Feeling alive surfing in Exciting South Africa

November 15th, 2016

South AfricaTravel Writing Award

Freedom When an Amazing Life Flys Away in the US

It was three summers ago and I had just flown from Kauai to Portland, OR to be with my boyfriend after months of being apart. Everything was finally looking up, after going through hardships during my travels on the islands. I was exactly where I wanted to be.

I remember how exciting it was to feel the cool, crisp NW air and to see Portland for the first time. The city was coming alive, people were buzzing on the streets, cafés were clamoring with business, I had made it.
My boyfriend and I had driven down to his family farm in Dallas, OR, a small town in a valley at the edge of the Coast Range Mountains. The farm is a hundred years old and sits on seventy acres of open land, filled with fruit trees and a rambling river. If anything, my time in Oregon was only getting better.

However, three days into my trip, I received a phone call from my Aunt Lorie whom never calls. A red flag went up as I answered. “Your grandma is in hospice…” My heart sank into my chest as I heard these words. I had spoken to my grandmother occasionally throughout the past year but, it wasn’t enough. She was the woman who raised me from toddler to adult, she was my hero. I should have been more present.

I was feeling all sorts of emotions, but mostly sadness and despair that I wasn’t a car ride away. In fact, I was on the opposite end of the country, at least an eight-hour flight from home. Feeling helpless and confused, I continued my day, beneath a cloud. I was awaiting answers to my prayers. I prayed to my mother, whom passed away when I was two. I sought advice on the situation, if I should continue my trip or fly home. The following morning my prayer was answered in the form of a Robin bird who landed in front of me in between two large oak trees. My mother’s name was Robin. In that moment I felt a sigh of relief that even through difficulty, things can still make sense.

A couple more days had passed with no improvements to my grandmother’s health. Yet, I decided to remain in Oregon. We had made our way to the coast which is my favorite place to be. Throughout the days I had been given small universal signs that everything was going to be okay. I felt a little more at ease.

Throughout my travels I had picked up a used book called, The Invitation. At the end of every chapter the author asks the reader to write short exercises. They are based on looking inwards. Like most books I read, I found that every time I flipped the page, it was more and more relevant to my current situation. This time, the exercise was to write down ‘what I need and what I need from others’. I jotted down the answers in my journal and put it away. The following day would be pivotal.
In the afternoon my boyfriend and I found ourselves in a state park situated on the central coast. We climbed a sand dune to check the surf. It was small but looked worthwhile, so we grabbed our boards and ran to the water. It was a beautiful, sunny day. No one was around. We had this place to ourselves. I caught some really fun little peeling waves. This was my perfect moment.

When I got out of my wetsuit and changed into dry clothes, I grabbed my journal and climbed up a sand dune that overlooked the vast, glistening Pacific. I was in my peaceful place. Because I hadn’t had time the previous day to finish my journal entry, I did so on the dune. When I finished writing I sent my needs and needs of others into the universe. “I need Bubee to know that my brothers and I will be okay without her.” “I need Bubee to know that she is free to leave her body and to find her freedom.” I felt so relieved and uplifted from partaking in this exercise.

When I got back to the car I checked my phone; a missed call from my aunt. Before I listened to the message, I knew what I’d hear. And when I officially heard the words, tears fell from my eyes, but they were mostly tears of joy. I never thought I’d feel that way about my grandmothers passing. But, I couldn’t deny the sequence of events that occurred. I knew deep in my heart that someone was watching over us. She had passed when I was doing what I love most; surfing and traveling. And in that realization I too found my freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Interesting Strangers in transit through the USA

I used to dread traveling alone. I mean lets’ face it, sitting alone at an airport waiting for a flight, exhausted, trying to avoid talking to strangers you simply do not have the energy to communicate with is no one’s favorite pastime. At least not mine. I used to find it awkward, like all the other passengers were staring at me, judging me because I did not have a group of friends or family around me. Sometimes I was judging myself too, wondering what on earth was I doing, spending my time at yet another airport in the middle of nowhere, going to a city I had never been to before, only to wander around all by myself, since clearly I did not know anyone there. My family and friends, whom I gladly would have welcomed with me on my adventures but who unfortunately were not very keen on traveling with me, kept asking why I was going where I was going, with who, and every time I replied “alone”, they looked at me like I had gone nuts. Why would you travel somewhere you’ve never been to and know nothing about, completely alone, for no apparent reason? Yes, there were times when I myself questioned my sanity.

But there is a flipside to wandering around in a strange city all by yourself. It’s refreshing. Fascinating. Freeing. Empowering even. Watching the waves on the beach of Wilmington, admiring wonderful art and beautiful old buildings in Boston or sipping morning coffee at Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Thinking back, I don’t remember being lonely. I don’t remember feeling awkward or out of place. No, thinking back just makes me smile. What I remember is the warm wind and the salty smell of the ocean; the music, and the laughter; the smell of the coffee, the orchestra playing and how much I loved that little pink house with a porch full of colorful flowers. The interesting conversation with that silly old grandpa at the diner, or that kind stranger letting me crash on his couch when things went wrong in El Paso and I had nowhere to spend the night. I remember that time I randomly stumbled into a dive bar to see a band somewhere in Wisconsin, and ended up spending the next week hanging out with them, selling merchandise at a festival and sipping margaritas by the pool, having the time of my life. I remember all those fascinating, devastating and heart-warming life stories of strangers I met in passing, and all those moments I would not change for the world. And most of all I remember feeling stronger, more confident. I remember feeling free. All of a sudden none of those expectations, none of those horrifying tiny boxes people around me have always tried to fit me in did not matter anymore. On that plane or that strange city, surrounded by strangers, I was finally able to just be me. To be free.

The biggest realization traveling alone has given me, is that I can do this. I will get through and I will survive, whatever it is life throws at me. I will never be what other people expect me to be, so I might as well just follow my heart and do what I feel is right. The world is a magnificent, interesting and beautiful place, and I intend to see as much of it as I possibly can. Even if it means I’m seeing it alone.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Just Chasing a Photograph in the USA

I used to be a jet-setting executive who had the world at her feet. Nowadays, I travel because my three daughters live in different cities around the world: Seattle (next, San Francisco), Calgary, and Manila (London before, Melbourne next). Recently, my career-oriented middle daughter Claudine needed help. For the fifth time after I retired, I flew to Canada to take care of three young ones.

“We can go to Yoho and Kootenay in B.C., our chance to complete the quad parks named the World Heritage Site of the Canadian Rockies,” I convinced my husband, Bill. On the third weekend, I squeezed in a visit to the new Glacier Skywalk on the Columbia Icefields between Banff and Jasper, the two in Alberta we had visited earlier.

The only downside was driving the same section of the Trans-Canada Highway six more times. Sure enough, on the road to Yoho, I dozed off. Bill missed my chatter, nudging me, “Hey, sleepyhead, I bought you some Cheetos!” In a jiffy, the bag of my favorite cheesy crunchies was gone. I should have been upset he spoiled my beauty nap. Instead, I thanked him.

Between mouthfuls, I caught a glimpse of a scene that would haunt me. A lone red car seemed to rise on the road, driving straight into an enormous glacier-draped mountain. It vanished in a second. “I want that photograph!” whispered my heart. Staying glued to the windshield, soon a second chance came. Alas, the car was black, and the road was flat.

Photos of lovely sights around Yoho did not get my mind off that scene: Marble Canyon, Painted Pots, Sinclair Canyon, and Radium’s Hot Springs and bighorn sheep around town. The following Saturday, I was back with a vengeance. It didn’t take long and another such scene appeared. The mountain was even more majestic. But the car, being white, disappeared into the mist. Again, there was no road rise. I cried, “Can we just stage something?” Bill had one word, “Patience!”

Other photo-ops were on the road. An enormous yellow truck blazoned against the grays. White clouds cavorted with ice-lined pointed peaks. A multi-colored train ruffled through the Rockies’ skirts. Cute, curvy twin bridges punctuated the highway humdrum. Once in a while, a red-roofed cabin enlivened the greens. Around Kootenay, there was more: the Spiral Train, Emerald Lake, Natural Bridge, and the towns of Field and Golden. Still, I wanted that photo.

On the third weekend, the weather was itself, taking a sudden nasty turn. We proceeded and stayed at Banff for the night, hoping it would clear the next day. It didn’t. I have been through Philippine storms, but snow takes me right inside a freezer. But I had to go. It was my last chance.

I started feeling hopeless, but a smile returned to my face when, at more than 6,000 feet high, frosty evergreen began to grace both sides of the road. I asked Bill to stop and stepped out. Wet fluffy things instantly brushed against my face. I “smelled” chestnuts roasting nearby. From inside the car, Bill took my photo of Christmas in June! Still, I longed for another photo.

At the Skywalk, it wasn’t a panorama of glistening glaciers but gray and gloom that greeted us. Making the best of a bad situation, I noticed that my outfit had come together: the red beanie I just bought at the Gift Shop and the red gloves, red scarf and black winter jacket Claudine lent me. Bill took off his gloves to freely fiddle with the Nikon and the slippery platform turned into MY catwalk. “Hurry up! My fingers are already frozen!” interrupted my trance. But by then, I had precious photos of a glamorous fashion model at 67. Still, it was THAT scene I wanted.

On the way home, I was nervous. Bill’s words rang loud in my ears, “It’s now or never.” And, just like that, it came. The car wasn’t red and low-lying clouds partly hid the mountain. But the road had a slight rise, creating the magical effect I saw the first time. All the way home, a contest of who can give the best caption for the photo produced: “Into the Clouds”, “Into the Unknown”, and “Beyond the Ordinary.”

The grandkids hugged me tight as Claudine asked, “Is photography a new career?” I explained that the job I love most is that of a traveling Grandnanny. It doesn’t matter how many times I go back to a place. It’s the people that count. It doesn’t matter if I drive the same old familiar highway. Something else will catch my fancy. I am free to be with whomever I want, drive to wherever I please, and listen to whatever my heart whispers, even if it’s just chasing a photograph.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Free-falling to Freedom in Brazil

2010 was not my year; free-falling since 2009 from successful Customer Service Manager, rising rapidly through the ranks to redundant job seeker, an anonymous face caught up in the tsunami of unemployment as Australia was hit by the Global Economic Crisis. At the same time I went from being married, in love and planning a much dreamed of family, to separated and fighting in vein to save my marriage as my husband set up a cozy new life with his secret lover. Spiralling further and further downwards towards rock bottom, alone, jobless, heartbroken and without spousal support, I finally crash landed; in bankruptcy.

Well, the good thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only way is up!
I had a dream; to salvage the last shred of my life plan, stop the free-falling and move to Brazil!

Sure it would not be as a family unit and I would no longer be cocooned in the secure embrace of the upper middle class lifestyle my in-laws had offered, but the challenge gave me renewed purpose and hope. Still longing for a baby, I discovered that even singles can be eligible to adopt in Brazil, this became my beacon of hope, the driving force to follow my dreams and never give up, no matter what challenges lay ahead.

Simply affording the airfare seemed impossible, a pipe dream, but where there is a will there is a way and by selling almost all my worldly goods on eBay I did it. With enough spare funds to survive on a shoestring for around 12 weeks, it was make or break to find a job in that time.

With a mix of excitement and fear, armed only with a basic knowledge of Portuguese, a passion for Brazilian music and a few Capoeira moves up my sleeve, I flew off into the unknown.

My heart pulled me towards the state of Bahia, and after three bus trips totalling about 35 hours, I made it to Salvador early on a January morning in 2011.  I found a room in the heart of historic, sometimes dangerous and above all picturesque, Pelourinho for around USD$13 a night and there I began to live my dream.

My life story was a tapestry of hopes and dreams interwoven thread by thread with heartache and loss; thankfully I have a strong, independent core which worked like a flint to the sparks of freedom and adventure that came as each new stitch was sewn, thus fuelling the fire to survive here that burns deep inside me to this day.

I trod along the ancient cobbled streets, moving to the beat of drums, drinking in the sight of beautiful coloured buildings, and visiting the statue of Zumbi dos Palmares (an important figure in Capoeira) to sing to him and ask for guidance.

New found freedom combined with faith in my decision felled any remaining fear, my soul felt like it had come home. Against the odds I found a job with only days to go before my funds ran out, that dogged determination had paid it’s dividends. Sure, I was as poor as a church mouse, earning minimum wage of around USD$300 a month, but I was on my way!

From there the path has not been paved with gold, I have followed the paupers trail strewn with rocks, stumbled many times, scraped my knees and lived on the proverbial smell of an oily rag, sometimes in areas not too many steps above the poverty line but I have continued on my journey; a relentless dream catcher.

The experiences have been worth the struggles; I have seen sights both beautiful and historic that I could never have imagined, undertaken voluntary work with some amazing musicians which lead me to promote local Brazilian music to the world, something that became my soul food in this new life, and to top things off I have met so many diverse and wonderful people.

Living without mod cons; cold water showers, no washing machine, no oven, no fridge, no car, no TV, sometimes even no bed, brings sharply into focus what truly matters in life and those material items don’t even make the list! I have often had next to nothing in Brazil, but my life has been richer. Richer in experiences, richer in culture, richer in friendships.

My advice to those reading is, if you are struggling there is hope! Fears can be conquered, lows turned into highs and if you feel like running away, then sprint towards your dreams. Freedom is through that door you see just ahead, you hold the key so put it in the lock and walk through to the life that you dream of for yourself! As for me, I’m now applying to be a citizen of my new homeland; watch this space.

NB: Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

An Amazing Underwater paradise in Mexico

Grains of sand as soft and fine as powdery snow covered my toes as I tried to name all of the different shades of neon blue in the water. Turquoise, Aquamarine, Slate, Navy, Cerulean, Azure, Cornflower, Tiffany Blue. Sails on the yachts in front of me fluttered in the light sea breeze and the smell of coconut oil wafted by. Juice dripped down my fingers as I took a bite of the fresh cut pineapple. I was on the island paradise of Isla Mujeres in the Mexican Caribbean and I was in tears.

Down by the Belize border I burst into tears in Mahahual, swinging on a hammock suspended above the water. The sea was so clear that I could see the trumpet fish zig-zagging below me and even distinguish the individual grains in the rippled sand below. After that I cried at Santa Fe beach in Tulum, tears sliding down my face and into the fresh coconut I was drinking with a straw as I gazed up at the Mayan ruins on the cliff above.

A newly certified Dive Instructor, I’d been planning this move to the tropics for two years. I’d quit my job, gotten rid of my furniture, told my friends goodbye and made no promises to return. Now here I was in tropical paradise wondering if I could ask my Dad to stay in his spare room for a few months while I sorted my life out. Because my move to paradise was not going as planned.

The tourists around me were having a great time. They were on holiday, having adventures. I would come back to the hostel exhausted from a day walking in the blistering heat, hunting for a job and an apartment. Every day the tourists went swimming with whale sharks. Every day I followed false leads and faced new rejections.

Everything on the streets seemed strange. A man on a tricycle circled town with a loudspeaker blaring “…windows, refrigerators, doors, all you need, tables, chimneys, bathtubs, call me,” followed by a phone number. An eight year old boy leaned out of a truck window to wolf whistle at me. A woman tried to sell me a hand puppet shaped like a chicken.

“What is this place?” I called my Dad for advice. “I’m so tired, I don’t know if I can do this!”

“I have no doubt that you can make a life for yourself anywhere in the world,” my Dad said. “You’ve done it before.”

“I know I can make it here,” I said. “But I don’t know if I want to!”

“Give it another week.”

The next week I got a call from a dive shop offering me an instructor position. “It’s only confirmed for two months,” my new boss said, “but if it works out then you can stay through high season. The catch is that you’ll need to house-sit the apartment above the dive shop until we get the hurricane shutters installed. I hope that we can work this out.”

Needless to say, I took the job and the beachfront apartment. As soon as I was in the ocean I was in charge again; teaching people to breathe underwater, calming their fears about the equipment and the environment, introducing them to the reef ecosystem. I love taking people underwater for the first time, to see them experience the thrill of flying above the corals or encounter a creature that they didn’t even know existed. To see them face to face with a giant turtle, inside a tornado school of giant trevally, or hovering in place while manta rays do flips around them.

Life on land is still confusing, but I’m not crying anymore. I’m settling in to my new town and I’m enjoying the slow pace of life in the tropics. But underwater I have my freedom. The environment is so foreign that you can’t help but immerse yourself in the experience. You can’t feel tears underwater, you’re already totally wet.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

2016-07-08-06-57-09-1-300x300Instilling Comfortable Respect in the Philippines

The chorus of cascading waters was music to my ears as it dropped down from varying heights into an aquamarine pool. The sound mimics the sound of rain. The rhythm complements the magnificent and unadulterated view of water streaming onto rock walls and plants, giving off a thin cloud of droplets at the base of the waterfalls. This is Tinago Falls in Iligan City, Philippines. Its beauty is well hidden within the rainforest of the province hence the name “tinago”, a Filipino word that means hidden. As I stood there mesmerized by its beauty, I heaved a sigh of relief. I have finally conquered it but, unlike Tinago Falls, I need not hide because I am free.

Living in a country of diverse cultures, these diversity creates gaps in understanding that eventually leads to misconceptions. These questions in faith and beliefs, often fueled by ignorance, give birth to generalizations and bigotry. The news of tragic events happening in different parts of the world, often associated with our Muslim brothers, do not help in easing out these tensions. The Philippines, being predominantly of Christian faith, is not free from this imbalance. As most of our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters are concentrated in Mindanao, the island is still a subject that sometimes instills fear among many Filipinos. There are places that are “off-limits” in the minds of most Filipinos because it is tagged as “dangerous”.

A recent unplanned visit to Iligan City gave me the opportunity to open the mind of my 8 year old daughter on the importance of accepting diversity. It was our first time in the city and our plan was to visit the 3 of its 24 waterfalls. As we only had a couple of hours to go around, we had to hire a “habal-habal”, a motorcycle where we had to squeeze in three people and the driver, to get us around faster. It was another first for us. I had to explain to my daughter that this was the mode of public transportation in most Philippine provinces.

She was quick to notice that there were a lot of Muslims during our quick tour. She was able to identify them because of the way they dressed. She was used to the city where people dressed in a certain fashion and she saw how different this was in Iligan City. At one point, she asked me why people dressed that way.

I saw this as an opportunity to explain to her the rich and diverse culture of the Philippines. I explained to her that they were our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters. They believe in Allah and they practice their Islam faith so they have their own culture that they are proud of, and that includes the way they dress. I had to make her understand that despite these differences we were all Filipinos and should respect each other. She will meet a lot of Filipino Muslims as she grows up and will have a deeper understanding of their culture, both in our travels and in school. What is important was for her to open her mind and accept these differences just like the way she does with her friends in school. At that point, a young Muslim lady walked past our table and smiled at her to which she my daughter returned the favor.

At that point, I knew that she was on her way to understanding the lessons of cultural diversity.

As our world gets smaller with technology, it is very important to keep in mind that it will open us to the cultural exchanges from the different regions of the world. Most of these beliefs and practices may be similar and there will be a few that may contradict our very own. These exchanges will also open us to preconceived ideas and branding that can result to indifferences and, in some cases, can even lead to hate. We cannot allow these notions to affect the way we think about others because of their cultural background, their faith, the color of their skin, or the way they dress.

I find my freedom when I travel. Each destination is a new learning experience. Traveling introduced me to the different cultures and practices that makes the Philippines unique. It gave me the opportunity to help others understand the uniqueness of each culture paving the way for acceptance, just like what happened between me and my daughter during our trip in Mindanao. Traveling freed me from clutches of ignorance and taught me to respect the diversity that is present among us.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

The Inward Journey to Freedom in the US

By age fourteen I had been to twenty seven countries and four continents. How much more free could I be? Back then, life was much simpler. At twenty six years old, I’ve independently added four more countries. I had the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want, but there was something significantly different between traveling with my parents and traveling alone as an adult. Until a few years ago, I realized I was emotionally caged; trapped in heartaches, insecurities and self-loathing. Let me tell you a story of a traveler who never truly traveled until she started exploring an inward journey into herself.

I awoke, I gently began to open my eyes knowing there was no rush for anything. I graduated college, I had no job and no direction, but worst of all, I had no passion. I felt nothing and everything all at the same time. It was winter in Massachusetts and everything was dead, which is exactly how I felt. Every day it was cold and gray outside and my ribcage would tremble, trying to salvage the very last colors inside of me. Days were long and nights were longer.

Every phone call I’d bite my cheeks and pray that desperation could not be heard. I didn’t know how to ask for help, as I choked on words I could not speak. Everyone’s advice was so cliché and bland, “talk to someone, exercise, eat well, go out and meet people.” As if the simple act of getting out of bed was easy for me. When I would gather enough strength to walk to the bathroom, I’d brush my teeth with a soft gaze, avoiding all eye contact with a ghost.

She wasn’t scary but she sure wasn’t pretty. She was pale with swollen eye lids, peeled lips and bleeding finger tips. She was trapped in her own world, bruising her hands against her concrete walls, wishing somebody would save her. I used to think she was quite pathetic, but when I chose to fall in love with her, was the moment I chose to fall in love with myself.

I was tired and I was through with devaluing myself. I frantically opened my laptop and typed the first words that came to mind, “Kripalu”, the School of Yoga and Health. I had taken all of one class but that didn’t stop me. Yoga was expanding and teachers were in demand. Kripalu was only a few hours north so I signed up. A month later I was standing on the grounds where I took my first few breaths of fresh air.

I knew absolutely nothing of what yoga truly is. They stripped my judgments of bendy, skinny females wearing Lululemon. My god, yoga saved my life. Every day I cried. At first it was out of pain; reliving every moment someone took something from me, every moment I failed, disappointed, hurt and lied. They taught me to be strong in my vulnerability and supplied me with affirmations that helped heal me.

The skin I used to inflict pain upon through cigarettes and razors is the skin I now touch as if it were a lover who just told me they loved me too. I massaged my feet with gratitude for walking so steady on shaky grounds and I kissed my palms with forgiveness because sometimes I did not hold hearts with care. I looked all around and saw the greener side of the grass. I was liberated from my own perception of hell.   My inward journey was nearly complete.

Finally, a miracle; tears of happiness slid down my cheeks as I danced and held others and allowed myself to be held. I was reborn in the hands of loving, empathetic human beings that have felt how exhausted shoulders can get and how heavy hearts can be. My teachers taught me more than warrior pose, tree pose and eagle pose. They taught me how to be a warrior and enter my inner power. They taught me how to be a tree; to grow with sturdiness. They taught me how to be an eagle and fly in freedom.

I’ve felt the pain of my ancestors as I walked their graves touring the German holocaust camps. I’ve felt the love and nurture of those who’ve harvested life as I danced along the Balinese rice patties. I have hugged the Australian wild life and did the HAKA with one of New Zealand’s tribes. I have cried with Peru’s poor and laughed with their children. There’s a lot I’ve seen and a lot I haven’t, a lot I know and a lot I don’t. I’ve learned the final destination of freedom was never my plane ticket. The final destination of freedom was the only place I did not think to go and that was through an inward journey.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Why Did You Come to Japan?

There is a television show in Japan that airs every Monday called Why Did You Come to Japan? A Japanese camera crew stops foreigners arriving at Narita airport in Tokyo and asks them what the purpose is for their visit. My best friend’s dad told me about this show shortly after I arrived for my six-week stay at their house. He joked that I was there, “to sleep and fold laundry!”

That was partially true while I was recovering from the mysterious virus I contracted on the plane ride there. But when I wasn’t sleeping or folding laundry I was on a search. Although I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for at first, I’m certain I found it along the way.

I overcame fear. My journey began when I was forced to maneuver the Japanese train system. Exhausted from traveling for three days from my home in Indiana, my plane was diverted a couple hundred miles south from Tokyo to Osaka airport due to turbulence. There were no more flights so I had to take a train to find my host family in Tokyo. I was terrified at the idea of going alone, but I quickly made friends with the angel God placed in the seat beside me on the plane. We plotted, prayed, sweated, laughed and cried through the ordeal but we bravely made it to our destination together.

I taught. I packed a children’s devotional in my suitcase and read an English lesson with my friend’s nine-year-old son every morning. Not only did he get to practice his English skills, he also learned about Jesus. I learned many Japanese words in the process.

I explored. I had my own bicycle and ventured out almost daily, some days riding ten miles or more. I visited shopping centers, beautiful shrines, Starbucks and my favorite Italian restaurant. Since I had been forced to overcome my fear of working the train system upon arrival in Japan, I rode one alone to Harajuku in Tokyo from my friend’s house in Inage-Ku and visited the famous Meiji Jingu Shrine. There I found confidence, gratitude and peace.

I made new friends. I connected with the family who lived across the street from my host family. They took me on several outings including gorgeous flower gardens and a gigantic mall. One evening they invited me to their backyard BBQ. The entire family spoke fluent English, which was refreshing. And their three-year old grandson Yuto sang Row Row Row Your Boat to me in the sweetest little voice reminding me of my childhood and that we are all children at heart no matter where we live in the world.

I survived multiple earthquakes. As if the mysterious illness I contracted on my journey there was not enough, after I recovered I had to deal with my bed shaking uncontrollably on at least four occasions. They were low magnitude quakes but that was more earth shaking than I had experienced in my entire life up to that point.

I relaxed. I took hot baths at public Japanese spas and experienced a hot rock bed for the first time. I took naps in the afternoons. I read several books cover to cover. I sat in the park and people watched. I drank a lot of coffee and daydreamed. I learned to breathe again.

I ate. I enjoyed delicious meals prepared at home by my host family and I learned how to prepare many dishes myself. I cooked dinner for my friends on my last night and they actually enjoyed it! I ate homemade miso soup and rice every day and ice cream for dessert. I took myself out to restaurants. Pointing at pictures on the menu works just as well in Japan as it does at Denny’s!

I traveled. I flew to Okinawa for three nights with my friend on a girl’s only trip. We enjoyed hanging out on the beautiful beach, touring a pineapple park and winery, eating a lot of good food, revisiting my Fuguki Tree Road and just enjoying quality time together.

I worshipped. I visited a Christian church on my last full Sunday in Japan where I prayed with a congregation full of Japanese Christians. They spoke a different language than me but together we worshipped the same God. I thanked Him for blessing me so much with the gift of such an amazing adventure in this wondrous country.

I may have slept and folded a lot of laundry but I did manage to do many wonderful things. I overcame fear in the process and I left behind anxiety that I brought to Japan with me. I slept in the top bunk and gazed at the glowing stars on the wall papered ceiling as I drifted off to sleep every night. I became physically active again. I bicycled. I kayaked. I even participated in a tug of war contest. I learned patience and endurance in ways I never experienced before. I learned that people everywhere are the same on the inside. And I thanked God for blessing me so much in life.

To simply answer the question, “Why did you come to Japan?”

I went to Japan to find freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

sky-500x500Hard fought Journeys to a Satisfied Freedom in the Philippines

When I saw the theme of this article writing contest, I remember a quote I have encountered before. The quote says “Learn the rules. Then break some”. It might sound rebellious to some but for me, I think of it as another way of saying you fight for your journeys freedom.

I believe there are different kinds of freedom each and every one of us is looking for. We all wanted to be free, free from the things that we think are holding us back from living the life we desire. We want to move away from what are bothering us, hurting us, our struggles, this is what being free might be for each of us. But where and when do we find our freedom? How do we fight for it? How can we say we feel free?

Speaking for myself, I still find me being stuck from where I am now. I feel like I’m still bounded with all the responsibilities I have for my Family. Still bounded from thinking about the approval of my society on how I should be living my life. But all of these things including self doubt and fear disappear whenever I am travelling alone in an unfamiliar territory.

When I get out there, I always choose to leave the things that are bringing me down. I clear my head from them. Yes, I am trying to run away from them and be free from them even for a while because this is where and when I find my freedom from what I think is a cruel reality.

I used to travel with people I know and used to be closed to me but it made a difference to see how free I can feel when I did a trip alone. During these journeys I learned how to decide everything for myself, which I think is one way of exercising my freedom. I usually make my own itinerary based on the information I get from travel blogs but there are times that I do not follow it and decide to get lost. I feel like I can afford to see the places where some do not go. I am free to explore. I am not bound by any box or circle.

From these travels I learned to be free from judgement and doubts. I started to convince myself to trust people who are very unfamiliar to me, who I just met or encountered at the moment. At these moments I do not have any thoughts to make me run from people I do not know. I invite them to be part of my new circle instead.

The best freedom I get from these experiences is that I am freely me. Everything is me. I am allowed to be myself. I open up myself to new territories, new people and new learning. I do not have to worry about being out of my usual comfort zone. I do not feel any pain. I am releasing my inner bravery and last but not the least I am free to hope without a limit. The hope that will give me strength to face every obstacle and struggles to achieve the life I have always been dreaming. A life where I get to have the freedom to be independent and to be myself whenever, wherever.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Freedom When an Amazing Life Flys Away in the US

It was three summers ago and I had just flown from Kauai to Portland, OR to be with my boyfriend after months of being apart. Everything was finally looking up, after going through hardships during my travels on the islands. I was exactly where I wanted to be.

I remember how exciting it was to feel the cool, crisp NW air and to see Portland for the first time. The city was coming alive, people were buzzing on the streets, cafés were clamoring with business, I had made it.
My boyfriend and I had driven down to his family farm in Dallas, OR, a small town in a valley at the edge of the Coast Range Mountains. The farm is a hundred years old and sits on seventy acres of open land, filled with fruit trees and a rambling river. If anything, my time in Oregon was only getting better.

However, three days into my trip, I received a phone call from my Aunt Lorie whom never calls. A red flag went up as I answered. “Your grandma is in hospice…” My heart sank into my chest as I heard these words. I had spoken to my grandmother occasionally throughout the past year but, it wasn’t enough. She was the woman who raised me from toddler to adult, she was my hero. I should have been more present.

I was feeling all sorts of emotions, but mostly sadness and despair that I wasn’t a car ride away. In fact, I was on the opposite end of the country, at least an eight-hour flight from home. Feeling helpless and confused, I continued my day, beneath a cloud. I was awaiting answers to my prayers. I prayed to my mother, whom passed away when I was two. I sought advice on the situation, if I should continue my trip or fly home. The following morning my prayer was answered in the form of a Robin bird who landed in front of me in between two large oak trees. My mother’s name was Robin. In that moment I felt a sigh of relief that even through difficulty, things can still make sense.

A couple more days had passed with no improvements to my grandmother’s health. Yet, I decided to remain in Oregon. We had made our way to the coast which is my favorite place to be. Throughout the days I had been given small universal signs that everything was going to be okay. I felt a little more at ease.

Throughout my travels I had picked up a used book called, The Invitation. At the end of every chapter the author asks the reader to write short exercises. They are based on looking inwards. Like most books I read, I found that every time I flipped the page, it was more and more relevant to my current situation. This time, the exercise was to write down ‘what I need and what I need from others’. I jotted down the answers in my journal and put it away. The following day would be pivotal.
In the afternoon my boyfriend and I found ourselves in a state park situated on the central coast. We climbed a sand dune to check the surf. It was small but looked worthwhile, so we grabbed our boards and ran to the water. It was a beautiful, sunny day. No one was around. We had this place to ourselves. I caught some really fun little peeling waves. This was my perfect moment.

