The Bittersweet Beauty of Goodbye

If I sift through the shadowy pathways of my memory, I will touch a hundred moments of parting and a thousand words of farewell in an instant.
A woman stands on a provincial train station platform with her son, waving goodbye, goodbye, goodbye as my train pulls away.

A friend hugs me in the pre-dawn shadows of an empty parking lot, then stands aside as my bus coughs to life and I step inside.

An open window lets in dust and exhaust fumes and the last echoes of Good luck!

The sterile lights of an airport terminal look on as I hug loved ones goodbye; they stay to watch as I pass through security and disappear.

A last smile at the threshold before the house, car, bus, taxi, train door closes. A last wave. A last glance.
These memories are steeped in the mixed emotions that partings will inevitably evoke—the fragrant cinnamon of nostalgia, and the piquant tingle of anticipation; the bitter smoke of an ending, and the sweet pine needle smell of journeys beginning.
When we travel often, some things become easier with practice.
We learn to sit with discomfort, be it overpacked buses, insufficient legroom, long flights, missed meals or interminable waiting—for delays, friends, food and horizontal sleep. And we come to accept a certain level of stress, uncertainty, insecurity—all fundamental tenets of life on the road—as the norm.
We learn the language of timetables and airport terminals, maps and foreign street signs, and perhaps we come to navigate these worlds with a degree of ease. We find ourselves at home in a sea of strangers, untroubled by change—exhilarated, even.
And finally, we become accustomed to goodbyes (comfortable may be too strong a word). Without a doubt we come to realize the ineptitude of words—the insufficiency of phrases like, I’ll miss you, See you soon, Good luck with everything, or even the more sardonic, Have a great life and, See you when I see you—to serve in these situations.
We become accustomed to goodbyes, yet there is no art to them, or none that I have found. No failsafe formula. No skillful lyricism to master.
Each one is unique in its blend of sadness, resignation, looking forward and looking behind.
Each one is, in its singular fashion, beautiful. 
Or, this is what I am beginning to believe. For, more than cinnamon nostalgia or pine needle anticipation, a goodbye is steeped in love. Platonic, familial, romantic, age-old or brand new, this  is love surrendered to the utter unknowability of what lies beyond this moment.
If that love, tempered by the bittersweet awareness of impermanence, is not beautiful, then I don’t know what is.

And so, as I say See you soon, Good luck, I’ll miss you, and Goodbye to friends and loved ones in the U.S. and turn toward the next leg of my journey, I hold onto that beauty, and my smile smells like cinnamon and pine needles, chili and smoke.

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“Revisiting” Sicily

I have rarely been one to visit the same place twice.

I always used to squirm uncomfortably when new friends, by way of goodbye, would ask when I was coming back, because I knew I didn’t know. I didn’t know if I would, indeed, be coming back.
Lately, however, I meet those new friends’ eyes and say with confidence, “I’ll see you next time,” because I’ve since learned that the universe likes nothing more than to send us what, where and whom we least expect. (It seems to particularly delight in setting me down on the same path twice.)
I can never say when or where or how this next meeting will occur, but it no longer seems so far-fetched to expect that it will.
You see, though I was never one to visit the same place twice—the pull of the uncertain new always stronger than that of the friendly and inviting known—I can no longer claim this to be so. In the last two and a half months, I have revisited: Rome, Sicily, London and Amsterdam. I have seen friends made in Serbia, Kenya, Germany, India and Vermont.
As I write this, I am en route to Helsinki for visit number 2.
Lonely shoe, Helsinki.
For a serial seeker of new places, it is an odd thing to go back to—to revisit—a place.
And then, as most strange things are, it is also wonderful.
I find, in revisiting, that such an act does not in fact exist; it is impossible to visit the same place twice. Friends cut their hair, or grow it; beloved restaurants close, and new ones open; memories, friendships and connections are planted, and new experiences grow from those seeds.
More important than anything, my perspective—ever evolving, never exactly the same—makes of each “known” something entirely new, and so, in going back, I find I am always going forward, after all.
The repercussions of this fact are almost terrifying in their magnitude. For each step that I take, there are infinite possibilities, not only ahead of me, but behind me as well. The tree that I see in summer might present itself entirely anew stripped bare in winter; the rose in bud another matter altogether in flower; the city of my 17-year-old travels lent a thousand shades of nuance by seven years’ distance.
And so?
And so.
Sunset on the plane…
Always moving onward, but am I?
Maybe I am no longer “not one to visit the same place twice.” Maybe only now does it truly sink in that “everything” or “everywhere” is a receding mirage, the pursuit of which can carry us in endless circles.
And still, I pursue it—encouraged, not dissuaded by the ever-expanding nature of the illusion—I willingly, obligingly circle back, and forward, and back again.
Moving forward, or backward, exploring the new, or revisiting the old, I find the unknown in everything everyone everyplace, and I am inspired, in-spiralled, enthralled…
“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.” — Lewis Caroll
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Strangers on a Train

