Tag

solo travel

travel, challenge, new, friends
Adventure, Travel Advice

12 Ways to Move/Travel to a New City/Country Where you Don’t Know Anyone—and Totally Rock It

I write about venturing into the unknown often.

You might say it’s my favorite theme—in life and in art. You could say it’s my greatest fear—in love and in travel. You could say it is a subject so rich and fascinating it proves an inexhaustible source of meaning and poetry.

You could say any of those things, and you would be right.

Ah, the not-knowing…it is terrifying, exhilarating, life-affirming indeed. But maybe you want a bit more practicality and a bit less poetry; maybe you have concrete travel plans on the horizon (even tenuous possibilities or dreams), and poetic rambling philosophizing isn’t helping all that much. I get that.

I drop myself into cities and countries where I know no one on a regular basis. I enjoy the challenge and the freedom, but I also forget that this is a practice like any other, and may seem somewhat inaccessible at first. I want to demystify it.

The following suggestions stem from my years of solo traveling. I don’t necessarily follow them all for every trip, but one could in theory. I believe each one has a deep potential to cushion the fall into unknown territory.

1. Reach out to friends and acquaintances.
A simple “Do I know anyone in _____?” on Facebook can yield unexpected results. This method has found me friends (and often couches) in otherwise totally anonymous destinations from Prague and Montenegro to Berlin, Sicily and more.

2. Mine for connections.
Social media is a multifaceted beast, but it really comes in handy for certain kinds of travel. Asking my Facebook friends (and sometimes blog followers), “Does anyone have any connections in ___?” in the past has found me a house to rent in Cape Town, a Shabbat dinner in Paris, a yoga teaching gig in Zanzibar and so much more. The more I travel, the more this network grows—exponentially, it would seem. Couchsurfing is another amazing resource for making connections for friends and couches both.

3. Be bold—ask questions.
Every piece of information we could possibly need is available on the ground. No need to read travel forums, or even look up directions (although by all means do both if it sets your mind at ease). Depending on where I am in the world, there are metro maps, info centers, or throngs of aggressive taxi drivers at every possible port of arrival. Barring that, the local person sitting next to me on the bus/plane/train/ferry is usually an excellent resource.

4. Get Lost and Like It.
I have developed an impressive habit of always going the wrong way first. If it’s straight, I go left. If it’s left, I go right. I then employ method #3, ad infinitum, to take the longest route possible to my intended destination (thank you, legs). Getting lost is a common consequence of going in blind; even if we don’t like it, we can bring our sense of humor along for the walk.

5. Set up a work trade.

While it is 100% possible (and yes, fun and exciting) to just go explore a new place and find your way upon arrival, I have often found more depth and connection through work exchanges. Websites like wwoofing, workaway and helpx are just a few of many platforms for finding interesting, short-term placements abroad. Working or volunteering is, in my experience, one of the most effective ways to integrate into a community and create my place in the formerly unfamiliar. It is also an incredibly practical resource for information.

6. Set up an Airbnb.
If, like me, you need to work while you wander (or, also like me, you don’t want to commit to too much socializing), but still want an entree into local community, Airbnb is unparalleled. Set your price, browse your options, and choose a host who seems interesting. I’m still in contact with several of my Airbnb hosts, and owe unique memories (like tasting the best chocolate gelato in the whole world) to them.

7. Keep up with hobbies.
I always carry two extra pairs of shoes with me: dance and climbing. Dancing tango in Kenya, salsa-ing in Berlin and climbing in Cape Town, I’ve connected with people I never would have met otherwise. Same goes for surfing in Morocco and hiking in Spain. Those are my passions; follow yours, and you’ll find your people—anywhere.

8. Become a regular.
There is something uniquely grounding in being a regular customer (in a cafe, restaurant or even corner store)—in simply being recognized. When our default mode is anonymity, feeling seen, known, familiar offers a powerful sense of place. Especially when I have a few weeks or months somewhere, I find myself accumulating these “regular” spots. Though utterly departing from all known routine is a key—even necessary—element of travel for me, glimpses of familiarity within the unknown provide welcome—even necessary—moments of respite.

