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adventure travel

musafir, pirates, ship, kenya, africa, travel, distant relatives
Adventure, Africa, Nomadism

The Floating Pirate Community you always wanted to Join is Real… & it has a Name

Musafir is more than a ship. She’s an ideal—a vision and symbol of another way of life.

Those who built her and those who meet her find themselves swept up by the singularity of her story.

Musafir—or Msafr in Ki-Swahili—is Arabic for traveler. And indeed, the soul of the 70-foot (21-meter) dhow is travel. When I met her in early 2015, she lay at anchor in Kilifi Creek, on the North Coast of Kenya. Just 3.6 degrees south of the equator, Kilifi rests in equal proximity to the chaos of Mombasa to the south and the ancient port town of Lamu to the north, yet remains utterly tranquil.

During my two months in Kilifi, I visited the nearly-finished vessel often.

sailboat, dhow, musafir, distant relatives, toby israel

The approach to Musafir required a two-minute swim, or a one-minute kayak ride, through calm saltwater. At the boat’s hull, the water glowed a brilliant green as though illuminated by the vessel itself.

Louis, a 30-year-old Frenchman from Burgundy who arrived in Kenya in September 2011, rested on board, a feather in his dreadlocks and a worn pair of shorts around his narrow hips. He had been building the Musafir for three and a half years.

Work on the deck had begun only a week prior to my arrival, and a jumble of boards—some secure, others less so—sprawled before him. From several beams a collection of items hung: one hammock; woven baskets; a blue glass evil eye; a shard of mirror; solar lights; and a Kenyan flag.

The mirror reflected the bright afternoon sun as Louis spoke:

“It was the idea of freedom that called to me. The idea of doing something else. That’s why I started traveling, because I saw that this life that was suggested to me was not exciting. I think with this vehicle [Musafir] we can send a message somehow to the world. Not screaming it loud, you know, but by touching people pole pole [slowly in Ki-Swahili], showing that another way is possible. And if you follow your dream, even if you think “no, it’s impossible,” it’s possible.”

Louis, along with an Italian man named Paolo, is one of the project’s “initiators.”

kenya, sailing, dhow, kilifi, musafir, numundo, transformational travel

In theory, however, “the boat belongs to whoever is on board.”

He laughs and adds, “Me I’m just the Chai Wallah. My job on board will be to make chai and coffee. Just now, you know there are so many other jobs to do and no one else is around to do them.”

The project relies on donations, crowdfunding, and—above all—the resources of those who have devoted their lives to actualizing it. Louis, Paolo and many volunteers repeatedly poured their savings into building costs.

Historians differ on the exact origins of the dhow (a broad category encompassing many particular models). Some declare it Arab in origin, while others trace its roots as far as ancient China. A lateen sail and long, narrow hull differentiated the dhow from its Mediterranean kin. Many were constructed in Kerala, South India, known for the quality of its timber. Until Vasco da Gama’s arrival to Africa in the 15th century, wooden pegs and coconut rope—not nails—held the vessels together.

Kipini has long been a notorious hub of expert Swahili construction, and thus a natural, far-off-the-beaten-path starting point. Musafir made its maiden voyage from Kipini to Kilifi (more accessible and less isolated) in November of 2014. In four days, she traveled 75 nautical miles, carrying fifteen passengers, a goat who would not see the end of the journey, and several chickens who would.

Musafir, which, more precisely, is a jahazi (a Lamu-style dhow), is held together by copper nails rather than coconut rope. A few power tools for sanding and drilling assisted her construction, and she will eventually have an engine, too. However, Badi (the fundi, or master ship-builder), largely employed traditional techniques.

Cotton canvas sail; old wood from Kipini; axes and sweat.

musafir, boat, dhow, sailing, kenya, africa, adventure travel

Building a boat of this size by hand is an endeavor few would undertake, but those involved agree that their labor adds inimitable depth.