When I got out of my wetsuit and changed into dry clothes, I grabbed my journal and climbed up a sand dune that overlooked the vast, glistening Pacific. I was in my peaceful place. Because I hadn’t had time the previous day to finish my journal entry, I did so on the dune. When I finished writing I sent my needs and needs of others into the universe. “I need Bubee to know that my brothers and I will be okay without her.” “I need Bubee to know that she is free to leave her body and to find her freedom.” I felt so relieved and uplifted from partaking in this exercise.

When I got back to the car I checked my phone; a missed call from my aunt. Before I listened to the message, I knew what I’d hear. And when I officially heard the words, tears fell from my eyes, but they were mostly tears of joy. I never thought I’d feel that way about my grandmothers passing. But, I couldn’t deny the sequence of events that occurred. I knew deep in my heart that someone was watching over us. She had passed when I was doing what I love most; surfing and traveling. And in that realization I too found my freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Interesting Strangers in transit through the USA

I used to dread traveling alone. I mean lets’ face it, sitting alone at an airport waiting for a flight, exhausted, trying to avoid talking to strangers you simply do not have the energy to communicate with is no one’s favorite pastime. At least not mine. I used to find it awkward, like all the other passengers were staring at me, judging me because I did not have a group of friends or family around me. Sometimes I was judging myself too, wondering what on earth was I doing, spending my time at yet another airport in the middle of nowhere, going to a city I had never been to before, only to wander around all by myself, since clearly I did not know anyone there. My family and friends, whom I gladly would have welcomed with me on my adventures but who unfortunately were not very keen on traveling with me, kept asking why I was going where I was going, with who, and every time I replied “alone”, they looked at me like I had gone nuts. Why would you travel somewhere you’ve never been to and know nothing about, completely alone, for no apparent reason? Yes, there were times when I myself questioned my sanity.

But there is a flipside to wandering around in a strange city all by yourself. It’s refreshing. Fascinating. Freeing. Empowering even. Watching the waves on the beach of Wilmington, admiring wonderful art and beautiful old buildings in Boston or sipping morning coffee at Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Thinking back, I don’t remember being lonely. I don’t remember feeling awkward or out of place. No, thinking back just makes me smile. What I remember is the warm wind and the salty smell of the ocean; the music, and the laughter; the smell of the coffee, the orchestra playing and how much I loved that little pink house with a porch full of colorful flowers. The interesting conversation with that silly old grandpa at the diner, or that kind stranger letting me crash on his couch when things went wrong in El Paso and I had nowhere to spend the night. I remember that time I randomly stumbled into a dive bar to see a band somewhere in Wisconsin, and ended up spending the next week hanging out with them, selling merchandise at a festival and sipping margaritas by the pool, having the time of my life. I remember all those fascinating, devastating and heart-warming life stories of strangers I met in passing, and all those moments I would not change for the world. And most of all I remember feeling stronger, more confident. I remember feeling free. All of a sudden none of those expectations, none of those horrifying tiny boxes people around me have always tried to fit me in did not matter anymore. On that plane or that strange city, surrounded by strangers, I was finally able to just be me. To be free.

The biggest realization traveling alone has given me, is that I can do this. I will get through and I will survive, whatever it is life throws at me. I will never be what other people expect me to be, so I might as well just follow my heart and do what I feel is right. The world is a magnificent, interesting and beautiful place, and I intend to see as much of it as I possibly can. Even if it means I’m seeing it alone.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Just Chasing a Photograph in the USA

I used to be a jet-setting executive who had the world at her feet. Nowadays, I travel because my three daughters live in different cities around the world: Seattle (next, San Francisco), Calgary, and Manila (London before, Melbourne next). Recently, my career-oriented middle daughter Claudine needed help. For the fifth time after I retired, I flew to Canada to take care of three young ones.

“We can go to Yoho and Kootenay in B.C., our chance to complete the quad parks named the World Heritage Site of the Canadian Rockies,” I convinced my husband, Bill. On the third weekend, I squeezed in a visit to the new Glacier Skywalk on the Columbia Icefields between Banff and Jasper, the two in Alberta we had visited earlier.

The only downside was driving the same section of the Trans-Canada Highway six more times. Sure enough, on the road to Yoho, I dozed off. Bill missed my chatter, nudging me, “Hey, sleepyhead, I bought you some Cheetos!” In a jiffy, the bag of my favorite cheesy crunchies was gone. I should have been upset he spoiled my beauty nap. Instead, I thanked him.

Between mouthfuls, I caught a glimpse of a scene that would haunt me. A lone red car seemed to rise on the road, driving straight into an enormous glacier-draped mountain. It vanished in a second. “I want that photograph!” whispered my heart. Staying glued to the windshield, soon a second chance came. Alas, the car was black, and the road was flat.

Photos of lovely sights around Yoho did not get my mind off that scene: Marble Canyon, Painted Pots, Sinclair Canyon, and Radium’s Hot Springs and bighorn sheep around town. The following Saturday, I was back with a vengeance. It didn’t take long and another such scene appeared. The mountain was even more majestic. But the car, being white, disappeared into the mist. Again, there was no road rise. I cried, “Can we just stage something?” Bill had one word, “Patience!”

Other photo-ops were on the road. An enormous yellow truck blazoned against the grays. White clouds cavorted with ice-lined pointed peaks. A multi-colored train ruffled through the Rockies’ skirts. Cute, curvy twin bridges punctuated the highway humdrum. Once in a while, a red-roofed cabin enlivened the greens. Around Kootenay, there was more: the Spiral Train, Emerald Lake, Natural Bridge, and the towns of Field and Golden. Still, I wanted that photo.

On the third weekend, the weather was itself, taking a sudden nasty turn. We proceeded and stayed at Banff for the night, hoping it would clear the next day. It didn’t. I have been through Philippine storms, but snow takes me right inside a freezer. But I had to go. It was my last chance.

I started feeling hopeless, but a smile returned to my face when, at more than 6,000 feet high, frosty evergreen began to grace both sides of the road. I asked Bill to stop and stepped out. Wet fluffy things instantly brushed against my face. I “smelled” chestnuts roasting nearby. From inside the car, Bill took my photo of Christmas in June! Still, I longed for another photo.

At the Skywalk, it wasn’t a panorama of glistening glaciers but gray and gloom that greeted us. Making the best of a bad situation, I noticed that my outfit had come together: the red beanie I just bought at the Gift Shop and the red gloves, red scarf and black winter jacket Claudine lent me. Bill took off his gloves to freely fiddle with the Nikon and the slippery platform turned into MY catwalk. “Hurry up! My fingers are already frozen!” interrupted my trance. But by then, I had precious photos of a glamorous fashion model at 67. Still, it was THAT scene I wanted.

On the way home, I was nervous. Bill’s words rang loud in my ears, “It’s now or never.” And, just like that, it came. The car wasn’t red and low-lying clouds partly hid the mountain. But the road had a slight rise, creating the magical effect I saw the first time. All the way home, a contest of who can give the best caption for the photo produced: “Into the Clouds”, “Into the Unknown”, and “Beyond the Ordinary.”

The grandkids hugged me tight as Claudine asked, “Is photography a new career?” I explained that the job I love most is that of a traveling Grandnanny. It doesn’t matter how many times I go back to a place. It’s the people that count. It doesn’t matter if I drive the same old familiar highway. Something else will catch my fancy. I am free to be with whomever I want, drive to wherever I please, and listen to whatever my heart whispers, even if it’s just chasing a photograph.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Free-falling to Freedom in Brazil

2010 was not my year; free-falling since 2009 from successful Customer Service Manager, rising rapidly through the ranks to redundant job seeker, an anonymous face caught up in the tsunami of unemployment as Australia was hit by the Global Economic Crisis. At the same time I went from being married, in love and planning a much dreamed of family, to separated and fighting in vein to save my marriage as my husband set up a cozy new life with his secret lover. Spiralling further and further downwards towards rock bottom, alone, jobless, heartbroken and without spousal support, I finally crash landed; in bankruptcy.

Well, the good thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only way is up!
I had a dream; to salvage the last shred of my life plan, stop the free-falling and move to Brazil!

Sure it would not be as a family unit and I would no longer be cocooned in the secure embrace of the upper middle class lifestyle my in-laws had offered, but the challenge gave me renewed purpose and hope. Still longing for a baby, I discovered that even singles can be eligible to adopt in Brazil, this became my beacon of hope, the driving force to follow my dreams and never give up, no matter what challenges lay ahead.

Simply affording the airfare seemed impossible, a pipe dream, but where there is a will there is a way and by selling almost all my worldly goods on eBay I did it. With enough spare funds to survive on a shoestring for around 12 weeks, it was make or break to find a job in that time.

With a mix of excitement and fear, armed only with a basic knowledge of Portuguese, a passion for Brazilian music and a few Capoeira moves up my sleeve, I flew off into the unknown.

My heart pulled me towards the state of Bahia, and after three bus trips totalling about 35 hours, I made it to Salvador early on a January morning in 2011.  I found a room in the heart of historic, sometimes dangerous and above all picturesque, Pelourinho for around USD$13 a night and there I began to live my dream.

My life story was a tapestry of hopes and dreams interwoven thread by thread with heartache and loss; thankfully I have a strong, independent core which worked like a flint to the sparks of freedom and adventure that came as each new stitch was sewn, thus fuelling the fire to survive here that burns deep inside me to this day.

I trod along the ancient cobbled streets, moving to the beat of drums, drinking in the sight of beautiful coloured buildings, and visiting the statue of Zumbi dos Palmares (an important figure in Capoeira) to sing to him and ask for guidance.

New found freedom combined with faith in my decision felled any remaining fear, my soul felt like it had come home. Against the odds I found a job with only days to go before my funds ran out, that dogged determination had paid it’s dividends. Sure, I was as poor as a church mouse, earning minimum wage of around USD$300 a month, but I was on my way!

From there the path has not been paved with gold, I have followed the paupers trail strewn with rocks, stumbled many times, scraped my knees and lived on the proverbial smell of an oily rag, sometimes in areas not too many steps above the poverty line but I have continued on my journey; a relentless dream catcher.

The experiences have been worth the struggles; I have seen sights both beautiful and historic that I could never have imagined, undertaken voluntary work with some amazing musicians which lead me to promote local Brazilian music to the world, something that became my soul food in this new life, and to top things off I have met so many diverse and wonderful people.

Living without mod cons; cold water showers, no washing machine, no oven, no fridge, no car, no TV, sometimes even no bed, brings sharply into focus what truly matters in life and those material items don’t even make the list! I have often had next to nothing in Brazil, but my life has been richer. Richer in experiences, richer in culture, richer in friendships.

My advice to those reading is, if you are struggling there is hope! Fears can be conquered, lows turned into highs and if you feel like running away, then sprint towards your dreams. Freedom is through that door you see just ahead, you hold the key so put it in the lock and walk through to the life that you dream of for yourself! As for me, I’m now applying to be a citizen of my new homeland; watch this space.

NB: Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

An Amazing Underwater paradise in Mexico

Grains of sand as soft and fine as powdery snow covered my toes as I tried to name all of the different shades of neon blue in the water. Turquoise, Aquamarine, Slate, Navy, Cerulean, Azure, Cornflower, Tiffany Blue. Sails on the yachts in front of me fluttered in the light sea breeze and the smell of coconut oil wafted by. Juice dripped down my fingers as I took a bite of the fresh cut pineapple. I was on the island paradise of Isla Mujeres in the Mexican Caribbean and I was in tears.

Down by the Belize border I burst into tears in Mahahual, swinging on a hammock suspended above the water. The sea was so clear that I could see the trumpet fish zig-zagging below me and even distinguish the individual grains in the rippled sand below. After that I cried at Santa Fe beach in Tulum, tears sliding down my face and into the fresh coconut I was drinking with a straw as I gazed up at the Mayan ruins on the cliff above.

A newly certified Dive Instructor, I’d been planning this move to the tropics for two years. I’d quit my job, gotten rid of my furniture, told my friends goodbye and made no promises to return. Now here I was in tropical paradise wondering if I could ask my Dad to stay in his spare room for a few months while I sorted my life out. Because my move to paradise was not going as planned.

The tourists around me were having a great time. They were on holiday, having adventures. I would come back to the hostel exhausted from a day walking in the blistering heat, hunting for a job and an apartment. Every day the tourists went swimming with whale sharks. Every day I followed false leads and faced new rejections.

Everything on the streets seemed strange. A man on a tricycle circled town with a loudspeaker blaring “…windows, refrigerators, doors, all you need, tables, chimneys, bathtubs, call me,” followed by a phone number. An eight year old boy leaned out of a truck window to wolf whistle at me. A woman tried to sell me a hand puppet shaped like a chicken.

“What is this place?” I called my Dad for advice. “I’m so tired, I don’t know if I can do this!”

“I have no doubt that you can make a life for yourself anywhere in the world,” my Dad said. “You’ve done it before.”

“I know I can make it here,” I said. “But I don’t know if I want to!”

“Give it another week.”

The next week I got a call from a dive shop offering me an instructor position. “It’s only confirmed for two months,” my new boss said, “but if it works out then you can stay through high season. The catch is that you’ll need to house-sit the apartment above the dive shop until we get the hurricane shutters installed. I hope that we can work this out.”

Needless to say, I took the job and the beachfront apartment. As soon as I was in the ocean I was in charge again; teaching people to breathe underwater, calming their fears about the equipment and the environment, introducing them to the reef ecosystem. I love taking people underwater for the first time, to see them experience the thrill of flying above the corals or encounter a creature that they didn’t even know existed. To see them face to face with a giant turtle, inside a tornado school of giant trevally, or hovering in place while manta rays do flips around them.

Life on land is still confusing, but I’m not crying anymore. I’m settling in to my new town and I’m enjoying the slow pace of life in the tropics. But underwater I have my freedom. The environment is so foreign that you can’t help but immerse yourself in the experience. You can’t feel tears underwater, you’re already totally wet.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

2016-07-08-06-57-09-1-300x300Instilling Comfortable Respect in the Philippines

The chorus of cascading waters was music to my ears as it dropped down from varying heights into an aquamarine pool. The sound mimics the sound of rain. The rhythm complements the magnificent and unadulterated view of water streaming onto rock walls and plants, giving off a thin cloud of droplets at the base of the waterfalls. This is Tinago Falls in Iligan City, Philippines. Its beauty is well hidden within the rainforest of the province hence the name “tinago”, a Filipino word that means hidden. As I stood there mesmerized by its beauty, I heaved a sigh of relief. I have finally conquered it but, unlike Tinago Falls, I need not hide because I am free.

Living in a country of diverse cultures, these diversity creates gaps in understanding that eventually leads to misconceptions. These questions in faith and beliefs, often fueled by ignorance, give birth to generalizations and bigotry. The news of tragic events happening in different parts of the world, often associated with our Muslim brothers, do not help in easing out these tensions. The Philippines, being predominantly of Christian faith, is not free from this imbalance. As most of our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters are concentrated in Mindanao, the island is still a subject that sometimes instills fear among many Filipinos. There are places that are “off-limits” in the minds of most Filipinos because it is tagged as “dangerous”.

A recent unplanned visit to Iligan City gave me the opportunity to open the mind of my 8 year old daughter on the importance of accepting diversity. It was our first time in the city and our plan was to visit the 3 of its 24 waterfalls. As we only had a couple of hours to go around, we had to hire a “habal-habal”, a motorcycle where we had to squeeze in three people and the driver, to get us around faster. It was another first for us. I had to explain to my daughter that this was the mode of public transportation in most Philippine provinces.

She was quick to notice that there were a lot of Muslims during our quick tour. She was able to identify them because of the way they dressed. She was used to the city where people dressed in a certain fashion and she saw how different this was in Iligan City. At one point, she asked me why people dressed that way.

I saw this as an opportunity to explain to her the rich and diverse culture of the Philippines. I explained to her that they were our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters. They believe in Allah and they practice their Islam faith so they have their own culture that they are proud of, and that includes the way they dress. I had to make her understand that despite these differences we were all Filipinos and should respect each other. She will meet a lot of Filipino Muslims as she grows up and will have a deeper understanding of their culture, both in our travels and in school. What is important was for her to open her mind and accept these differences just like the way she does with her friends in school. At that point, a young Muslim lady walked past our table and smiled at her to which she my daughter returned the favor.

At that point, I knew that she was on her way to understanding the lessons of cultural diversity.

As our world gets smaller with technology, it is very important to keep in mind that it will open us to the cultural exchanges from the different regions of the world. Most of these beliefs and practices may be similar and there will be a few that may contradict our very own. These exchanges will also open us to preconceived ideas and branding that can result to indifferences and, in some cases, can even lead to hate. We cannot allow these notions to affect the way we think about others because of their cultural background, their faith, the color of their skin, or the way they dress.

I find my freedom when I travel. Each destination is a new learning experience. Traveling introduced me to the different cultures and practices that makes the Philippines unique. It gave me the opportunity to help others understand the uniqueness of each culture paving the way for acceptance, just like what happened between me and my daughter during our trip in Mindanao. Traveling freed me from clutches of ignorance and taught me to respect the diversity that is present among us.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

The Inward Journey to Freedom in the US

By age fourteen I had been to twenty seven countries and four continents. How much more free could I be? Back then, life was much simpler. At twenty six years old, I’ve independently added four more countries. I had the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want, but there was something significantly different between traveling with my parents and traveling alone as an adult. Until a few years ago, I realized I was emotionally caged; trapped in heartaches, insecurities and self-loathing. Let me tell you a story of a traveler who never truly traveled until she started exploring an inward journey into herself.

I awoke, I gently began to open my eyes knowing there was no rush for anything. I graduated college, I had no job and no direction, but worst of all, I had no passion. I felt nothing and everything all at the same time. It was winter in Massachusetts and everything was dead, which is exactly how I felt. Every day it was cold and gray outside and my ribcage would tremble, trying to salvage the very last colors inside of me. Days were long and nights were longer.

Every phone call I’d bite my cheeks and pray that desperation could not be heard. I didn’t know how to ask for help, as I choked on words I could not speak. Everyone’s advice was so cliché and bland, “talk to someone, exercise, eat well, go out and meet people.” As if the simple act of getting out of bed was easy for me. When I would gather enough strength to walk to the bathroom, I’d brush my teeth with a soft gaze, avoiding all eye contact with a ghost.

She wasn’t scary but she sure wasn’t pretty. She was pale with swollen eye lids, peeled lips and bleeding finger tips. She was trapped in her own world, bruising her hands against her concrete walls, wishing somebody would save her. I used to think she was quite pathetic, but when I chose to fall in love with her, was the moment I chose to fall in love with myself.

I was tired and I was through with devaluing myself. I frantically opened my laptop and typed the first words that came to mind, “Kripalu”, the School of Yoga and Health. I had taken all of one class but that didn’t stop me. Yoga was expanding and teachers were in demand. Kripalu was only a few hours north so I signed up. A month later I was standing on the grounds where I took my first few breaths of fresh air.

I knew absolutely nothing of what yoga truly is. They stripped my judgments of bendy, skinny females wearing Lululemon. My god, yoga saved my life. Every day I cried. At first it was out of pain; reliving every moment someone took something from me, every moment I failed, disappointed, hurt and lied. They taught me to be strong in my vulnerability and supplied me with affirmations that helped heal me.

The skin I used to inflict pain upon through cigarettes and razors is the skin I now touch as if it were a lover who just told me they loved me too. I massaged my feet with gratitude for walking so steady on shaky grounds and I kissed my palms with forgiveness because sometimes I did not hold hearts with care. I looked all around and saw the greener side of the grass. I was liberated from my own perception of hell.   My inward journey was nearly complete.

Finally, a miracle; tears of happiness slid down my cheeks as I danced and held others and allowed myself to be held. I was reborn in the hands of loving, empathetic human beings that have felt how exhausted shoulders can get and how heavy hearts can be. My teachers taught me more than warrior pose, tree pose and eagle pose. They taught me how to be a warrior and enter my inner power. They taught me how to be a tree; to grow with sturdiness. They taught me how to be an eagle and fly in freedom.

I’ve felt the pain of my ancestors as I walked their graves touring the German holocaust camps. I’ve felt the love and nurture of those who’ve harvested life as I danced along the Balinese rice patties. I have hugged the Australian wild life and did the HAKA with one of New Zealand’s tribes. I have cried with Peru’s poor and laughed with their children. There’s a lot I’ve seen and a lot I haven’t, a lot I know and a lot I don’t. I’ve learned the final destination of freedom was never my plane ticket. The final destination of freedom was the only place I did not think to go and that was through an inward journey.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Why Did You Come to Japan?

There is a television show in Japan that airs every Monday called Why Did You Come to Japan? A Japanese camera crew stops foreigners arriving at Narita airport in Tokyo and asks them what the purpose is for their visit. My best friend’s dad told me about this show shortly after I arrived for my six-week stay at their house. He joked that I was there, “to sleep and fold laundry!”

That was partially true while I was recovering from the mysterious virus I contracted on the plane ride there. But when I wasn’t sleeping or folding laundry I was on a search. Although I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for at first, I’m certain I found it along the way.

I overcame fear. My journey began when I was forced to maneuver the Japanese train system. Exhausted from traveling for three days from my home in Indiana, my plane was diverted a couple hundred miles south from Tokyo to Osaka airport due to turbulence. There were no more flights so I had to take a train to find my host family in Tokyo. I was terrified at the idea of going alone, but I quickly made friends with the angel God placed in the seat beside me on the plane. We plotted, prayed, sweated, laughed and cried through the ordeal but we bravely made it to our destination together.

I taught. I packed a children’s devotional in my suitcase and read an English lesson with my friend’s nine-year-old son every morning. Not only did he get to practice his English skills, he also learned about Jesus. I learned many Japanese words in the process.

I explored. I had my own bicycle and ventured out almost daily, some days riding ten miles or more. I visited shopping centers, beautiful shrines, Starbucks and my favorite Italian restaurant. Since I had been forced to overcome my fear of working the train system upon arrival in Japan, I rode one alone to Harajuku in Tokyo from my friend’s house in Inage-Ku and visited the famous Meiji Jingu Shrine. There I found confidence, gratitude and peace.

I made new friends. I connected with the family who lived across the street from my host family. They took me on several outings including gorgeous flower gardens and a gigantic mall. One evening they invited me to their backyard BBQ. The entire family spoke fluent English, which was refreshing. And their three-year old grandson Yuto sang Row Row Row Your Boat to me in the sweetest little voice reminding me of my childhood and that we are all children at heart no matter where we live in the world.

I survived multiple earthquakes. As if the mysterious illness I contracted on my journey there was not enough, after I recovered I had to deal with my bed shaking uncontrollably on at least four occasions. They were low magnitude quakes but that was more earth shaking than I had experienced in my entire life up to that point.

I relaxed. I took hot baths at public Japanese spas and experienced a hot rock bed for the first time. I took naps in the afternoons. I read several books cover to cover. I sat in the park and people watched. I drank a lot of coffee and daydreamed. I learned to breathe again.

I ate. I enjoyed delicious meals prepared at home by my host family and I learned how to prepare many dishes myself. I cooked dinner for my friends on my last night and they actually enjoyed it! I ate homemade miso soup and rice every day and ice cream for dessert. I took myself out to restaurants. Pointing at pictures on the menu works just as well in Japan as it does at Denny’s!

I traveled. I flew to Okinawa for three nights with my friend on a girl’s only trip. We enjoyed hanging out on the beautiful beach, touring a pineapple park and winery, eating a lot of good food, revisiting my Fuguki Tree Road and just enjoying quality time together.

I worshipped. I visited a Christian church on my last full Sunday in Japan where I prayed with a congregation full of Japanese Christians. They spoke a different language than me but together we worshipped the same God. I thanked Him for blessing me so much with the gift of such an amazing adventure in this wondrous country.

I may have slept and folded a lot of laundry but I did manage to do many wonderful things. I overcame fear in the process and I left behind anxiety that I brought to Japan with me. I slept in the top bunk and gazed at the glowing stars on the wall papered ceiling as I drifted off to sleep every night. I became physically active again. I bicycled. I kayaked. I even participated in a tug of war contest. I learned patience and endurance in ways I never experienced before. I learned that people everywhere are the same on the inside. And I thanked God for blessing me so much in life.

To simply answer the question, “Why did you come to Japan?”

I went to Japan to find freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

sky-500x500Hard fought Journeys to a Satisfied Freedom in the Philippines

When I saw the theme of this article writing contest, I remember a quote I have encountered before. The quote says “Learn the rules. Then break some”. It might sound rebellious to some but for me, I think of it as another way of saying you fight for your journeys freedom.

I believe there are different kinds of freedom each and every one of us is looking for. We all wanted to be free, free from the things that we think are holding us back from living the life we desire. We want to move away from what are bothering us, hurting us, our struggles, this is what being free might be for each of us. But where and when do we find our freedom? How do we fight for it? How can we say we feel free?

Speaking for myself, I still find me being stuck from where I am now. I feel like I’m still bounded with all the responsibilities I have for my Family. Still bounded from thinking about the approval of my society on how I should be living my life. But all of these things including self doubt and fear disappear whenever I am travelling alone in an unfamiliar territory.

When I get out there, I always choose to leave the things that are bringing me down. I clear my head from them. Yes, I am trying to run away from them and be free from them even for a while because this is where and when I find my freedom from what I think is a cruel reality.

I used to travel with people I know and used to be closed to me but it made a difference to see how free I can feel when I did a trip alone. During these journeys I learned how to decide everything for myself, which I think is one way of exercising my freedom. I usually make my own itinerary based on the information I get from travel blogs but there are times that I do not follow it and decide to get lost. I feel like I can afford to see the places where some do not go. I am free to explore. I am not bound by any box or circle.

From these travels I learned to be free from judgement and doubts. I started to convince myself to trust people who are very unfamiliar to me, who I just met or encountered at the moment. At these moments I do not have any thoughts to make me run from people I do not know. I invite them to be part of my new circle instead.

The best freedom I get from these experiences is that I am freely me. Everything is me. I am allowed to be myself. I open up myself to new territories, new people and new learning. I do not have to worry about being out of my usual comfort zone. I do not feel any pain. I am releasing my inner bravery and last but not the least I am free to hope without a limit. The hope that will give me strength to face every obstacle and struggles to achieve the life I have always been dreaming. A life where I get to have the freedom to be independent and to be myself whenever, wherever.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Freedom When an Amazing Life Flys Away in the US

It was three summers ago and I had just flown from Kauai to Portland, OR to be with my boyfriend after months of being apart. Everything was finally looking up, after going through hardships during my travels on the islands. I was exactly where I wanted to be.

I remember how exciting it was to feel the cool, crisp NW air and to see Portland for the first time. The city was coming alive, people were buzzing on the streets, cafés were clamoring with business, I had made it.
My boyfriend and I had driven down to his family farm in Dallas, OR, a small town in a valley at the edge of the Coast Range Mountains. The farm is a hundred years old and sits on seventy acres of open land, filled with fruit trees and a rambling river. If anything, my time in Oregon was only getting better.

However, three days into my trip, I received a phone call from my Aunt Lorie whom never calls. A red flag went up as I answered. “Your grandma is in hospice…” My heart sank into my chest as I heard these words. I had spoken to my grandmother occasionally throughout the past year but, it wasn’t enough. She was the woman who raised me from toddler to adult, she was my hero. I should have been more present.

I was feeling all sorts of emotions, but mostly sadness and despair that I wasn’t a car ride away. In fact, I was on the opposite end of the country, at least an eight-hour flight from home. Feeling helpless and confused, I continued my day, beneath a cloud. I was awaiting answers to my prayers. I prayed to my mother, whom passed away when I was two. I sought advice on the situation, if I should continue my trip or fly home. The following morning my prayer was answered in the form of a Robin bird who landed in front of me in between two large oak trees. My mother’s name was Robin. In that moment I felt a sigh of relief that even through difficulty, things can still make sense.

A couple more days had passed with no improvements to my grandmother’s health. Yet, I decided to remain in Oregon. We had made our way to the coast which is my favorite place to be. Throughout the days I had been given small universal signs that everything was going to be okay. I felt a little more at ease.

Throughout my travels I had picked up a used book called, The Invitation. At the end of every chapter the author asks the reader to write short exercises. They are based on looking inwards. Like most books I read, I found that every time I flipped the page, it was more and more relevant to my current situation. This time, the exercise was to write down ‘what I need and what I need from others’. I jotted down the answers in my journal and put it away. The following day would be pivotal.
In the afternoon my boyfriend and I found ourselves in a state park situated on the central coast. We climbed a sand dune to check the surf. It was small but looked worthwhile, so we grabbed our boards and ran to the water. It was a beautiful, sunny day. No one was around. We had this place to ourselves. I caught some really fun little peeling waves. This was my perfect moment.

When I got out of my wetsuit and changed into dry clothes, I grabbed my journal and climbed up a sand dune that overlooked the vast, glistening Pacific. I was in my peaceful place. Because I hadn’t had time the previous day to finish my journal entry, I did so on the dune. When I finished writing I sent my needs and needs of others into the universe. “I need Bubee to know that my brothers and I will be okay without her.” “I need Bubee to know that she is free to leave her body and to find her freedom.” I felt so relieved and uplifted from partaking in this exercise.

When I got back to the car I checked my phone; a missed call from my aunt. Before I listened to the message, I knew what I’d hear. And when I officially heard the words, tears fell from my eyes, but they were mostly tears of joy. I never thought I’d feel that way about my grandmothers passing. But, I couldn’t deny the sequence of events that occurred. I knew deep in my heart that someone was watching over us. She had passed when I was doing what I love most; surfing and traveling. And in that realization I too found my freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Interesting Strangers in transit through the USA

I used to dread traveling alone. I mean lets’ face it, sitting alone at an airport waiting for a flight, exhausted, trying to avoid talking to strangers you simply do not have the energy to communicate with is no one’s favorite pastime. At least not mine. I used to find it awkward, like all the other passengers were staring at me, judging me because I did not have a group of friends or family around me. Sometimes I was judging myself too, wondering what on earth was I doing, spending my time at yet another airport in the middle of nowhere, going to a city I had never been to before, only to wander around all by myself, since clearly I did not know anyone there. My family and friends, whom I gladly would have welcomed with me on my adventures but who unfortunately were not very keen on traveling with me, kept asking why I was going where I was going, with who, and every time I replied “alone”, they looked at me like I had gone nuts. Why would you travel somewhere you’ve never been to and know nothing about, completely alone, for no apparent reason? Yes, there were times when I myself questioned my sanity.

But there is a flipside to wandering around in a strange city all by yourself. It’s refreshing. Fascinating. Freeing. Empowering even. Watching the waves on the beach of Wilmington, admiring wonderful art and beautiful old buildings in Boston or sipping morning coffee at Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Thinking back, I don’t remember being lonely. I don’t remember feeling awkward or out of place. No, thinking back just makes me smile. What I remember is the warm wind and the salty smell of the ocean; the music, and the laughter; the smell of the coffee, the orchestra playing and how much I loved that little pink house with a porch full of colorful flowers. The interesting conversation with that silly old grandpa at the diner, or that kind stranger letting me crash on his couch when things went wrong in El Paso and I had nowhere to spend the night. I remember that time I randomly stumbled into a dive bar to see a band somewhere in Wisconsin, and ended up spending the next week hanging out with them, selling merchandise at a festival and sipping margaritas by the pool, having the time of my life. I remember all those fascinating, devastating and heart-warming life stories of strangers I met in passing, and all those moments I would not change for the world. And most of all I remember feeling stronger, more confident. I remember feeling free. All of a sudden none of those expectations, none of those horrifying tiny boxes people around me have always tried to fit me in did not matter anymore. On that plane or that strange city, surrounded by strangers, I was finally able to just be me. To be free.