9. Let go of should’s.
I believe having a mile-long checklist of “must sees” and “must dos” limits potential for spontaneous discovery. I tend to get a decent amount of touristing in when I visit a new place, but I try not to force it. Excursions happen organically—often with new friends—when I genuinely want to do them, and not because I feel like I’ll be failing at travel if I don’t.

10. Cook.
My experience of travel altered hugely when I started to prepare a lot of my own meals (just as I used to when I lived in one place). Not all, of course, since tasting local cuisines is hands down the best part of traveling, but many. Wandering local markets, I’ve honed new language skills, felt rooted in my home-of-the-moment, and saved serious money. Choosing an Airbnb with a kitchen facilitates this, as does staying with friends. Cooking a beautiful meal has long been my favorite way to thank my hosts for their hospitality.

11. Talk to strangers.
They’re not scary—usually. When they are creepy, it’s usually pretty clear to my intuition. Strangers are typically one of three things: treasure troves of insider information, friends you haven’t met yet, or an excellent story for later. Instructions for talking to strangers: eyes up, shoulders down, words out.

12. When all else fails, fail.
I have days—sometimes weeks—where my social self goes into hibernation, my patience drops to zero, and the challenge of the unknown shifts from exhilarating to tiresome. When that happens, I take time to write, read, call friends and family, and simply be. No one can be “on” all the time. This lifestyle of exploration and discovery has curves and cycles, just like any other. These moments of pause make the adventure all the richer.
 
May your journeys be—yours.

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Africa

“Don’t go to Morocco Alone.” And other Fear-mongering you should Ignore.

A rooftop terrace in Taghazout, Morocco.

Me: “I’m thinking of going to Morocco.”

Everyone: “Awesome! Just don’t go alone.”

As you may have guessed, I didn’t listen to everyone, and here I am: in Morocco, very much solo, and so far quite pleased about it.

(For the next month, I’ll be living in Taghazout, a small town on the Atlantic coast, teaching some yoga, learning the fine art of surf bummery, and generally winding down after an overly hectic few months. And I’ll have time to visit a few Moroccan cities afterward, not to worry!)

There is a saying here, which a new friend taught me:

One rotten fish can make the whole bucket stink.

For those who work in the tourism industry, that rotten fish (in the form of robberies, political unrest or an isolated attack) is the proverbial boogeyman. Just a whiff of danger and foreigners will cancel their flights. An act of terror (as occurred while I was living in Kenya)? Total disaster for the industry—and, by extension, a great many people’s livelihoods.

I digress somewhat. I don’t to tell you what happens to the tourism industry when the fear-mongers win. I want to tell you why you shouldn’t listen to them in the first place.

Every country- or city-shaped bucket has a rotten fish—often many.

In my opinion, those rotten fish are the reason why people will tell women not to travel solo to India, Zanzibar, Turkey, fill-in-the-blank-with-your-country-of-choice. “It’s not safe.” “Men don’t respect women there.” “It won’t be pleasant.” Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

And sure, there’s a good chance I will encounter an asshole or two before I leave Morocco in six months’ time. I’ve spent time alone in all of the aforementioned countries, and I’ve had occasional negative experiences in all of them (though always far outweighed by the positive). But do you know where I’ve encountered the most assholes? On college campuses in the U.S. In Parisian metro stations. Walking down the street in Boston.

So what can we learn here?

***

Well, for starters, check your assumptions. Are you giving more credence to warnings of danger or disrespect because the destination in question is “over there”? Keep in mind that nowhere is perfect, and nowhere is particularly “safe.” I have yet to investigate, but I’ve heard Morocco may be one of the statistically safest countries in the world. Chew on that.