“We’re on our way to bible study,” says my friend. (He likes to make up stories, but let’s get real, who doesn’t?)

It’s 10:00 pm, and we’re on the Circle Line, retracing our steps into Central London after hopping the wrong train. Across from us sits a young couple—friendly, talkative, and maybe a touch too willing to believe his absurd stories. They are sipping from a water bottle of vodka and fanta, on their way to a night out “raving.”
Thus begins my Saturday night this past weekend. My friend alights at King’s Cross Station to head home, and I follow these strangers (soon to be friends) to Fabric, one of London’s most famous House clubs.
We will meet another stranger on our way out of the Tube, and together walk to the venue. We will spend the next four or five hours dancing to some of the best House music I’ve heard in a year, adding new strangers (new friends) to our group as we went, and they will become, over the course of the night, no longer strangers.
And all because we had all looked up across the aisle of a Circle Line train and said hello.
A week prior, I went to meet my coworker in Oxford for the first time. On the trip home, the train was rush-hour packed—standing room only. Series of unexpected events, I found myself squished next to a fellow American; as foreigners are wont to do, we struck up a conversation, found it fascinating, and continued it over a particularly delicious dinner in Notting Hill.

And all because I had asked (in my unmistakably American accent), “Is this the train to London?”
When did we grow afraid of strangers? When did the popular wisdom for travelers shift from, trust the road and the good Samaritans who walk it, to, trust no one? When did two strangers—or four strangers—talking on the train become the exception, rather than the rule?
I have an advantage, in that nothing about my thin five foot five frame and wide smile inspires fear or mistrust. There are fewer barriers for me to cross to arrive at the human beings inside their protective circles.
Some of my most entertaining nights out, fascinating conversations and closest connections have occurred simply because I looked up and said hello. Though I occasionally forget and succumb to the comfortable bubble of my own world, I try to make a rule of talking to strangers—I have yet to regret it.
And then, when you think about it, aren’t we all just strangers on a train?
Busy watching for our station, looking out the window, or within, or anywhere but around us, we don’t realize that the train is it. There are no stations, no stops, and for all we know no destination.
Our fellow passengers? We’re stuck with them—better hope they don’t smell—and we can make of that a party or a burden. The Buddhists will tell you the train is an illusion; the Jews will tell you it’s the only thing that’s real. One thing I know for certain: It’s what we make of the ride that counts.
So we can either look up and say hello, and make the journey worthwhile, or we can keep staring at our shoes, waiting for the conductor to call our stop.

Try saying hello to a stranger today and see what happens. Maybe they’ll tell you their life story. Maybe they won’t respond. Maybe that stranger will change your life—or your day, or your next ten minutes. But no matter what, isn’t it more interesting than your toes?

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Adventure, Nomadism, Travel Advice

Traveling Light: “Only What I Can Carry” Photo Project

Saturday, October 3rd, 2015. Helsinki, Finland.

[This is only an excerpt from a longer piece about this project written for elephant journal. For the full story please click here.]

The afternoon sun is kissing the tops of the pines surrounding my friend’s house, and I am packing.

I’ve had an idea in my head for months now, and seeing as I’m in no hurry for once, this seems like the perfect opportunity to realize it.

I’ve been living out of my purple, 60-liter Osprey backpack for just under a year now. This is the second time I’ve done so, and I can pack in 10 minutes—15 tops—when needed.

Today, though, I take my time to fold my clothing into neat piles and gather every last small belonging into a compact square in the center of the floor.