Louis elaborates, “Does it have soul? Does it have a special energy added to it? I think it does… Day after day of work, you start to know every piece, every nail. It makes it totally unique. You can be sure there won’t be two dhows like this in the world.”

Dhows once traversed the Indian Ocean, sailing along the Arabian and East African coasts, and following the monsoon winds all the way to India and back. They carried dates from Basra, curved daggers from Muscat, gold and ivory, carved chests, spices and mangrove poles—and ideas. The dhow enabled the exchange of languages, people and ideas as well as goods.

Likewise, Musafir will transport stories, goodwill, and possibly trade items. When the traveler and its travelers make port, “the vision is to have this exchange of culture—learning from communities and doing what we can to fill any specific needs.”

Louis, Paolo and others made an exceptional effort to integrate into their temporary homes. They learned Ki-Swahili and befriended the Kilifi men who spend vast swathes of time cleaning the nearby beach. They drank mnazi (coconut palm wine) and worked closely with local experts.

Cross-cultural understanding, they have understood, is an integral component of modern-day travel. Along the Swahili Coast—a vibrant blending of deep Islamic roots and centuries of Bantu, Arab and Indian influence—such insight requires time and complex awareness.

musafir, distant relatives, pirates, community, travel, africa, toby israel

What could inspire a group of unconnected people from around the globe to live and work together towards a common goal? It’s not the physical ship, though many involved love to be at sea. More than anything, it is the promise of freedom.
Dario, a volunteer from Sicily, explained,

“I think it appeals to people who are curious, adventurous… and who have a little craziness around, because it’s not a safe environment. I fell in love with the idea. To travel, to have access to any country. There are no roads, you know; you are just thinking where to go and you go.”

Travel represents both a means and an end. For these Musafiri, there is no “after” in sight—only oceans and journeys to discover.

Dario peeled a mango with a recycled blade and spoke over the snapping of the green tarp overhead as the wind churned and the light became hazy with the setting sun.

“Musafir is about traveling,” he says. “It’s about life. It’s about getting to know new cultures, new people. It’s about growing, because while you travel across the globe you’re able to learn many, many things that can be illuminating. It’s about helping out as well. It’s an idea that can amuse people, because if you think about building a 70-foot sailing boat in order to travel around the world, wow, it’s a bit of a crazy idea. But eventually… You’re sitting on it. The boat floats. We’re here talking about it. So it’s a project that shows that if you really want something, you can do it.”

To leave the ship, I could either climb down the rope ladder on her port side or jump into the warm waters of Kilifi Creek. The inimitable Distant Relatives Ecolodge was only a five-minute walk away. Their eclectic blend of earthy vibes and tropical hospitality served as a base for the Musafir team, as well as myself, for some time.

musafir, kenya, kilifi, distant relatives, transformational travel

 

When Louis and Paolo first arrived in Kipini, many of the villagers regarded them with suspicion.

Why did they live in poverty while spending large sums on Musafir’s construction? Why wouldn’t they use the finished ship to turn a profit? With their long hair and beards, the villagers concluded, the men must be undercover Mossad or CIA agents come to spy on them.

The answer to these questions, however, was and is simple:

Musafir is not a business. She is a message.

Dario concluded, “It’s important as well to come down here and understand what it means to take part in such a big project. It’s very challenging, and it’s wonderful in itself. It teaches you a lot—shows you great beauty.”

For those who dreamt her into being, Musafir is a message of freedom and unity. She is a lesson in perseverance and an example of a way of life not yet lost to the world.

When she sets sail, a traveler’s soul will go with her.


Anyone inspired by this project has several options. One can, if the fit is right, sign on as a volunteer for several months. Alternately, one may support the project financially by donating here.


Originally published on NuMundo’s Transformational Times. 

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walk, choose your path, toby israel, adventure
Adventure, Central America, Nomadism

Remember: This Journey is Just a Walk in the Woods

Uncertainty. How many times must I meet you before I remember your stubborn face?

In work, in travel, in body, in love—nothing is truly stable, not at the core. That is the only certainty.

