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Adventure, Europe, Nature

Off to the Camino… Travel Update and See You Later!

On Sunday, June fifth (yes, that’s tomorrow), I will close my laptop. I will put it on a shelf, and I will not see it again for a month. I will put two pairs of pants, three shirts and a sleeping bag into my backpack, and I will head to San Sebastian in the Northeast of Spain.

I’ve been waiting for this day for a while now.

I need a vacation, yes. I need a total break from society—also yes.

But it’s more than that. It always is.

The Camino de Santiago has been on my list for awhile now. (It’s not a bucket list. I like to call it my, “Do These Things as Soon as Possible List.”)

I don’t know why I want to do it, just like I don’t know why I want to travel the Trans-Siberian Railway, ride on horseback across Mongolia or sail the seven seas (all on my list). Except, I know that it calls to me; I know that adventure is my way of searching—of seeking.

I know that a search need not have an object—that it is the act of searching that matters—sometimes…


***

So, that’s about it. I’m not packing my camera, so I’m sorry to say I may not have many beautiful pictures to show for this trip at the end of the month. I also haven’t decided how much, if at all, I’ll stay connected. I may be updating here over the next month—or I may not. If not, I’ll be back in a month with a whole lot of stories to tell. See you then! 🙂
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Adventure, Africa

Next Up, Cape Town: Meeting the Voice of Intuition

Chapman’s Peak, near one of my possible next homes.
The flights are booked.
Philadelphia —> NYC —> Amsterdam —> Helsinki. Short pause. Helsinki —> London —> Cape Town.
Don’t ask. Flights, once booked, are very difficult to reroute.
Why Cape Town?
Summer.

Why else? Well then, summer, right time zone for work schedule, visa on arrival, not Europe (I’m at the end of my 90-day limit for Schengen Zone), ocean, low cost of living, mountains, city…
But actually, none of that really, truly answers your question: Why Cape Town?
Yes, those are all reasons why it’s a good choice, yet my choice did not stem from them. Rather, Cape Town felt right, and the rational reasons followed.
Too “woo woo” for you? Consider this: Whenever we have a decision to make, there is a part of us (call it intuition, gut instinct, whatever you will) that knows the “right” answer before we do. We can arrive at it by logic, or we can skip the winding road and hop straight to our destination—what feels right is right.
You argue, but this is how drug addicts, hedonists and psychiatric patients are made—acting on impulse. I counter, impulse is not the same as intuition. I sat with my decision to head to Cape Town for nearly two weeks before buying tickets. I reconsidered all my other options, gave logic its chance to sort through the possibilities. But my intuition didn’t waver:
Warm air, ocean tides—a chance to learn to surf, finally!—and hiking trails, even horses, and then all the things a city can offer: a blank slab of the unknown where you can inscribe the next months of this adventure word by novel word.
It should come as no surprise that the unknown and my intuition are particularly enmeshed. What feels “right,” more often than not, is what appears shrouded in mystery—the yet-to-be-revealed of a new culture, new community, new dance, new sport, new path, new chance. 
Of course, that is my “what feels right,” and I neither suggest nor expect it should be the same for another.
It is only interesting, and instructive, to note where our intuition points us, time after time.
When we hold a question in our mind’s hands, turning it this way and that, asking where, who, what, when and, most of all, why—what is the first voice to answer, and what does it say?
Hello, intuition, nice to meet you!

Cape Town, you say? I trust you.

Trust. Jump. Fly. Photo Credit: Toni Toreno, Cambodia.
***

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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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Africa

I Might Really Miss This Place

A rainbow came out especially for my “picture-taking day.”

As I prepare to leave Zanzibar (Nungwi, more specifically; East Africa, more broadly), the place that has begun to feel like home, I find myself struck by surprising waves of nostalgia…

With one foot over the proverbial threshold, I observe this place with the forgiving nostalgia of things already past.

Mambo poa? Poa, vipi? Poa poa. Za asubui? Salaama, na wei wei? Mzuri sana. Mzima. Mzima.

The daily greetings—long and impossible to translate (in all honesty, I don’t know the meanings so much as the sense)—through which I finally navigate with ease after months in the region.

For Travellers: Next door to my home, Kipangani Villa.
The familiarity of Hafizi, the vegetable guy, Chef, the owner of “Chef’s Baking Shop,” and several other business owners and neighbors who, day by day, have slowly accepted my presence in their world—though I will never “fit in” here. To a few, I am not anonymous—more than a transient foreign face—and that means something.

Chef’s Baking Shop (and Restaurant).

Hafizi, the vegetable (and fruit) guy.

My hard-won comfort—with the basics of Ki-Swahili; with the daily trials of moving through an unfamiliar cultural and physical landscape; with all the tiny frustrations that sometimes build… and sometimes fade into irrelevance.

The neighborhood cow.

Road to my house.