The biggest realization traveling alone has given me, is that I can do this. I will get through and I will survive, whatever it is life throws at me. I will never be what other people expect me to be, so I might as well just follow my heart and do what I feel is right. The world is a magnificent, interesting and beautiful place, and I intend to see as much of it as I possibly can. Even if it means I’m seeing it alone.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Just Chasing a Photograph in the USA

I used to be a jet-setting executive who had the world at her feet. Nowadays, I travel because my three daughters live in different cities around the world: Seattle (next, San Francisco), Calgary, and Manila (London before, Melbourne next). Recently, my career-oriented middle daughter Claudine needed help. For the fifth time after I retired, I flew to Canada to take care of three young ones.

“We can go to Yoho and Kootenay in B.C., our chance to complete the quad parks named the World Heritage Site of the Canadian Rockies,” I convinced my husband, Bill. On the third weekend, I squeezed in a visit to the new Glacier Skywalk on the Columbia Icefields between Banff and Jasper, the two in Alberta we had visited earlier.

The only downside was driving the same section of the Trans-Canada Highway six more times. Sure enough, on the road to Yoho, I dozed off. Bill missed my chatter, nudging me, “Hey, sleepyhead, I bought you some Cheetos!” In a jiffy, the bag of my favorite cheesy crunchies was gone. I should have been upset he spoiled my beauty nap. Instead, I thanked him.

Between mouthfuls, I caught a glimpse of a scene that would haunt me. A lone red car seemed to rise on the road, driving straight into an enormous glacier-draped mountain. It vanished in a second. “I want that photograph!” whispered my heart. Staying glued to the windshield, soon a second chance came. Alas, the car was black, and the road was flat.

Photos of lovely sights around Yoho did not get my mind off that scene: Marble Canyon, Painted Pots, Sinclair Canyon, and Radium’s Hot Springs and bighorn sheep around town. The following Saturday, I was back with a vengeance. It didn’t take long and another such scene appeared. The mountain was even more majestic. But the car, being white, disappeared into the mist. Again, there was no road rise. I cried, “Can we just stage something?” Bill had one word, “Patience!”

Other photo-ops were on the road. An enormous yellow truck blazoned against the grays. White clouds cavorted with ice-lined pointed peaks. A multi-colored train ruffled through the Rockies’ skirts. Cute, curvy twin bridges punctuated the highway humdrum. Once in a while, a red-roofed cabin enlivened the greens. Around Kootenay, there was more: the Spiral Train, Emerald Lake, Natural Bridge, and the towns of Field and Golden. Still, I wanted that photo.

On the third weekend, the weather was itself, taking a sudden nasty turn. We proceeded and stayed at Banff for the night, hoping it would clear the next day. It didn’t. I have been through Philippine storms, but snow takes me right inside a freezer. But I had to go. It was my last chance.

I started feeling hopeless, but a smile returned to my face when, at more than 6,000 feet high, frosty evergreen began to grace both sides of the road. I asked Bill to stop and stepped out. Wet fluffy things instantly brushed against my face. I “smelled” chestnuts roasting nearby. From inside the car, Bill took my photo of Christmas in June! Still, I longed for another photo.

At the Skywalk, it wasn’t a panorama of glistening glaciers but gray and gloom that greeted us. Making the best of a bad situation, I noticed that my outfit had come together: the red beanie I just bought at the Gift Shop and the red gloves, red scarf and black winter jacket Claudine lent me. Bill took off his gloves to freely fiddle with the Nikon and the slippery platform turned into MY catwalk. “Hurry up! My fingers are already frozen!” interrupted my trance. But by then, I had precious photos of a glamorous fashion model at 67. Still, it was THAT scene I wanted.

On the way home, I was nervous. Bill’s words rang loud in my ears, “It’s now or never.” And, just like that, it came. The car wasn’t red and low-lying clouds partly hid the mountain. But the road had a slight rise, creating the magical effect I saw the first time. All the way home, a contest of who can give the best caption for the photo produced: “Into the Clouds”, “Into the Unknown”, and “Beyond the Ordinary.”

The grandkids hugged me tight as Claudine asked, “Is photography a new career?” I explained that the job I love most is that of a traveling Grandnanny. It doesn’t matter how many times I go back to a place. It’s the people that count. It doesn’t matter if I drive the same old familiar highway. Something else will catch my fancy. I am free to be with whomever I want, drive to wherever I please, and listen to whatever my heart whispers, even if it’s just chasing a photograph.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Free-falling to Freedom in Brazil

2010 was not my year; free-falling since 2009 from successful Customer Service Manager, rising rapidly through the ranks to redundant job seeker, an anonymous face caught up in the tsunami of unemployment as Australia was hit by the Global Economic Crisis. At the same time I went from being married, in love and planning a much dreamed of family, to separated and fighting in vein to save my marriage as my husband set up a cozy new life with his secret lover. Spiralling further and further downwards towards rock bottom, alone, jobless, heartbroken and without spousal support, I finally crash landed; in bankruptcy.

Well, the good thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only way is up!
I had a dream; to salvage the last shred of my life plan, stop the free-falling and move to Brazil!

Sure it would not be as a family unit and I would no longer be cocooned in the secure embrace of the upper middle class lifestyle my in-laws had offered, but the challenge gave me renewed purpose and hope. Still longing for a baby, I discovered that even singles can be eligible to adopt in Brazil, this became my beacon of hope, the driving force to follow my dreams and never give up, no matter what challenges lay ahead.

Simply affording the airfare seemed impossible, a pipe dream, but where there is a will there is a way and by selling almost all my worldly goods on eBay I did it. With enough spare funds to survive on a shoestring for around 12 weeks, it was make or break to find a job in that time.

With a mix of excitement and fear, armed only with a basic knowledge of Portuguese, a passion for Brazilian music and a few Capoeira moves up my sleeve, I flew off into the unknown.

My heart pulled me towards the state of Bahia, and after three bus trips totalling about 35 hours, I made it to Salvador early on a January morning in 2011.  I found a room in the heart of historic, sometimes dangerous and above all picturesque, Pelourinho for around USD$13 a night and there I began to live my dream.

My life story was a tapestry of hopes and dreams interwoven thread by thread with heartache and loss; thankfully I have a strong, independent core which worked like a flint to the sparks of freedom and adventure that came as each new stitch was sewn, thus fuelling the fire to survive here that burns deep inside me to this day.

I trod along the ancient cobbled streets, moving to the beat of drums, drinking in the sight of beautiful coloured buildings, and visiting the statue of Zumbi dos Palmares (an important figure in Capoeira) to sing to him and ask for guidance.

New found freedom combined with faith in my decision felled any remaining fear, my soul felt like it had come home. Against the odds I found a job with only days to go before my funds ran out, that dogged determination had paid it’s dividends. Sure, I was as poor as a church mouse, earning minimum wage of around USD$300 a month, but I was on my way!

From there the path has not been paved with gold, I have followed the paupers trail strewn with rocks, stumbled many times, scraped my knees and lived on the proverbial smell of an oily rag, sometimes in areas not too many steps above the poverty line but I have continued on my journey; a relentless dream catcher.

The experiences have been worth the struggles; I have seen sights both beautiful and historic that I could never have imagined, undertaken voluntary work with some amazing musicians which lead me to promote local Brazilian music to the world, something that became my soul food in this new life, and to top things off I have met so many diverse and wonderful people.

Living without mod cons; cold water showers, no washing machine, no oven, no fridge, no car, no TV, sometimes even no bed, brings sharply into focus what truly matters in life and those material items don’t even make the list! I have often had next to nothing in Brazil, but my life has been richer. Richer in experiences, richer in culture, richer in friendships.

My advice to those reading is, if you are struggling there is hope! Fears can be conquered, lows turned into highs and if you feel like running away, then sprint towards your dreams. Freedom is through that door you see just ahead, you hold the key so put it in the lock and walk through to the life that you dream of for yourself! As for me, I’m now applying to be a citizen of my new homeland; watch this space.

NB: Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

An Amazing Underwater paradise in Mexico

Grains of sand as soft and fine as powdery snow covered my toes as I tried to name all of the different shades of neon blue in the water. Turquoise, Aquamarine, Slate, Navy, Cerulean, Azure, Cornflower, Tiffany Blue. Sails on the yachts in front of me fluttered in the light sea breeze and the smell of coconut oil wafted by. Juice dripped down my fingers as I took a bite of the fresh cut pineapple. I was on the island paradise of Isla Mujeres in the Mexican Caribbean and I was in tears.

Down by the Belize border I burst into tears in Mahahual, swinging on a hammock suspended above the water. The sea was so clear that I could see the trumpet fish zig-zagging below me and even distinguish the individual grains in the rippled sand below. After that I cried at Santa Fe beach in Tulum, tears sliding down my face and into the fresh coconut I was drinking with a straw as I gazed up at the Mayan ruins on the cliff above.

A newly certified Dive Instructor, I’d been planning this move to the tropics for two years. I’d quit my job, gotten rid of my furniture, told my friends goodbye and made no promises to return. Now here I was in tropical paradise wondering if I could ask my Dad to stay in his spare room for a few months while I sorted my life out. Because my move to paradise was not going as planned.

The tourists around me were having a great time. They were on holiday, having adventures. I would come back to the hostel exhausted from a day walking in the blistering heat, hunting for a job and an apartment. Every day the tourists went swimming with whale sharks. Every day I followed false leads and faced new rejections.

Everything on the streets seemed strange. A man on a tricycle circled town with a loudspeaker blaring “…windows, refrigerators, doors, all you need, tables, chimneys, bathtubs, call me,” followed by a phone number. An eight year old boy leaned out of a truck window to wolf whistle at me. A woman tried to sell me a hand puppet shaped like a chicken.

“What is this place?” I called my Dad for advice. “I’m so tired, I don’t know if I can do this!”

“I have no doubt that you can make a life for yourself anywhere in the world,” my Dad said. “You’ve done it before.”

“I know I can make it here,” I said. “But I don’t know if I want to!”

“Give it another week.”

The next week I got a call from a dive shop offering me an instructor position. “It’s only confirmed for two months,” my new boss said, “but if it works out then you can stay through high season. The catch is that you’ll need to house-sit the apartment above the dive shop until we get the hurricane shutters installed. I hope that we can work this out.”

Needless to say, I took the job and the beachfront apartment. As soon as I was in the ocean I was in charge again; teaching people to breathe underwater, calming their fears about the equipment and the environment, introducing them to the reef ecosystem. I love taking people underwater for the first time, to see them experience the thrill of flying above the corals or encounter a creature that they didn’t even know existed. To see them face to face with a giant turtle, inside a tornado school of giant trevally, or hovering in place while manta rays do flips around them.

Life on land is still confusing, but I’m not crying anymore. I’m settling in to my new town and I’m enjoying the slow pace of life in the tropics. But underwater I have my freedom. The environment is so foreign that you can’t help but immerse yourself in the experience. You can’t feel tears underwater, you’re already totally wet.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

2016-07-08-06-57-09-1-300x300Instilling Comfortable Respect in the Philippines

The chorus of cascading waters was music to my ears as it dropped down from varying heights into an aquamarine pool. The sound mimics the sound of rain. The rhythm complements the magnificent and unadulterated view of water streaming onto rock walls and plants, giving off a thin cloud of droplets at the base of the waterfalls. This is Tinago Falls in Iligan City, Philippines. Its beauty is well hidden within the rainforest of the province hence the name “tinago”, a Filipino word that means hidden. As I stood there mesmerized by its beauty, I heaved a sigh of relief. I have finally conquered it but, unlike Tinago Falls, I need not hide because I am free.

Living in a country of diverse cultures, these diversity creates gaps in understanding that eventually leads to misconceptions. These questions in faith and beliefs, often fueled by ignorance, give birth to generalizations and bigotry. The news of tragic events happening in different parts of the world, often associated with our Muslim brothers, do not help in easing out these tensions. The Philippines, being predominantly of Christian faith, is not free from this imbalance. As most of our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters are concentrated in Mindanao, the island is still a subject that sometimes instills fear among many Filipinos. There are places that are “off-limits” in the minds of most Filipinos because it is tagged as “dangerous”.

A recent unplanned visit to Iligan City gave me the opportunity to open the mind of my 8 year old daughter on the importance of accepting diversity. It was our first time in the city and our plan was to visit the 3 of its 24 waterfalls. As we only had a couple of hours to go around, we had to hire a “habal-habal”, a motorcycle where we had to squeeze in three people and the driver, to get us around faster. It was another first for us. I had to explain to my daughter that this was the mode of public transportation in most Philippine provinces.

She was quick to notice that there were a lot of Muslims during our quick tour. She was able to identify them because of the way they dressed. She was used to the city where people dressed in a certain fashion and she saw how different this was in Iligan City. At one point, she asked me why people dressed that way.

I saw this as an opportunity to explain to her the rich and diverse culture of the Philippines. I explained to her that they were our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters. They believe in Allah and they practice their Islam faith so they have their own culture that they are proud of, and that includes the way they dress. I had to make her understand that despite these differences we were all Filipinos and should respect each other. She will meet a lot of Filipino Muslims as she grows up and will have a deeper understanding of their culture, both in our travels and in school. What is important was for her to open her mind and accept these differences just like the way she does with her friends in school. At that point, a young Muslim lady walked past our table and smiled at her to which she my daughter returned the favor.

At that point, I knew that she was on her way to understanding the lessons of cultural diversity.

As our world gets smaller with technology, it is very important to keep in mind that it will open us to the cultural exchanges from the different regions of the world. Most of these beliefs and practices may be similar and there will be a few that may contradict our very own. These exchanges will also open us to preconceived ideas and branding that can result to indifferences and, in some cases, can even lead to hate. We cannot allow these notions to affect the way we think about others because of their cultural background, their faith, the color of their skin, or the way they dress.

I find my freedom when I travel. Each destination is a new learning experience. Traveling introduced me to the different cultures and practices that makes the Philippines unique. It gave me the opportunity to help others understand the uniqueness of each culture paving the way for acceptance, just like what happened between me and my daughter during our trip in Mindanao. Traveling freed me from clutches of ignorance and taught me to respect the diversity that is present among us.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

The Inward Journey to Freedom in the US

By age fourteen I had been to twenty seven countries and four continents. How much more free could I be? Back then, life was much simpler. At twenty six years old, I’ve independently added four more countries. I had the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want, but there was something significantly different between traveling with my parents and traveling alone as an adult. Until a few years ago, I realized I was emotionally caged; trapped in heartaches, insecurities and self-loathing. Let me tell you a story of a traveler who never truly traveled until she started exploring an inward journey into herself.

I awoke, I gently began to open my eyes knowing there was no rush for anything. I graduated college, I had no job and no direction, but worst of all, I had no passion. I felt nothing and everything all at the same time. It was winter in Massachusetts and everything was dead, which is exactly how I felt. Every day it was cold and gray outside and my ribcage would tremble, trying to salvage the very last colors inside of me. Days were long and nights were longer.

Every phone call I’d bite my cheeks and pray that desperation could not be heard. I didn’t know how to ask for help, as I choked on words I could not speak. Everyone’s advice was so cliché and bland, “talk to someone, exercise, eat well, go out and meet people.” As if the simple act of getting out of bed was easy for me. When I would gather enough strength to walk to the bathroom, I’d brush my teeth with a soft gaze, avoiding all eye contact with a ghost.

She wasn’t scary but she sure wasn’t pretty. She was pale with swollen eye lids, peeled lips and bleeding finger tips. She was trapped in her own world, bruising her hands against her concrete walls, wishing somebody would save her. I used to think she was quite pathetic, but when I chose to fall in love with her, was the moment I chose to fall in love with myself.

I was tired and I was through with devaluing myself. I frantically opened my laptop and typed the first words that came to mind, “Kripalu”, the School of Yoga and Health. I had taken all of one class but that didn’t stop me. Yoga was expanding and teachers were in demand. Kripalu was only a few hours north so I signed up. A month later I was standing on the grounds where I took my first few breaths of fresh air.

I knew absolutely nothing of what yoga truly is. They stripped my judgments of bendy, skinny females wearing Lululemon. My god, yoga saved my life. Every day I cried. At first it was out of pain; reliving every moment someone took something from me, every moment I failed, disappointed, hurt and lied. They taught me to be strong in my vulnerability and supplied me with affirmations that helped heal me.

The skin I used to inflict pain upon through cigarettes and razors is the skin I now touch as if it were a lover who just told me they loved me too. I massaged my feet with gratitude for walking so steady on shaky grounds and I kissed my palms with forgiveness because sometimes I did not hold hearts with care. I looked all around and saw the greener side of the grass. I was liberated from my own perception of hell.   My inward journey was nearly complete.

Finally, a miracle; tears of happiness slid down my cheeks as I danced and held others and allowed myself to be held. I was reborn in the hands of loving, empathetic human beings that have felt how exhausted shoulders can get and how heavy hearts can be. My teachers taught me more than warrior pose, tree pose and eagle pose. They taught me how to be a warrior and enter my inner power. They taught me how to be a tree; to grow with sturdiness. They taught me how to be an eagle and fly in freedom.

I’ve felt the pain of my ancestors as I walked their graves touring the German holocaust camps. I’ve felt the love and nurture of those who’ve harvested life as I danced along the Balinese rice patties. I have hugged the Australian wild life and did the HAKA with one of New Zealand’s tribes. I have cried with Peru’s poor and laughed with their children. There’s a lot I’ve seen and a lot I haven’t, a lot I know and a lot I don’t. I’ve learned the final destination of freedom was never my plane ticket. The final destination of freedom was the only place I did not think to go and that was through an inward journey.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Why Did You Come to Japan?

There is a television show in Japan that airs every Monday called Why Did You Come to Japan? A Japanese camera crew stops foreigners arriving at Narita airport in Tokyo and asks them what the purpose is for their visit. My best friend’s dad told me about this show shortly after I arrived for my six-week stay at their house. He joked that I was there, “to sleep and fold laundry!”

That was partially true while I was recovering from the mysterious virus I contracted on the plane ride there. But when I wasn’t sleeping or folding laundry I was on a search. Although I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for at first, I’m certain I found it along the way.

I overcame fear. My journey began when I was forced to maneuver the Japanese train system. Exhausted from traveling for three days from my home in Indiana, my plane was diverted a couple hundred miles south from Tokyo to Osaka airport due to turbulence. There were no more flights so I had to take a train to find my host family in Tokyo. I was terrified at the idea of going alone, but I quickly made friends with the angel God placed in the seat beside me on the plane. We plotted, prayed, sweated, laughed and cried through the ordeal but we bravely made it to our destination together.

I taught. I packed a children’s devotional in my suitcase and read an English lesson with my friend’s nine-year-old son every morning. Not only did he get to practice his English skills, he also learned about Jesus. I learned many Japanese words in the process.

I explored. I had my own bicycle and ventured out almost daily, some days riding ten miles or more. I visited shopping centers, beautiful shrines, Starbucks and my favorite Italian restaurant. Since I had been forced to overcome my fear of working the train system upon arrival in Japan, I rode one alone to Harajuku in Tokyo from my friend’s house in Inage-Ku and visited the famous Meiji Jingu Shrine. There I found confidence, gratitude and peace.

I made new friends. I connected with the family who lived across the street from my host family. They took me on several outings including gorgeous flower gardens and a gigantic mall. One evening they invited me to their backyard BBQ. The entire family spoke fluent English, which was refreshing. And their three-year old grandson Yuto sang Row Row Row Your Boat to me in the sweetest little voice reminding me of my childhood and that we are all children at heart no matter where we live in the world.

I survived multiple earthquakes. As if the mysterious illness I contracted on my journey there was not enough, after I recovered I had to deal with my bed shaking uncontrollably on at least four occasions. They were low magnitude quakes but that was more earth shaking than I had experienced in my entire life up to that point.

I relaxed. I took hot baths at public Japanese spas and experienced a hot rock bed for the first time. I took naps in the afternoons. I read several books cover to cover. I sat in the park and people watched. I drank a lot of coffee and daydreamed. I learned to breathe again.

I ate. I enjoyed delicious meals prepared at home by my host family and I learned how to prepare many dishes myself. I cooked dinner for my friends on my last night and they actually enjoyed it! I ate homemade miso soup and rice every day and ice cream for dessert. I took myself out to restaurants. Pointing at pictures on the menu works just as well in Japan as it does at Denny’s!

I traveled. I flew to Okinawa for three nights with my friend on a girl’s only trip. We enjoyed hanging out on the beautiful beach, touring a pineapple park and winery, eating a lot of good food, revisiting my Fuguki Tree Road and just enjoying quality time together.

I worshipped. I visited a Christian church on my last full Sunday in Japan where I prayed with a congregation full of Japanese Christians. They spoke a different language than me but together we worshipped the same God. I thanked Him for blessing me so much with the gift of such an amazing adventure in this wondrous country.

I may have slept and folded a lot of laundry but I did manage to do many wonderful things. I overcame fear in the process and I left behind anxiety that I brought to Japan with me. I slept in the top bunk and gazed at the glowing stars on the wall papered ceiling as I drifted off to sleep every night. I became physically active again. I bicycled. I kayaked. I even participated in a tug of war contest. I learned patience and endurance in ways I never experienced before. I learned that people everywhere are the same on the inside. And I thanked God for blessing me so much in life.

To simply answer the question, “Why did you come to Japan?”

I went to Japan to find freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

sky-500x500Hard fought Journeys to a Satisfied Freedom in the Philippines

When I saw the theme of this article writing contest, I remember a quote I have encountered before. The quote says “Learn the rules. Then break some”. It might sound rebellious to some but for me, I think of it as another way of saying you fight for your journeys freedom.

I believe there are different kinds of freedom each and every one of us is looking for. We all wanted to be free, free from the things that we think are holding us back from living the life we desire. We want to move away from what are bothering us, hurting us, our struggles, this is what being free might be for each of us. But where and when do we find our freedom? How do we fight for it? How can we say we feel free?

Speaking for myself, I still find me being stuck from where I am now. I feel like I’m still bounded with all the responsibilities I have for my Family. Still bounded from thinking about the approval of my society on how I should be living my life. But all of these things including self doubt and fear disappear whenever I am travelling alone in an unfamiliar territory.

When I get out there, I always choose to leave the things that are bringing me down. I clear my head from them. Yes, I am trying to run away from them and be free from them even for a while because this is where and when I find my freedom from what I think is a cruel reality.

I used to travel with people I know and used to be closed to me but it made a difference to see how free I can feel when I did a trip alone. During these journeys I learned how to decide everything for myself, which I think is one way of exercising my freedom. I usually make my own itinerary based on the information I get from travel blogs but there are times that I do not follow it and decide to get lost. I feel like I can afford to see the places where some do not go. I am free to explore. I am not bound by any box or circle.

From these travels I learned to be free from judgement and doubts. I started to convince myself to trust people who are very unfamiliar to me, who I just met or encountered at the moment. At these moments I do not have any thoughts to make me run from people I do not know. I invite them to be part of my new circle instead.

The best freedom I get from these experiences is that I am freely me. Everything is me. I am allowed to be myself. I open up myself to new territories, new people and new learning. I do not have to worry about being out of my usual comfort zone. I do not feel any pain. I am releasing my inner bravery and last but not the least I am free to hope without a limit. The hope that will give me strength to face every obstacle and struggles to achieve the life I have always been dreaming. A life where I get to have the freedom to be independent and to be myself whenever, wherever.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Freedom When an Amazing Life Flys Away in the US

It was three summers ago and I had just flown from Kauai to Portland, OR to be with my boyfriend after months of being apart. Everything was finally looking up, after going through hardships during my travels on the islands. I was exactly where I wanted to be.

I remember how exciting it was to feel the cool, crisp NW air and to see Portland for the first time. The city was coming alive, people were buzzing on the streets, cafés were clamoring with business, I had made it.
My boyfriend and I had driven down to his family farm in Dallas, OR, a small town in a valley at the edge of the Coast Range Mountains. The farm is a hundred years old and sits on seventy acres of open land, filled with fruit trees and a rambling river. If anything, my time in Oregon was only getting better.

However, three days into my trip, I received a phone call from my Aunt Lorie whom never calls. A red flag went up as I answered. “Your grandma is in hospice…” My heart sank into my chest as I heard these words. I had spoken to my grandmother occasionally throughout the past year but, it wasn’t enough. She was the woman who raised me from toddler to adult, she was my hero. I should have been more present.

I was feeling all sorts of emotions, but mostly sadness and despair that I wasn’t a car ride away. In fact, I was on the opposite end of the country, at least an eight-hour flight from home. Feeling helpless and confused, I continued my day, beneath a cloud. I was awaiting answers to my prayers. I prayed to my mother, whom passed away when I was two. I sought advice on the situation, if I should continue my trip or fly home. The following morning my prayer was answered in the form of a Robin bird who landed in front of me in between two large oak trees. My mother’s name was Robin. In that moment I felt a sigh of relief that even through difficulty, things can still make sense.

A couple more days had passed with no improvements to my grandmother’s health. Yet, I decided to remain in Oregon. We had made our way to the coast which is my favorite place to be. Throughout the days I had been given small universal signs that everything was going to be okay. I felt a little more at ease.

Throughout my travels I had picked up a used book called, The Invitation. At the end of every chapter the author asks the reader to write short exercises. They are based on looking inwards. Like most books I read, I found that every time I flipped the page, it was more and more relevant to my current situation. This time, the exercise was to write down ‘what I need and what I need from others’. I jotted down the answers in my journal and put it away. The following day would be pivotal.
In the afternoon my boyfriend and I found ourselves in a state park situated on the central coast. We climbed a sand dune to check the surf. It was small but looked worthwhile, so we grabbed our boards and ran to the water. It was a beautiful, sunny day. No one was around. We had this place to ourselves. I caught some really fun little peeling waves. This was my perfect moment.

When I got out of my wetsuit and changed into dry clothes, I grabbed my journal and climbed up a sand dune that overlooked the vast, glistening Pacific. I was in my peaceful place. Because I hadn’t had time the previous day to finish my journal entry, I did so on the dune. When I finished writing I sent my needs and needs of others into the universe. “I need Bubee to know that my brothers and I will be okay without her.” “I need Bubee to know that she is free to leave her body and to find her freedom.” I felt so relieved and uplifted from partaking in this exercise.

When I got back to the car I checked my phone; a missed call from my aunt. Before I listened to the message, I knew what I’d hear. And when I officially heard the words, tears fell from my eyes, but they were mostly tears of joy. I never thought I’d feel that way about my grandmothers passing. But, I couldn’t deny the sequence of events that occurred. I knew deep in my heart that someone was watching over us. She had passed when I was doing what I love most; surfing and traveling. And in that realization I too found my freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Interesting Strangers in transit through the USA

I used to dread traveling alone. I mean lets’ face it, sitting alone at an airport waiting for a flight, exhausted, trying to avoid talking to strangers you simply do not have the energy to communicate with is no one’s favorite pastime. At least not mine. I used to find it awkward, like all the other passengers were staring at me, judging me because I did not have a group of friends or family around me. Sometimes I was judging myself too, wondering what on earth was I doing, spending my time at yet another airport in the middle of nowhere, going to a city I had never been to before, only to wander around all by myself, since clearly I did not know anyone there. My family and friends, whom I gladly would have welcomed with me on my adventures but who unfortunately were not very keen on traveling with me, kept asking why I was going where I was going, with who, and every time I replied “alone”, they looked at me like I had gone nuts. Why would you travel somewhere you’ve never been to and know nothing about, completely alone, for no apparent reason? Yes, there were times when I myself questioned my sanity.

But there is a flipside to wandering around in a strange city all by yourself. It’s refreshing. Fascinating. Freeing. Empowering even. Watching the waves on the beach of Wilmington, admiring wonderful art and beautiful old buildings in Boston or sipping morning coffee at Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Thinking back, I don’t remember being lonely. I don’t remember feeling awkward or out of place. No, thinking back just makes me smile. What I remember is the warm wind and the salty smell of the ocean; the music, and the laughter; the smell of the coffee, the orchestra playing and how much I loved that little pink house with a porch full of colorful flowers. The interesting conversation with that silly old grandpa at the diner, or that kind stranger letting me crash on his couch when things went wrong in El Paso and I had nowhere to spend the night. I remember that time I randomly stumbled into a dive bar to see a band somewhere in Wisconsin, and ended up spending the next week hanging out with them, selling merchandise at a festival and sipping margaritas by the pool, having the time of my life. I remember all those fascinating, devastating and heart-warming life stories of strangers I met in passing, and all those moments I would not change for the world. And most of all I remember feeling stronger, more confident. I remember feeling free. All of a sudden none of those expectations, none of those horrifying tiny boxes people around me have always tried to fit me in did not matter anymore. On that plane or that strange city, surrounded by strangers, I was finally able to just be me. To be free.

The biggest realization traveling alone has given me, is that I can do this. I will get through and I will survive, whatever it is life throws at me. I will never be what other people expect me to be, so I might as well just follow my heart and do what I feel is right. The world is a magnificent, interesting and beautiful place, and I intend to see as much of it as I possibly can. Even if it means I’m seeing it alone.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Just Chasing a Photograph in the USA

I used to be a jet-setting executive who had the world at her feet. Nowadays, I travel because my three daughters live in different cities around the world: Seattle (next, San Francisco), Calgary, and Manila (London before, Melbourne next). Recently, my career-oriented middle daughter Claudine needed help. For the fifth time after I retired, I flew to Canada to take care of three young ones.

“We can go to Yoho and Kootenay in B.C., our chance to complete the quad parks named the World Heritage Site of the Canadian Rockies,” I convinced my husband, Bill. On the third weekend, I squeezed in a visit to the new Glacier Skywalk on the Columbia Icefields between Banff and Jasper, the two in Alberta we had visited earlier.

The only downside was driving the same section of the Trans-Canada Highway six more times. Sure enough, on the road to Yoho, I dozed off. Bill missed my chatter, nudging me, “Hey, sleepyhead, I bought you some Cheetos!” In a jiffy, the bag of my favorite cheesy crunchies was gone. I should have been upset he spoiled my beauty nap. Instead, I thanked him.

Between mouthfuls, I caught a glimpse of a scene that would haunt me. A lone red car seemed to rise on the road, driving straight into an enormous glacier-draped mountain. It vanished in a second. “I want that photograph!” whispered my heart. Staying glued to the windshield, soon a second chance came. Alas, the car was black, and the road was flat.

Photos of lovely sights around Yoho did not get my mind off that scene: Marble Canyon, Painted Pots, Sinclair Canyon, and Radium’s Hot Springs and bighorn sheep around town. The following Saturday, I was back with a vengeance. It didn’t take long and another such scene appeared. The mountain was even more majestic. But the car, being white, disappeared into the mist. Again, there was no road rise. I cried, “Can we just stage something?” Bill had one word, “Patience!”

