandwich—layers of meat and cheese, and covered with a tomato-based sauce—available at just about any restaurant for 5-8 euros. I recommend sharing with a friend to avoid instant heart attack.

Drink:

Bar Candelabro—

Enjoy a coffee or port wine surrounded by old books. This quickly became my favorite spot to read and write in the whole city. Social hub by night, calm cafe haven by day.

Cafe Majestic—

Gorgeous (almost over the top) explosion of mirrors, brass, candelabras, and overdressed waiters. Have high tea for 20 euros…or sit down, take pictures, look at the menu and walk back out and head for Bar Candelabro instead.

Maus Hábitos—

Art gallery with bar/restaurant space, situated above a parking garage (you have to know to look for it). Funky, creative ambiance, perfect for a drink with friends, and supposedly there’s dancing on the weekends.

Dance:

Rua Cândido dos Reis—

Take your pick from a whole street full of standard bars-with-dance-floors. Nothing exceptional, but they serve their purpose if you’re looking for a party on a weeknight. Bar hop to get the full experience—Britney Spears one minute, Kizomba the next, and old school hip hop after that.

Party Boat—

Not sure how to give instructions for this…Walk along the river in the early evening. Look for a cruise boat blasting music and crowds of young people waiting to get on board. Get lucky, and buy the last two tickets to a sunset cruise dance party. Alternately, river sightseeing cruises are available daily (without the party).

Shop:

Out To Lunch

Tiny but ultra-chic selection of footwear, bags, and a few clothing items, owned and stocked by a man from Tokyo with a great eye for functional-yet-beautiful style. Boutique prices.

Pop-Up Store—

Good luck finding it, as it comes and goes, but if you do manage to stumble upon it there’s a whole world of local designers and cooking classes inside!

Do:

Rent a Scooter (140 Rua da Alegria)—

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They think of everything, so you don’t have to. Equipped us with helmets, smartphone charger, maps, plans for the day, goggles. All we had to do was hop on and get lost—and we did this spectacularly well. Set your map directions to “bicycle” to avoid highways and get into some interesting wooded situations.

 

Matosinhos

Don’t go here unless there are waves. Maybe for an afternoon to eat fish (Matosinhos has the best fish in the world, according to their tourism office).

Surf:

If there are waves, Matosinhos is an easy day trip from Porto. Take the A metro or the 501 bus from Porto center, and hop out half an hour later in the dilapidated, possibly haunted, urban surf spot. Many surf schools on the beach where you can rent equipment.

Stay:

Fish Tail Sea House

Good value for money. Well-equipped kitchen. Free bikes. Comfortable beds. Private rooms and suites available.

Do:

Kidding. Go for walks on the beach. Enjoy the downtime.

Lisbon

Charming, imperfect, and full of unexplored corners, this is my kind of city. Come for the food, the walking, and the music.

Stay:

Dom Dinis Studios

This one’s a splurge. Save it for a special occasion or for traveling with your mom. 😉 Ideal location if you like things quiet at night, walking distance to Bairro Alto and lots of funky bars and restaurants, but situated in a local, not too touristed part of town.

Be Lisbon Hostel

Budget option. Basic, but nice breakfast, clean rooms. Basically all you can ask for from a hostel.

Do:

Take a Cooking Class

lisbon, portugal

Another splurge, but a day-long adventure complete with visiting a local food market, learning loads about Portuguese cuisine, and cooking a ridiculously tasty multi-course meal, wine included.

Visit Sintra—

Again, I didn’t actually do this, but my friend did, and suggests taking a train to Sintra, renting scooters there, and then motoring out to the Westernmost point in continental Europe, Cabo da Roca. I’d take her word for it.

Walk—

Everywhere. The famous Tram 28 is crowded, to say the least; if I had to do it again, I’d probably just pull on my walking shoes and take a three hour wander from Bairro Alto to Alfama (wonderful twisty little roads) and back.

Go to Belém—

portugal

The port of departure for some of the most famous naval expeditions in history, Bélem is an easy (though hot and crowded) bus ride from the center of Lisbon. Wander over to the fort, but by all accounts don’t bother going inside, eat the Original Pastel de Belem at the cafe of the same name, Pasteis de Belem, and pause to soak in the ornate architecture of the Jerónimos Monastery.

Listen:

Fado—

A Tasca do Chico in Bairro Alto came highly recommended for a Fado music experience. Don’t make the same mistake we did; you need a reservation or you will not get a table in this tiny spot. Go for the music, not the food.