I have learned this lesson so many times, it rolls off my tongue like a prophecy when I speak to friends and vagabonds-to-be about my lifestyle. Yet, I find I must repeatedly teach myself my own lessons, too.

We’re all just human.

We seek, endlessly, for a secure future, a safe home, a lasting relationship, a full stomach, a rich coffer. To do otherwise would render us saints or bodhisattvas. To do otherwise would mean to no longer be human.

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The best we can do, then—maybe—is to remind ourselves often that our search for certainty is futile… and then to go on searching anyway.

The best we can do, maybe, is to see the humor in it all.

To observe our fallible human hearts and laugh at them—and love them.

Lately, I’ve been obsessing somewhat over where I’ll live when I return to Costa Rica in September. I know it’s too early to make this decision. I know. Each time I jump on the same cycle of thought, I remind myself of this. I stop. And then the next day I start all over again.

It just is. Asi es.

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It’s okay. I’m human.

I note without blame or frustration the patterns in my own life—the relationships where I’ve grasped at tomorrow, cities where I’ve hastily sought a room to call home, homes where I’ve ignored the “here” to plan my escape to “there.” I observe all this with a glint of happy laughter.

What a blessing, to have arms strong enough to grasp and a heart strong enough to learn, over and over again, to relinquish control.

“I know you’re tired but come, this is the way.” — Rumi

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This journey is really an aimless walk in the woods, but we forget that. In my imagination, the remembering goes something like this:

Angel: Look how many beautiful trails there are! So many possibilities!

Devil: But, which is the best route to get where we’re going?

A: We’re not going anywhere, come on! Remember, we’re just walking for the joy of it.

D: Right… right. Any path will do, just—

A: Just what?! Any path will do. That’s all.

D: Just, better be careful to choose the right one.

A: What do you mean? There is no right way to get there if we’re not going to any “there” in particular. That’s the whole point.

D: But, what if there are waterfalls on that trail? We wouldn’t want to miss out on any natural wonders, would we?

A: And maybe there are unicorns on this trail. We just don’t know until we try, do we? We’ll see what we see and miss what we miss, and our walk will be exactly perfect.

D: Might as well just stay here. Wouldn’t want to risk heading off in the wrong direction.

A: Not an option. We’re walking. Anywhere. Somewhere. Nowhere. Does. Not. Matter. But we can’t stay here. Life is moving, and we have to move too. So get up, count to three, and choose.

D: But, but… what about unicorns? And waterfalls? What about monsters? There could be monsters! No way, not worth the risk.

A: One.

D: Nope. Not going anywhere.

A: Two. Remember: There’s no right way, only the way you choose to walk.

D: Not sold. Monsters, remember.

A: Wherever you walk, that is where you’re going. Three.

D: …

A: I’ll choose, then. That way.

toby israel, vagabondess, nomadic, uncertainty, journey, choose, walk

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microadventure, fire spinning, costa rica
Adventure, Central America

Microadventure in Costa Rica: 3 Snippets of Daily Life

Whether I’m hopping continents or battling insects in my jungle house, life is always some kind of a wild ride… or a microadventure!

These days, I’m not moving around much. Between organizing events, being a full-time masters student, and working on the amazing NuMundo platform, I haven’t had time for big travel.

And I feel pretty great about that, because every day is already an adventure.

I read an article once about microadventure that meshed perfectly with my own vagabondish philosophy. According to Alastair Humphreys, microadventures are “short, simple, local, cheap—yet still fun, exciting, challenging, refreshing and rewarding.” I would expand that definition even beyond planned experiences; to my mind, a microadventure occurs anytime we approach a situation with a spirit of “I am here,” “anything can happen,” and “might as well play in the rain.”