Other photo-ops were on the road. An enormous yellow truck blazoned against the grays. White clouds cavorted with ice-lined pointed peaks. A multi-colored train ruffled through the Rockies’ skirts. Cute, curvy twin bridges punctuated the highway humdrum. Once in a while, a red-roofed cabin enlivened the greens. Around Kootenay, there was more: the Spiral Train, Emerald Lake, Natural Bridge, and the towns of Field and Golden. Still, I wanted that photo.

On the third weekend, the weather was itself, taking a sudden nasty turn. We proceeded and stayed at Banff for the night, hoping it would clear the next day. It didn’t. I have been through Philippine storms, but snow takes me right inside a freezer. But I had to go. It was my last chance.

I started feeling hopeless, but a smile returned to my face when, at more than 6,000 feet high, frosty evergreen began to grace both sides of the road. I asked Bill to stop and stepped out. Wet fluffy things instantly brushed against my face. I “smelled” chestnuts roasting nearby. From inside the car, Bill took my photo of Christmas in June! Still, I longed for another photo.

At the Skywalk, it wasn’t a panorama of glistening glaciers but gray and gloom that greeted us. Making the best of a bad situation, I noticed that my outfit had come together: the red beanie I just bought at the Gift Shop and the red gloves, red scarf and black winter jacket Claudine lent me. Bill took off his gloves to freely fiddle with the Nikon and the slippery platform turned into MY catwalk. “Hurry up! My fingers are already frozen!” interrupted my trance. But by then, I had precious photos of a glamorous fashion model at 67. Still, it was THAT scene I wanted.

On the way home, I was nervous. Bill’s words rang loud in my ears, “It’s now or never.” And, just like that, it came. The car wasn’t red and low-lying clouds partly hid the mountain. But the road had a slight rise, creating the magical effect I saw the first time. All the way home, a contest of who can give the best caption for the photo produced: “Into the Clouds”, “Into the Unknown”, and “Beyond the Ordinary.”

The grandkids hugged me tight as Claudine asked, “Is photography a new career?” I explained that the job I love most is that of a traveling Grandnanny. It doesn’t matter how many times I go back to a place. It’s the people that count. It doesn’t matter if I drive the same old familiar highway. Something else will catch my fancy. I am free to be with whomever I want, drive to wherever I please, and listen to whatever my heart whispers, even if it’s just chasing a photograph.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Free-falling to Freedom in Brazil

2010 was not my year; free-falling since 2009 from successful Customer Service Manager, rising rapidly through the ranks to redundant job seeker, an anonymous face caught up in the tsunami of unemployment as Australia was hit by the Global Economic Crisis. At the same time I went from being married, in love and planning a much dreamed of family, to separated and fighting in vein to save my marriage as my husband set up a cozy new life with his secret lover. Spiralling further and further downwards towards rock bottom, alone, jobless, heartbroken and without spousal support, I finally crash landed; in bankruptcy.

Well, the good thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only way is up!
I had a dream; to salvage the last shred of my life plan, stop the free-falling and move to Brazil!

Sure it would not be as a family unit and I would no longer be cocooned in the secure embrace of the upper middle class lifestyle my in-laws had offered, but the challenge gave me renewed purpose and hope. Still longing for a baby, I discovered that even singles can be eligible to adopt in Brazil, this became my beacon of hope, the driving force to follow my dreams and never give up, no matter what challenges lay ahead.

Simply affording the airfare seemed impossible, a pipe dream, but where there is a will there is a way and by selling almost all my worldly goods on eBay I did it. With enough spare funds to survive on a shoestring for around 12 weeks, it was make or break to find a job in that time.

With a mix of excitement and fear, armed only with a basic knowledge of Portuguese, a passion for Brazilian music and a few Capoeira moves up my sleeve, I flew off into the unknown.

My heart pulled me towards the state of Bahia, and after three bus trips totalling about 35 hours, I made it to Salvador early on a January morning in 2011.  I found a room in the heart of historic, sometimes dangerous and above all picturesque, Pelourinho for around USD$13 a night and there I began to live my dream.

My life story was a tapestry of hopes and dreams interwoven thread by thread with heartache and loss; thankfully I have a strong, independent core which worked like a flint to the sparks of freedom and adventure that came as each new stitch was sewn, thus fuelling the fire to survive here that burns deep inside me to this day.

I trod along the ancient cobbled streets, moving to the beat of drums, drinking in the sight of beautiful coloured buildings, and visiting the statue of Zumbi dos Palmares (an important figure in Capoeira) to sing to him and ask for guidance.

New found freedom combined with faith in my decision felled any remaining fear, my soul felt like it had come home. Against the odds I found a job with only days to go before my funds ran out, that dogged determination had paid it’s dividends. Sure, I was as poor as a church mouse, earning minimum wage of around USD$300 a month, but I was on my way!

From there the path has not been paved with gold, I have followed the paupers trail strewn with rocks, stumbled many times, scraped my knees and lived on the proverbial smell of an oily rag, sometimes in areas not too many steps above the poverty line but I have continued on my journey; a relentless dream catcher.

The experiences have been worth the struggles; I have seen sights both beautiful and historic that I could never have imagined, undertaken voluntary work with some amazing musicians which lead me to promote local Brazilian music to the world, something that became my soul food in this new life, and to top things off I have met so many diverse and wonderful people.

Living without mod cons; cold water showers, no washing machine, no oven, no fridge, no car, no TV, sometimes even no bed, brings sharply into focus what truly matters in life and those material items don’t even make the list! I have often had next to nothing in Brazil, but my life has been richer. Richer in experiences, richer in culture, richer in friendships.

My advice to those reading is, if you are struggling there is hope! Fears can be conquered, lows turned into highs and if you feel like running away, then sprint towards your dreams. Freedom is through that door you see just ahead, you hold the key so put it in the lock and walk through to the life that you dream of for yourself! As for me, I’m now applying to be a citizen of my new homeland; watch this space.

NB: Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

An Amazing Underwater paradise in Mexico

Grains of sand as soft and fine as powdery snow covered my toes as I tried to name all of the different shades of neon blue in the water. Turquoise, Aquamarine, Slate, Navy, Cerulean, Azure, Cornflower, Tiffany Blue. Sails on the yachts in front of me fluttered in the light sea breeze and the smell of coconut oil wafted by. Juice dripped down my fingers as I took a bite of the fresh cut pineapple. I was on the island paradise of Isla Mujeres in the Mexican Caribbean and I was in tears.

Down by the Belize border I burst into tears in Mahahual, swinging on a hammock suspended above the water. The sea was so clear that I could see the trumpet fish zig-zagging below me and even distinguish the individual grains in the rippled sand below. After that I cried at Santa Fe beach in Tulum, tears sliding down my face and into the fresh coconut I was drinking with a straw as I gazed up at the Mayan ruins on the cliff above.

A newly certified Dive Instructor, I’d been planning this move to the tropics for two years. I’d quit my job, gotten rid of my furniture, told my friends goodbye and made no promises to return. Now here I was in tropical paradise wondering if I could ask my Dad to stay in his spare room for a few months while I sorted my life out. Because my move to paradise was not going as planned.

The tourists around me were having a great time. They were on holiday, having adventures. I would come back to the hostel exhausted from a day walking in the blistering heat, hunting for a job and an apartment. Every day the tourists went swimming with whale sharks. Every day I followed false leads and faced new rejections.

Everything on the streets seemed strange. A man on a tricycle circled town with a loudspeaker blaring “…windows, refrigerators, doors, all you need, tables, chimneys, bathtubs, call me,” followed by a phone number. An eight year old boy leaned out of a truck window to wolf whistle at me. A woman tried to sell me a hand puppet shaped like a chicken.

“What is this place?” I called my Dad for advice. “I’m so tired, I don’t know if I can do this!”

“I have no doubt that you can make a life for yourself anywhere in the world,” my Dad said. “You’ve done it before.”

“I know I can make it here,” I said. “But I don’t know if I want to!”

“Give it another week.”

The next week I got a call from a dive shop offering me an instructor position. “It’s only confirmed for two months,” my new boss said, “but if it works out then you can stay through high season. The catch is that you’ll need to house-sit the apartment above the dive shop until we get the hurricane shutters installed. I hope that we can work this out.”

Needless to say, I took the job and the beachfront apartment. As soon as I was in the ocean I was in charge again; teaching people to breathe underwater, calming their fears about the equipment and the environment, introducing them to the reef ecosystem. I love taking people underwater for the first time, to see them experience the thrill of flying above the corals or encounter a creature that they didn’t even know existed. To see them face to face with a giant turtle, inside a tornado school of giant trevally, or hovering in place while manta rays do flips around them.

Life on land is still confusing, but I’m not crying anymore. I’m settling in to my new town and I’m enjoying the slow pace of life in the tropics. But underwater I have my freedom. The environment is so foreign that you can’t help but immerse yourself in the experience. You can’t feel tears underwater, you’re already totally wet.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

2016-07-08-06-57-09-1-300x300Instilling Comfortable Respect in the Philippines

The chorus of cascading waters was music to my ears as it dropped down from varying heights into an aquamarine pool. The sound mimics the sound of rain. The rhythm complements the magnificent and unadulterated view of water streaming onto rock walls and plants, giving off a thin cloud of droplets at the base of the waterfalls. This is Tinago Falls in Iligan City, Philippines. Its beauty is well hidden within the rainforest of the province hence the name “tinago”, a Filipino word that means hidden. As I stood there mesmerized by its beauty, I heaved a sigh of relief. I have finally conquered it but, unlike Tinago Falls, I need not hide because I am free.

Living in a country of diverse cultures, these diversity creates gaps in understanding that eventually leads to misconceptions. These questions in faith and beliefs, often fueled by ignorance, give birth to generalizations and bigotry. The news of tragic events happening in different parts of the world, often associated with our Muslim brothers, do not help in easing out these tensions. The Philippines, being predominantly of Christian faith, is not free from this imbalance. As most of our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters are concentrated in Mindanao, the island is still a subject that sometimes instills fear among many Filipinos. There are places that are “off-limits” in the minds of most Filipinos because it is tagged as “dangerous”.

A recent unplanned visit to Iligan City gave me the opportunity to open the mind of my 8 year old daughter on the importance of accepting diversity. It was our first time in the city and our plan was to visit the 3 of its 24 waterfalls. As we only had a couple of hours to go around, we had to hire a “habal-habal”, a motorcycle where we had to squeeze in three people and the driver, to get us around faster. It was another first for us. I had to explain to my daughter that this was the mode of public transportation in most Philippine provinces.

She was quick to notice that there were a lot of Muslims during our quick tour. She was able to identify them because of the way they dressed. She was used to the city where people dressed in a certain fashion and she saw how different this was in Iligan City. At one point, she asked me why people dressed that way.

I saw this as an opportunity to explain to her the rich and diverse culture of the Philippines. I explained to her that they were our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters. They believe in Allah and they practice their Islam faith so they have their own culture that they are proud of, and that includes the way they dress. I had to make her understand that despite these differences we were all Filipinos and should respect each other. She will meet a lot of Filipino Muslims as she grows up and will have a deeper understanding of their culture, both in our travels and in school. What is important was for her to open her mind and accept these differences just like the way she does with her friends in school. At that point, a young Muslim lady walked past our table and smiled at her to which she my daughter returned the favor.

At that point, I knew that she was on her way to understanding the lessons of cultural diversity.

As our world gets smaller with technology, it is very important to keep in mind that it will open us to the cultural exchanges from the different regions of the world. Most of these beliefs and practices may be similar and there will be a few that may contradict our very own. These exchanges will also open us to preconceived ideas and branding that can result to indifferences and, in some cases, can even lead to hate. We cannot allow these notions to affect the way we think about others because of their cultural background, their faith, the color of their skin, or the way they dress.

I find my freedom when I travel. Each destination is a new learning experience. Traveling introduced me to the different cultures and practices that makes the Philippines unique. It gave me the opportunity to help others understand the uniqueness of each culture paving the way for acceptance, just like what happened between me and my daughter during our trip in Mindanao. Traveling freed me from clutches of ignorance and taught me to respect the diversity that is present among us.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

The Inward Journey to Freedom in the US

By age fourteen I had been to twenty seven countries and four continents. How much more free could I be? Back then, life was much simpler. At twenty six years old, I’ve independently added four more countries. I had the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want, but there was something significantly different between traveling with my parents and traveling alone as an adult. Until a few years ago, I realized I was emotionally caged; trapped in heartaches, insecurities and self-loathing. Let me tell you a story of a traveler who never truly traveled until she started exploring an inward journey into herself.

I awoke, I gently began to open my eyes knowing there was no rush for anything. I graduated college, I had no job and no direction, but worst of all, I had no passion. I felt nothing and everything all at the same time. It was winter in Massachusetts and everything was dead, which is exactly how I felt. Every day it was cold and gray outside and my ribcage would tremble, trying to salvage the very last colors inside of me. Days were long and nights were longer.

Every phone call I’d bite my cheeks and pray that desperation could not be heard. I didn’t know how to ask for help, as I choked on words I could not speak. Everyone’s advice was so cliché and bland, “talk to someone, exercise, eat well, go out and meet people.” As if the simple act of getting out of bed was easy for me. When I would gather enough strength to walk to the bathroom, I’d brush my teeth with a soft gaze, avoiding all eye contact with a ghost.

She wasn’t scary but she sure wasn’t pretty. She was pale with swollen eye lids, peeled lips and bleeding finger tips. She was trapped in her own world, bruising her hands against her concrete walls, wishing somebody would save her. I used to think she was quite pathetic, but when I chose to fall in love with her, was the moment I chose to fall in love with myself.

I was tired and I was through with devaluing myself. I frantically opened my laptop and typed the first words that came to mind, “Kripalu”, the School of Yoga and Health. I had taken all of one class but that didn’t stop me. Yoga was expanding and teachers were in demand. Kripalu was only a few hours north so I signed up. A month later I was standing on the grounds where I took my first few breaths of fresh air.

I knew absolutely nothing of what yoga truly is. They stripped my judgments of bendy, skinny females wearing Lululemon. My god, yoga saved my life. Every day I cried. At first it was out of pain; reliving every moment someone took something from me, every moment I failed, disappointed, hurt and lied. They taught me to be strong in my vulnerability and supplied me with affirmations that helped heal me.

The skin I used to inflict pain upon through cigarettes and razors is the skin I now touch as if it were a lover who just told me they loved me too. I massaged my feet with gratitude for walking so steady on shaky grounds and I kissed my palms with forgiveness because sometimes I did not hold hearts with care. I looked all around and saw the greener side of the grass. I was liberated from my own perception of hell.   My inward journey was nearly complete.

Finally, a miracle; tears of happiness slid down my cheeks as I danced and held others and allowed myself to be held. I was reborn in the hands of loving, empathetic human beings that have felt how exhausted shoulders can get and how heavy hearts can be. My teachers taught me more than warrior pose, tree pose and eagle pose. They taught me how to be a warrior and enter my inner power. They taught me how to be a tree; to grow with sturdiness. They taught me how to be an eagle and fly in freedom.

I’ve felt the pain of my ancestors as I walked their graves touring the German holocaust camps. I’ve felt the love and nurture of those who’ve harvested life as I danced along the Balinese rice patties. I have hugged the Australian wild life and did the HAKA with one of New Zealand’s tribes. I have cried with Peru’s poor and laughed with their children. There’s a lot I’ve seen and a lot I haven’t, a lot I know and a lot I don’t. I’ve learned the final destination of freedom was never my plane ticket. The final destination of freedom was the only place I did not think to go and that was through an inward journey.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Why Did You Come to Japan?

There is a television show in Japan that airs every Monday called Why Did You Come to Japan? A Japanese camera crew stops foreigners arriving at Narita airport in Tokyo and asks them what the purpose is for their visit. My best friend’s dad told me about this show shortly after I arrived for my six-week stay at their house. He joked that I was there, “to sleep and fold laundry!”

That was partially true while I was recovering from the mysterious virus I contracted on the plane ride there. But when I wasn’t sleeping or folding laundry I was on a search. Although I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for at first, I’m certain I found it along the way.

I overcame fear. My journey began when I was forced to maneuver the Japanese train system. Exhausted from traveling for three days from my home in Indiana, my plane was diverted a couple hundred miles south from Tokyo to Osaka airport due to turbulence. There were no more flights so I had to take a train to find my host family in Tokyo. I was terrified at the idea of going alone, but I quickly made friends with the angel God placed in the seat beside me on the plane. We plotted, prayed, sweated, laughed and cried through the ordeal but we bravely made it to our destination together.

I taught. I packed a children’s devotional in my suitcase and read an English lesson with my friend’s nine-year-old son every morning. Not only did he get to practice his English skills, he also learned about Jesus. I learned many Japanese words in the process.

I explored. I had my own bicycle and ventured out almost daily, some days riding ten miles or more. I visited shopping centers, beautiful shrines, Starbucks and my favorite Italian restaurant. Since I had been forced to overcome my fear of working the train system upon arrival in Japan, I rode one alone to Harajuku in Tokyo from my friend’s house in Inage-Ku and visited the famous Meiji Jingu Shrine. There I found confidence, gratitude and peace.

I made new friends. I connected with the family who lived across the street from my host family. They took me on several outings including gorgeous flower gardens and a gigantic mall. One evening they invited me to their backyard BBQ. The entire family spoke fluent English, which was refreshing. And their three-year old grandson Yuto sang Row Row Row Your Boat to me in the sweetest little voice reminding me of my childhood and that we are all children at heart no matter where we live in the world.

I survived multiple earthquakes. As if the mysterious illness I contracted on my journey there was not enough, after I recovered I had to deal with my bed shaking uncontrollably on at least four occasions. They were low magnitude quakes but that was more earth shaking than I had experienced in my entire life up to that point.

I relaxed. I took hot baths at public Japanese spas and experienced a hot rock bed for the first time. I took naps in the afternoons. I read several books cover to cover. I sat in the park and people watched. I drank a lot of coffee and daydreamed. I learned to breathe again.

I ate. I enjoyed delicious meals prepared at home by my host family and I learned how to prepare many dishes myself. I cooked dinner for my friends on my last night and they actually enjoyed it! I ate homemade miso soup and rice every day and ice cream for dessert. I took myself out to restaurants. Pointing at pictures on the menu works just as well in Japan as it does at Denny’s!

I traveled. I flew to Okinawa for three nights with my friend on a girl’s only trip. We enjoyed hanging out on the beautiful beach, touring a pineapple park and winery, eating a lot of good food, revisiting my Fuguki Tree Road and just enjoying quality time together.

I worshipped. I visited a Christian church on my last full Sunday in Japan where I prayed with a congregation full of Japanese Christians. They spoke a different language than me but together we worshipped the same God. I thanked Him for blessing me so much with the gift of such an amazing adventure in this wondrous country.

I may have slept and folded a lot of laundry but I did manage to do many wonderful things. I overcame fear in the process and I left behind anxiety that I brought to Japan with me. I slept in the top bunk and gazed at the glowing stars on the wall papered ceiling as I drifted off to sleep every night. I became physically active again. I bicycled. I kayaked. I even participated in a tug of war contest. I learned patience and endurance in ways I never experienced before. I learned that people everywhere are the same on the inside. And I thanked God for blessing me so much in life.

To simply answer the question, “Why did you come to Japan?”

I went to Japan to find freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

sky-500x500Hard fought Journeys to a Satisfied Freedom in the Philippines

When I saw the theme of this article writing contest, I remember a quote I have encountered before. The quote says “Learn the rules. Then break some”. It might sound rebellious to some but for me, I think of it as another way of saying you fight for your journeys freedom.

I believe there are different kinds of freedom each and every one of us is looking for. We all wanted to be free, free from the things that we think are holding us back from living the life we desire. We want to move away from what are bothering us, hurting us, our struggles, this is what being free might be for each of us. But where and when do we find our freedom? How do we fight for it? How can we say we feel free?

Speaking for myself, I still find me being stuck from where I am now. I feel like I’m still bounded with all the responsibilities I have for my Family. Still bounded from thinking about the approval of my society on how I should be living my life. But all of these things including self doubt and fear disappear whenever I am travelling alone in an unfamiliar territory.

When I get out there, I always choose to leave the things that are bringing me down. I clear my head from them. Yes, I am trying to run away from them and be free from them even for a while because this is where and when I find my freedom from what I think is a cruel reality.

I used to travel with people I know and used to be closed to me but it made a difference to see how free I can feel when I did a trip alone. During these journeys I learned how to decide everything for myself, which I think is one way of exercising my freedom. I usually make my own itinerary based on the information I get from travel blogs but there are times that I do not follow it and decide to get lost. I feel like I can afford to see the places where some do not go. I am free to explore. I am not bound by any box or circle.

From these travels I learned to be free from judgement and doubts. I started to convince myself to trust people who are very unfamiliar to me, who I just met or encountered at the moment. At these moments I do not have any thoughts to make me run from people I do not know. I invite them to be part of my new circle instead.

The best freedom I get from these experiences is that I am freely me. Everything is me. I am allowed to be myself. I open up myself to new territories, new people and new learning. I do not have to worry about being out of my usual comfort zone. I do not feel any pain. I am releasing my inner bravery and last but not the least I am free to hope without a limit. The hope that will give me strength to face every obstacle and struggles to achieve the life I have always been dreaming. A life where I get to have the freedom to be independent and to be myself whenever, wherever.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Freedom When an Amazing Life Flys Away in the US

It was three summers ago and I had just flown from Kauai to Portland, OR to be with my boyfriend after months of being apart. Everything was finally looking up, after going through hardships during my travels on the islands. I was exactly where I wanted to be.

I remember how exciting it was to feel the cool, crisp NW air and to see Portland for the first time. The city was coming alive, people were buzzing on the streets, cafés were clamoring with business, I had made it.
My boyfriend and I had driven down to his family farm in Dallas, OR, a small town in a valley at the edge of the Coast Range Mountains. The farm is a hundred years old and sits on seventy acres of open land, filled with fruit trees and a rambling river. If anything, my time in Oregon was only getting better.

However, three days into my trip, I received a phone call from my Aunt Lorie whom never calls. A red flag went up as I answered. “Your grandma is in hospice…” My heart sank into my chest as I heard these words. I had spoken to my grandmother occasionally throughout the past year but, it wasn’t enough. She was the woman who raised me from toddler to adult, she was my hero. I should have been more present.

I was feeling all sorts of emotions, but mostly sadness and despair that I wasn’t a car ride away. In fact, I was on the opposite end of the country, at least an eight-hour flight from home. Feeling helpless and confused, I continued my day, beneath a cloud. I was awaiting answers to my prayers. I prayed to my mother, whom passed away when I was two. I sought advice on the situation, if I should continue my trip or fly home. The following morning my prayer was answered in the form of a Robin bird who landed in front of me in between two large oak trees. My mother’s name was Robin. In that moment I felt a sigh of relief that even through difficulty, things can still make sense.

A couple more days had passed with no improvements to my grandmother’s health. Yet, I decided to remain in Oregon. We had made our way to the coast which is my favorite place to be. Throughout the days I had been given small universal signs that everything was going to be okay. I felt a little more at ease.

Throughout my travels I had picked up a used book called, The Invitation. At the end of every chapter the author asks the reader to write short exercises. They are based on looking inwards. Like most books I read, I found that every time I flipped the page, it was more and more relevant to my current situation. This time, the exercise was to write down ‘what I need and what I need from others’. I jotted down the answers in my journal and put it away. The following day would be pivotal.
In the afternoon my boyfriend and I found ourselves in a state park situated on the central coast. We climbed a sand dune to check the surf. It was small but looked worthwhile, so we grabbed our boards and ran to the water. It was a beautiful, sunny day. No one was around. We had this place to ourselves. I caught some really fun little peeling waves. This was my perfect moment.

When I got out of my wetsuit and changed into dry clothes, I grabbed my journal and climbed up a sand dune that overlooked the vast, glistening Pacific. I was in my peaceful place. Because I hadn’t had time the previous day to finish my journal entry, I did so on the dune. When I finished writing I sent my needs and needs of others into the universe. “I need Bubee to know that my brothers and I will be okay without her.” “I need Bubee to know that she is free to leave her body and to find her freedom.” I felt so relieved and uplifted from partaking in this exercise.

When I got back to the car I checked my phone; a missed call from my aunt. Before I listened to the message, I knew what I’d hear. And when I officially heard the words, tears fell from my eyes, but they were mostly tears of joy. I never thought I’d feel that way about my grandmothers passing. But, I couldn’t deny the sequence of events that occurred. I knew deep in my heart that someone was watching over us. She had passed when I was doing what I love most; surfing and traveling. And in that realization I too found my freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Interesting Strangers in transit through the USA

I used to dread traveling alone. I mean lets’ face it, sitting alone at an airport waiting for a flight, exhausted, trying to avoid talking to strangers you simply do not have the energy to communicate with is no one’s favorite pastime. At least not mine. I used to find it awkward, like all the other passengers were staring at me, judging me because I did not have a group of friends or family around me. Sometimes I was judging myself too, wondering what on earth was I doing, spending my time at yet another airport in the middle of nowhere, going to a city I had never been to before, only to wander around all by myself, since clearly I did not know anyone there. My family and friends, whom I gladly would have welcomed with me on my adventures but who unfortunately were not very keen on traveling with me, kept asking why I was going where I was going, with who, and every time I replied “alone”, they looked at me like I had gone nuts. Why would you travel somewhere you’ve never been to and know nothing about, completely alone, for no apparent reason? Yes, there were times when I myself questioned my sanity.

But there is a flipside to wandering around in a strange city all by yourself. It’s refreshing. Fascinating. Freeing. Empowering even. Watching the waves on the beach of Wilmington, admiring wonderful art and beautiful old buildings in Boston or sipping morning coffee at Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Thinking back, I don’t remember being lonely. I don’t remember feeling awkward or out of place. No, thinking back just makes me smile. What I remember is the warm wind and the salty smell of the ocean; the music, and the laughter; the smell of the coffee, the orchestra playing and how much I loved that little pink house with a porch full of colorful flowers. The interesting conversation with that silly old grandpa at the diner, or that kind stranger letting me crash on his couch when things went wrong in El Paso and I had nowhere to spend the night. I remember that time I randomly stumbled into a dive bar to see a band somewhere in Wisconsin, and ended up spending the next week hanging out with them, selling merchandise at a festival and sipping margaritas by the pool, having the time of my life. I remember all those fascinating, devastating and heart-warming life stories of strangers I met in passing, and all those moments I would not change for the world. And most of all I remember feeling stronger, more confident. I remember feeling free. All of a sudden none of those expectations, none of those horrifying tiny boxes people around me have always tried to fit me in did not matter anymore. On that plane or that strange city, surrounded by strangers, I was finally able to just be me. To be free.

The biggest realization traveling alone has given me, is that I can do this. I will get through and I will survive, whatever it is life throws at me. I will never be what other people expect me to be, so I might as well just follow my heart and do what I feel is right. The world is a magnificent, interesting and beautiful place, and I intend to see as much of it as I possibly can. Even if it means I’m seeing it alone.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Just Chasing a Photograph in the USA

I used to be a jet-setting executive who had the world at her feet. Nowadays, I travel because my three daughters live in different cities around the world: Seattle (next, San Francisco), Calgary, and Manila (London before, Melbourne next). Recently, my career-oriented middle daughter Claudine needed help. For the fifth time after I retired, I flew to Canada to take care of three young ones.

“We can go to Yoho and Kootenay in B.C., our chance to complete the quad parks named the World Heritage Site of the Canadian Rockies,” I convinced my husband, Bill. On the third weekend, I squeezed in a visit to the new Glacier Skywalk on the Columbia Icefields between Banff and Jasper, the two in Alberta we had visited earlier.

The only downside was driving the same section of the Trans-Canada Highway six more times. Sure enough, on the road to Yoho, I dozed off. Bill missed my chatter, nudging me, “Hey, sleepyhead, I bought you some Cheetos!” In a jiffy, the bag of my favorite cheesy crunchies was gone. I should have been upset he spoiled my beauty nap. Instead, I thanked him.

Between mouthfuls, I caught a glimpse of a scene that would haunt me. A lone red car seemed to rise on the road, driving straight into an enormous glacier-draped mountain. It vanished in a second. “I want that photograph!” whispered my heart. Staying glued to the windshield, soon a second chance came. Alas, the car was black, and the road was flat.

Photos of lovely sights around Yoho did not get my mind off that scene: Marble Canyon, Painted Pots, Sinclair Canyon, and Radium’s Hot Springs and bighorn sheep around town. The following Saturday, I was back with a vengeance. It didn’t take long and another such scene appeared. The mountain was even more majestic. But the car, being white, disappeared into the mist. Again, there was no road rise. I cried, “Can we just stage something?” Bill had one word, “Patience!”

Other photo-ops were on the road. An enormous yellow truck blazoned against the grays. White clouds cavorted with ice-lined pointed peaks. A multi-colored train ruffled through the Rockies’ skirts. Cute, curvy twin bridges punctuated the highway humdrum. Once in a while, a red-roofed cabin enlivened the greens. Around Kootenay, there was more: the Spiral Train, Emerald Lake, Natural Bridge, and the towns of Field and Golden. Still, I wanted that photo.

On the third weekend, the weather was itself, taking a sudden nasty turn. We proceeded and stayed at Banff for the night, hoping it would clear the next day. It didn’t. I have been through Philippine storms, but snow takes me right inside a freezer. But I had to go. It was my last chance.

I started feeling hopeless, but a smile returned to my face when, at more than 6,000 feet high, frosty evergreen began to grace both sides of the road. I asked Bill to stop and stepped out. Wet fluffy things instantly brushed against my face. I “smelled” chestnuts roasting nearby. From inside the car, Bill took my photo of Christmas in June! Still, I longed for another photo.

At the Skywalk, it wasn’t a panorama of glistening glaciers but gray and gloom that greeted us. Making the best of a bad situation, I noticed that my outfit had come together: the red beanie I just bought at the Gift Shop and the red gloves, red scarf and black winter jacket Claudine lent me. Bill took off his gloves to freely fiddle with the Nikon and the slippery platform turned into MY catwalk. “Hurry up! My fingers are already frozen!” interrupted my trance. But by then, I had precious photos of a glamorous fashion model at 67. Still, it was THAT scene I wanted.

On the way home, I was nervous. Bill’s words rang loud in my ears, “It’s now or never.” And, just like that, it came. The car wasn’t red and low-lying clouds partly hid the mountain. But the road had a slight rise, creating the magical effect I saw the first time. All the way home, a contest of who can give the best caption for the photo produced: “Into the Clouds”, “Into the Unknown”, and “Beyond the Ordinary.”

The grandkids hugged me tight as Claudine asked, “Is photography a new career?” I explained that the job I love most is that of a traveling Grandnanny. It doesn’t matter how many times I go back to a place. It’s the people that count. It doesn’t matter if I drive the same old familiar highway. Something else will catch my fancy. I am free to be with whomever I want, drive to wherever I please, and listen to whatever my heart whispers, even if it’s just chasing a photograph.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Free-falling to Freedom in Brazil

2010 was not my year; free-falling since 2009 from successful Customer Service Manager, rising rapidly through the ranks to redundant job seeker, an anonymous face caught up in the tsunami of unemployment as Australia was hit by the Global Economic Crisis. At the same time I went from being married, in love and planning a much dreamed of family, to separated and fighting in vein to save my marriage as my husband set up a cozy new life with his secret lover. Spiralling further and further downwards towards rock bottom, alone, jobless, heartbroken and without spousal support, I finally crash landed; in bankruptcy.