The herds of cows on uneven dirt tracks, which I pass through on my borrowed bicycle with its one brake and working bell on my way to work; the brief but regular power outages and occasional mysterious absence of water in the taps; the proliferation of rambutan spiders, mangos and goats and the scarcity of apples, cheese pets and pavement; the trash cart hitched to a skinny cow, the call to prayer at sundown and the rocks that bite holes in my sandals.

Nungwi Village.

All of it—tiny details insignificant to some, inconveniences to others—to me, these minutiae are the source of my nostalgia. They are symbols, signifying that I am “there”: someplace far far older than I, but new to me. Not “here” in the familiar, alike, easy—“elsewhere,” and thriving in it.

Second-to-last sunset.

And then there are the sunsets over the ocean, the orange-gold breeze as I teach yoga, the palm trees and the beach; the sumptuous Arabic-style décor of restaurants that charge less than MacDonald’s for a feast, the silhouette of dhow sails on the horizon—the part from guidebooks and travel adverts is also here, though far more complicated than the brochures would have you believe.

Of course, a hundred moments of frustration, anger, discomfort, exasperation and rage punctuate that seeping, honeyed nostalgia, reminding me why I am leaving—why I am ready to go.

Nonetheless, I think I might really miss this place.
As I write this, I am sipping my last cappuccino at the Zanzibar Coffee House (my favorite place in Stone Town) and uploading the handful of pictures I managed to take in my last days on the island. I will go to the airport this evening and travel about 40 hours for a brief visit with my family in Vermont.

Next stop: Sicily.

I hover in the place of in-between’s as I figure out what is next—uncertainty looms as always in shades of vibrant expectation and somber apprehension. I am reminded, again, that home is a thing that fits in a cupboard in my mind… the trick is remembering where I left the keys.

***

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Culture, Europe

Hostels: Beyond the Horror Movie Story

Picture it: A group of Portuguese boys play ping pong and try not to spill beer. Behind them, Spanish girls converse– loudly– with strangers via a smartphone translation app. Upstairs, Karaoke. Someone knocks over a stool with a bang. Ten bunk beds crowd into a room about 5m2; the room is rarely quiet. Dirty dishes accumulate in the sink, and most people cook pasta.
No, it’s not an international frat house. It’s a hostel.
If it sounds rowdy, messy and overwhelming, well, it often is. If it also sounds like a one-stop-shop for meeting other travelers and making friends from other places, well, it’s that too.
Once upon a time, I loved to stay in hostels. At 18, I found the chaotic collision of cultures exhilarating. Likewise the endless procession of potential friends. The noise, the mess and the banality of bar-stool banter? It was new to me.
Over the last five years, however, something has shifted. I prefer noise in moderation. Though I still enjoy meeting new friends—and I hope I always will—I am no longer awestruck by the air of international cool that hostels exude.
Last week, I spent six days in a Barcelona hostel after all better options fell through. For seven euros a night, I didn’t mind that one of the two stoves didn’t work, or that I had to share space with twenty people smellier than me.
My second evening I overheard a conversation that brought home the change in my relationship to hostels. What once would have seemed a thrilling exchange of travelers’ stories and philosophy now felt decidedly, disappointingly… trite, I suppose.
What’s changed?
Certainly not the people, the stories, or the philosophy. So it must be me. Hostels are the same everywhere, anytime, and maybe that’s the problem. I have started to see what is the same rather than what stands out and enchants. My god, I have never felt so cynical!
As I look at hostels now, I see less the excitement, more the noise. I see lecherous older men rather than good stories. I see travelers who never leave their rooms and parties that I could just as easily find at home.
This is no longer where I want to be.
~
Picture it: “Dragon’s breath” fog rolls in between purple mountains in the twilight. Terraces of fruit trees reach out above it. The nearest town, where square white houses cling to the mountainside, measures an altitude of 4,000ft. Nobody speaks English. Home is a small caravan with one outlet and the most spectacular view of sunrises and sunsets. Farmers load bags of almonds onto mules to carry them up the slopes.
For the next two weeks I will be “wwoofing” (working on an organic farm) in the south of Spain. I still like parties and socializing and noise, but lately this environment feels much more my speed. There is nothing wrong with hostels, per se—my criticism may be heavy-handed—but I think I am done with them.

I feel good here—in the heavy quiet of fog and deep space I can breathe. I can write, too, and that is more than I could say in Barcelona.
~
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Africa

Zanzibar!

Have you ever written a sonnet?*

A sonnet’s beauty and difficulty both lie in the restraints placed around its form. Fourteen lines, iambic pentameter, and a rhyme scheme of a-b-a-b;c-d-c-d;e-f-e-f;g-g, the sonnet is no quick jaunt on a summer day. It is hard work to fit depth of thought and poetic sentiment within its narrow frame. But when it works, it’s magic: the sonnet emerges as just reward for the poet’s pains.

This trip I have just begun (arriving in Paris on November 17th, and checking in now from Barcelona) is a bit like writing a sonnet.