Eat:

Everything.

 

Sagres

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I couldn’t resist visiting the farthest southwest town in Europe, and it far exceeded my expectations. This place is definitely magic. According to my airbnb host, it has something to do with the rocks. Whatever it is, this would have to be my top pick for a chilled out beach holiday. Go out of season; I hear the summer gets hectic.

Stay:

Sunshine Guest House

I loved my stay at this laid-back oasis right at the edge of Sagres. Liz is a wonderful host, the garden is as peaceful as peaceful can be, and you could comfortably fit two people in the double room.

Memmo Baleeira Hotel—

If you’re going for upscale, this four-star hotel has some truly beautiful views of Sagres harbor. That’s all I can tell you about it, since I never actually stepped inside.

Do:

Surf—

Watch out for the rocks at Tonel Beach, especially if you’re like me and wipe out more than you ride waves. But the water is beautiful, not as bitingly cold as farther north, and the dramatic cliffs surrounding the beaches make an unbeatable view once you make it past the break point.

Cabo de São Vicente—

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This marks the actual farthest southwest point in all of continental Europe. It’s a slightly-hilly-but-enjoyable 6km pedal from Sagres town; if that’s not your windy cup of tea, I believe the regular local bus goes that way several times a day. Leave time to wander the paths along the cliffs

Wander—

The beaches. The cliffs. The harbor. The one sleepy main road that cuts through town. Time slows down here—let it.

Eat:

Mum’s

This could not be more inaptly named—definitely not home cooking. A little pricey, but a good “last night of vacation” kind of treat.

Agua Salgada—

Casual, affordable, tasty. Fast wifi…if you’re into that kind of thing.

Mar a Vista—

Another beautiful view. Pricey-but-delicious food.

Drink:

Kiosk Perceve—

Unassuming local cafe overlooking Mareta Beach. Nice spot for a morning coffee; I’d skip the pastries.

Dromedario—

Apparently where all the surfers hang out at night. I went too early. Good atmosphere. Drinks are pricey but good.

 

***Note: If I have not linked to something, that’s because you 1. can’t miss it, 2. can’t find it online, or 3. can easily Google it. Enjoy! Xx

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loneliness
Europe, Poetry & Fiction

Give Me Loneliness (a poem for travelers and dreamers)

Sagres, Portugal, early May.

This past weekend, after a few wonderful weeks of travel and adventure with friends and family, I gave myself the gift of a few days utterly alone. I went to a tiny town at the end of the world—Sagres, Portugal. (There is magic there, you should know.) I surfed (badly), ate (decently), and puttered about (spectacularly), and I did my best to avoid making friends so as to properly refill my creative batteries. Or something like that.

My airbnb host gave me various well-intentioned suggestions on where to drink and how to meet other travelers, none of which I followed.

She was worried about me feeling lonely. I wasn’t.

On my last morning in town, I sat down at the Perceve Kiosk for coffee with a view of the sea, and I wrote this poem. I hope it may speak to the part of you that also, perhaps secretly, craves loneliness.

Give Me Loneliness

Give me loneliness.
Give me long mornings where not one word passes my lips.
Give me dinner for one.
Give me the sweet melancholy of looking out at the sea and whispering—only for myself—“that is so fucking beautiful.”

Beauty shared doubles in its charms,
but beauty held within multiplies without bounds.

Give me loneliness.
Give me empty roads in forgotten towns.
Give me shadowless landscapes where my soul can dance all alone.
Give me sleep, because there is nothing—no one—for which to stay awake.
Give me dreams of open skies and towering cliffs and violent surf, which do not fade on waking.
Give me a soft shawl of solitude, with a bittersweet border. Let me wrap myself in it for an hour, a week, or a year, to keep my dreams warm in daytime.

Dreams shared may reach towering heights for a while,
but dreams kept inside—these grow wings in their own right.

Give me loneliness.
Give me a short coffee and a long, long morning.
Give me voices on the breeze that require no answer.
Give me the low, salubrious song of no footsteps passing.

Give me loneliness—
When I am ready
…after a while…
I will look up and smile.
And you will understand that I was never lonely
not really
but only warming my dreams over a silent flame,
biding my time
until the wind was right
to turn whispers
into flight.

***

Photo Credit: Casparo Brown

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Adventure, Poetry & Fiction

The Girl Who was Afraid of Everything—Fiction

The Girl Who Was Afraid of Everything.