Second, ask yourself if you’re discounting cultural differences. If so, you may be falling victim to the understandable yet problematic epidemic of Western ethnocentrism. That is, judging another culture purely by your own values. Quick tips for women wishing to avoid harassment while traveling alone: cover your hair, cover your shoulders, and cover your legs (generally, follow cultural codes for modesty and behavior). Oh yes, that’s problematic in its own way, and I take issue with it sometimes, but we don’t get to make the rules when we visit someone else’s home.

Lastly, choose your devil, because there is nowhere—nowhere–you will be utterly and inalterably at ease.

***

I (and just about every woman ever) learned since birth to fear. Fear attack. Fear violence. Fear bad men. Fear everything, right? Society teaches us that.

And it’s true. Of course it’s true! The world is a scary place. Especially for women. We’re working on it, but we have a very, very long way to go. Change, however, has never happened when we stick to the status quo. Fear-mongering doesn’t keep us safe; it keeps us the same. So if you want something different, you have to ignore the fear-mongers.

There’s a lot of space between reckless risk-taking and bubble-girl-style caution. Here’s what you may find there:

> Deserted tropical islands where you can run naked across miles of sand, because you are totally, beautifully alone.

> Kind shop owners who will invite you inside for tea, show you pictures of their wife and children, and invite you to stay with their family if ever you return to their country.

> Fascinating strangers on trains, buses and trails, in hostels, campsites and smoke-filled restaurants, whom you never would have met if you hadn’t been traveling solo.

> The best meal of your month, discovered only by following your nose and your intuition (yours alone) through a labyrinthine bazaar.

> And last, but unavoidably, rotten fish. It’s part of the travel bucket. But hey, it’s part of every bucket, and you can’t avoid them all.

I hope, if nothing else, this will make you think—maybe reconsider. Please share your thoughts in the comments if so inclined!

***

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solitude, unknown, adventure
Adventure, Nomadism

The Intoxicating Unknown, and Solitude

The plane lands with a jolt. Rolls to the gate. Shuts off the engines.

You and the other passengers file off the aircraft. Through the terminal. Past immigration. Baggage Claim. Customs.

You step outside into a country where you know no one.

Perhaps you don’t speak the language. The air is different. Heavy and humid. Or maybe cold and sharp. Your nose catches new smells and catalogues them as memories—later, this will be a remembered place.

Welcome. You have just crossed into a vast field of unknowns.

Is it terrifying—or exhilarating?

Someone asked me recently if it ever gets lonely, this solo traveling.

There are many answers to that question. I’m having a bit of deja vu, because I think I’ve offered some of them before (maybe in this, or this), but I have something new to say about it today.

Basically, no, I don’t.

I have experienced dozens of iterations of the above scenario—arriving by air, land or sea—and for me it is always exhilarating. That is, in part, why I will fly from Rome to Agadir, Morocco at the end of September—to spend six or seven weeks in a place where I know nobody.

While I love traveling with or visiting friends (and do so often), I crave the spaciousness that only comes with solitude. Maybe you do too.

Nothing can replicate it. It arrives the moment we leave every known thing behind us. Hug our loved ones goodbye outside the airport. See our traveling companion to the train station, then turn back to a foreign city alone. Click “complete payment” on a one-way ticket for one.

Solitary spaciousness arrives when face the forest, the mountains, the desert—whatever our alluring yet frightening place may be—with a pack on our shoulders and uncertainty in our chest, knowing that no one is coming with us this time.

Does that scare you? It probably should. There are monsters in the forests, the mountains and most of all the cities. But more than that—more than that there are monsters in our hearts and minds.

I believe that is what people fear most of all when they fear setting out to travel alone. There is the external risk, of course, but I suspect loneliness—ourself facing ourself—instills greater terror.

Why don’t I ever get lonely, then? I’m not actually sure, not entirely. Maybe I do, but it no longer scares me, and so I call it solitude instead of loneliness. I do know this:

Our comfort zone expands every time we step outside of it and thrive there. There is nothing more intoxicating, full of life and purpose, than entering the unknown territory alone.

So go.