Well, the good thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only way is up!
I had a dream; to salvage the last shred of my life plan, stop the free-falling and move to Brazil!

Sure it would not be as a family unit and I would no longer be cocooned in the secure embrace of the upper middle class lifestyle my in-laws had offered, but the challenge gave me renewed purpose and hope. Still longing for a baby, I discovered that even singles can be eligible to adopt in Brazil, this became my beacon of hope, the driving force to follow my dreams and never give up, no matter what challenges lay ahead.

Simply affording the airfare seemed impossible, a pipe dream, but where there is a will there is a way and by selling almost all my worldly goods on eBay I did it. With enough spare funds to survive on a shoestring for around 12 weeks, it was make or break to find a job in that time.

With a mix of excitement and fear, armed only with a basic knowledge of Portuguese, a passion for Brazilian music and a few Capoeira moves up my sleeve, I flew off into the unknown.

My heart pulled me towards the state of Bahia, and after three bus trips totalling about 35 hours, I made it to Salvador early on a January morning in 2011.  I found a room in the heart of historic, sometimes dangerous and above all picturesque, Pelourinho for around USD$13 a night and there I began to live my dream.

My life story was a tapestry of hopes and dreams interwoven thread by thread with heartache and loss; thankfully I have a strong, independent core which worked like a flint to the sparks of freedom and adventure that came as each new stitch was sewn, thus fuelling the fire to survive here that burns deep inside me to this day.

I trod along the ancient cobbled streets, moving to the beat of drums, drinking in the sight of beautiful coloured buildings, and visiting the statue of Zumbi dos Palmares (an important figure in Capoeira) to sing to him and ask for guidance.

New found freedom combined with faith in my decision felled any remaining fear, my soul felt like it had come home. Against the odds I found a job with only days to go before my funds ran out, that dogged determination had paid it’s dividends. Sure, I was as poor as a church mouse, earning minimum wage of around USD$300 a month, but I was on my way!

From there the path has not been paved with gold, I have followed the paupers trail strewn with rocks, stumbled many times, scraped my knees and lived on the proverbial smell of an oily rag, sometimes in areas not too many steps above the poverty line but I have continued on my journey; a relentless dream catcher.

The experiences have been worth the struggles; I have seen sights both beautiful and historic that I could never have imagined, undertaken voluntary work with some amazing musicians which lead me to promote local Brazilian music to the world, something that became my soul food in this new life, and to top things off I have met so many diverse and wonderful people.

Living without mod cons; cold water showers, no washing machine, no oven, no fridge, no car, no TV, sometimes even no bed, brings sharply into focus what truly matters in life and those material items don’t even make the list! I have often had next to nothing in Brazil, but my life has been richer. Richer in experiences, richer in culture, richer in friendships.

My advice to those reading is, if you are struggling there is hope! Fears can be conquered, lows turned into highs and if you feel like running away, then sprint towards your dreams. Freedom is through that door you see just ahead, you hold the key so put it in the lock and walk through to the life that you dream of for yourself! As for me, I’m now applying to be a citizen of my new homeland; watch this space.

NB: Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

An Amazing Underwater paradise in Mexico

Grains of sand as soft and fine as powdery snow covered my toes as I tried to name all of the different shades of neon blue in the water. Turquoise, Aquamarine, Slate, Navy, Cerulean, Azure, Cornflower, Tiffany Blue. Sails on the yachts in front of me fluttered in the light sea breeze and the smell of coconut oil wafted by. Juice dripped down my fingers as I took a bite of the fresh cut pineapple. I was on the island paradise of Isla Mujeres in the Mexican Caribbean and I was in tears.

Down by the Belize border I burst into tears in Mahahual, swinging on a hammock suspended above the water. The sea was so clear that I could see the trumpet fish zig-zagging below me and even distinguish the individual grains in the rippled sand below. After that I cried at Santa Fe beach in Tulum, tears sliding down my face and into the fresh coconut I was drinking with a straw as I gazed up at the Mayan ruins on the cliff above.

A newly certified Dive Instructor, I’d been planning this move to the tropics for two years. I’d quit my job, gotten rid of my furniture, told my friends goodbye and made no promises to return. Now here I was in tropical paradise wondering if I could ask my Dad to stay in his spare room for a few months while I sorted my life out. Because my move to paradise was not going as planned.

The tourists around me were having a great time. They were on holiday, having adventures. I would come back to the hostel exhausted from a day walking in the blistering heat, hunting for a job and an apartment. Every day the tourists went swimming with whale sharks. Every day I followed false leads and faced new rejections.

Everything on the streets seemed strange. A man on a tricycle circled town with a loudspeaker blaring “…windows, refrigerators, doors, all you need, tables, chimneys, bathtubs, call me,” followed by a phone number. An eight year old boy leaned out of a truck window to wolf whistle at me. A woman tried to sell me a hand puppet shaped like a chicken.

“What is this place?” I called my Dad for advice. “I’m so tired, I don’t know if I can do this!”

“I have no doubt that you can make a life for yourself anywhere in the world,” my Dad said. “You’ve done it before.”

“I know I can make it here,” I said. “But I don’t know if I want to!”

“Give it another week.”

The next week I got a call from a dive shop offering me an instructor position. “It’s only confirmed for two months,” my new boss said, “but if it works out then you can stay through high season. The catch is that you’ll need to house-sit the apartment above the dive shop until we get the hurricane shutters installed. I hope that we can work this out.”

Needless to say, I took the job and the beachfront apartment. As soon as I was in the ocean I was in charge again; teaching people to breathe underwater, calming their fears about the equipment and the environment, introducing them to the reef ecosystem. I love taking people underwater for the first time, to see them experience the thrill of flying above the corals or encounter a creature that they didn’t even know existed. To see them face to face with a giant turtle, inside a tornado school of giant trevally, or hovering in place while manta rays do flips around them.

Life on land is still confusing, but I’m not crying anymore. I’m settling in to my new town and I’m enjoying the slow pace of life in the tropics. But underwater I have my freedom. The environment is so foreign that you can’t help but immerse yourself in the experience. You can’t feel tears underwater, you’re already totally wet.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

2016-07-08-06-57-09-1-300x300Instilling Comfortable Respect in the Philippines

The chorus of cascading waters was music to my ears as it dropped down from varying heights into an aquamarine pool. The sound mimics the sound of rain. The rhythm complements the magnificent and unadulterated view of water streaming onto rock walls and plants, giving off a thin cloud of droplets at the base of the waterfalls. This is Tinago Falls in Iligan City, Philippines. Its beauty is well hidden within the rainforest of the province hence the name “tinago”, a Filipino word that means hidden. As I stood there mesmerized by its beauty, I heaved a sigh of relief. I have finally conquered it but, unlike Tinago Falls, I need not hide because I am free.

Living in a country of diverse cultures, these diversity creates gaps in understanding that eventually leads to misconceptions. These questions in faith and beliefs, often fueled by ignorance, give birth to generalizations and bigotry. The news of tragic events happening in different parts of the world, often associated with our Muslim brothers, do not help in easing out these tensions. The Philippines, being predominantly of Christian faith, is not free from this imbalance. As most of our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters are concentrated in Mindanao, the island is still a subject that sometimes instills fear among many Filipinos. There are places that are “off-limits” in the minds of most Filipinos because it is tagged as “dangerous”.

A recent unplanned visit to Iligan City gave me the opportunity to open the mind of my 8 year old daughter on the importance of accepting diversity. It was our first time in the city and our plan was to visit the 3 of its 24 waterfalls. As we only had a couple of hours to go around, we had to hire a “habal-habal”, a motorcycle where we had to squeeze in three people and the driver, to get us around faster. It was another first for us. I had to explain to my daughter that this was the mode of public transportation in most Philippine provinces.

She was quick to notice that there were a lot of Muslims during our quick tour. She was able to identify them because of the way they dressed. She was used to the city where people dressed in a certain fashion and she saw how different this was in Iligan City. At one point, she asked me why people dressed that way.

I saw this as an opportunity to explain to her the rich and diverse culture of the Philippines. I explained to her that they were our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters. They believe in Allah and they practice their Islam faith so they have their own culture that they are proud of, and that includes the way they dress. I had to make her understand that despite these differences we were all Filipinos and should respect each other. She will meet a lot of Filipino Muslims as she grows up and will have a deeper understanding of their culture, both in our travels and in school. What is important was for her to open her mind and accept these differences just like the way she does with her friends in school. At that point, a young Muslim lady walked past our table and smiled at her to which she my daughter returned the favor.

At that point, I knew that she was on her way to understanding the lessons of cultural diversity.

As our world gets smaller with technology, it is very important to keep in mind that it will open us to the cultural exchanges from the different regions of the world. Most of these beliefs and practices may be similar and there will be a few that may contradict our very own. These exchanges will also open us to preconceived ideas and branding that can result to indifferences and, in some cases, can even lead to hate. We cannot allow these notions to affect the way we think about others because of their cultural background, their faith, the color of their skin, or the way they dress.

I find my freedom when I travel. Each destination is a new learning experience. Traveling introduced me to the different cultures and practices that makes the Philippines unique. It gave me the opportunity to help others understand the uniqueness of each culture paving the way for acceptance, just like what happened between me and my daughter during our trip in Mindanao. Traveling freed me from clutches of ignorance and taught me to respect the diversity that is present among us.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

The Inward Journey to Freedom in the US

By age fourteen I had been to twenty seven countries and four continents. How much more free could I be? Back then, life was much simpler. At twenty six years old, I’ve independently added four more countries. I had the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want, but there was something significantly different between traveling with my parents and traveling alone as an adult. Until a few years ago, I realized I was emotionally caged; trapped in heartaches, insecurities and self-loathing. Let me tell you a story of a traveler who never truly traveled until she started exploring an inward journey into herself.

I awoke, I gently began to open my eyes knowing there was no rush for anything. I graduated college, I had no job and no direction, but worst of all, I had no passion. I felt nothing and everything all at the same time. It was winter in Massachusetts and everything was dead, which is exactly how I felt. Every day it was cold and gray outside and my ribcage would tremble, trying to salvage the very last colors inside of me. Days were long and nights were longer.

Every phone call I’d bite my cheeks and pray that desperation could not be heard. I didn’t know how to ask for help, as I choked on words I could not speak. Everyone’s advice was so cliché and bland, “talk to someone, exercise, eat well, go out and meet people.” As if the simple act of getting out of bed was easy for me. When I would gather enough strength to walk to the bathroom, I’d brush my teeth with a soft gaze, avoiding all eye contact with a ghost.

She wasn’t scary but she sure wasn’t pretty. She was pale with swollen eye lids, peeled lips and bleeding finger tips. She was trapped in her own world, bruising her hands against her concrete walls, wishing somebody would save her. I used to think she was quite pathetic, but when I chose to fall in love with her, was the moment I chose to fall in love with myself.

I was tired and I was through with devaluing myself. I frantically opened my laptop and typed the first words that came to mind, “Kripalu”, the School of Yoga and Health. I had taken all of one class but that didn’t stop me. Yoga was expanding and teachers were in demand. Kripalu was only a few hours north so I signed up. A month later I was standing on the grounds where I took my first few breaths of fresh air.

I knew absolutely nothing of what yoga truly is. They stripped my judgments of bendy, skinny females wearing Lululemon. My god, yoga saved my life. Every day I cried. At first it was out of pain; reliving every moment someone took something from me, every moment I failed, disappointed, hurt and lied. They taught me to be strong in my vulnerability and supplied me with affirmations that helped heal me.

The skin I used to inflict pain upon through cigarettes and razors is the skin I now touch as if it were a lover who just told me they loved me too. I massaged my feet with gratitude for walking so steady on shaky grounds and I kissed my palms with forgiveness because sometimes I did not hold hearts with care. I looked all around and saw the greener side of the grass. I was liberated from my own perception of hell.   My inward journey was nearly complete.

Finally, a miracle; tears of happiness slid down my cheeks as I danced and held others and allowed myself to be held. I was reborn in the hands of loving, empathetic human beings that have felt how exhausted shoulders can get and how heavy hearts can be. My teachers taught me more than warrior pose, tree pose and eagle pose. They taught me how to be a warrior and enter my inner power. They taught me how to be a tree; to grow with sturdiness. They taught me how to be an eagle and fly in freedom.

I’ve felt the pain of my ancestors as I walked their graves touring the German holocaust camps. I’ve felt the love and nurture of those who’ve harvested life as I danced along the Balinese rice patties. I have hugged the Australian wild life and did the HAKA with one of New Zealand’s tribes. I have cried with Peru’s poor and laughed with their children. There’s a lot I’ve seen and a lot I haven’t, a lot I know and a lot I don’t. I’ve learned the final destination of freedom was never my plane ticket. The final destination of freedom was the only place I did not think to go and that was through an inward journey.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Why Did You Come to Japan?

There is a television show in Japan that airs every Monday called Why Did You Come to Japan? A Japanese camera crew stops foreigners arriving at Narita airport in Tokyo and asks them what the purpose is for their visit. My best friend’s dad told me about this show shortly after I arrived for my six-week stay at their house. He joked that I was there, “to sleep and fold laundry!”

That was partially true while I was recovering from the mysterious virus I contracted on the plane ride there. But when I wasn’t sleeping or folding laundry I was on a search. Although I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for at first, I’m certain I found it along the way.

I overcame fear. My journey began when I was forced to maneuver the Japanese train system. Exhausted from traveling for three days from my home in Indiana, my plane was diverted a couple hundred miles south from Tokyo to Osaka airport due to turbulence. There were no more flights so I had to take a train to find my host family in Tokyo. I was terrified at the idea of going alone, but I quickly made friends with the angel God placed in the seat beside me on the plane. We plotted, prayed, sweated, laughed and cried through the ordeal but we bravely made it to our destination together.

I taught. I packed a children’s devotional in my suitcase and read an English lesson with my friend’s nine-year-old son every morning. Not only did he get to practice his English skills, he also learned about Jesus. I learned many Japanese words in the process.

I explored. I had my own bicycle and ventured out almost daily, some days riding ten miles or more. I visited shopping centers, beautiful shrines, Starbucks and my favorite Italian restaurant. Since I had been forced to overcome my fear of working the train system upon arrival in Japan, I rode one alone to Harajuku in Tokyo from my friend’s house in Inage-Ku and visited the famous Meiji Jingu Shrine. There I found confidence, gratitude and peace.

I made new friends. I connected with the family who lived across the street from my host family. They took me on several outings including gorgeous flower gardens and a gigantic mall. One evening they invited me to their backyard BBQ. The entire family spoke fluent English, which was refreshing. And their three-year old grandson Yuto sang Row Row Row Your Boat to me in the sweetest little voice reminding me of my childhood and that we are all children at heart no matter where we live in the world.

I survived multiple earthquakes. As if the mysterious illness I contracted on my journey there was not enough, after I recovered I had to deal with my bed shaking uncontrollably on at least four occasions. They were low magnitude quakes but that was more earth shaking than I had experienced in my entire life up to that point.

I relaxed. I took hot baths at public Japanese spas and experienced a hot rock bed for the first time. I took naps in the afternoons. I read several books cover to cover. I sat in the park and people watched. I drank a lot of coffee and daydreamed. I learned to breathe again.

I ate. I enjoyed delicious meals prepared at home by my host family and I learned how to prepare many dishes myself. I cooked dinner for my friends on my last night and they actually enjoyed it! I ate homemade miso soup and rice every day and ice cream for dessert. I took myself out to restaurants. Pointing at pictures on the menu works just as well in Japan as it does at Denny’s!

I traveled. I flew to Okinawa for three nights with my friend on a girl’s only trip. We enjoyed hanging out on the beautiful beach, touring a pineapple park and winery, eating a lot of good food, revisiting my Fuguki Tree Road and just enjoying quality time together.

I worshipped. I visited a Christian church on my last full Sunday in Japan where I prayed with a congregation full of Japanese Christians. They spoke a different language than me but together we worshipped the same God. I thanked Him for blessing me so much with the gift of such an amazing adventure in this wondrous country.

I may have slept and folded a lot of laundry but I did manage to do many wonderful things. I overcame fear in the process and I left behind anxiety that I brought to Japan with me. I slept in the top bunk and gazed at the glowing stars on the wall papered ceiling as I drifted off to sleep every night. I became physically active again. I bicycled. I kayaked. I even participated in a tug of war contest. I learned patience and endurance in ways I never experienced before. I learned that people everywhere are the same on the inside. And I thanked God for blessing me so much in life.

To simply answer the question, “Why did you come to Japan?”

I went to Japan to find freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

sky-500x500Hard fought Journeys to a Satisfied Freedom in the Philippines

When I saw the theme of this article writing contest, I remember a quote I have encountered before. The quote says “Learn the rules. Then break some”. It might sound rebellious to some but for me, I think of it as another way of saying you fight for your journeys freedom.

I believe there are different kinds of freedom each and every one of us is looking for. We all wanted to be free, free from the things that we think are holding us back from living the life we desire. We want to move away from what are bothering us, hurting us, our struggles, this is what being free might be for each of us. But where and when do we find our freedom? How do we fight for it? How can we say we feel free?

Speaking for myself, I still find me being stuck from where I am now. I feel like I’m still bounded with all the responsibilities I have for my Family. Still bounded from thinking about the approval of my society on how I should be living my life. But all of these things including self doubt and fear disappear whenever I am travelling alone in an unfamiliar territory.

When I get out there, I always choose to leave the things that are bringing me down. I clear my head from them. Yes, I am trying to run away from them and be free from them even for a while because this is where and when I find my freedom from what I think is a cruel reality.

I used to travel with people I know and used to be closed to me but it made a difference to see how free I can feel when I did a trip alone. During these journeys I learned how to decide everything for myself, which I think is one way of exercising my freedom. I usually make my own itinerary based on the information I get from travel blogs but there are times that I do not follow it and decide to get lost. I feel like I can afford to see the places where some do not go. I am free to explore. I am not bound by any box or circle.

From these travels I learned to be free from judgement and doubts. I started to convince myself to trust people who are very unfamiliar to me, who I just met or encountered at the moment. At these moments I do not have any thoughts to make me run from people I do not know. I invite them to be part of my new circle instead.

The best freedom I get from these experiences is that I am freely me. Everything is me. I am allowed to be myself. I open up myself to new territories, new people and new learning. I do not have to worry about being out of my usual comfort zone. I do not feel any pain. I am releasing my inner bravery and last but not the least I am free to hope without a limit. The hope that will give me strength to face every obstacle and struggles to achieve the life I have always been dreaming. A life where I get to have the freedom to be independent and to be myself whenever, wherever.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Freedom When an Amazing Life Flys Away in the US

It was three summers ago and I had just flown from Kauai to Portland, OR to be with my boyfriend after months of being apart. Everything was finally looking up, after going through hardships during my travels on the islands. I was exactly where I wanted to be.

I remember how exciting it was to feel the cool, crisp NW air and to see Portland for the first time. The city was coming alive, people were buzzing on the streets, cafés were clamoring with business, I had made it.
My boyfriend and I had driven down to his family farm in Dallas, OR, a small town in a valley at the edge of the Coast Range Mountains. The farm is a hundred years old and sits on seventy acres of open land, filled with fruit trees and a rambling river. If anything, my time in Oregon was only getting better.

However, three days into my trip, I received a phone call from my Aunt Lorie whom never calls. A red flag went up as I answered. “Your grandma is in hospice…” My heart sank into my chest as I heard these words. I had spoken to my grandmother occasionally throughout the past year but, it wasn’t enough. She was the woman who raised me from toddler to adult, she was my hero. I should have been more present.

I was feeling all sorts of emotions, but mostly sadness and despair that I wasn’t a car ride away. In fact, I was on the opposite end of the country, at least an eight-hour flight from home. Feeling helpless and confused, I continued my day, beneath a cloud. I was awaiting answers to my prayers. I prayed to my mother, whom passed away when I was two. I sought advice on the situation, if I should continue my trip or fly home. The following morning my prayer was answered in the form of a Robin bird who landed in front of me in between two large oak trees. My mother’s name was Robin. In that moment I felt a sigh of relief that even through difficulty, things can still make sense.

A couple more days had passed with no improvements to my grandmother’s health. Yet, I decided to remain in Oregon. We had made our way to the coast which is my favorite place to be. Throughout the days I had been given small universal signs that everything was going to be okay. I felt a little more at ease.

Throughout my travels I had picked up a used book called, The Invitation. At the end of every chapter the author asks the reader to write short exercises. They are based on looking inwards. Like most books I read, I found that every time I flipped the page, it was more and more relevant to my current situation. This time, the exercise was to write down ‘what I need and what I need from others’. I jotted down the answers in my journal and put it away. The following day would be pivotal.
In the afternoon my boyfriend and I found ourselves in a state park situated on the central coast. We climbed a sand dune to check the surf. It was small but looked worthwhile, so we grabbed our boards and ran to the water. It was a beautiful, sunny day. No one was around. We had this place to ourselves. I caught some really fun little peeling waves. This was my perfect moment.

When I got out of my wetsuit and changed into dry clothes, I grabbed my journal and climbed up a sand dune that overlooked the vast, glistening Pacific. I was in my peaceful place. Because I hadn’t had time the previous day to finish my journal entry, I did so on the dune. When I finished writing I sent my needs and needs of others into the universe. “I need Bubee to know that my brothers and I will be okay without her.” “I need Bubee to know that she is free to leave her body and to find her freedom.” I felt so relieved and uplifted from partaking in this exercise.

When I got back to the car I checked my phone; a missed call from my aunt. Before I listened to the message, I knew what I’d hear. And when I officially heard the words, tears fell from my eyes, but they were mostly tears of joy. I never thought I’d feel that way about my grandmothers passing. But, I couldn’t deny the sequence of events that occurred. I knew deep in my heart that someone was watching over us. She had passed when I was doing what I love most; surfing and traveling. And in that realization I too found my freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Interesting Strangers in transit through the USA

I used to dread traveling alone. I mean lets’ face it, sitting alone at an airport waiting for a flight, exhausted, trying to avoid talking to strangers you simply do not have the energy to communicate with is no one’s favorite pastime. At least not mine. I used to find it awkward, like all the other passengers were staring at me, judging me because I did not have a group of friends or family around me. Sometimes I was judging myself too, wondering what on earth was I doing, spending my time at yet another airport in the middle of nowhere, going to a city I had never been to before, only to wander around all by myself, since clearly I did not know anyone there. My family and friends, whom I gladly would have welcomed with me on my adventures but who unfortunately were not very keen on traveling with me, kept asking why I was going where I was going, with who, and every time I replied “alone”, they looked at me like I had gone nuts. Why would you travel somewhere you’ve never been to and know nothing about, completely alone, for no apparent reason? Yes, there were times when I myself questioned my sanity.

But there is a flipside to wandering around in a strange city all by yourself. It’s refreshing. Fascinating. Freeing. Empowering even. Watching the waves on the beach of Wilmington, admiring wonderful art and beautiful old buildings in Boston or sipping morning coffee at Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Thinking back, I don’t remember being lonely. I don’t remember feeling awkward or out of place. No, thinking back just makes me smile. What I remember is the warm wind and the salty smell of the ocean; the music, and the laughter; the smell of the coffee, the orchestra playing and how much I loved that little pink house with a porch full of colorful flowers. The interesting conversation with that silly old grandpa at the diner, or that kind stranger letting me crash on his couch when things went wrong in El Paso and I had nowhere to spend the night. I remember that time I randomly stumbled into a dive bar to see a band somewhere in Wisconsin, and ended up spending the next week hanging out with them, selling merchandise at a festival and sipping margaritas by the pool, having the time of my life. I remember all those fascinating, devastating and heart-warming life stories of strangers I met in passing, and all those moments I would not change for the world. And most of all I remember feeling stronger, more confident. I remember feeling free. All of a sudden none of those expectations, none of those horrifying tiny boxes people around me have always tried to fit me in did not matter anymore. On that plane or that strange city, surrounded by strangers, I was finally able to just be me. To be free.

The biggest realization traveling alone has given me, is that I can do this. I will get through and I will survive, whatever it is life throws at me. I will never be what other people expect me to be, so I might as well just follow my heart and do what I feel is right. The world is a magnificent, interesting and beautiful place, and I intend to see as much of it as I possibly can. Even if it means I’m seeing it alone.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Just Chasing a Photograph in the USA

I used to be a jet-setting executive who had the world at her feet. Nowadays, I travel because my three daughters live in different cities around the world: Seattle (next, San Francisco), Calgary, and Manila (London before, Melbourne next). Recently, my career-oriented middle daughter Claudine needed help. For the fifth time after I retired, I flew to Canada to take care of three young ones.

“We can go to Yoho and Kootenay in B.C., our chance to complete the quad parks named the World Heritage Site of the Canadian Rockies,” I convinced my husband, Bill. On the third weekend, I squeezed in a visit to the new Glacier Skywalk on the Columbia Icefields between Banff and Jasper, the two in Alberta we had visited earlier.

The only downside was driving the same section of the Trans-Canada Highway six more times. Sure enough, on the road to Yoho, I dozed off. Bill missed my chatter, nudging me, “Hey, sleepyhead, I bought you some Cheetos!” In a jiffy, the bag of my favorite cheesy crunchies was gone. I should have been upset he spoiled my beauty nap. Instead, I thanked him.

Between mouthfuls, I caught a glimpse of a scene that would haunt me. A lone red car seemed to rise on the road, driving straight into an enormous glacier-draped mountain. It vanished in a second. “I want that photograph!” whispered my heart. Staying glued to the windshield, soon a second chance came. Alas, the car was black, and the road was flat.

Photos of lovely sights around Yoho did not get my mind off that scene: Marble Canyon, Painted Pots, Sinclair Canyon, and Radium’s Hot Springs and bighorn sheep around town. The following Saturday, I was back with a vengeance. It didn’t take long and another such scene appeared. The mountain was even more majestic. But the car, being white, disappeared into the mist. Again, there was no road rise. I cried, “Can we just stage something?” Bill had one word, “Patience!”

Other photo-ops were on the road. An enormous yellow truck blazoned against the grays. White clouds cavorted with ice-lined pointed peaks. A multi-colored train ruffled through the Rockies’ skirts. Cute, curvy twin bridges punctuated the highway humdrum. Once in a while, a red-roofed cabin enlivened the greens. Around Kootenay, there was more: the Spiral Train, Emerald Lake, Natural Bridge, and the towns of Field and Golden. Still, I wanted that photo.

On the third weekend, the weather was itself, taking a sudden nasty turn. We proceeded and stayed at Banff for the night, hoping it would clear the next day. It didn’t. I have been through Philippine storms, but snow takes me right inside a freezer. But I had to go. It was my last chance.

I started feeling hopeless, but a smile returned to my face when, at more than 6,000 feet high, frosty evergreen began to grace both sides of the road. I asked Bill to stop and stepped out. Wet fluffy things instantly brushed against my face. I “smelled” chestnuts roasting nearby. From inside the car, Bill took my photo of Christmas in June! Still, I longed for another photo.

At the Skywalk, it wasn’t a panorama of glistening glaciers but gray and gloom that greeted us. Making the best of a bad situation, I noticed that my outfit had come together: the red beanie I just bought at the Gift Shop and the red gloves, red scarf and black winter jacket Claudine lent me. Bill took off his gloves to freely fiddle with the Nikon and the slippery platform turned into MY catwalk. “Hurry up! My fingers are already frozen!” interrupted my trance. But by then, I had precious photos of a glamorous fashion model at 67. Still, it was THAT scene I wanted.

On the way home, I was nervous. Bill’s words rang loud in my ears, “It’s now or never.” And, just like that, it came. The car wasn’t red and low-lying clouds partly hid the mountain. But the road had a slight rise, creating the magical effect I saw the first time. All the way home, a contest of who can give the best caption for the photo produced: “Into the Clouds”, “Into the Unknown”, and “Beyond the Ordinary.”

The grandkids hugged me tight as Claudine asked, “Is photography a new career?” I explained that the job I love most is that of a traveling Grandnanny. It doesn’t matter how many times I go back to a place. It’s the people that count. It doesn’t matter if I drive the same old familiar highway. Something else will catch my fancy. I am free to be with whomever I want, drive to wherever I please, and listen to whatever my heart whispers, even if it’s just chasing a photograph.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Free-falling to Freedom in Brazil

2010 was not my year; free-falling since 2009 from successful Customer Service Manager, rising rapidly through the ranks to redundant job seeker, an anonymous face caught up in the tsunami of unemployment as Australia was hit by the Global Economic Crisis. At the same time I went from being married, in love and planning a much dreamed of family, to separated and fighting in vein to save my marriage as my husband set up a cozy new life with his secret lover. Spiralling further and further downwards towards rock bottom, alone, jobless, heartbroken and without spousal support, I finally crash landed; in bankruptcy.

Well, the good thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only way is up!
I had a dream; to salvage the last shred of my life plan, stop the free-falling and move to Brazil!

Sure it would not be as a family unit and I would no longer be cocooned in the secure embrace of the upper middle class lifestyle my in-laws had offered, but the challenge gave me renewed purpose and hope. Still longing for a baby, I discovered that even singles can be eligible to adopt in Brazil, this became my beacon of hope, the driving force to follow my dreams and never give up, no matter what challenges lay ahead.

Simply affording the airfare seemed impossible, a pipe dream, but where there is a will there is a way and by selling almost all my worldly goods on eBay I did it. With enough spare funds to survive on a shoestring for around 12 weeks, it was make or break to find a job in that time.

With a mix of excitement and fear, armed only with a basic knowledge of Portuguese, a passion for Brazilian music and a few Capoeira moves up my sleeve, I flew off into the unknown.

My heart pulled me towards the state of Bahia, and after three bus trips totalling about 35 hours, I made it to Salvador early on a January morning in 2011.  I found a room in the heart of historic, sometimes dangerous and above all picturesque, Pelourinho for around USD$13 a night and there I began to live my dream.

My life story was a tapestry of hopes and dreams interwoven thread by thread with heartache and loss; thankfully I have a strong, independent core which worked like a flint to the sparks of freedom and adventure that came as each new stitch was sewn, thus fuelling the fire to survive here that burns deep inside me to this day.

I trod along the ancient cobbled streets, moving to the beat of drums, drinking in the sight of beautiful coloured buildings, and visiting the statue of Zumbi dos Palmares (an important figure in Capoeira) to sing to him and ask for guidance.

New found freedom combined with faith in my decision felled any remaining fear, my soul felt like it had come home. Against the odds I found a job with only days to go before my funds ran out, that dogged determination had paid it’s dividends. Sure, I was as poor as a church mouse, earning minimum wage of around USD$300 a month, but I was on my way!

From there the path has not been paved with gold, I have followed the paupers trail strewn with rocks, stumbled many times, scraped my knees and lived on the proverbial smell of an oily rag, sometimes in areas not too many steps above the poverty line but I have continued on my journey; a relentless dream catcher.

The experiences have been worth the struggles; I have seen sights both beautiful and historic that I could never have imagined, undertaken voluntary work with some amazing musicians which lead me to promote local Brazilian music to the world, something that became my soul food in this new life, and to top things off I have met so many diverse and wonderful people.