I’m not exactly sure why, but taking stock seems important…

The more I travel and the longer I wander, the better I understand how much I need, and how much I am able to carry. (And still, always, it is too much.)

More and more, too, I recognize the difference between need and desire—the meaning of priorities. I don’t need even half of what I choose to carry with me. I do in fact need my laptop for work, and maybe a few changes of clothing and some warm layers.

But my practice poi? Small bag of jewelry? Pretty shirts, oversized headphones and red lipstick? Indulgences and whimsy—and I know it…

What I keep—I recognize I keep out of attachment, not out of necessity…

This is only what I can carry.

Some of it I need; some of it I want, but if it’s too much weight or doesn’t all fit, something has to go.

This isn’t for everyone; hell, it may not always be for me. Nevertheless, this is a viable way to live, and—I believe—a powerful exercise in living simply.

I hope these images might inspire you to try the same—even if it’s only for a walk around the block! 😀

[This is only an excerpt from a longer piece about this project written for elephant journal. For the full story please click here.]

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Reflections on a Birthday: Wandering, Searching, & Answering the Call

Yesterday, I turned 24.

The past year has been anything but boring as vagabonded my way from Europe to Africa to the U.S. and back, teaching yoga, doing marketing, starting work at elephant journal and publishing over 100 pieces of writing along the way.

Some of it I’ve written about here; much of it I haven’t. I’m committed to keeping this a travel blog only, and so today, that’s what I’d like to focus my birthday reflections on: this journey.

A little over a year ago, I decided to go on a vision quest—four hungry days and nights alone in the Vermont wilderness.

I was looking for something… I didn’t find it.

I found nothing, in fact, save for a few lovely dragonflies, ducks, and one very long, very cold night stranded beneath the stars.

Traveling—maybe—is a little bit like that.

First, we answer the call. Second, we set out into the unknown. And third… third maybe we bring back nothing from our journey. What then?

As I’ve written before, I’m not searching for [fill in the blank], and so it’s very unlikely that I’ll find “it” anytime soon. And sometimes I find myself stranded beneath those metaphorical stars—cold, hungry or lost… or all three!—and I wonder how the hell I ended up there. What crazy, impulsive, excellent decision got me there?

But it’s always the right place.

The stars never wonder why I’m there; they know, and at least that’s one of us.

You see, I have a philosophy I love about journeys, choices and life, and it basically goes like this:

Each of our lives is like a forest, or a valley, a mountain a desert, etc—it doesn’t matter—absolutely covered in paths.

When we look around, we see all of those paths—infinite options, possibilities—choices to be made.

But when we look behind us, we see only one path—our footsteps in the sand, tracks through the woods, etc—our path.

That path—our path—is the only path we could have walked, because it is the one we have walked. And each choice we make—once it is made—is the only choice we could have made, because there it is behind us—another footprint, another step on our path—past.

We answer the call; we make our choices. 

I find this outlook deceptively simple, quite practical and deeply compelling. Maybe you will too.
When I look at the year behind me, I see each step that has brought me to this place (a cozy couch in London, England at this particular moment). I regard that winding journey without regret and with no small measure of appreciation, for without it I would not be here—the only place I could possibly be.

When I look at the year ahead, well, I do so with butterflies in my stomach and wings on my heels, because the forest is so vast—the paths so numerous—that I can take in but a fraction of it at a time.

And that is every life—not only mine. Every year, every birthday, every moment and every step.

I believe that, and the stars agree.

Thank you for being a part of this journey—as a reader, a friend, a star, or all three!

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Adventure, Nomadism

I Want to Do All of the Things

This is not a bucket list.

I wrote this list a few weeks ago as the realization dawned on me that, without exaggeration, I want to do “all of the things.”

There is not a country I wouldn’t want to visit, a language I wouldn’t like to study, an art or dance I wouldn’t want to learn or a food I wouldn’t want to try.

Whenever someone shares a story of adventure, I listen carefully—not only out of friendly curiosity, but also out of a vested self-interest—making mental notes for the day I can follow their trail, or blaze my own.

In the invigorating—and overwhelming—rush of ideas that tends to accompany an “I want to do all the things” epiphany (it’s not my first) I decided to try something new.

I decided to write it all down.

This list is a work in progress. I have surely forgotten things, and will doubtless add other ideas I haven’t even thought of yet. The list of places on the left is woefully incomplete, and I know I’m missing something major… no matter.