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”

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Adventure, Europe, Nomadism

Did You Find What You Were Looking For? (Camino Reflections, Part 10000)


My last visit to London, in July of this year, I had dinner with a former classmate. We had taken “Intro to Buddhism” together.
I didn’t know it then, in my first semester at Middlebury College, but many themes from that course would wind their way through the following years of my life.
Over our glasses of red wine—Merlot, I think—I recounted a memory of that class that stands out from the rest. It’s funny, sometimes, what ends up sticking in our minds.
Someone had asked our professor if he wanted to reach enlightenment—if that’s what he was seeking.
He had answered softly (he always spoke softly):

“I’m not so interested in enlightenment. I’m interested in the possibility of expanding my awareness.”

Maybe this is unhelpful, and maybe I’ve spent too much time around Buddhist philosophy, but this is what I have to say in answer to that oft-repeated question, “Did you find what you were looking for.”

No.

Longer answer: 

I wasn’t looking for anything, so I doubt I would find it. That’s the difference between a trip and a journey—only one has a destination.
I found no thing on my Camino journey. Nothing. I did not have any epiphany. My life did not change.
If you set out walking (meditating, praying, anything) in search of enlightenment, I think you will be disappointed.
And that’s not depressing; it’s inspiring. It is exhilarating, this not knowing. It is enthralling, this seeking-but-not-finding. It is magnetic, this grey in-between-ness of no-thing—neither empty of wisdom nor full of answers.
If “no” is not a satisfying response, I’m sorry, but it’s the only one I’ll give—at least for now.
No, I did not find what I was looking for.
I wasn’t looking for, you see.
Something on the same subject I wrote about halfway through the Camino, in a moment of clarity:

“Will I come back wiser?” asked my ego. 

I don’t know, my more honest self replied. I think I’d be the last to know.Do any of us come back “wiser” from anything? 

I have my doubts. 

I will come back with bigger calves from walking and stronger shoulders from carrying my pack. 

This is certain. 

I will carry in my heart thirty peaceful mornings where dawn breaks over still meadows, and the wind whispers a song only I can hear. 

This is certain.

I’m not interested in finding. The beauty is in the in-between.

***
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Nomadism

Vagabonding vs Bonding: On Staying in Touch

Reunited in Cape Town: Hiking Table Mountain
Is it hard to form deep, enduring friendships when you’re always moving around?
I get that question a lot.
The answer, as you could probably guess, is no and yes.
My close friends and family span the globe, but I know I could call any one of them today—or, better yet, show up at their doorstep—and they would offer me all the love and support I could need. Of course, it goes both ways… minus the doorstep, which I don’t always have.
And then, I typically find it easy to connect with the people around me, wherever I find myself.
My neighbor? New friend and dance buddy.
My housemate? New friend and hiking buddy.
Strangers on a train? You get the idea.
Answer one: Depth is easy. So no, it’s not difficult to connect deeply—be it for an hour, a week or a month. The more layers of artifice I burn, the more easily, and more deeply, I find connection—everywhere.
But then there’s that other, more elusive quality: endurance. 
Does it last? How? And if it doesn’t, how meaningful is a friendship formed in Thailand and set to rest in Laos? How deep does connection really run if it can’t follow me across borders and years?
Answer two is longer…
Recently, a close friend from university paid me an impromptu visit in Cape Town. Keeping the spontaneity flowing, we rented a car, picked it up the next day, and drove nearly 1,000 kilometers east, toward the Garden Route (a popular region for tourists) and a particularly beautiful place called Nature’s Valley (though we didn’t know yet that we were going there).
As we drove on the wrong side of the road through endless stretches of caramel-colored hillsides, we caught up on the milestones of the last year of our lives. As we hiked through fynbos (vegetation unique to the Western Cape) and down to wild, windswept beaches, we discussed philosophy and travel, mistakes and purpose. As we pitched our tiny camping tent amidst rows of elaborate palatial campsites in a dilapidated caravan park, we laughed like no time at all had passed.
Time had passed. Clear from the very new lines around my eyes and the shifting sands of love, death and discovery that shaped the contours of the interim months—or was it years?—of our lives.
And yet, connection had endured.