Living without mod cons; cold water showers, no washing machine, no oven, no fridge, no car, no TV, sometimes even no bed, brings sharply into focus what truly matters in life and those material items don’t even make the list! I have often had next to nothing in Brazil, but my life has been richer. Richer in experiences, richer in culture, richer in friendships.

My advice to those reading is, if you are struggling there is hope! Fears can be conquered, lows turned into highs and if you feel like running away, then sprint towards your dreams. Freedom is through that door you see just ahead, you hold the key so put it in the lock and walk through to the life that you dream of for yourself! As for me, I’m now applying to be a citizen of my new homeland; watch this space.

NB: Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

An Amazing Underwater paradise in Mexico

Grains of sand as soft and fine as powdery snow covered my toes as I tried to name all of the different shades of neon blue in the water. Turquoise, Aquamarine, Slate, Navy, Cerulean, Azure, Cornflower, Tiffany Blue. Sails on the yachts in front of me fluttered in the light sea breeze and the smell of coconut oil wafted by. Juice dripped down my fingers as I took a bite of the fresh cut pineapple. I was on the island paradise of Isla Mujeres in the Mexican Caribbean and I was in tears.

Down by the Belize border I burst into tears in Mahahual, swinging on a hammock suspended above the water. The sea was so clear that I could see the trumpet fish zig-zagging below me and even distinguish the individual grains in the rippled sand below. After that I cried at Santa Fe beach in Tulum, tears sliding down my face and into the fresh coconut I was drinking with a straw as I gazed up at the Mayan ruins on the cliff above.

A newly certified Dive Instructor, I’d been planning this move to the tropics for two years. I’d quit my job, gotten rid of my furniture, told my friends goodbye and made no promises to return. Now here I was in tropical paradise wondering if I could ask my Dad to stay in his spare room for a few months while I sorted my life out. Because my move to paradise was not going as planned.

The tourists around me were having a great time. They were on holiday, having adventures. I would come back to the hostel exhausted from a day walking in the blistering heat, hunting for a job and an apartment. Every day the tourists went swimming with whale sharks. Every day I followed false leads and faced new rejections.

Everything on the streets seemed strange. A man on a tricycle circled town with a loudspeaker blaring “…windows, refrigerators, doors, all you need, tables, chimneys, bathtubs, call me,” followed by a phone number. An eight year old boy leaned out of a truck window to wolf whistle at me. A woman tried to sell me a hand puppet shaped like a chicken.

“What is this place?” I called my Dad for advice. “I’m so tired, I don’t know if I can do this!”

“I have no doubt that you can make a life for yourself anywhere in the world,” my Dad said. “You’ve done it before.”

“I know I can make it here,” I said. “But I don’t know if I want to!”

“Give it another week.”

The next week I got a call from a dive shop offering me an instructor position. “It’s only confirmed for two months,” my new boss said, “but if it works out then you can stay through high season. The catch is that you’ll need to house-sit the apartment above the dive shop until we get the hurricane shutters installed. I hope that we can work this out.”

Needless to say, I took the job and the beachfront apartment. As soon as I was in the ocean I was in charge again; teaching people to breathe underwater, calming their fears about the equipment and the environment, introducing them to the reef ecosystem. I love taking people underwater for the first time, to see them experience the thrill of flying above the corals or encounter a creature that they didn’t even know existed. To see them face to face with a giant turtle, inside a tornado school of giant trevally, or hovering in place while manta rays do flips around them.

Life on land is still confusing, but I’m not crying anymore. I’m settling in to my new town and I’m enjoying the slow pace of life in the tropics. But underwater I have my freedom. The environment is so foreign that you can’t help but immerse yourself in the experience. You can’t feel tears underwater, you’re already totally wet.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

2016-07-08-06-57-09-1-300x300Instilling Comfortable Respect in the Philippines

The chorus of cascading waters was music to my ears as it dropped down from varying heights into an aquamarine pool. The sound mimics the sound of rain. The rhythm complements the magnificent and unadulterated view of water streaming onto rock walls and plants, giving off a thin cloud of droplets at the base of the waterfalls. This is Tinago Falls in Iligan City, Philippines. Its beauty is well hidden within the rainforest of the province hence the name “tinago”, a Filipino word that means hidden. As I stood there mesmerized by its beauty, I heaved a sigh of relief. I have finally conquered it but, unlike Tinago Falls, I need not hide because I am free.

Living in a country of diverse cultures, these diversity creates gaps in understanding that eventually leads to misconceptions. These questions in faith and beliefs, often fueled by ignorance, give birth to generalizations and bigotry. The news of tragic events happening in different parts of the world, often associated with our Muslim brothers, do not help in easing out these tensions. The Philippines, being predominantly of Christian faith, is not free from this imbalance. As most of our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters are concentrated in Mindanao, the island is still a subject that sometimes instills fear among many Filipinos. There are places that are “off-limits” in the minds of most Filipinos because it is tagged as “dangerous”.

A recent unplanned visit to Iligan City gave me the opportunity to open the mind of my 8 year old daughter on the importance of accepting diversity. It was our first time in the city and our plan was to visit the 3 of its 24 waterfalls. As we only had a couple of hours to go around, we had to hire a “habal-habal”, a motorcycle where we had to squeeze in three people and the driver, to get us around faster. It was another first for us. I had to explain to my daughter that this was the mode of public transportation in most Philippine provinces.

She was quick to notice that there were a lot of Muslims during our quick tour. She was able to identify them because of the way they dressed. She was used to the city where people dressed in a certain fashion and she saw how different this was in Iligan City. At one point, she asked me why people dressed that way.

I saw this as an opportunity to explain to her the rich and diverse culture of the Philippines. I explained to her that they were our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters. They believe in Allah and they practice their Islam faith so they have their own culture that they are proud of, and that includes the way they dress. I had to make her understand that despite these differences we were all Filipinos and should respect each other. She will meet a lot of Filipino Muslims as she grows up and will have a deeper understanding of their culture, both in our travels and in school. What is important was for her to open her mind and accept these differences just like the way she does with her friends in school. At that point, a young Muslim lady walked past our table and smiled at her to which she my daughter returned the favor.

At that point, I knew that she was on her way to understanding the lessons of cultural diversity.

As our world gets smaller with technology, it is very important to keep in mind that it will open us to the cultural exchanges from the different regions of the world. Most of these beliefs and practices may be similar and there will be a few that may contradict our very own. These exchanges will also open us to preconceived ideas and branding that can result to indifferences and, in some cases, can even lead to hate. We cannot allow these notions to affect the way we think about others because of their cultural background, their faith, the color of their skin, or the way they dress.

I find my freedom when I travel. Each destination is a new learning experience. Traveling introduced me to the different cultures and practices that makes the Philippines unique. It gave me the opportunity to help others understand the uniqueness of each culture paving the way for acceptance, just like what happened between me and my daughter during our trip in Mindanao. Traveling freed me from clutches of ignorance and taught me to respect the diversity that is present among us.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

The Inward Journey to Freedom in the US

By age fourteen I had been to twenty seven countries and four continents. How much more free could I be? Back then, life was much simpler. At twenty six years old, I’ve independently added four more countries. I had the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want, but there was something significantly different between traveling with my parents and traveling alone as an adult. Until a few years ago, I realized I was emotionally caged; trapped in heartaches, insecurities and self-loathing. Let me tell you a story of a traveler who never truly traveled until she started exploring an inward journey into herself.

I awoke, I gently began to open my eyes knowing there was no rush for anything. I graduated college, I had no job and no direction, but worst of all, I had no passion. I felt nothing and everything all at the same time. It was winter in Massachusetts and everything was dead, which is exactly how I felt. Every day it was cold and gray outside and my ribcage would tremble, trying to salvage the very last colors inside of me. Days were long and nights were longer.

Every phone call I’d bite my cheeks and pray that desperation could not be heard. I didn’t know how to ask for help, as I choked on words I could not speak. Everyone’s advice was so cliché and bland, “talk to someone, exercise, eat well, go out and meet people.” As if the simple act of getting out of bed was easy for me. When I would gather enough strength to walk to the bathroom, I’d brush my teeth with a soft gaze, avoiding all eye contact with a ghost.

She wasn’t scary but she sure wasn’t pretty. She was pale with swollen eye lids, peeled lips and bleeding finger tips. She was trapped in her own world, bruising her hands against her concrete walls, wishing somebody would save her. I used to think she was quite pathetic, but when I chose to fall in love with her, was the moment I chose to fall in love with myself.

I was tired and I was through with devaluing myself. I frantically opened my laptop and typed the first words that came to mind, “Kripalu”, the School of Yoga and Health. I had taken all of one class but that didn’t stop me. Yoga was expanding and teachers were in demand. Kripalu was only a few hours north so I signed up. A month later I was standing on the grounds where I took my first few breaths of fresh air.

I knew absolutely nothing of what yoga truly is. They stripped my judgments of bendy, skinny females wearing Lululemon. My god, yoga saved my life. Every day I cried. At first it was out of pain; reliving every moment someone took something from me, every moment I failed, disappointed, hurt and lied. They taught me to be strong in my vulnerability and supplied me with affirmations that helped heal me.

The skin I used to inflict pain upon through cigarettes and razors is the skin I now touch as if it were a lover who just told me they loved me too. I massaged my feet with gratitude for walking so steady on shaky grounds and I kissed my palms with forgiveness because sometimes I did not hold hearts with care. I looked all around and saw the greener side of the grass. I was liberated from my own perception of hell.   My inward journey was nearly complete.

Finally, a miracle; tears of happiness slid down my cheeks as I danced and held others and allowed myself to be held. I was reborn in the hands of loving, empathetic human beings that have felt how exhausted shoulders can get and how heavy hearts can be. My teachers taught me more than warrior pose, tree pose and eagle pose. They taught me how to be a warrior and enter my inner power. They taught me how to be a tree; to grow with sturdiness. They taught me how to be an eagle and fly in freedom.

I’ve felt the pain of my ancestors as I walked their graves touring the German holocaust camps. I’ve felt the love and nurture of those who’ve harvested life as I danced along the Balinese rice patties. I have hugged the Australian wild life and did the HAKA with one of New Zealand’s tribes. I have cried with Peru’s poor and laughed with their children. There’s a lot I’ve seen and a lot I haven’t, a lot I know and a lot I don’t. I’ve learned the final destination of freedom was never my plane ticket. The final destination of freedom was the only place I did not think to go and that was through an inward journey.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Why Did You Come to Japan?

There is a television show in Japan that airs every Monday called Why Did You Come to Japan? A Japanese camera crew stops foreigners arriving at Narita airport in Tokyo and asks them what the purpose is for their visit. My best friend’s dad told me about this show shortly after I arrived for my six-week stay at their house. He joked that I was there, “to sleep and fold laundry!”

That was partially true while I was recovering from the mysterious virus I contracted on the plane ride there. But when I wasn’t sleeping or folding laundry I was on a search. Although I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for at first, I’m certain I found it along the way.

I overcame fear. My journey began when I was forced to maneuver the Japanese train system. Exhausted from traveling for three days from my home in Indiana, my plane was diverted a couple hundred miles south from Tokyo to Osaka airport due to turbulence. There were no more flights so I had to take a train to find my host family in Tokyo. I was terrified at the idea of going alone, but I quickly made friends with the angel God placed in the seat beside me on the plane. We plotted, prayed, sweated, laughed and cried through the ordeal but we bravely made it to our destination together.

I taught. I packed a children’s devotional in my suitcase and read an English lesson with my friend’s nine-year-old son every morning. Not only did he get to practice his English skills, he also learned about Jesus. I learned many Japanese words in the process.

I explored. I had my own bicycle and ventured out almost daily, some days riding ten miles or more. I visited shopping centers, beautiful shrines, Starbucks and my favorite Italian restaurant. Since I had been forced to overcome my fear of working the train system upon arrival in Japan, I rode one alone to Harajuku in Tokyo from my friend’s house in Inage-Ku and visited the famous Meiji Jingu Shrine. There I found confidence, gratitude and peace.

I made new friends. I connected with the family who lived across the street from my host family. They took me on several outings including gorgeous flower gardens and a gigantic mall. One evening they invited me to their backyard BBQ. The entire family spoke fluent English, which was refreshing. And their three-year old grandson Yuto sang Row Row Row Your Boat to me in the sweetest little voice reminding me of my childhood and that we are all children at heart no matter where we live in the world.

I survived multiple earthquakes. As if the mysterious illness I contracted on my journey there was not enough, after I recovered I had to deal with my bed shaking uncontrollably on at least four occasions. They were low magnitude quakes but that was more earth shaking than I had experienced in my entire life up to that point.

I relaxed. I took hot baths at public Japanese spas and experienced a hot rock bed for the first time. I took naps in the afternoons. I read several books cover to cover. I sat in the park and people watched. I drank a lot of coffee and daydreamed. I learned to breathe again.

I ate. I enjoyed delicious meals prepared at home by my host family and I learned how to prepare many dishes myself. I cooked dinner for my friends on my last night and they actually enjoyed it! I ate homemade miso soup and rice every day and ice cream for dessert. I took myself out to restaurants. Pointing at pictures on the menu works just as well in Japan as it does at Denny’s!

I traveled. I flew to Okinawa for three nights with my friend on a girl’s only trip. We enjoyed hanging out on the beautiful beach, touring a pineapple park and winery, eating a lot of good food, revisiting my Fuguki Tree Road and just enjoying quality time together.

I worshipped. I visited a Christian church on my last full Sunday in Japan where I prayed with a congregation full of Japanese Christians. They spoke a different language than me but together we worshipped the same God. I thanked Him for blessing me so much with the gift of such an amazing adventure in this wondrous country.

I may have slept and folded a lot of laundry but I did manage to do many wonderful things. I overcame fear in the process and I left behind anxiety that I brought to Japan with me. I slept in the top bunk and gazed at the glowing stars on the wall papered ceiling as I drifted off to sleep every night. I became physically active again. I bicycled. I kayaked. I even participated in a tug of war contest. I learned patience and endurance in ways I never experienced before. I learned that people everywhere are the same on the inside. And I thanked God for blessing me so much in life.

To simply answer the question, “Why did you come to Japan?”

I went to Japan to find freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

sky-500x500Hard fought Journeys to a Satisfied Freedom in the Philippines

When I saw the theme of this article writing contest, I remember a quote I have encountered before. The quote says “Learn the rules. Then break some”. It might sound rebellious to some but for me, I think of it as another way of saying you fight for your journeys freedom.

I believe there are different kinds of freedom each and every one of us is looking for. We all wanted to be free, free from the things that we think are holding us back from living the life we desire. We want to move away from what are bothering us, hurting us, our struggles, this is what being free might be for each of us. But where and when do we find our freedom? How do we fight for it? How can we say we feel free?

Speaking for myself, I still find me being stuck from where I am now. I feel like I’m still bounded with all the responsibilities I have for my Family. Still bounded from thinking about the approval of my society on how I should be living my life. But all of these things including self doubt and fear disappear whenever I am travelling alone in an unfamiliar territory.

When I get out there, I always choose to leave the things that are bringing me down. I clear my head from them. Yes, I am trying to run away from them and be free from them even for a while because this is where and when I find my freedom from what I think is a cruel reality.

I used to travel with people I know and used to be closed to me but it made a difference to see how free I can feel when I did a trip alone. During these journeys I learned how to decide everything for myself, which I think is one way of exercising my freedom. I usually make my own itinerary based on the information I get from travel blogs but there are times that I do not follow it and decide to get lost. I feel like I can afford to see the places where some do not go. I am free to explore. I am not bound by any box or circle.

From these travels I learned to be free from judgement and doubts. I started to convince myself to trust people who are very unfamiliar to me, who I just met or encountered at the moment. At these moments I do not have any thoughts to make me run from people I do not know. I invite them to be part of my new circle instead.

The best freedom I get from these experiences is that I am freely me. Everything is me. I am allowed to be myself. I open up myself to new territories, new people and new learning. I do not have to worry about being out of my usual comfort zone. I do not feel any pain. I am releasing my inner bravery and last but not the least I am free to hope without a limit. The hope that will give me strength to face every obstacle and struggles to achieve the life I have always been dreaming. A life where I get to have the freedom to be independent and to be myself whenever, wherever.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Freedom When an Amazing Life Flys Away in the US

It was three summers ago and I had just flown from Kauai to Portland, OR to be with my boyfriend after months of being apart. Everything was finally looking up, after going through hardships during my travels on the islands. I was exactly where I wanted to be.

I remember how exciting it was to feel the cool, crisp NW air and to see Portland for the first time. The city was coming alive, people were buzzing on the streets, cafés were clamoring with business, I had made it.
My boyfriend and I had driven down to his family farm in Dallas, OR, a small town in a valley at the edge of the Coast Range Mountains. The farm is a hundred years old and sits on seventy acres of open land, filled with fruit trees and a rambling river. If anything, my time in Oregon was only getting better.

However, three days into my trip, I received a phone call from my Aunt Lorie whom never calls. A red flag went up as I answered. “Your grandma is in hospice…” My heart sank into my chest as I heard these words. I had spoken to my grandmother occasionally throughout the past year but, it wasn’t enough. She was the woman who raised me from toddler to adult, she was my hero. I should have been more present.

I was feeling all sorts of emotions, but mostly sadness and despair that I wasn’t a car ride away. In fact, I was on the opposite end of the country, at least an eight-hour flight from home. Feeling helpless and confused, I continued my day, beneath a cloud. I was awaiting answers to my prayers. I prayed to my mother, whom passed away when I was two. I sought advice on the situation, if I should continue my trip or fly home. The following morning my prayer was answered in the form of a Robin bird who landed in front of me in between two large oak trees. My mother’s name was Robin. In that moment I felt a sigh of relief that even through difficulty, things can still make sense.

A couple more days had passed with no improvements to my grandmother’s health. Yet, I decided to remain in Oregon. We had made our way to the coast which is my favorite place to be. Throughout the days I had been given small universal signs that everything was going to be okay. I felt a little more at ease.

Throughout my travels I had picked up a used book called, The Invitation. At the end of every chapter the author asks the reader to write short exercises. They are based on looking inwards. Like most books I read, I found that every time I flipped the page, it was more and more relevant to my current situation. This time, the exercise was to write down ‘what I need and what I need from others’. I jotted down the answers in my journal and put it away. The following day would be pivotal.
In the afternoon my boyfriend and I found ourselves in a state park situated on the central coast. We climbed a sand dune to check the surf. It was small but looked worthwhile, so we grabbed our boards and ran to the water. It was a beautiful, sunny day. No one was around. We had this place to ourselves. I caught some really fun little peeling waves. This was my perfect moment.

When I got out of my wetsuit and changed into dry clothes, I grabbed my journal and climbed up a sand dune that overlooked the vast, glistening Pacific. I was in my peaceful place. Because I hadn’t had time the previous day to finish my journal entry, I did so on the dune. When I finished writing I sent my needs and needs of others into the universe. “I need Bubee to know that my brothers and I will be okay without her.” “I need Bubee to know that she is free to leave her body and to find her freedom.” I felt so relieved and uplifted from partaking in this exercise.

When I got back to the car I checked my phone; a missed call from my aunt. Before I listened to the message, I knew what I’d hear. And when I officially heard the words, tears fell from my eyes, but they were mostly tears of joy. I never thought I’d feel that way about my grandmothers passing. But, I couldn’t deny the sequence of events that occurred. I knew deep in my heart that someone was watching over us. She had passed when I was doing what I love most; surfing and traveling. And in that realization I too found my freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Interesting Strangers in transit through the USA

I used to dread traveling alone. I mean lets’ face it, sitting alone at an airport waiting for a flight, exhausted, trying to avoid talking to strangers you simply do not have the energy to communicate with is no one’s favorite pastime. At least not mine. I used to find it awkward, like all the other passengers were staring at me, judging me because I did not have a group of friends or family around me. Sometimes I was judging myself too, wondering what on earth was I doing, spending my time at yet another airport in the middle of nowhere, going to a city I had never been to before, only to wander around all by myself, since clearly I did not know anyone there. My family and friends, whom I gladly would have welcomed with me on my adventures but who unfortunately were not very keen on traveling with me, kept asking why I was going where I was going, with who, and every time I replied “alone”, they looked at me like I had gone nuts. Why would you travel somewhere you’ve never been to and know nothing about, completely alone, for no apparent reason? Yes, there were times when I myself questioned my sanity.

But there is a flipside to wandering around in a strange city all by yourself. It’s refreshing. Fascinating. Freeing. Empowering even. Watching the waves on the beach of Wilmington, admiring wonderful art and beautiful old buildings in Boston or sipping morning coffee at Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Thinking back, I don’t remember being lonely. I don’t remember feeling awkward or out of place. No, thinking back just makes me smile. What I remember is the warm wind and the salty smell of the ocean; the music, and the laughter; the smell of the coffee, the orchestra playing and how much I loved that little pink house with a porch full of colorful flowers. The interesting conversation with that silly old grandpa at the diner, or that kind stranger letting me crash on his couch when things went wrong in El Paso and I had nowhere to spend the night. I remember that time I randomly stumbled into a dive bar to see a band somewhere in Wisconsin, and ended up spending the next week hanging out with them, selling merchandise at a festival and sipping margaritas by the pool, having the time of my life. I remember all those fascinating, devastating and heart-warming life stories of strangers I met in passing, and all those moments I would not change for the world. And most of all I remember feeling stronger, more confident. I remember feeling free. All of a sudden none of those expectations, none of those horrifying tiny boxes people around me have always tried to fit me in did not matter anymore. On that plane or that strange city, surrounded by strangers, I was finally able to just be me. To be free.

The biggest realization traveling alone has given me, is that I can do this. I will get through and I will survive, whatever it is life throws at me. I will never be what other people expect me to be, so I might as well just follow my heart and do what I feel is right. The world is a magnificent, interesting and beautiful place, and I intend to see as much of it as I possibly can. Even if it means I’m seeing it alone.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Just Chasing a Photograph in the USA

I used to be a jet-setting executive who had the world at her feet. Nowadays, I travel because my three daughters live in different cities around the world: Seattle (next, San Francisco), Calgary, and Manila (London before, Melbourne next). Recently, my career-oriented middle daughter Claudine needed help. For the fifth time after I retired, I flew to Canada to take care of three young ones.

“We can go to Yoho and Kootenay in B.C., our chance to complete the quad parks named the World Heritage Site of the Canadian Rockies,” I convinced my husband, Bill. On the third weekend, I squeezed in a visit to the new Glacier Skywalk on the Columbia Icefields between Banff and Jasper, the two in Alberta we had visited earlier.

The only downside was driving the same section of the Trans-Canada Highway six more times. Sure enough, on the road to Yoho, I dozed off. Bill missed my chatter, nudging me, “Hey, sleepyhead, I bought you some Cheetos!” In a jiffy, the bag of my favorite cheesy crunchies was gone. I should have been upset he spoiled my beauty nap. Instead, I thanked him.

Between mouthfuls, I caught a glimpse of a scene that would haunt me. A lone red car seemed to rise on the road, driving straight into an enormous glacier-draped mountain. It vanished in a second. “I want that photograph!” whispered my heart. Staying glued to the windshield, soon a second chance came. Alas, the car was black, and the road was flat.

Photos of lovely sights around Yoho did not get my mind off that scene: Marble Canyon, Painted Pots, Sinclair Canyon, and Radium’s Hot Springs and bighorn sheep around town. The following Saturday, I was back with a vengeance. It didn’t take long and another such scene appeared. The mountain was even more majestic. But the car, being white, disappeared into the mist. Again, there was no road rise. I cried, “Can we just stage something?” Bill had one word, “Patience!”

Other photo-ops were on the road. An enormous yellow truck blazoned against the grays. White clouds cavorted with ice-lined pointed peaks. A multi-colored train ruffled through the Rockies’ skirts. Cute, curvy twin bridges punctuated the highway humdrum. Once in a while, a red-roofed cabin enlivened the greens. Around Kootenay, there was more: the Spiral Train, Emerald Lake, Natural Bridge, and the towns of Field and Golden. Still, I wanted that photo.

On the third weekend, the weather was itself, taking a sudden nasty turn. We proceeded and stayed at Banff for the night, hoping it would clear the next day. It didn’t. I have been through Philippine storms, but snow takes me right inside a freezer. But I had to go. It was my last chance.

I started feeling hopeless, but a smile returned to my face when, at more than 6,000 feet high, frosty evergreen began to grace both sides of the road. I asked Bill to stop and stepped out. Wet fluffy things instantly brushed against my face. I “smelled” chestnuts roasting nearby. From inside the car, Bill took my photo of Christmas in June! Still, I longed for another photo.

At the Skywalk, it wasn’t a panorama of glistening glaciers but gray and gloom that greeted us. Making the best of a bad situation, I noticed that my outfit had come together: the red beanie I just bought at the Gift Shop and the red gloves, red scarf and black winter jacket Claudine lent me. Bill took off his gloves to freely fiddle with the Nikon and the slippery platform turned into MY catwalk. “Hurry up! My fingers are already frozen!” interrupted my trance. But by then, I had precious photos of a glamorous fashion model at 67. Still, it was THAT scene I wanted.

On the way home, I was nervous. Bill’s words rang loud in my ears, “It’s now or never.” And, just like that, it came. The car wasn’t red and low-lying clouds partly hid the mountain. But the road had a slight rise, creating the magical effect I saw the first time. All the way home, a contest of who can give the best caption for the photo produced: “Into the Clouds”, “Into the Unknown”, and “Beyond the Ordinary.”

The grandkids hugged me tight as Claudine asked, “Is photography a new career?” I explained that the job I love most is that of a traveling Grandnanny. It doesn’t matter how many times I go back to a place. It’s the people that count. It doesn’t matter if I drive the same old familiar highway. Something else will catch my fancy. I am free to be with whomever I want, drive to wherever I please, and listen to whatever my heart whispers, even if it’s just chasing a photograph.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Free-falling to Freedom in Brazil

2010 was not my year; free-falling since 2009 from successful Customer Service Manager, rising rapidly through the ranks to redundant job seeker, an anonymous face caught up in the tsunami of unemployment as Australia was hit by the Global Economic Crisis. At the same time I went from being married, in love and planning a much dreamed of family, to separated and fighting in vein to save my marriage as my husband set up a cozy new life with his secret lover. Spiralling further and further downwards towards rock bottom, alone, jobless, heartbroken and without spousal support, I finally crash landed; in bankruptcy.

Well, the good thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only way is up!
I had a dream; to salvage the last shred of my life plan, stop the free-falling and move to Brazil!

Sure it would not be as a family unit and I would no longer be cocooned in the secure embrace of the upper middle class lifestyle my in-laws had offered, but the challenge gave me renewed purpose and hope. Still longing for a baby, I discovered that even singles can be eligible to adopt in Brazil, this became my beacon of hope, the driving force to follow my dreams and never give up, no matter what challenges lay ahead.

Simply affording the airfare seemed impossible, a pipe dream, but where there is a will there is a way and by selling almost all my worldly goods on eBay I did it. With enough spare funds to survive on a shoestring for around 12 weeks, it was make or break to find a job in that time.

With a mix of excitement and fear, armed only with a basic knowledge of Portuguese, a passion for Brazilian music and a few Capoeira moves up my sleeve, I flew off into the unknown.

My heart pulled me towards the state of Bahia, and after three bus trips totalling about 35 hours, I made it to Salvador early on a January morning in 2011.  I found a room in the heart of historic, sometimes dangerous and above all picturesque, Pelourinho for around USD$13 a night and there I began to live my dream.

My life story was a tapestry of hopes and dreams interwoven thread by thread with heartache and loss; thankfully I have a strong, independent core which worked like a flint to the sparks of freedom and adventure that came as each new stitch was sewn, thus fuelling the fire to survive here that burns deep inside me to this day.

I trod along the ancient cobbled streets, moving to the beat of drums, drinking in the sight of beautiful coloured buildings, and visiting the statue of Zumbi dos Palmares (an important figure in Capoeira) to sing to him and ask for guidance.

New found freedom combined with faith in my decision felled any remaining fear, my soul felt like it had come home. Against the odds I found a job with only days to go before my funds ran out, that dogged determination had paid it’s dividends. Sure, I was as poor as a church mouse, earning minimum wage of around USD$300 a month, but I was on my way!

From there the path has not been paved with gold, I have followed the paupers trail strewn with rocks, stumbled many times, scraped my knees and lived on the proverbial smell of an oily rag, sometimes in areas not too many steps above the poverty line but I have continued on my journey; a relentless dream catcher.

The experiences have been worth the struggles; I have seen sights both beautiful and historic that I could never have imagined, undertaken voluntary work with some amazing musicians which lead me to promote local Brazilian music to the world, something that became my soul food in this new life, and to top things off I have met so many diverse and wonderful people.

Living without mod cons; cold water showers, no washing machine, no oven, no fridge, no car, no TV, sometimes even no bed, brings sharply into focus what truly matters in life and those material items don’t even make the list! I have often had next to nothing in Brazil, but my life has been richer. Richer in experiences, richer in culture, richer in friendships.

My advice to those reading is, if you are struggling there is hope! Fears can be conquered, lows turned into highs and if you feel like running away, then sprint towards your dreams. Freedom is through that door you see just ahead, you hold the key so put it in the lock and walk through to the life that you dream of for yourself! As for me, I’m now applying to be a citizen of my new homeland; watch this space.

NB: Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

An Amazing Underwater paradise in Mexico

Grains of sand as soft and fine as powdery snow covered my toes as I tried to name all of the different shades of neon blue in the water. Turquoise, Aquamarine, Slate, Navy, Cerulean, Azure, Cornflower, Tiffany Blue. Sails on the yachts in front of me fluttered in the light sea breeze and the smell of coconut oil wafted by. Juice dripped down my fingers as I took a bite of the fresh cut pineapple. I was on the island paradise of Isla Mujeres in the Mexican Caribbean and I was in tears.

Down by the Belize border I burst into tears in Mahahual, swinging on a hammock suspended above the water. The sea was so clear that I could see the trumpet fish zig-zagging below me and even distinguish the individual grains in the rippled sand below. After that I cried at Santa Fe beach in Tulum, tears sliding down my face and into the fresh coconut I was drinking with a straw as I gazed up at the Mayan ruins on the cliff above.

A newly certified Dive Instructor, I’d been planning this move to the tropics for two years. I’d quit my job, gotten rid of my furniture, told my friends goodbye and made no promises to return. Now here I was in tropical paradise wondering if I could ask my Dad to stay in his spare room for a few months while I sorted my life out. Because my move to paradise was not going as planned.

The tourists around me were having a great time. They were on holiday, having adventures. I would come back to the hostel exhausted from a day walking in the blistering heat, hunting for a job and an apartment. Every day the tourists went swimming with whale sharks. Every day I followed false leads and faced new rejections.

Everything on the streets seemed strange. A man on a tricycle circled town with a loudspeaker blaring “…windows, refrigerators, doors, all you need, tables, chimneys, bathtubs, call me,” followed by a phone number. An eight year old boy leaned out of a truck window to wolf whistle at me. A woman tried to sell me a hand puppet shaped like a chicken.

“What is this place?” I called my Dad for advice. “I’m so tired, I don’t know if I can do this!”

“I have no doubt that you can make a life for yourself anywhere in the world,” my Dad said. “You’ve done it before.”

“I know I can make it here,” I said. “But I don’t know if I want to!”

“Give it another week.”