Why?

Have I mentioned that I am traveling with my partner? And have I mentioned that said partner is traveling on a Ghanaian passport– a document that grants today’s international traveler few privileges?

Well, I am, and he is.

We arrived in Europe knowing that we would have to leave within 30 days– the length of his visa. Yesterday, we returned from the Moroccan Consulate in Barcelona giddy with disbelief. We would not continue on to Morocco by ferry as we had expected.

Why?

Because one week prior the Consulate had received instruction to grant Moroccan visas only to residents of the Barcelona area. We would have to return to the U.S. or Ghana now to apply.

And so we are back to square one. The fourteen lines, iambic pentameter and strict rhyme scheme of travel sonnets and bureaucratic poetry close in ever tighter.

The following two maps represent our respective “green zones” for international travel. Green and yellow mean we can obtain visas on arrival or do not need them. Gray typically entails a lengthy visa application process, and often the necessity of returning to the U.S. to undertake it.

Were you to lay one map on top of the other, the world would be mostly gray.

Add to that the places we do not wish to travel, for various safety concerns, and the gray spreads farther still.

Yet even as borders tighten and possibilities shrink before my eyes, I feel an odd sense of freedom then, faced by our obstacles. When our plans shatter and we are forced to return with all haste to the drawing board, we have to opportunity to create a sonnet of exceptional spontaneity.

Where will we go now?

To Zanzibar! (You may have guessed it.) City of rare consonants that beckons my imagination to wander. To East Africa. Nairobi, Kenya first, in fact– though its lack of Z’s renders it a less tempting contender for title line– then on to Botswana and Tanzania and maybe South Africa.

I hope the sonnet that emerges is worth all the trouble.

~

*[The credit for this analogy goes to a friend– he managed to express perfectly the nature of this trip.]

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Uncategorized

Would You Like to be Email Listed?

Dear friends and readers,

I have decided (I think) to start up a monthly email update as a kind of lazy-man’s alternative to remembering to read my blog. I’ll let you know where I am, where I’ve been, where I’m heading, and maybe a few thoughts and impressions. In addition, I will include links to my favorite blog posts, articles, and anything else I’ve published that month– just the highlights.

I’ll keep it short. It might come less often than once a month. It definitely will not come more frequently. There might be pictures.

Sounds like something delightful you would like to find in your inbox? Just send me a message with your email address and I will add you to the list! (Use the Contact Me form on the right hand side of the page.)

Happy September everyone!

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Uncategorized

Links to Latest Article and the TV Interview That Followed

I’ve had an exciting publication recently on Salon-
http://www.salon.com/2013/10/07/tales_of_a_female_hitchhiker/

…which led to a TV interview this morning with WGN:
http://morningnews.wgntv.com/2013/10/25/woman-describes-challenges-excitement-while-hitchhiking-across-europe/

Getting my foot in the door, one toe at a time!

This will continue to be my personal travel blog, just as soon as I get traveling again. Stay posted!

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Europe

Toby and Alyssa Take on Istanbul

For the last six days I had the great pleasure of traveling with the beautiful, brilliant, best of friends, Alyssa Raven Thomas.  What a welcome change from the repetitive (though largely enjoyable) pattern of spending my time with people who don’t know me.

Just the highlights, then. We met up Sunday at our hotel in Sultanahmet, one of several historic districts of Istanbul. Reunion joy. Our hotel room was called the Grand Bazaar. The next day we visited the real Grand Bazaar, an enclosed warren of alleys and shops that housed a frenzy of action, color, light and exchange.  There, Alyssa purchased  enough evil eye bracelets to protect a Sultan’s entire army.  We spent the afternoon at Hamam Cagaloglu, Istanbul’s oldest and grandest Turkish bath, sweating and scrubbing out at least a week’s worth of grime (on my part, anyways). We scooped water from marble basins and lounged on heated marble slabs as gray light and a few drops of rain filtered through small holes in the domed marble ceiling.  The Blue Mosque, Haiga Sofia (pronounced and spelled Ayasofia, it would seem), and Topkapi Palace of course had their places of honor, and despite the aggressive masses of anxious cattle pushing to the feeding troughs (over-zealous tourists), these sites were spectacular.  Huge Turkish breakfasts, nearly unlimited cups of free tea (thank you, Turkish hospitality!), and squares of flaky baklava dripping with honey formed the delicious brackets between which our sightseeing took place.  We cruised the Bosphorous, took a ferry from Europe to Asia and back, criss-crossed nearly every inch of the city by foot, and braved wind rain and cold to take on Istanbul.  I’d say we emerged victorious.

~
The Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Cami) as seen from the Bosphorous.

Stunning Byzantine mural inside the Ayasofia.

Alyssa and I enjoy one of the best views of the Ayasofia from a rooftop bar in Sultanahmet.
~

Alyssa is now heading home and I am about to set out for Cappadocia, land of the fairy chimneys. I will find out what that means and report back.

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