Roadside picnic on the Garden Route, and a very rare selfie.
I could list a dozen more examples off the top of my head. Old friends joining me for segments of my travels; new friends opening their homes to me when I arrive in their city; strangers offering me a place to sleep, and becoming friends through that inimitable alchemy of giving and gratitude.
And then there are the other friendships, the ones that take root in the rich soil of new experiences shared, yet wither when transplanted to the barren realms of social media and virtual communication—or perhaps they refuse to leave in the first place.
Still, these, too, endure in their own way.
A note out of the blue from a passing acquaintance met several years prior.
A supportive comment on an article from a familiar face whose name I had forgotten.
An unexpected coffee with a high school friend with whom correspondence had been sporadic and stunted.
Silence doesn’t always mean disinterest.
I should know, since I rarely hear from many I consider my closest friends.
Distance doesn’t mean detachment.
I should know, since I repeatedly choose to be continents, miles and time zones away from my loved ones.
Staying in touch is remarkably difficult for an era of unprecedented “connectedness.” I have nothing to brag about—those who know me will be sure to tell you—but I am constantly working to do better.
I’ll repeat: distance doesn’t mean detachment. 
Connection is there. Depth is there. Consistency? We’re all working on it. 

Forced to choose between travel and connection (that is, vagabonding and bonding), I’ll choose “C” every time. No and yes. Both. I think it’s possible.

***
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Nomadism

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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Europe, Travel Advice

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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Europe, Nomadism

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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Lamu, Kiwayu and the Danger of Playing it Safe