The next week I got a call from a dive shop offering me an instructor position. “It’s only confirmed for two months,” my new boss said, “but if it works out then you can stay through high season. The catch is that you’ll need to house-sit the apartment above the dive shop until we get the hurricane shutters installed. I hope that we can work this out.”

Needless to say, I took the job and the beachfront apartment. As soon as I was in the ocean I was in charge again; teaching people to breathe underwater, calming their fears about the equipment and the environment, introducing them to the reef ecosystem. I love taking people underwater for the first time, to see them experience the thrill of flying above the corals or encounter a creature that they didn’t even know existed. To see them face to face with a giant turtle, inside a tornado school of giant trevally, or hovering in place while manta rays do flips around them.

Life on land is still confusing, but I’m not crying anymore. I’m settling in to my new town and I’m enjoying the slow pace of life in the tropics. But underwater I have my freedom. The environment is so foreign that you can’t help but immerse yourself in the experience. You can’t feel tears underwater, you’re already totally wet.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

2016-07-08-06-57-09-1-300x300Instilling Comfortable Respect in the Philippines

The chorus of cascading waters was music to my ears as it dropped down from varying heights into an aquamarine pool. The sound mimics the sound of rain. The rhythm complements the magnificent and unadulterated view of water streaming onto rock walls and plants, giving off a thin cloud of droplets at the base of the waterfalls. This is Tinago Falls in Iligan City, Philippines. Its beauty is well hidden within the rainforest of the province hence the name “tinago”, a Filipino word that means hidden. As I stood there mesmerized by its beauty, I heaved a sigh of relief. I have finally conquered it but, unlike Tinago Falls, I need not hide because I am free.

Living in a country of diverse cultures, these diversity creates gaps in understanding that eventually leads to misconceptions. These questions in faith and beliefs, often fueled by ignorance, give birth to generalizations and bigotry. The news of tragic events happening in different parts of the world, often associated with our Muslim brothers, do not help in easing out these tensions. The Philippines, being predominantly of Christian faith, is not free from this imbalance. As most of our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters are concentrated in Mindanao, the island is still a subject that sometimes instills fear among many Filipinos. There are places that are “off-limits” in the minds of most Filipinos because it is tagged as “dangerous”.

A recent unplanned visit to Iligan City gave me the opportunity to open the mind of my 8 year old daughter on the importance of accepting diversity. It was our first time in the city and our plan was to visit the 3 of its 24 waterfalls. As we only had a couple of hours to go around, we had to hire a “habal-habal”, a motorcycle where we had to squeeze in three people and the driver, to get us around faster. It was another first for us. I had to explain to my daughter that this was the mode of public transportation in most Philippine provinces.

She was quick to notice that there were a lot of Muslims during our quick tour. She was able to identify them because of the way they dressed. She was used to the city where people dressed in a certain fashion and she saw how different this was in Iligan City. At one point, she asked me why people dressed that way.

I saw this as an opportunity to explain to her the rich and diverse culture of the Philippines. I explained to her that they were our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters. They believe in Allah and they practice their Islam faith so they have their own culture that they are proud of, and that includes the way they dress. I had to make her understand that despite these differences we were all Filipinos and should respect each other. She will meet a lot of Filipino Muslims as she grows up and will have a deeper understanding of their culture, both in our travels and in school. What is important was for her to open her mind and accept these differences just like the way she does with her friends in school. At that point, a young Muslim lady walked past our table and smiled at her to which she my daughter returned the favor.

At that point, I knew that she was on her way to understanding the lessons of cultural diversity.

As our world gets smaller with technology, it is very important to keep in mind that it will open us to the cultural exchanges from the different regions of the world. Most of these beliefs and practices may be similar and there will be a few that may contradict our very own. These exchanges will also open us to preconceived ideas and branding that can result to indifferences and, in some cases, can even lead to hate. We cannot allow these notions to affect the way we think about others because of their cultural background, their faith, the color of their skin, or the way they dress.

I find my freedom when I travel. Each destination is a new learning experience. Traveling introduced me to the different cultures and practices that makes the Philippines unique. It gave me the opportunity to help others understand the uniqueness of each culture paving the way for acceptance, just like what happened between me and my daughter during our trip in Mindanao. Traveling freed me from clutches of ignorance and taught me to respect the diversity that is present among us.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

The Inward Journey to Freedom in the US

By age fourteen I had been to twenty seven countries and four continents. How much more free could I be? Back then, life was much simpler. At twenty six years old, I’ve independently added four more countries. I had the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want, but there was something significantly different between traveling with my parents and traveling alone as an adult. Until a few years ago, I realized I was emotionally caged; trapped in heartaches, insecurities and self-loathing. Let me tell you a story of a traveler who never truly traveled until she started exploring an inward journey into herself.

I awoke, I gently began to open my eyes knowing there was no rush for anything. I graduated college, I had no job and no direction, but worst of all, I had no passion. I felt nothing and everything all at the same time. It was winter in Massachusetts and everything was dead, which is exactly how I felt. Every day it was cold and gray outside and my ribcage would tremble, trying to salvage the very last colors inside of me. Days were long and nights were longer.

Every phone call I’d bite my cheeks and pray that desperation could not be heard. I didn’t know how to ask for help, as I choked on words I could not speak. Everyone’s advice was so cliché and bland, “talk to someone, exercise, eat well, go out and meet people.” As if the simple act of getting out of bed was easy for me. When I would gather enough strength to walk to the bathroom, I’d brush my teeth with a soft gaze, avoiding all eye contact with a ghost.

She wasn’t scary but she sure wasn’t pretty. She was pale with swollen eye lids, peeled lips and bleeding finger tips. She was trapped in her own world, bruising her hands against her concrete walls, wishing somebody would save her. I used to think she was quite pathetic, but when I chose to fall in love with her, was the moment I chose to fall in love with myself.

I was tired and I was through with devaluing myself. I frantically opened my laptop and typed the first words that came to mind, “Kripalu”, the School of Yoga and Health. I had taken all of one class but that didn’t stop me. Yoga was expanding and teachers were in demand. Kripalu was only a few hours north so I signed up. A month later I was standing on the grounds where I took my first few breaths of fresh air.

I knew absolutely nothing of what yoga truly is. They stripped my judgments of bendy, skinny females wearing Lululemon. My god, yoga saved my life. Every day I cried. At first it was out of pain; reliving every moment someone took something from me, every moment I failed, disappointed, hurt and lied. They taught me to be strong in my vulnerability and supplied me with affirmations that helped heal me.

The skin I used to inflict pain upon through cigarettes and razors is the skin I now touch as if it were a lover who just told me they loved me too. I massaged my feet with gratitude for walking so steady on shaky grounds and I kissed my palms with forgiveness because sometimes I did not hold hearts with care. I looked all around and saw the greener side of the grass. I was liberated from my own perception of hell.   My inward journey was nearly complete.

Finally, a miracle; tears of happiness slid down my cheeks as I danced and held others and allowed myself to be held. I was reborn in the hands of loving, empathetic human beings that have felt how exhausted shoulders can get and how heavy hearts can be. My teachers taught me more than warrior pose, tree pose and eagle pose. They taught me how to be a warrior and enter my inner power. They taught me how to be a tree; to grow with sturdiness. They taught me how to be an eagle and fly in freedom.

I’ve felt the pain of my ancestors as I walked their graves touring the German holocaust camps. I’ve felt the love and nurture of those who’ve harvested life as I danced along the Balinese rice patties. I have hugged the Australian wild life and did the HAKA with one of New Zealand’s tribes. I have cried with Peru’s poor and laughed with their children. There’s a lot I’ve seen and a lot I haven’t, a lot I know and a lot I don’t. I’ve learned the final destination of freedom was never my plane ticket. The final destination of freedom was the only place I did not think to go and that was through an inward journey.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Why Did You Come to Japan?

There is a television show in Japan that airs every Monday called Why Did You Come to Japan? A Japanese camera crew stops foreigners arriving at Narita airport in Tokyo and asks them what the purpose is for their visit. My best friend’s dad told me about this show shortly after I arrived for my six-week stay at their house. He joked that I was there, “to sleep and fold laundry!”

That was partially true while I was recovering from the mysterious virus I contracted on the plane ride there. But when I wasn’t sleeping or folding laundry I was on a search. Although I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for at first, I’m certain I found it along the way.

I overcame fear. My journey began when I was forced to maneuver the Japanese train system. Exhausted from traveling for three days from my home in Indiana, my plane was diverted a couple hundred miles south from Tokyo to Osaka airport due to turbulence. There were no more flights so I had to take a train to find my host family in Tokyo. I was terrified at the idea of going alone, but I quickly made friends with the angel God placed in the seat beside me on the plane. We plotted, prayed, sweated, laughed and cried through the ordeal but we bravely made it to our destination together.

I taught. I packed a children’s devotional in my suitcase and read an English lesson with my friend’s nine-year-old son every morning. Not only did he get to practice his English skills, he also learned about Jesus. I learned many Japanese words in the process.

I explored. I had my own bicycle and ventured out almost daily, some days riding ten miles or more. I visited shopping centers, beautiful shrines, Starbucks and my favorite Italian restaurant. Since I had been forced to overcome my fear of working the train system upon arrival in Japan, I rode one alone to Harajuku in Tokyo from my friend’s house in Inage-Ku and visited the famous Meiji Jingu Shrine. There I found confidence, gratitude and peace.

I made new friends. I connected with the family who lived across the street from my host family. They took me on several outings including gorgeous flower gardens and a gigantic mall. One evening they invited me to their backyard BBQ. The entire family spoke fluent English, which was refreshing. And their three-year old grandson Yuto sang Row Row Row Your Boat to me in the sweetest little voice reminding me of my childhood and that we are all children at heart no matter where we live in the world.

I survived multiple earthquakes. As if the mysterious illness I contracted on my journey there was not enough, after I recovered I had to deal with my bed shaking uncontrollably on at least four occasions. They were low magnitude quakes but that was more earth shaking than I had experienced in my entire life up to that point.

I relaxed. I took hot baths at public Japanese spas and experienced a hot rock bed for the first time. I took naps in the afternoons. I read several books cover to cover. I sat in the park and people watched. I drank a lot of coffee and daydreamed. I learned to breathe again.

I ate. I enjoyed delicious meals prepared at home by my host family and I learned how to prepare many dishes myself. I cooked dinner for my friends on my last night and they actually enjoyed it! I ate homemade miso soup and rice every day and ice cream for dessert. I took myself out to restaurants. Pointing at pictures on the menu works just as well in Japan as it does at Denny’s!

I traveled. I flew to Okinawa for three nights with my friend on a girl’s only trip. We enjoyed hanging out on the beautiful beach, touring a pineapple park and winery, eating a lot of good food, revisiting my Fuguki Tree Road and just enjoying quality time together.

I worshipped. I visited a Christian church on my last full Sunday in Japan where I prayed with a congregation full of Japanese Christians. They spoke a different language than me but together we worshipped the same God. I thanked Him for blessing me so much with the gift of such an amazing adventure in this wondrous country.

I may have slept and folded a lot of laundry but I did manage to do many wonderful things. I overcame fear in the process and I left behind anxiety that I brought to Japan with me. I slept in the top bunk and gazed at the glowing stars on the wall papered ceiling as I drifted off to sleep every night. I became physically active again. I bicycled. I kayaked. I even participated in a tug of war contest. I learned patience and endurance in ways I never experienced before. I learned that people everywhere are the same on the inside. And I thanked God for blessing me so much in life.

To simply answer the question, “Why did you come to Japan?”

I went to Japan to find freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

sky-500x500Hard fought Journeys to a Satisfied Freedom in the Philippines

When I saw the theme of this article writing contest, I remember a quote I have encountered before. The quote says “Learn the rules. Then break some”. It might sound rebellious to some but for me, I think of it as another way of saying you fight for your journeys freedom.

I believe there are different kinds of freedom each and every one of us is looking for. We all wanted to be free, free from the things that we think are holding us back from living the life we desire. We want to move away from what are bothering us, hurting us, our struggles, this is what being free might be for each of us. But where and when do we find our freedom? How do we fight for it? How can we say we feel free?

Speaking for myself, I still find me being stuck from where I am now. I feel like I’m still bounded with all the responsibilities I have for my Family. Still bounded from thinking about the approval of my society on how I should be living my life. But all of these things including self doubt and fear disappear whenever I am travelling alone in an unfamiliar territory.

When I get out there, I always choose to leave the things that are bringing me down. I clear my head from them. Yes, I am trying to run away from them and be free from them even for a while because this is where and when I find my freedom from what I think is a cruel reality.

I used to travel with people I know and used to be closed to me but it made a difference to see how free I can feel when I did a trip alone. During these journeys I learned how to decide everything for myself, which I think is one way of exercising my freedom. I usually make my own itinerary based on the information I get from travel blogs but there are times that I do not follow it and decide to get lost. I feel like I can afford to see the places where some do not go. I am free to explore. I am not bound by any box or circle.

From these travels I learned to be free from judgement and doubts. I started to convince myself to trust people who are very unfamiliar to me, who I just met or encountered at the moment. At these moments I do not have any thoughts to make me run from people I do not know. I invite them to be part of my new circle instead.

The best freedom I get from these experiences is that I am freely me. Everything is me. I am allowed to be myself. I open up myself to new territories, new people and new learning. I do not have to worry about being out of my usual comfort zone. I do not feel any pain. I am releasing my inner bravery and last but not the least I am free to hope without a limit. The hope that will give me strength to face every obstacle and struggles to achieve the life I have always been dreaming. A life where I get to have the freedom to be independent and to be myself whenever, wherever.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Freedom When an Amazing Life Flys Away in the US

It was three summers ago and I had just flown from Kauai to Portland, OR to be with my boyfriend after months of being apart. Everything was finally looking up, after going through hardships during my travels on the islands. I was exactly where I wanted to be.

I remember how exciting it was to feel the cool, crisp NW air and to see Portland for the first time. The city was coming alive, people were buzzing on the streets, cafés were clamoring with business, I had made it.
My boyfriend and I had driven down to his family farm in Dallas, OR, a small town in a valley at the edge of the Coast Range Mountains. The farm is a hundred years old and sits on seventy acres of open land, filled with fruit trees and a rambling river. If anything, my time in Oregon was only getting better.

However, three days into my trip, I received a phone call from my Aunt Lorie whom never calls. A red flag went up as I answered. “Your grandma is in hospice…” My heart sank into my chest as I heard these words. I had spoken to my grandmother occasionally throughout the past year but, it wasn’t enough. She was the woman who raised me from toddler to adult, she was my hero. I should have been more present.

I was feeling all sorts of emotions, but mostly sadness and despair that I wasn’t a car ride away. In fact, I was on the opposite end of the country, at least an eight-hour flight from home. Feeling helpless and confused, I continued my day, beneath a cloud. I was awaiting answers to my prayers. I prayed to my mother, whom passed away when I was two. I sought advice on the situation, if I should continue my trip or fly home. The following morning my prayer was answered in the form of a Robin bird who landed in front of me in between two large oak trees. My mother’s name was Robin. In that moment I felt a sigh of relief that even through difficulty, things can still make sense.

A couple more days had passed with no improvements to my grandmother’s health. Yet, I decided to remain in Oregon. We had made our way to the coast which is my favorite place to be. Throughout the days I had been given small universal signs that everything was going to be okay. I felt a little more at ease.

Throughout my travels I had picked up a used book called, The Invitation. At the end of every chapter the author asks the reader to write short exercises. They are based on looking inwards. Like most books I read, I found that every time I flipped the page, it was more and more relevant to my current situation. This time, the exercise was to write down ‘what I need and what I need from others’. I jotted down the answers in my journal and put it away. The following day would be pivotal.
In the afternoon my boyfriend and I found ourselves in a state park situated on the central coast. We climbed a sand dune to check the surf. It was small but looked worthwhile, so we grabbed our boards and ran to the water. It was a beautiful, sunny day. No one was around. We had this place to ourselves. I caught some really fun little peeling waves. This was my perfect moment.

When I got out of my wetsuit and changed into dry clothes, I grabbed my journal and climbed up a sand dune that overlooked the vast, glistening Pacific. I was in my peaceful place. Because I hadn’t had time the previous day to finish my journal entry, I did so on the dune. When I finished writing I sent my needs and needs of others into the universe. “I need Bubee to know that my brothers and I will be okay without her.” “I need Bubee to know that she is free to leave her body and to find her freedom.” I felt so relieved and uplifted from partaking in this exercise.

When I got back to the car I checked my phone; a missed call from my aunt. Before I listened to the message, I knew what I’d hear. And when I officially heard the words, tears fell from my eyes, but they were mostly tears of joy. I never thought I’d feel that way about my grandmothers passing. But, I couldn’t deny the sequence of events that occurred. I knew deep in my heart that someone was watching over us. She had passed when I was doing what I love most; surfing and traveling. And in that realization I too found my freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Interesting Strangers in transit through the USA

I used to dread traveling alone. I mean lets’ face it, sitting alone at an airport waiting for a flight, exhausted, trying to avoid talking to strangers you simply do not have the energy to communicate with is no one’s favorite pastime. At least not mine. I used to find it awkward, like all the other passengers were staring at me, judging me because I did not have a group of friends or family around me. Sometimes I was judging myself too, wondering what on earth was I doing, spending my time at yet another airport in the middle of nowhere, going to a city I had never been to before, only to wander around all by myself, since clearly I did not know anyone there. My family and friends, whom I gladly would have welcomed with me on my adventures but who unfortunately were not very keen on traveling with me, kept asking why I was going where I was going, with who, and every time I replied “alone”, they looked at me like I had gone nuts. Why would you travel somewhere you’ve never been to and know nothing about, completely alone, for no apparent reason? Yes, there were times when I myself questioned my sanity.

But there is a flipside to wandering around in a strange city all by yourself. It’s refreshing. Fascinating. Freeing. Empowering even. Watching the waves on the beach of Wilmington, admiring wonderful art and beautiful old buildings in Boston or sipping morning coffee at Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Thinking back, I don’t remember being lonely. I don’t remember feeling awkward or out of place. No, thinking back just makes me smile. What I remember is the warm wind and the salty smell of the ocean; the music, and the laughter; the smell of the coffee, the orchestra playing and how much I loved that little pink house with a porch full of colorful flowers. The interesting conversation with that silly old grandpa at the diner, or that kind stranger letting me crash on his couch when things went wrong in El Paso and I had nowhere to spend the night. I remember that time I randomly stumbled into a dive bar to see a band somewhere in Wisconsin, and ended up spending the next week hanging out with them, selling merchandise at a festival and sipping margaritas by the pool, having the time of my life. I remember all those fascinating, devastating and heart-warming life stories of strangers I met in passing, and all those moments I would not change for the world. And most of all I remember feeling stronger, more confident. I remember feeling free. All of a sudden none of those expectations, none of those horrifying tiny boxes people around me have always tried to fit me in did not matter anymore. On that plane or that strange city, surrounded by strangers, I was finally able to just be me. To be free.

The biggest realization traveling alone has given me, is that I can do this. I will get through and I will survive, whatever it is life throws at me. I will never be what other people expect me to be, so I might as well just follow my heart and do what I feel is right. The world is a magnificent, interesting and beautiful place, and I intend to see as much of it as I possibly can. Even if it means I’m seeing it alone.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Just Chasing a Photograph in the USA

I used to be a jet-setting executive who had the world at her feet. Nowadays, I travel because my three daughters live in different cities around the world: Seattle (next, San Francisco), Calgary, and Manila (London before, Melbourne next). Recently, my career-oriented middle daughter Claudine needed help. For the fifth time after I retired, I flew to Canada to take care of three young ones.

“We can go to Yoho and Kootenay in B.C., our chance to complete the quad parks named the World Heritage Site of the Canadian Rockies,” I convinced my husband, Bill. On the third weekend, I squeezed in a visit to the new Glacier Skywalk on the Columbia Icefields between Banff and Jasper, the two in Alberta we had visited earlier.

The only downside was driving the same section of the Trans-Canada Highway six more times. Sure enough, on the road to Yoho, I dozed off. Bill missed my chatter, nudging me, “Hey, sleepyhead, I bought you some Cheetos!” In a jiffy, the bag of my favorite cheesy crunchies was gone. I should have been upset he spoiled my beauty nap. Instead, I thanked him.

Between mouthfuls, I caught a glimpse of a scene that would haunt me. A lone red car seemed to rise on the road, driving straight into an enormous glacier-draped mountain. It vanished in a second. “I want that photograph!” whispered my heart. Staying glued to the windshield, soon a second chance came. Alas, the car was black, and the road was flat.

Photos of lovely sights around Yoho did not get my mind off that scene: Marble Canyon, Painted Pots, Sinclair Canyon, and Radium’s Hot Springs and bighorn sheep around town. The following Saturday, I was back with a vengeance. It didn’t take long and another such scene appeared. The mountain was even more majestic. But the car, being white, disappeared into the mist. Again, there was no road rise. I cried, “Can we just stage something?” Bill had one word, “Patience!”

Other photo-ops were on the road. An enormous yellow truck blazoned against the grays. White clouds cavorted with ice-lined pointed peaks. A multi-colored train ruffled through the Rockies’ skirts. Cute, curvy twin bridges punctuated the highway humdrum. Once in a while, a red-roofed cabin enlivened the greens. Around Kootenay, there was more: the Spiral Train, Emerald Lake, Natural Bridge, and the towns of Field and Golden. Still, I wanted that photo.

On the third weekend, the weather was itself, taking a sudden nasty turn. We proceeded and stayed at Banff for the night, hoping it would clear the next day. It didn’t. I have been through Philippine storms, but snow takes me right inside a freezer. But I had to go. It was my last chance.

I started feeling hopeless, but a smile returned to my face when, at more than 6,000 feet high, frosty evergreen began to grace both sides of the road. I asked Bill to stop and stepped out. Wet fluffy things instantly brushed against my face. I “smelled” chestnuts roasting nearby. From inside the car, Bill took my photo of Christmas in June! Still, I longed for another photo.

At the Skywalk, it wasn’t a panorama of glistening glaciers but gray and gloom that greeted us. Making the best of a bad situation, I noticed that my outfit had come together: the red beanie I just bought at the Gift Shop and the red gloves, red scarf and black winter jacket Claudine lent me. Bill took off his gloves to freely fiddle with the Nikon and the slippery platform turned into MY catwalk. “Hurry up! My fingers are already frozen!” interrupted my trance. But by then, I had precious photos of a glamorous fashion model at 67. Still, it was THAT scene I wanted.

On the way home, I was nervous. Bill’s words rang loud in my ears, “It’s now or never.” And, just like that, it came. The car wasn’t red and low-lying clouds partly hid the mountain. But the road had a slight rise, creating the magical effect I saw the first time. All the way home, a contest of who can give the best caption for the photo produced: “Into the Clouds”, “Into the Unknown”, and “Beyond the Ordinary.”

The grandkids hugged me tight as Claudine asked, “Is photography a new career?” I explained that the job I love most is that of a traveling Grandnanny. It doesn’t matter how many times I go back to a place. It’s the people that count. It doesn’t matter if I drive the same old familiar highway. Something else will catch my fancy. I am free to be with whomever I want, drive to wherever I please, and listen to whatever my heart whispers, even if it’s just chasing a photograph.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Free-falling to Freedom in Brazil

2010 was not my year; free-falling since 2009 from successful Customer Service Manager, rising rapidly through the ranks to redundant job seeker, an anonymous face caught up in the tsunami of unemployment as Australia was hit by the Global Economic Crisis. At the same time I went from being married, in love and planning a much dreamed of family, to separated and fighting in vein to save my marriage as my husband set up a cozy new life with his secret lover. Spiralling further and further downwards towards rock bottom, alone, jobless, heartbroken and without spousal support, I finally crash landed; in bankruptcy.

Well, the good thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only way is up!
I had a dream; to salvage the last shred of my life plan, stop the free-falling and move to Brazil!

Sure it would not be as a family unit and I would no longer be cocooned in the secure embrace of the upper middle class lifestyle my in-laws had offered, but the challenge gave me renewed purpose and hope. Still longing for a baby, I discovered that even singles can be eligible to adopt in Brazil, this became my beacon of hope, the driving force to follow my dreams and never give up, no matter what challenges lay ahead.

Simply affording the airfare seemed impossible, a pipe dream, but where there is a will there is a way and by selling almost all my worldly goods on eBay I did it. With enough spare funds to survive on a shoestring for around 12 weeks, it was make or break to find a job in that time.

With a mix of excitement and fear, armed only with a basic knowledge of Portuguese, a passion for Brazilian music and a few Capoeira moves up my sleeve, I flew off into the unknown.

My heart pulled me towards the state of Bahia, and after three bus trips totalling about 35 hours, I made it to Salvador early on a January morning in 2011.  I found a room in the heart of historic, sometimes dangerous and above all picturesque, Pelourinho for around USD$13 a night and there I began to live my dream.

My life story was a tapestry of hopes and dreams interwoven thread by thread with heartache and loss; thankfully I have a strong, independent core which worked like a flint to the sparks of freedom and adventure that came as each new stitch was sewn, thus fuelling the fire to survive here that burns deep inside me to this day.

I trod along the ancient cobbled streets, moving to the beat of drums, drinking in the sight of beautiful coloured buildings, and visiting the statue of Zumbi dos Palmares (an important figure in Capoeira) to sing to him and ask for guidance.

New found freedom combined with faith in my decision felled any remaining fear, my soul felt like it had come home. Against the odds I found a job with only days to go before my funds ran out, that dogged determination had paid it’s dividends. Sure, I was as poor as a church mouse, earning minimum wage of around USD$300 a month, but I was on my way!

From there the path has not been paved with gold, I have followed the paupers trail strewn with rocks, stumbled many times, scraped my knees and lived on the proverbial smell of an oily rag, sometimes in areas not too many steps above the poverty line but I have continued on my journey; a relentless dream catcher.

The experiences have been worth the struggles; I have seen sights both beautiful and historic that I could never have imagined, undertaken voluntary work with some amazing musicians which lead me to promote local Brazilian music to the world, something that became my soul food in this new life, and to top things off I have met so many diverse and wonderful people.

Living without mod cons; cold water showers, no washing machine, no oven, no fridge, no car, no TV, sometimes even no bed, brings sharply into focus what truly matters in life and those material items don’t even make the list! I have often had next to nothing in Brazil, but my life has been richer. Richer in experiences, richer in culture, richer in friendships.

My advice to those reading is, if you are struggling there is hope! Fears can be conquered, lows turned into highs and if you feel like running away, then sprint towards your dreams. Freedom is through that door you see just ahead, you hold the key so put it in the lock and walk through to the life that you dream of for yourself! As for me, I’m now applying to be a citizen of my new homeland; watch this space.

NB: Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

An Amazing Underwater paradise in Mexico

Grains of sand as soft and fine as powdery snow covered my toes as I tried to name all of the different shades of neon blue in the water. Turquoise, Aquamarine, Slate, Navy, Cerulean, Azure, Cornflower, Tiffany Blue. Sails on the yachts in front of me fluttered in the light sea breeze and the smell of coconut oil wafted by. Juice dripped down my fingers as I took a bite of the fresh cut pineapple. I was on the island paradise of Isla Mujeres in the Mexican Caribbean and I was in tears.

Down by the Belize border I burst into tears in Mahahual, swinging on a hammock suspended above the water. The sea was so clear that I could see the trumpet fish zig-zagging below me and even distinguish the individual grains in the rippled sand below. After that I cried at Santa Fe beach in Tulum, tears sliding down my face and into the fresh coconut I was drinking with a straw as I gazed up at the Mayan ruins on the cliff above.

A newly certified Dive Instructor, I’d been planning this move to the tropics for two years. I’d quit my job, gotten rid of my furniture, told my friends goodbye and made no promises to return. Now here I was in tropical paradise wondering if I could ask my Dad to stay in his spare room for a few months while I sorted my life out. Because my move to paradise was not going as planned.

The tourists around me were having a great time. They were on holiday, having adventures. I would come back to the hostel exhausted from a day walking in the blistering heat, hunting for a job and an apartment. Every day the tourists went swimming with whale sharks. Every day I followed false leads and faced new rejections.

Everything on the streets seemed strange. A man on a tricycle circled town with a loudspeaker blaring “…windows, refrigerators, doors, all you need, tables, chimneys, bathtubs, call me,” followed by a phone number. An eight year old boy leaned out of a truck window to wolf whistle at me. A woman tried to sell me a hand puppet shaped like a chicken.

“What is this place?” I called my Dad for advice. “I’m so tired, I don’t know if I can do this!”

“I have no doubt that you can make a life for yourself anywhere in the world,” my Dad said. “You’ve done it before.”

“I know I can make it here,” I said. “But I don’t know if I want to!”

“Give it another week.”

The next week I got a call from a dive shop offering me an instructor position. “It’s only confirmed for two months,” my new boss said, “but if it works out then you can stay through high season. The catch is that you’ll need to house-sit the apartment above the dive shop until we get the hurricane shutters installed. I hope that we can work this out.”

Needless to say, I took the job and the beachfront apartment. As soon as I was in the ocean I was in charge again; teaching people to breathe underwater, calming their fears about the equipment and the environment, introducing them to the reef ecosystem. I love taking people underwater for the first time, to see them experience the thrill of flying above the corals or encounter a creature that they didn’t even know existed. To see them face to face with a giant turtle, inside a tornado school of giant trevally, or hovering in place while manta rays do flips around them.

Life on land is still confusing, but I’m not crying anymore. I’m settling in to my new town and I’m enjoying the slow pace of life in the tropics. But underwater I have my freedom. The environment is so foreign that you can’t help but immerse yourself in the experience. You can’t feel tears underwater, you’re already totally wet.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

2016-07-08-06-57-09-1-300x300Instilling Comfortable Respect in the Philippines

The chorus of cascading waters was music to my ears as it dropped down from varying heights into an aquamarine pool. The sound mimics the sound of rain. The rhythm complements the magnificent and unadulterated view of water streaming onto rock walls and plants, giving off a thin cloud of droplets at the base of the waterfalls. This is Tinago Falls in Iligan City, Philippines. Its beauty is well hidden within the rainforest of the province hence the name “tinago”, a Filipino word that means hidden. As I stood there mesmerized by its beauty, I heaved a sigh of relief. I have finally conquered it but, unlike Tinago Falls, I need not hide because I am free.

Living in a country of diverse cultures, these diversity creates gaps in understanding that eventually leads to misconceptions. These questions in faith and beliefs, often fueled by ignorance, give birth to generalizations and bigotry. The news of tragic events happening in different parts of the world, often associated with our Muslim brothers, do not help in easing out these tensions. The Philippines, being predominantly of Christian faith, is not free from this imbalance. As most of our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters are concentrated in Mindanao, the island is still a subject that sometimes instills fear among many Filipinos. There are places that are “off-limits” in the minds of most Filipinos because it is tagged as “dangerous”.

A recent unplanned visit to Iligan City gave me the opportunity to open the mind of my 8 year old daughter on the importance of accepting diversity. It was our first time in the city and our plan was to visit the 3 of its 24 waterfalls. As we only had a couple of hours to go around, we had to hire a “habal-habal”, a motorcycle where we had to squeeze in three people and the driver, to get us around faster. It was another first for us. I had to explain to my daughter that this was the mode of public transportation in most Philippine provinces.