One thing is certain, however: This is not a bucket list.

These are not things I’m hoping to do some day in the future, before I “kick the bucket”; rather, these are (all) things I want do do now. Tomorrow. Next month. As soon as possible… It might take a decade or five, but I’m starting yesterday.

My list includes the following items:

  • Travel the TransSiberian (or TransMongolian) Railway
  • Go to Argentina to study Tango—and Spanish
  • Go to Brazil to study Capoeira—and Portuguese
  • Travel across a country by horseback
  • Join the circus (learn a circus skill first)
  • Travel through Poland and Eastern Europe with my grandmother’s suitcase.
  • Chase the Northern Lights (I tried last week… no success)
  • Hike the Long Trail (VT)
  • Climb some tall mountains
  • Find a way to contribute—anywhere… everywhere.

That’s just a few.

Is it an extraordinary privilege to be able to look at every single item on this list as a real possibility? Absolutely yes. Am I still searching for the right way to be of service as I pursue these passions? Of course—although, since starting work at elephant journal I feel more assured of that side of things.

Perhaps most importantly, why? Why do I want to do/try/learn/see all this?

Why the tireless pursuit of adventure?

A little secret: There is no why.

There are secondary reasons—to learn, understand and grow are all real and valid motives. But they are secondary. The primary “reason why” is formless.


Adventure, travel, wandering, journeying for me have always been (and may always be) a raison d’être. A “why” unto themselves.

That is, I do not wander because ______, or travel to _______; but rather, when in movement, when in the pursuit of adventure, I have no need of why’s.

I do not wonder why I am here, what I should be doing or what my purpose is… I simply am.

And so I want to do “All of the Things,” because so long as this list (and its much longer mental counterpart) are close to my heart, my wings beat of their own accord. Existence, then, is its own end—and that is every thing.

So… what’s on your list?
[I’ll be in London now through (almost) the end of October. Checking in after 2 weeks in Helsinki, Finland, which were so packed with adventure I haven’t had time to write about them yet! Much more to come on that very soon.]

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What is this Feeling? …Nostalgia??

Stunning views from my seat flying Catania, Sicily to Istanbul (on my way to Stockholm…
I should not have opted to fly that way, and now I have no luggage… ah, well… collateral.)

Lately, I’ve been experiencing a sentiment I’ve never known before.

A strange tightening in my chest when it’s time to pack.

An odd sensation as I watch the ground shrink below me during take-off.

An unfamiliar twinge as I lift my hand to wave goodbye.

I feel excited to be continuing on to the next place—of course, that goes without saying, and, I suspect, will never change.

And yet… and yet…

I think I would call it nostalgia, this new feeling.

First it was Zanzibar, and now Sicily.

Maybe I’m growing sentimental in my old age. (Just kidding—my old age is a long, long way away!) Maybe I’m allowing the places (or these people… or these lives, discretely wrapped packages of time, space and possibility) I briefly inhabit to reach a little bit deeper than I used to—sending out just the finest roots beneath my skin.

Or maybe it’s an inevitable side-effect, which has simply run unrecognized along the sidelines up until now.

Wherever it comes from, this nostalgia weaves a duskier hue at the edges of my leave-takings. A slight reluctance (never stronger than the bolder urge to continue on, but there nonetheless). A bittersweet recognition that I may in fact miss this place (these people… this time… this particular configuration of life)—that I was happy here.

It’s the taste of the last sip of hot chocolate, and the color of the faded corner of a photograph. Savoring. It’s the feeling of lingering before standing up to leave a cafe… and it adds, I think, a lovely dimension to each journey onward—a depth, a balance to anticipation.

While this feeling—this nostalgia—is unfamiliar to me, I welcome it. I acknowledge it (for it undoubtedly deserves its place in the scheme of things), and then I leave it beside the photographs, memories and written pages—where it belongs.

So. Nolstalgia… welcome to the adventure!

Greetings from Stockholm, Sweden, where I am visiting my oldest friend for the week. My luggage is dwelling in Istanbul at the moment, but I will be sharing some amazing shots from Sicily as soon as it finds it’s way over here!
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Why Am I Here?

2:00 a.m. Rome, Italy. Fiumicino Airport.