Travel, adventure, exploration—they’re not about taking that one “trip of a lifetime.” In fact, if we only make one grand tour and then spend the rest of our lives in mundane monotony, I think we’ve lost the plot…

microadventure, costa rica

Below are a few microadventurous snippets of pura vida, Costa Rica style. I hope you will try slipping on on some adventure-colored glasses and looking at your own days through a similar lens:

Trickster Monkey

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There is one particular monkey who likes to play in the banana tree just outside my porch. One day, I ran to see what was happening when I heard him thrashing around through the palms, then watched as he tore all the white petals off the top of the purple banana flower, then nonchalantly dropped them to the ground one by one. ]

I don’t think he wanted to eat them, was only making trouble. The monkey thrashed away just as loudly as he had come, and I was left laughing to myself about the absurdity of the scene.

Insect Wars

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“Can this kill me?” I’ve never asked this question so often before, but the diversity of small and threatening wildlife that appears in my jungle house is really unprecedented. One night a baby scorpion appears on my cutting board when I turn my back for a minute. The next, a freaky, sneaky-quick spider flashes along my wall. And the next? Could be a millipede in my shoe, a black widow spider under my table, or an army of ants in my sink. I check my shoes before putting them on. I catch and release bugs, whose names I’ll likely never know, on a daily basis.

weird bugs, microadventure, costa rica

When I think or write about living in attunement with nature, this is the part I always conveniently omit. I don’t like these critters—especially when they fly up my nose or bite my ankles, but I do coexist with them. And then, these bugs are the part I conveniently omit when I talk about how much I love living alone. No one is going to deal with the dead lizard, the spider eggs, or the creepy flying creature if I don’t. But that is a good thing.

Sunday Morning Gratitude

gratitude, hammock, costa rica, microadventure

Sunday morning hammock time. I’ve managed to crawl out of bed without my dreams, which slipped away too quickly. I thought about going down to the river after a long rainy season hiatus, but my body is calling for a slower start. I sit in my hammock and catch the sun through my eyelashes.

Jungle mornings. It will be hard to live in a city again. Wake up to birds, green-tinged sunlight catching the steam rising from my tea, yellow-flowering bushes pushing their noses up against the porch screen—and sometimes raccoon creatures too. Sure, the spiders and lizards and stupid flying beetles win some battles, but if the war is to live a good life, then I think I’m winning.

Gratitude—for this home, this body this earth, this opportunity to honor it all by living. I don’t write about it every day, but it is always there. The roadblocks don’t even register against the generosity of it all. It is a blessing, this steam rising in the sun. It is a blessing, this exuberance of birdsong. It is a blessing, this gentle rocking, this skin, this heartbeat, and this one, and this. It is a blessing.

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On my way to Guatemala this afternoon—will report back with tales of Lake Atitlan, Cosmic Convergence, and anything else microadventure… or macro! 🙂

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wings
Adventure, Central America, Travel Advice

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

wings

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

I was sitting on the bottom step of our unfinished basement—I must have been around four years old—trying to remember something about a rabbit and a hole. And there was my father, who already had all the knowledge I needed about shoelaces and rabbits; he could help me.

But instead he said, “You can tie your shoes yourself.”

And I did.

Maybe that memory is real. Maybe my mind constructed it out of dozens of memories like it. I don’t think it matters.

My parents pushed me to “tie my own shoes” throughout my childhood in countless ways, large and small. It’s one of the gifts for which I’m most grateful. Without a doubt there is a fine balance between holding a child’s hand and pushing them out into the world alone. I have no idea what that balance is—one of many reasons I’m not a parent.

As an adult, I’ve made a religion of self-sufficiency. Perhaps I’ve taken it to too much of an extreme, but that is what I have done. Solo travel, distance walks, one-way flights to countries where I know nobody, constant seeking for edges—my own, and the world’s…

Some people are adrenaline junkies. The Unknown gives me my high.

When I moved to Cape Town for the first time in early 2016, I didn’t know anyone there. I came with a name—a friend of a friend—and an address. When I found out that the house I’d already paid a deposit on was nowhere near the center of the city, I hitchhiked my way to climbing gyms, dance classes, and cozy cafes until I figured out the informal shared taxis.