(A break from the usual—story time!)

***

Once there was a girl who was afraid of everything.

She lived on a tropical island of fearsome forests surrounded by cavernous seas. All the other islanders lived for adventure, it seemed, but not her.

She watched the towering ocean waves rolling toward her, and gasped at the audacity of the swimmers who danced in the roar of the surf, bodies like slippery eels.

Hugging her knees at a safe distance on the beach, the girl said to herself, “I could never do that.”

As the children of the island dove, jumped, and spun into a thundering waterfall, the girl dipped her toes in the pool below and shivered with fright.

“I could never do that,” she thought again.

She hovered at the edge of the forest that bordered the village and peered through the trees. The hunters chased great beasts on foot, leaping tree roots and serpents with ease and clutching arrows in their teeth.

The girl sucked in her breath at the sight and shook her head with finality as she whispered, “I could never do that.”

And so the days turned into months turned into years, and the girl became a young woman. Still she was afraid of everything. The other young men and women of the island made fun of her, and she withdrew ever deeper into her fearful heart.

One day, all the young people of the village ran off to play in the waves. A storm was brewing, and each wanted to prove their mettle. Only the girl stayed behind. She sat on a rock, drawing patterns in the dust, and an old, old woman came to sit beside her.

“What’s wrong?” asked the old woman.

“Everyone has gone to play in the waves, and I am all alone,” said the young woman.

“Why don’t you go with them then?”

“Oh, I could never do that.”

“Do you want to?”

“I… I don’t know. I never thought about it.”

And indeed, she never had, so fixed she had been in her certainty that it was impossible.

“Well,” said the old woman, “perhaps you should ask the others how it is they manage to do what you believe you never could.”

And that is what the young woman did.

She went to the swimmers and asked, “Oh swimmers, tell me how you can be so brave to swim like slippery eels in such big waves. Are you not scared?”

They laughed. “Of course we are scared, little sister,” they said, “but we must swim.”

Next she went to the divers and asked, “Oh divers, please tell me how you can be so fearless to dive without hesitation into such a big waterfall. Are you not scared?”

They laughed. “Of course we are scared, little sister. But we must dive.”

Finally, the young woman went to the hunters and asked, “Oh warriors, please tell me how you can run after such big beasts. Are you not scared?”

They laughed. “Of course we are scared, little sister. But we must hunt.”

She had a lot to think about.

And so she sat on her rock at the edge of the village, and she thought. And thought. And thought. And thought. And this is what she decided:

“If the swimmers must swim, and the divers must dive, and the hunters must hunt, perhaps everyone has something they must do, which, when they find it, makes them brave. Perhaps I too have something I must do, and when I find it, I will not be afraid.”

Soon after, a terrible drought struck the island. The oldest of the villagers could not remember its equal. The fruit in the trees withered in the sun and fell like stones, and the crops in the gardens shriveled and disappeared like smoke. The river dried up to a trickle, and the waterfall ceased to thunder. The people began to starve.

Now, there is something I have not told you about this island.

While the islanders were daring and brave and courageous and fearless, while they could swim and dive and hunt with abandon, and though they were happy, they could not love. From the youngest boy to the oldest woman, it was, they believed, quite impossible. Legend had it that this love business was far more perilous than any wave, or rock, or beast.

But, the legend went on, one would be born amongst them who would be braver than all the rest, who would not be afraid of loving, and who would save their island from destruction when calamity struck.

The young woman who was afraid of everything (formerly the girl who was afraid of everything) watched her neighbors starving and the crops failing and the river drying up to a trickle. She watched these things, and she listened to the prophecy and the legends that issued from parched, ancient lips, and she retreated deep into her fearful heart. Deeper than she had ever gone.

And there, beneath the fear, she discovered something she had not expected. Something that was not fear. Something that moved and flowed and had no bottom.

As she touched this mysterious well at her core, it spilled over and fell onto the cracked earth. She opened her eyes and looked at the blurred scene before her.

And… she… loved.

She loved the village, and the villagers. She loved the jungle, and the beasts. She loved the river and the waterfall, the ocean and the beach. She loved the island, the earth, the sky…

… and so the prophecy came to pass.

With her love, the woman ended the drought. The skies opened, the rains came, and the island prospered for a long, long time.

And she never stopped loving, the woman who was afraid of everything except that most perilous of nature’s inventions. She grew old, and still she loved.