I arrive haggard, disoriented and ready to drop after a red-eye from Detroit, a 12-hour layover in Amsterdam, and a much delayed flight to Rome.

Naturally, my pack is last to appear at the baggage claim.

Even so, I fall into a taxi (my only option at this hour) reluctantly—unaccustomed to paying so much for so little. I direct the driver to Trastevere—my favorite Roman neighborhood, where I will spend the next five days. My Italian, which received a surprising amount of use in Africa, rises quickly to my tongue.

I sit back, desperately wishing, but unable, to sleep.

As the damp night speeds past my window, I watch it in a daze. Thanks to some alchemical blend of exhaustion and disorientation, I feel none of my usual enthusiasm.

And for what may be the first time in my entire life, I find myself wondering, “Why am I here?”

The answer is simple to a fault. I chose to come to Italy (rather than return to Zanzibar) because 1. I love Italy, 2. I speak Italian, and 3. It was easy to get here from Amsterdam, where I had an un-cancelable flight to anyway.

I have many times answered the question, “Why travel?” for my own benefit and others’. I have many times defended wandering as a path and destination unto itself. So why ask, why am I here? Why now, when finally I have a great job that I love and the first green shoots of a writing career to show for my efforts over the last year and a half?

Perhaps it is the openness of it all—my life, that is. The lack of timeline, the total freedom of movement, the sheer vastness of being, which, when made reality, frankly baffles me.

If you asked me right now why I am here, what I am going to do or where I am going—in the metaphysical, not the practical sense of the words—I would answer you honestly: I don’t know.

Right now, though, a few crumbs remain scattered from my meal over the red and white checkered tablecloth. A nearly-empty glass of red wine sits before me, and across the lane, a mesmerizing wall of quivering paper butterflies. Beside that, a pile of selfie sticks.
Tourists wander by in their summer dresses and Sophia Loren style hats, carrying cones of gelato or holding hands. The cobblestones are worn and smooth here, and high yellow walls rise up into the night. The streets are lined with tiramisu kisses, echoes of tambourine music, and spiralling jewelry I would like to buy. The air breathes slowly, wafting the scent of basil, garlic and bread through the scene.
In this moment, then, I do not ask, “Why am I here?” 
I am simply here.
That–so simple and yet so profoundly complete–is the point. I am here. Tomorrow I will be here, and the day after that, and every day, hour, moment following.
A hundred voices clatter against the wall–Italian, French, English, Spanish and others I can’t understand–and I am here, listening.
The tang of red wine (della casa, of course) lingers on my tongue, and I am here, tasting.
A yellow glow bathes the faces of visitors walking their dream across the butterfly wall, and I am here, watching. I am grateful to call this my reality.
The particularities of the scene around me confront my senses–the man selling lighters shaped like toilet seats; the couple beside me who have returned to this same restaurant after visiting two years ago; the tap tap of gold heels on cobblestones; the clutter of languages in my ear; the fatigue of lingering jet-lag–and I am here, living in it.
Why am I here?
That I don’t know, but I am.
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Travel Advice

How to Take the Bus Everywhere

Jesus travels… and so can you!
Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise… there is always another way to get there.
In October, I visited my parents in Shanghai (their home base at the moment). Day two of my trip, I took an afternoon to explore on my own, wandering the tiny alleys of Tianze Feng, in and out of stores selling tins of tea and other adorably packaged goods.
I have a “taxi card” to return—a business card with the name and address of my parents’ residence written in Mandarin and English. Taxis are cheap. Simple.
But then, naturally, there’s a catch: I cannot, for the life of me, catch a cab. I stand first on one street corner of the main road by Tianze Feng, then on the divider between lanes, next on another corner. 
Most of the passing cars already carry passengers, while other drivers seem to be intentionally avoiding my gaze. The afternoon shadows grow longer as I watch one Chinese shopper after another run to intercept an incoming car. There are people crowded on all sides; traffic moves at around 60 km/hour; I am never fast enough.
Finally, someone does stop, but when he looks at my card he shakes his head and drives off. Does he not feel like going there, or can he not read the card? I will never know.
Meanwhile, I have seen at least 20 public buses pass me by. I know I need to go *that way.* New plan…
I think it really is possible to take the bus nearly anywhere and everywhere—if you want to. Here’s how:
Step 1: Learn the word for “bus” and/or the proper pronunciation of the place you wish to go.
In Shanghai, it took showing my taxi card to several people to learn to say the name of my parents’ road: Nanjing Shu-Lu.
In Kenya, buses are “matatus,” and knowing that makes them a lot easier to ask for.