For those of you who have been following recent events in Garissa, Kenya, and who were aware of the proximity of Lamu and Kiwayu Island (my location this past week) to the Somali border, you will be happy to know that I am back safe in Kilifi, several hundred kilometers away.
As events progressed and the news of Al Shabab’s brutal attack on Garissa University broke, sitting on a bus for eight hours while following updates on Twitter, stopping at multiple police checkpoints and traveling with a police escort could have been a nerve-wracking experience, but with the company of my three travel mates and the shaky consolation that lightening rarely strikes twice, we managed to comfortably ride out the journey.
I don’t want to write about Garissa today, though. (I’ve done that already here.) I want to share a little about the gorgeous regions in the north of Kenya devastated not just by attacks, but also by foreign travel advisories. 
At 7:30am on Friday, March 27th, three friends and I boarded a bus bound for Lamu, a Unesco World Heritage Site on the north coast of Kenya accessible only by boat.
Well, to be exact, we waited at the bus stop for three hours first, bags baking in the sun, and then boarded…
***
Day 1: Friday
At 3:00pm, we pull off the road and wait a couple hours more for an armed convoy to escort us and the other buses of the afternoon through the more forested area north of Garsen. The roads become increasingly rough as the buses continually race past one another for no apparent reason.
We arrive at Mokoi Port around 7:30pm and crowd into an already packed ferry. The stars grin overhead as we move towards Lamu Island, and I trail my fingers in the dark water.
After a quick meal of the best nyama choma (grilled kebabs) I have yet tasted in Kenya, I sleep heavily.
Day 2: Saturday
I rise at dawn in order to wander the alleys of Lamu before the town and the sun are fully awake. 
Winding stone pathways tinted with just the slightest bit of tension (or perhaps desperation would be more precise) speak eloquently of Lamu’s prosperous past as a key Swahili port. The sunlight glows on the waterfront, casting in shadow the men who accumulate around boats and food stalls, hoping for better business. 
We are the only tourists in sight so far. Gorgeous old houses filled with guest rooms stand empty.
At 6pm, we learn that the dhow (boat) that should have carried us on to Kiwayu Island (originally at noon, then at 7pm) will not leave until the next day. We make a split-second decision to take a speed boat instead, and are spirited away in the night to an even more remote location. We hurriedly load water, produce and other supplies for 5 days and head out into open water.
The stars are bright bright and curved around the sky like a snow globe.
Around 9pm, we arrive at Champali (a luxury camp made available to us four grateful travelers through family connections). My room is quintessential island paradise in one room-sized package: big bed, balcony overlooking the ocean, woven mats and open windows on all sides.
Day 3: Sunday
I wake again at dawn in a pool of light, the soft sounds of birds and water lapping at the shore welcoming me into the day. I move slowly, from morning yoga to a brief walk away from the camp, to cooking breakfast.
We play cards and lounge for a while, then make the fifteen-minute “trek” to the other side of the island and eight kilometers of wild, empty beach. Strewn with seaweed, backed by sand dunes and with an unobstructed view of the Indian Ocean, this beach is the definition of remote. My definition, anyways. You would never guess, to stand there, that several hundred people inhabit the island, residing largely in two villages.
The cicadas in the trees here are terrifyingly loud at times, their buzzing so pervasive it seems to be coming from inside my own head. A noise like that could drive you crazy if you were stuck in a tree with it for long enough.
Day 4: Monday
This time we bring boogey boards to the other beach, and for the first time I really understand why people find this activity fun. The waves are just big enough to carry me all the way to shore when I catch them right. I stand up dripping seaweed and sand, and feel decidedly like a six-year-old mermaid version of myself.
A walk into the village later in the afternoon reveals the hub of human activity that the exterior of the island obscures. The women are beautiful, dressed in a style that looks almost Indian to me, and the children are utterly enthralled by our appearance, trailing behind our small group as we wander a web of thatch-roofed homes and dirt paths speckled with shells—remnants of an aquatic time long past.
As the sun begins to set we start for Champali, stopping at a beach along the way to watch the color show.
Day 5: Tuesday
We all wake up before dawn to race to the top of “Conical Hill,” the tallest point on the island, in time for sunrise.
Afterwards, we visit Mike and his camp a long walk further down the beach. He, like Kenya’s tourist economy, is struggling. Since two English tourists were kidnapped in 2011, Kiwayu has hardly been a popular destination. All of Lamu region, really, has suffered.
Gorgeous island getaways stare out at a magnificent ocean view, empty and waiting to be filled again.
That afternoon, I return to the village and a local woman covers my left arm—from fingers to shoulder—with bold henna designs.
Day 6: Wednesday
I wake up slowly, recovering from the long day on Tuesday, luxuriating in the comfort of my big bed. We savor our last hours on Kiwayu, knowing that we will leave at 4am the next day.
We sit on my balcony to watch one more sunset, the day fading from yellow to orange to dark.
Day 7: Thursday
Our boat is late bringing us back to Lamu. We leave at 5:30 instead of 4:30. When we sit down at La Banda, a reasonably priced restaurant overlooking the water, for breakfast, the first news on the Garissa attacks plays on a television at the back of the room.
The bus ride back to Kilifi is as long and dusty as the first. I feel refreshed and content, though—despite the danger, despite the unrest, I feel secure…

 ***

I describe my trip in such detail not to brag, but rather to make a point.

I almost didn’t go.
When Earl backed out days before our planned departure, I considered doing the same and making the trip another time. Finally though, despite increased travel advisories, Kiwayu’s proximity to Somalia, and the general tone of fear set by foreign governments, international media and even some locals, I decided to go.
I do not believe I put myself in any serious danger, but I certainly did not “play it safe” according to the conventional wisdom of travel. As more and more tourists opt to visit Tanzania rather than Kenya (playing it safe), unemployment rates here continue to rise (48% for Kenyan youth). These are not conditions for recovery, stability or growth. There is a serious danger there.
The region of Kenya I just returned from is among the most beautiful areas I have ever visited… the whole coast of Kenya is, in fact. Following yesterday’s events, this hardly seems the moment to encourage anyone to visit, and yet, I want to remind you that there is more here than what you see on the news. That is true everywhere—everything is more than what you hear secondhand.

Everything you see is certainly true, but it is only one piece of a 1,000-piece puzzle.

***

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Nomadism

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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