Whenever a young, fearful villager asked her how she could be so brave as to love, when all around her believed it to be impossible, and was she not scared (and they asked her this often), the woman who loved laughed and laughed.

“Of course I am scared,” she would answer, “but I must love.”

***

Previously published on Rebelle Society.

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Adventure, Europe, Nomadism, Travel Advice

When You Don’t Want to be Friendly and Open and Curious

That’s okay. It’s normal. Go ahead and hermit.

 

I stare resolutely out the window of my Uber at the windy Cape Town day, quite determined to see that any attempts at conversation die a quick death.

As our fellow hostel guest in Matosinhos (northern Portugal), a kind man from Tokyo determined to talk about marijuana at length, engages my friend in discussion about alternative cures for cancer, I stare resolutely at my book, quite determined to leave the onus of politeness on her.

A talkative-looking chap sits down next to me at a cafe. I pretend not to speak English, or Portuguese, or French, or Spanish…I stare resolutely at my coffee cup, quite, determined to be Russian for the next hour or so.

Surprised?

I write so much about openness in travel, without giving any stage time to its inevitable counterpart: closedness.

I think I’ve touched on this before, but never really delved into it: No one can be “on” all the time.

For permanent vagabonds, this can be a slow realization. After all, aren’t curiosity, openness, and willingness to engage the key ingredients to meaningful travel experiences? Sure, but then, so is balance.

I love my alone time. Fiercely. I am probably less social, less inclined to long chats, and less of a people person than you are (and I don’t know who is reading this).

I write often about kindness, talking to strangers, being open to the world—and rarely about selfishness, ignoring talkative strangers, and withdrawing from the world.

But balance, right?

Lest you mistakenly conclude after reading my blogs that one must always be friendly, happy, and socially-inclined in order to travel, let me assure you: I’m not.

After all, how else would I get so many articles written?

Someone once told me that I like the idea of people more than I actually like people, and he was probably right. Humans are so fascinating! Culture, language, food, stories—I love it, and I want to soak it all in…50-90% of the time. The other 10-50%, I really cherish my own company (another key ingredient for solo travel), and I don’t want to share it.

Balance.

For those naturally inclined to solitude, there’s a spider-web-fine line—at which you may choose to stare resolutely while seeking to avoid conversation—between comfortable, uncompromising introspection, and exhausting, unrelenting openness. And if you can dangle from that line by your toes, in an incredible feat of mental acrobatics, you just might find the recipe for richly balanced, joyful adventure.

Maybe your travel soup will have some of the same ingredients as mine:

> Ample time to read, write, yoga, and think
> Bizarre and fascinating interactions with strangers
> Learning experiences of all variety
> Wordless (heart-centered) communication with people and spaces
> Silence in abundance
> Dancing and other movement in abundance
> Kindness
> Selfishness
> Outward-focused curiosity
> Introspective curiosity
> Creative exploration
> Physical adventure

So happy travels, and happy soup-making—I hope you’ll find just the right balance.

Please share your favorite ingredients if I’ve forgotten any!

 

Photo Credit: Zen Monkey Photography

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Adventure, Europe

The Rough and Wrinkled Side of Adventure

Sunday, 23 April. Porto, Portugal.

Welcome to the world of unplanned adventure.

It’s messy. It’s unphotogenic. It’s wild-ish.

It’s kind-hearted French tourists warning you that you’re being followed (you know already) and offering to accompany you wherever you need to go (you’re touched).

It’s hastily scribbled hitchhiking signs, crumpled and smoothed out again. It’s sloppy smiley faces in the O’s of Oporto. It’s red eyes after too much dancing in other people’s clouds of smoke, and not enough sleep. It’s aching feet and dirty jeans.

It’s strange people chasing after you in the street to tell you they like your hat.

It is so far from glamorous that any Instagram post on the matter seems discordant.

It’s empty coffee cups and chipped tiles, half-formed impressions flitting in and out of your mind. It’s improvised, individual, and in flux, but not quite indescribable. It’s sauerkraut and beets for dinner, because the Russian supermarket is the only one open on Sunday evening.

It is chaotic. It is alive. It is enlivening.

Welcome to the world of rough, messy, unplanned and unplannable adventure.

It’s not just on the other side of the world (though it’s here, too). It’s in your backyard—as long as there’s dirt. It’s in your dreams—as long as there are dragons. It’s in every crumpled page, wild dance, and imperfect human encounter that appears in the archives of your life.

And isn’t it beautiful?

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