Sometimes there might be a boat involved… even better!!
Step 2: Find the bus stop.
In many places, there will be a physical structure, replete with maps, schedules and names. In many others, there will be nothing but a small sign bearing the image of a bus—or nothing but a crowd of people standing at the side of the road.
Ask people for the *bus* to [fill in the blank] until you find your stop. In my experience, other bus drivers and shop keepers are the best people to ask, and most likely to know the buses in the area, while taxi drivers are the worst, since they have ulterior motives.
In Shanghai, I was lucky enough to find an old woman who understood my question, and knew that the 42 bus would take me to the right place.

Or you can do this.

Step 3: Catch your bus.
It might stop automatically, or it might barrel past if you don’t flag it down. A sign bearing a name or number may tell you it is the right bus, or it might be a skinny man hanging from the window, calling out the destination.
I usually like to confirm at least a couple times that it is indeed the right bus, as I have ended up on the wrong bus far too often.
Step 4: Revel, and ignore the funny looks.
Depending on where you are, you might well be the only obvious foreigner on the bus. People will stare. It will get old. Just do your thing and try not to do anything egregious—appropriate dress and conduct is always a good call.
Revel in being on your way to where you’re trying to go! There is truly no better feeling than the surprise of success after a stressful search!

If your bus looks like this, wait for the next one.

Step 5: Pay.
Often, fare will be collected at some point along your journey—or upfront, or upon arrival. Try to pay attention to how much other passengers are paying to avoid a high “tourist tax.” But if you do end up paying a few cents—or dollars—more, well, the tourist tax is real. I’m sorry.
Step 6: Arrive.
Chaos, confusion and disorientation may accompany your arrival… sweat, frustration and elation, too. One thing I can almost guarantee: you will arrive having spent less money. A second thing: it gets easier with practice.
I love taking the bus. Despite the dust. Despite the confusion, often frustrating and hectic. Despite everything. Because the bus is always an adventure. Always. And that’s kind of the point.
Need to make a connection? Repeat steps 1-5. Chances are, someone on your first bus will be able to point you to your next one, or even lead you there.
“Trunk-seat” heading out of Mbita, Kenya a few days ago.

Enjoy the adventure!
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Time to Move

Once upon a time, nomads—largely hunter gatherers or pastoralists—knew it was time to move when the game animals moved on, or the fields became depleted. They followed the tides of nature.
Some traveled in caravans of camels or on horseback. They were self-sufficient. They carried their homes with them—bundled tents, cookware and provisions.
I will be the first to admit I have nothing in common with those nomads.
I travel by bus, train, or car. Boat if I’m lucky. I do not gather my food—though the markets in Mbita are hardly a walk in the park. If you dropped me in the middle of the desert, I would not have the requisite resources for survival…
I carry no tent; no cookware; few provisions.
But maybe I still share something with those wanderers of old who have always captured my imagination.
I, too, follow a kind of tide.
An initial wave of excitement carries me to a new place. The promise of a work exchange. The open door to a friend’s home. A spark catching in my belly and igniting my anticipation.
That first surge crests, and the tide begins to ebb—weeks later, or maybe months. The work is monotonous. The place too isolated or too busy. The enthusiasm never dies, but it smolders more faintly.
Then a new opportunity calls. This time on the coast, or in the mountains, or across the border. Another surge gathers momentum and I follow.
I can usually feel when it is time to move.
No matter how many times I follow this cycle, that initial burst of excitement never seems to lessen. The making of plans, the preparation to move, transition, journey, holds a special kind of magic for me.
In three days, it will be time again. The ocean is calling. The sand, waves, salt and always, always the

unknown beckon. From tides of intuition to tides of water.

There is a backpackers on Diani Beach (30 km south of Mombasa) with room for volunteers. I still have 2 months left on my Kenyan visa, so I think I may stay there a month if it fits.
Time to say goodbye to Rusinga Island and the rock paintings I may never find. Time to pack up and head east to meet the sun.
Time to move.

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