Would it have been easier to have friends, family, or resources at my disposal, ready to give me rides, show me the ropes of a chaotic transport system, and introduce me to new friends? I’m sure it would have—but then, would I have learned as much?

I’m a firm believer that we grow fastest and fly farthest when we push ourselves well beyond our comfort zones. Experience has taught me a key paradox to traveling (and living) in a state of discovery: To thrive outside our comfort zone, we must trust, absolutely, that we can thrive outside our comfort zone. But to truly believe in our capacity for flight, we have to fly.

In essence:

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” — Kurt Vonnegut

Now, there are a few key elements to this jumping-off-cliffs-and-growing-wings business…

First, that balance. We are none of us an island, as a wise writer once said, more or less. For every cliff we jump off alone, there may well be another to whom we say, “not today,” and third on which we find a companion to hold our hand on the way down. Balance.

Second, support. While my parents were teaching me to tie my own shoes, they were also giving me love and support every step of the way. I am blessed to know that my family and friends are always there, ready to cheer me on when I fly, or pick me up if I take any knocks on the way down. Family, friends, community—a support system, even if we never call on it, makes it so much easier to jump.

Third, will. You could argue that personality or background determine our ability to grow wings, and I would disagree with you. While stubbornness is my dominant personality trait, and I don’t like following directions, I have met so many others far more resourceful than I, of every possible personality type and cultural background. I don’t believe it is personality; it’s will. Tautological though it may sound, to figure it out for yourself, you have to want to figure it out for yourself.

To grow wings, you have to grow wings.

Easy?

Wrong question. It’s possible, and that’s really all we need to know.

Happy flying!


Many thanks to a good friend here in Costa Rica, whose conversation on this subject pushed me to articulate what exactly I think about it!

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trust
Adventure, Poetry & Fiction, Travel Advice

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 of all the ages, they hummed with knowledge of the world’s evils and ills.

“But why?” the innocent ones asked.

Smooth smooth skin, crystal eyes free of such heavy knowing, they saw only beauty — believed in the bright spark glowing in all the souls of all the bodies of all the beings around them.

“Take heed,” the wise ones replied. “Once, we were like you, crystal eyes and silk skin and child hearts untouched by sorrow. But now, but now, but now, but now…” the fragments of harsh lessons learned echoed in that mournful “but now.

The innocent ones began to look around them with more caution.

The knife-edge teeth of the sharks — who had once been their friends and accomplices in underwater adventures — suddenly inspired fear. The midnight eyes of hawks and gulls — who had once delighted the children with their dramatic displays of flight — now reflected frightened stares.

The highest branches of the oldest trees — once safe refuges of friendship and warmth — revealed the word Danger writ into the grooves of their bark.

The knowing, the knowing, the knowing — it descended upon the children like a milky white shroud, swirling thoughts of evils and ills in once-clear minds, and soon it was they who echoed the mournful tales of the ancient wind and rocks around them:

But now, but now, but now.

Yet, not all the children bowed before the knowing and donned the severe cloud eyes of the wise ones.

No, there were the other ones too, and when the wise ones said Trust no one and the innocent ones asked But why, these last few held up a hand for quiet and called softly, “Wait.”

And some of the innocent ones stopped to listen.

The other ones continued, “Once, we were like you, crystal eyes and silk skin and child hearts untouched by sorrow. Now, our eyes, our backs, our hearts, too, carry all the memories of all the misfortunes of all the ages. Our skin, too, carries knowing in every pore.

Yes, the world will knock you down, cheat you, hurt you, lie to you and disappoint you. You will not be innocent forever; the wise ones speak true…”

And then, milk eyes creased in child heart smiles, and the other ones echoed the joyful melody of the waves and the sky and the mountains around them:

“… But still, but still, but still, but still —

the spark you see in all the souls of all the bodies of all the beings is there.

But still, but still, but still —

Trust anyway.”

trust


Originally published at Rebelle Society.

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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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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

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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