She was quick to notice that there were a lot of Muslims during our quick tour. She was able to identify them because of the way they dressed. She was used to the city where people dressed in a certain fashion and she saw how different this was in Iligan City. At one point, she asked me why people dressed that way.

I saw this as an opportunity to explain to her the rich and diverse culture of the Philippines. I explained to her that they were our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters. They believe in Allah and they practice their Islam faith so they have their own culture that they are proud of, and that includes the way they dress. I had to make her understand that despite these differences we were all Filipinos and should respect each other. She will meet a lot of Filipino Muslims as she grows up and will have a deeper understanding of their culture, both in our travels and in school. What is important was for her to open her mind and accept these differences just like the way she does with her friends in school. At that point, a young Muslim lady walked past our table and smiled at her to which she my daughter returned the favor.

At that point, I knew that she was on her way to understanding the lessons of cultural diversity.

As our world gets smaller with technology, it is very important to keep in mind that it will open us to the cultural exchanges from the different regions of the world. Most of these beliefs and practices may be similar and there will be a few that may contradict our very own. These exchanges will also open us to preconceived ideas and branding that can result to indifferences and, in some cases, can even lead to hate. We cannot allow these notions to affect the way we think about others because of their cultural background, their faith, the color of their skin, or the way they dress.

I find my freedom when I travel. Each destination is a new learning experience. Traveling introduced me to the different cultures and practices that makes the Philippines unique. It gave me the opportunity to help others understand the uniqueness of each culture paving the way for acceptance, just like what happened between me and my daughter during our trip in Mindanao. Traveling freed me from clutches of ignorance and taught me to respect the diversity that is present among us.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

The Inward Journey to Freedom in the US

By age fourteen I had been to twenty seven countries and four continents. How much more free could I be? Back then, life was much simpler. At twenty six years old, I’ve independently added four more countries. I had the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want, but there was something significantly different between traveling with my parents and traveling alone as an adult. Until a few years ago, I realized I was emotionally caged; trapped in heartaches, insecurities and self-loathing. Let me tell you a story of a traveler who never truly traveled until she started exploring an inward journey into herself.

I awoke, I gently began to open my eyes knowing there was no rush for anything. I graduated college, I had no job and no direction, but worst of all, I had no passion. I felt nothing and everything all at the same time. It was winter in Massachusetts and everything was dead, which is exactly how I felt. Every day it was cold and gray outside and my ribcage would tremble, trying to salvage the very last colors inside of me. Days were long and nights were longer.

Every phone call I’d bite my cheeks and pray that desperation could not be heard. I didn’t know how to ask for help, as I choked on words I could not speak. Everyone’s advice was so cliché and bland, “talk to someone, exercise, eat well, go out and meet people.” As if the simple act of getting out of bed was easy for me. When I would gather enough strength to walk to the bathroom, I’d brush my teeth with a soft gaze, avoiding all eye contact with a ghost.

She wasn’t scary but she sure wasn’t pretty. She was pale with swollen eye lids, peeled lips and bleeding finger tips. She was trapped in her own world, bruising her hands against her concrete walls, wishing somebody would save her. I used to think she was quite pathetic, but when I chose to fall in love with her, was the moment I chose to fall in love with myself.

I was tired and I was through with devaluing myself. I frantically opened my laptop and typed the first words that came to mind, “Kripalu”, the School of Yoga and Health. I had taken all of one class but that didn’t stop me. Yoga was expanding and teachers were in demand. Kripalu was only a few hours north so I signed up. A month later I was standing on the grounds where I took my first few breaths of fresh air.

I knew absolutely nothing of what yoga truly is. They stripped my judgments of bendy, skinny females wearing Lululemon. My god, yoga saved my life. Every day I cried. At first it was out of pain; reliving every moment someone took something from me, every moment I failed, disappointed, hurt and lied. They taught me to be strong in my vulnerability and supplied me with affirmations that helped heal me.

The skin I used to inflict pain upon through cigarettes and razors is the skin I now touch as if it were a lover who just told me they loved me too. I massaged my feet with gratitude for walking so steady on shaky grounds and I kissed my palms with forgiveness because sometimes I did not hold hearts with care. I looked all around and saw the greener side of the grass. I was liberated from my own perception of hell.   My inward journey was nearly complete.

Finally, a miracle; tears of happiness slid down my cheeks as I danced and held others and allowed myself to be held. I was reborn in the hands of loving, empathetic human beings that have felt how exhausted shoulders can get and how heavy hearts can be. My teachers taught me more than warrior pose, tree pose and eagle pose. They taught me how to be a warrior and enter my inner power. They taught me how to be a tree; to grow with sturdiness. They taught me how to be an eagle and fly in freedom.

I’ve felt the pain of my ancestors as I walked their graves touring the German holocaust camps. I’ve felt the love and nurture of those who’ve harvested life as I danced along the Balinese rice patties. I have hugged the Australian wild life and did the HAKA with one of New Zealand’s tribes. I have cried with Peru’s poor and laughed with their children. There’s a lot I’ve seen and a lot I haven’t, a lot I know and a lot I don’t. I’ve learned the final destination of freedom was never my plane ticket. The final destination of freedom was the only place I did not think to go and that was through an inward journey.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Why Did You Come to Japan?

There is a television show in Japan that airs every Monday called Why Did You Come to Japan? A Japanese camera crew stops foreigners arriving at Narita airport in Tokyo and asks them what the purpose is for their visit. My best friend’s dad told me about this show shortly after I arrived for my six-week stay at their house. He joked that I was there, “to sleep and fold laundry!”

That was partially true while I was recovering from the mysterious virus I contracted on the plane ride there. But when I wasn’t sleeping or folding laundry I was on a search. Although I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for at first, I’m certain I found it along the way.

I overcame fear. My journey began when I was forced to maneuver the Japanese train system. Exhausted from traveling for three days from my home in Indiana, my plane was diverted a couple hundred miles south from Tokyo to Osaka airport due to turbulence. There were no more flights so I had to take a train to find my host family in Tokyo. I was terrified at the idea of going alone, but I quickly made friends with the angel God placed in the seat beside me on the plane. We plotted, prayed, sweated, laughed and cried through the ordeal but we bravely made it to our destination together.

I taught. I packed a children’s devotional in my suitcase and read an English lesson with my friend’s nine-year-old son every morning. Not only did he get to practice his English skills, he also learned about Jesus. I learned many Japanese words in the process.

I explored. I had my own bicycle and ventured out almost daily, some days riding ten miles or more. I visited shopping centers, beautiful shrines, Starbucks and my favorite Italian restaurant. Since I had been forced to overcome my fear of working the train system upon arrival in Japan, I rode one alone to Harajuku in Tokyo from my friend’s house in Inage-Ku and visited the famous Meiji Jingu Shrine. There I found confidence, gratitude and peace.

I made new friends. I connected with the family who lived across the street from my host family. They took me on several outings including gorgeous flower gardens and a gigantic mall. One evening they invited me to their backyard BBQ. The entire family spoke fluent English, which was refreshing. And their three-year old grandson Yuto sang Row Row Row Your Boat to me in the sweetest little voice reminding me of my childhood and that we are all children at heart no matter where we live in the world.

I survived multiple earthquakes. As if the mysterious illness I contracted on my journey there was not enough, after I recovered I had to deal with my bed shaking uncontrollably on at least four occasions. They were low magnitude quakes but that was more earth shaking than I had experienced in my entire life up to that point.

I relaxed. I took hot baths at public Japanese spas and experienced a hot rock bed for the first time. I took naps in the afternoons. I read several books cover to cover. I sat in the park and people watched. I drank a lot of coffee and daydreamed. I learned to breathe again.

I ate. I enjoyed delicious meals prepared at home by my host family and I learned how to prepare many dishes myself. I cooked dinner for my friends on my last night and they actually enjoyed it! I ate homemade miso soup and rice every day and ice cream for dessert. I took myself out to restaurants. Pointing at pictures on the menu works just as well in Japan as it does at Denny’s!

I traveled. I flew to Okinawa for three nights with my friend on a girl’s only trip. We enjoyed hanging out on the beautiful beach, touring a pineapple park and winery, eating a lot of good food, revisiting my Fuguki Tree Road and just enjoying quality time together.

I worshipped. I visited a Christian church on my last full Sunday in Japan where I prayed with a congregation full of Japanese Christians. They spoke a different language than me but together we worshipped the same God. I thanked Him for blessing me so much with the gift of such an amazing adventure in this wondrous country.

I may have slept and folded a lot of laundry but I did manage to do many wonderful things. I overcame fear in the process and I left behind anxiety that I brought to Japan with me. I slept in the top bunk and gazed at the glowing stars on the wall papered ceiling as I drifted off to sleep every night. I became physically active again. I bicycled. I kayaked. I even participated in a tug of war contest. I learned patience and endurance in ways I never experienced before. I learned that people everywhere are the same on the inside. And I thanked God for blessing me so much in life.

To simply answer the question, “Why did you come to Japan?”

I went to Japan to find freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

sky-500x500Hard fought Journeys to a Satisfied Freedom in the Philippines

When I saw the theme of this article writing contest, I remember a quote I have encountered before. The quote says “Learn the rules. Then break some”. It might sound rebellious to some but for me, I think of it as another way of saying you fight for your journeys freedom.

I believe there are different kinds of freedom each and every one of us is looking for. We all wanted to be free, free from the things that we think are holding us back from living the life we desire. We want to move away from what are bothering us, hurting us, our struggles, this is what being free might be for each of us. But where and when do we find our freedom? How do we fight for it? How can we say we feel free?

Speaking for myself, I still find me being stuck from where I am now. I feel like I’m still bounded with all the responsibilities I have for my Family. Still bounded from thinking about the approval of my society on how I should be living my life. But all of these things including self doubt and fear disappear whenever I am travelling alone in an unfamiliar territory.

When I get out there, I always choose to leave the things that are bringing me down. I clear my head from them. Yes, I am trying to run away from them and be free from them even for a while because this is where and when I find my freedom from what I think is a cruel reality.

I used to travel with people I know and used to be closed to me but it made a difference to see how free I can feel when I did a trip alone. During these journeys I learned how to decide everything for myself, which I think is one way of exercising my freedom. I usually make my own itinerary based on the information I get from travel blogs but there are times that I do not follow it and decide to get lost. I feel like I can afford to see the places where some do not go. I am free to explore. I am not bound by any box or circle.

From these travels I learned to be free from judgement and doubts. I started to convince myself to trust people who are very unfamiliar to me, who I just met or encountered at the moment. At these moments I do not have any thoughts to make me run from people I do not know. I invite them to be part of my new circle instead.

The best freedom I get from these experiences is that I am freely me. Everything is me. I am allowed to be myself. I open up myself to new territories, new people and new learning. I do not have to worry about being out of my usual comfort zone. I do not feel any pain. I am releasing my inner bravery and last but not the least I am free to hope without a limit. The hope that will give me strength to face every obstacle and struggles to achieve the life I have always been dreaming. A life where I get to have the freedom to be independent and to be myself whenever, wherever.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Freedom When an Amazing Life Flys Away in the US

It was three summers ago and I had just flown from Kauai to Portland, OR to be with my boyfriend after months of being apart. Everything was finally looking up, after going through hardships during my travels on the islands. I was exactly where I wanted to be.

I remember how exciting it was to feel the cool, crisp NW air and to see Portland for the first time. The city was coming alive, people were buzzing on the streets, cafés were clamoring with business, I had made it.
My boyfriend and I had driven down to his family farm in Dallas, OR, a small town in a valley at the edge of the Coast Range Mountains. The farm is a hundred years old and sits on seventy acres of open land, filled with fruit trees and a rambling river. If anything, my time in Oregon was only getting better.

However, three days into my trip, I received a phone call from my Aunt Lorie whom never calls. A red flag went up as I answered. “Your grandma is in hospice…” My heart sank into my chest as I heard these words. I had spoken to my grandmother occasionally throughout the past year but, it wasn’t enough. She was the woman who raised me from toddler to adult, she was my hero. I should have been more present.

I was feeling all sorts of emotions, but mostly sadness and despair that I wasn’t a car ride away. In fact, I was on the opposite end of the country, at least an eight-hour flight from home. Feeling helpless and confused, I continued my day, beneath a cloud. I was awaiting answers to my prayers. I prayed to my mother, whom passed away when I was two. I sought advice on the situation, if I should continue my trip or fly home. The following morning my prayer was answered in the form of a Robin bird who landed in front of me in between two large oak trees. My mother’s name was Robin. In that moment I felt a sigh of relief that even through difficulty, things can still make sense.

A couple more days had passed with no improvements to my grandmother’s health. Yet, I decided to remain in Oregon. We had made our way to the coast which is my favorite place to be. Throughout the days I had been given small universal signs that everything was going to be okay. I felt a little more at ease.

Throughout my travels I had picked up a used book called, The Invitation. At the end of every chapter the author asks the reader to write short exercises. They are based on looking inwards. Like most books I read, I found that every time I flipped the page, it was more and more relevant to my current situation. This time, the exercise was to write down ‘what I need and what I need from others’. I jotted down the answers in my journal and put it away. The following day would be pivotal.
In the afternoon my boyfriend and I found ourselves in a state park situated on the central coast. We climbed a sand dune to check the surf. It was small but looked worthwhile, so we grabbed our boards and ran to the water. It was a beautiful, sunny day. No one was around. We had this place to ourselves. I caught some really fun little peeling waves. This was my perfect moment.

When I got out of my wetsuit and changed into dry clothes, I grabbed my journal and climbed up a sand dune that overlooked the vast, glistening Pacific. I was in my peaceful place. Because I hadn’t had time the previous day to finish my journal entry, I did so on the dune. When I finished writing I sent my needs and needs of others into the universe. “I need Bubee to know that my brothers and I will be okay without her.” “I need Bubee to know that she is free to leave her body and to find her freedom.” I felt so relieved and uplifted from partaking in this exercise.

When I got back to the car I checked my phone; a missed call from my aunt. Before I listened to the message, I knew what I’d hear. And when I officially heard the words, tears fell from my eyes, but they were mostly tears of joy. I never thought I’d feel that way about my grandmothers passing. But, I couldn’t deny the sequence of events that occurred. I knew deep in my heart that someone was watching over us. She had passed when I was doing what I love most; surfing and traveling. And in that realization I too found my freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Interesting Strangers in transit through the USA

I used to dread traveling alone. I mean lets’ face it, sitting alone at an airport waiting for a flight, exhausted, trying to avoid talking to strangers you simply do not have the energy to communicate with is no one’s favorite pastime. At least not mine. I used to find it awkward, like all the other passengers were staring at me, judging me because I did not have a group of friends or family around me. Sometimes I was judging myself too, wondering what on earth was I doing, spending my time at yet another airport in the middle of nowhere, going to a city I had never been to before, only to wander around all by myself, since clearly I did not know anyone there. My family and friends, whom I gladly would have welcomed with me on my adventures but who unfortunately were not very keen on traveling with me, kept asking why I was going where I was going, with who, and every time I replied “alone”, they looked at me like I had gone nuts. Why would you travel somewhere you’ve never been to and know nothing about, completely alone, for no apparent reason? Yes, there were times when I myself questioned my sanity.

But there is a flipside to wandering around in a strange city all by yourself. It’s refreshing. Fascinating. Freeing. Empowering even. Watching the waves on the beach of Wilmington, admiring wonderful art and beautiful old buildings in Boston or sipping morning coffee at Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Thinking back, I don’t remember being lonely. I don’t remember feeling awkward or out of place. No, thinking back just makes me smile. What I remember is the warm wind and the salty smell of the ocean; the music, and the laughter; the smell of the coffee, the orchestra playing and how much I loved that little pink house with a porch full of colorful flowers. The interesting conversation with that silly old grandpa at the diner, or that kind stranger letting me crash on his couch when things went wrong in El Paso and I had nowhere to spend the night. I remember that time I randomly stumbled into a dive bar to see a band somewhere in Wisconsin, and ended up spending the next week hanging out with them, selling merchandise at a festival and sipping margaritas by the pool, having the time of my life. I remember all those fascinating, devastating and heart-warming life stories of strangers I met in passing, and all those moments I would not change for the world. And most of all I remember feeling stronger, more confident. I remember feeling free. All of a sudden none of those expectations, none of those horrifying tiny boxes people around me have always tried to fit me in did not matter anymore. On that plane or that strange city, surrounded by strangers, I was finally able to just be me. To be free.

The biggest realization traveling alone has given me, is that I can do this. I will get through and I will survive, whatever it is life throws at me. I will never be what other people expect me to be, so I might as well just follow my heart and do what I feel is right. The world is a magnificent, interesting and beautiful place, and I intend to see as much of it as I possibly can. Even if it means I’m seeing it alone.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Just Chasing a Photograph in the USA

I used to be a jet-setting executive who had the world at her feet. Nowadays, I travel because my three daughters live in different cities around the world: Seattle (next, San Francisco), Calgary, and Manila (London before, Melbourne next). Recently, my career-oriented middle daughter Claudine needed help. For the fifth time after I retired, I flew to Canada to take care of three young ones.

“We can go to Yoho and Kootenay in B.C., our chance to complete the quad parks named the World Heritage Site of the Canadian Rockies,” I convinced my husband, Bill. On the third weekend, I squeezed in a visit to the new Glacier Skywalk on the Columbia Icefields between Banff and Jasper, the two in Alberta we had visited earlier.

The only downside was driving the same section of the Trans-Canada Highway six more times. Sure enough, on the road to Yoho, I dozed off. Bill missed my chatter, nudging me, “Hey, sleepyhead, I bought you some Cheetos!” In a jiffy, the bag of my favorite cheesy crunchies was gone. I should have been upset he spoiled my beauty nap. Instead, I thanked him.

Between mouthfuls, I caught a glimpse of a scene that would haunt me. A lone red car seemed to rise on the road, driving straight into an enormous glacier-draped mountain. It vanished in a second. “I want that photograph!” whispered my heart. Staying glued to the windshield, soon a second chance came. Alas, the car was black, and the road was flat.

Photos of lovely sights around Yoho did not get my mind off that scene: Marble Canyon, Painted Pots, Sinclair Canyon, and Radium’s Hot Springs and bighorn sheep around town. The following Saturday, I was back with a vengeance. It didn’t take long and another such scene appeared. The mountain was even more majestic. But the car, being white, disappeared into the mist. Again, there was no road rise. I cried, “Can we just stage something?” Bill had one word, “Patience!”

Other photo-ops were on the road. An enormous yellow truck blazoned against the grays. White clouds cavorted with ice-lined pointed peaks. A multi-colored train ruffled through the Rockies’ skirts. Cute, curvy twin bridges punctuated the highway humdrum. Once in a while, a red-roofed cabin enlivened the greens. Around Kootenay, there was more: the Spiral Train, Emerald Lake, Natural Bridge, and the towns of Field and Golden. Still, I wanted that photo.

On the third weekend, the weather was itself, taking a sudden nasty turn. We proceeded and stayed at Banff for the night, hoping it would clear the next day. It didn’t. I have been through Philippine storms, but snow takes me right inside a freezer. But I had to go. It was my last chance.

I started feeling hopeless, but a smile returned to my face when, at more than 6,000 feet high, frosty evergreen began to grace both sides of the road. I asked Bill to stop and stepped out. Wet fluffy things instantly brushed against my face. I “smelled” chestnuts roasting nearby. From inside the car, Bill took my photo of Christmas in June! Still, I longed for another photo.

At the Skywalk, it wasn’t a panorama of glistening glaciers but gray and gloom that greeted us. Making the best of a bad situation, I noticed that my outfit had come together: the red beanie I just bought at the Gift Shop and the red gloves, red scarf and black winter jacket Claudine lent me. Bill took off his gloves to freely fiddle with the Nikon and the slippery platform turned into MY catwalk. “Hurry up! My fingers are already frozen!” interrupted my trance. But by then, I had precious photos of a glamorous fashion model at 67. Still, it was THAT scene I wanted.

On the way home, I was nervous. Bill’s words rang loud in my ears, “It’s now or never.” And, just like that, it came. The car wasn’t red and low-lying clouds partly hid the mountain. But the road had a slight rise, creating the magical effect I saw the first time. All the way home, a contest of who can give the best caption for the photo produced: “Into the Clouds”, “Into the Unknown”, and “Beyond the Ordinary.”

The grandkids hugged me tight as Claudine asked, “Is photography a new career?” I explained that the job I love most is that of a traveling Grandnanny. It doesn’t matter how many times I go back to a place. It’s the people that count. It doesn’t matter if I drive the same old familiar highway. Something else will catch my fancy. I am free to be with whomever I want, drive to wherever I please, and listen to whatever my heart whispers, even if it’s just chasing a photograph.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Free-falling to Freedom in Brazil

2010 was not my year; free-falling since 2009 from successful Customer Service Manager, rising rapidly through the ranks to redundant job seeker, an anonymous face caught up in the tsunami of unemployment as Australia was hit by the Global Economic Crisis. At the same time I went from being married, in love and planning a much dreamed of family, to separated and fighting in vein to save my marriage as my husband set up a cozy new life with his secret lover. Spiralling further and further downwards towards rock bottom, alone, jobless, heartbroken and without spousal support, I finally crash landed; in bankruptcy.

Well, the good thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only way is up!
I had a dream; to salvage the last shred of my life plan, stop the free-falling and move to Brazil!

Sure it would not be as a family unit and I would no longer be cocooned in the secure embrace of the upper middle class lifestyle my in-laws had offered, but the challenge gave me renewed purpose and hope. Still longing for a baby, I discovered that even singles can be eligible to adopt in Brazil, this became my beacon of hope, the driving force to follow my dreams and never give up, no matter what challenges lay ahead.

Simply affording the airfare seemed impossible, a pipe dream, but where there is a will there is a way and by selling almost all my worldly goods on eBay I did it. With enough spare funds to survive on a shoestring for around 12 weeks, it was make or break to find a job in that time.

With a mix of excitement and fear, armed only with a basic knowledge of Portuguese, a passion for Brazilian music and a few Capoeira moves up my sleeve, I flew off into the unknown.

My heart pulled me towards the state of Bahia, and after three bus trips totalling about 35 hours, I made it to Salvador early on a January morning in 2011.  I found a room in the heart of historic, sometimes dangerous and above all picturesque, Pelourinho for around USD$13 a night and there I began to live my dream.

My life story was a tapestry of hopes and dreams interwoven thread by thread with heartache and loss; thankfully I have a strong, independent core which worked like a flint to the sparks of freedom and adventure that came as each new stitch was sewn, thus fuelling the fire to survive here that burns deep inside me to this day.

I trod along the ancient cobbled streets, moving to the beat of drums, drinking in the sight of beautiful coloured buildings, and visiting the statue of Zumbi dos Palmares (an important figure in Capoeira) to sing to him and ask for guidance.

New found freedom combined with faith in my decision felled any remaining fear, my soul felt like it had come home. Against the odds I found a job with only days to go before my funds ran out, that dogged determination had paid it’s dividends. Sure, I was as poor as a church mouse, earning minimum wage of around USD$300 a month, but I was on my way!

From there the path has not been paved with gold, I have followed the paupers trail strewn with rocks, stumbled many times, scraped my knees and lived on the proverbial smell of an oily rag, sometimes in areas not too many steps above the poverty line but I have continued on my journey; a relentless dream catcher.

The experiences have been worth the struggles; I have seen sights both beautiful and historic that I could never have imagined, undertaken voluntary work with some amazing musicians which lead me to promote local Brazilian music to the world, something that became my soul food in this new life, and to top things off I have met so many diverse and wonderful people.

Living without mod cons; cold water showers, no washing machine, no oven, no fridge, no car, no TV, sometimes even no bed, brings sharply into focus what truly matters in life and those material items don’t even make the list! I have often had next to nothing in Brazil, but my life has been richer. Richer in experiences, richer in culture, richer in friendships.

My advice to those reading is, if you are struggling there is hope! Fears can be conquered, lows turned into highs and if you feel like running away, then sprint towards your dreams. Freedom is through that door you see just ahead, you hold the key so put it in the lock and walk through to the life that you dream of for yourself! As for me, I’m now applying to be a citizen of my new homeland; watch this space.

NB: Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

An Amazing Underwater paradise in Mexico

Grains of sand as soft and fine as powdery snow covered my toes as I tried to name all of the different shades of neon blue in the water. Turquoise, Aquamarine, Slate, Navy, Cerulean, Azure, Cornflower, Tiffany Blue. Sails on the yachts in front of me fluttered in the light sea breeze and the smell of coconut oil wafted by. Juice dripped down my fingers as I took a bite of the fresh cut pineapple. I was on the island paradise of Isla Mujeres in the Mexican Caribbean and I was in tears.

Down by the Belize border I burst into tears in Mahahual, swinging on a hammock suspended above the water. The sea was so clear that I could see the trumpet fish zig-zagging below me and even distinguish the individual grains in the rippled sand below. After that I cried at Santa Fe beach in Tulum, tears sliding down my face and into the fresh coconut I was drinking with a straw as I gazed up at the Mayan ruins on the cliff above.

A newly certified Dive Instructor, I’d been planning this move to the tropics for two years. I’d quit my job, gotten rid of my furniture, told my friends goodbye and made no promises to return. Now here I was in tropical paradise wondering if I could ask my Dad to stay in his spare room for a few months while I sorted my life out. Because my move to paradise was not going as planned.

The tourists around me were having a great time. They were on holiday, having adventures. I would come back to the hostel exhausted from a day walking in the blistering heat, hunting for a job and an apartment. Every day the tourists went swimming with whale sharks. Every day I followed false leads and faced new rejections.

Everything on the streets seemed strange. A man on a tricycle circled town with a loudspeaker blaring “…windows, refrigerators, doors, all you need, tables, chimneys, bathtubs, call me,” followed by a phone number. An eight year old boy leaned out of a truck window to wolf whistle at me. A woman tried to sell me a hand puppet shaped like a chicken.

“What is this place?” I called my Dad for advice. “I’m so tired, I don’t know if I can do this!”

“I have no doubt that you can make a life for yourself anywhere in the world,” my Dad said. “You’ve done it before.”

“I know I can make it here,” I said. “But I don’t know if I want to!”

“Give it another week.”

The next week I got a call from a dive shop offering me an instructor position. “It’s only confirmed for two months,” my new boss said, “but if it works out then you can stay through high season. The catch is that you’ll need to house-sit the apartment above the dive shop until we get the hurricane shutters installed. I hope that we can work this out.”

Needless to say, I took the job and the beachfront apartment. As soon as I was in the ocean I was in charge again; teaching people to breathe underwater, calming their fears about the equipment and the environment, introducing them to the reef ecosystem. I love taking people underwater for the first time, to see them experience the thrill of flying above the corals or encounter a creature that they didn’t even know existed. To see them face to face with a giant turtle, inside a tornado school of giant trevally, or hovering in place while manta rays do flips around them.

Life on land is still confusing, but I’m not crying anymore. I’m settling in to my new town and I’m enjoying the slow pace of life in the tropics. But underwater I have my freedom. The environment is so foreign that you can’t help but immerse yourself in the experience. You can’t feel tears underwater, you’re already totally wet.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

2016-07-08-06-57-09-1-300x300Instilling Comfortable Respect in the Philippines

The chorus of cascading waters was music to my ears as it dropped down from varying heights into an aquamarine pool. The sound mimics the sound of rain. The rhythm complements the magnificent and unadulterated view of water streaming onto rock walls and plants, giving off a thin cloud of droplets at the base of the waterfalls. This is Tinago Falls in Iligan City, Philippines. Its beauty is well hidden within the rainforest of the province hence the name “tinago”, a Filipino word that means hidden. As I stood there mesmerized by its beauty, I heaved a sigh of relief. I have finally conquered it but, unlike Tinago Falls, I need not hide because I am free.

Living in a country of diverse cultures, these diversity creates gaps in understanding that eventually leads to misconceptions. These questions in faith and beliefs, often fueled by ignorance, give birth to generalizations and bigotry. The news of tragic events happening in different parts of the world, often associated with our Muslim brothers, do not help in easing out these tensions. The Philippines, being predominantly of Christian faith, is not free from this imbalance. As most of our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters are concentrated in Mindanao, the island is still a subject that sometimes instills fear among many Filipinos. There are places that are “off-limits” in the minds of most Filipinos because it is tagged as “dangerous”.

A recent unplanned visit to Iligan City gave me the opportunity to open the mind of my 8 year old daughter on the importance of accepting diversity. It was our first time in the city and our plan was to visit the 3 of its 24 waterfalls. As we only had a couple of hours to go around, we had to hire a “habal-habal”, a motorcycle where we had to squeeze in three people and the driver, to get us around faster. It was another first for us. I had to explain to my daughter that this was the mode of public transportation in most Philippine provinces.

She was quick to notice that there were a lot of Muslims during our quick tour. She was able to identify them because of the way they dressed. She was used to the city where people dressed in a certain fashion and she saw how different this was in Iligan City. At one point, she asked me why people dressed that way.

I saw this as an opportunity to explain to her the rich and diverse culture of the Philippines. I explained to her that they were our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters. They believe in Allah and they practice their Islam faith so they have their own culture that they are proud of, and that includes the way they dress. I had to make her understand that despite these differences we were all Filipinos and should respect each other. She will meet a lot of Filipino Muslims as she grows up and will have a deeper understanding of their culture, both in our travels and in school. What is important was for her to open her mind and accept these differences just like the way she does with her friends in school. At that point, a young Muslim lady walked past our table and smiled at her to which she my daughter returned the favor.

At that point, I knew that she was on her way to understanding the lessons of cultural diversity.

As our world gets smaller with technology, it is very important to keep in mind that it will open us to the cultural exchanges from the different regions of the world. Most of these beliefs and practices may be similar and there will be a few that may contradict our very own. These exchanges will also open us to preconceived ideas and branding that can result to indifferences and, in some cases, can even lead to hate. We cannot allow these notions to affect the way we think about others because of their cultural background, their faith, the color of their skin, or the way they dress.

I find my freedom when I travel. Each destination is a new learning experience. Traveling introduced me to the different cultures and practices that makes the Philippines unique. It gave me the opportunity to help others understand the uniqueness of each culture paving the way for acceptance, just like what happened between me and my daughter during our trip in Mindanao. Traveling freed me from clutches of ignorance and taught me to respect the diversity that is present among us.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

The Inward Journey to Freedom in the US

By age fourteen I had been to twenty seven countries and four continents. How much more free could I be? Back then, life was much simpler. At twenty six years old, I’ve independently added four more countries. I had the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want, but there was something significantly different between traveling with my parents and traveling alone as an adult. Until a few years ago, I realized I was emotionally caged; trapped in heartaches, insecurities and self-loathing. Let me tell you a story of a traveler who never truly traveled until she started exploring an inward journey into herself.

I awoke, I gently began to open my eyes knowing there was no rush for anything. I graduated college, I had no job and no direction, but worst of all, I had no passion. I felt nothing and everything all at the same time. It was winter in Massachusetts and everything was dead, which is exactly how I felt. Every day it was cold and gray outside and my ribcage would tremble, trying to salvage the very last colors inside of me. Days were long and nights were longer.

Every phone call I’d bite my cheeks and pray that desperation could not be heard. I didn’t know how to ask for help, as I choked on words I could not speak. Everyone’s advice was so cliché and bland, “talk to someone, exercise, eat well, go out and meet people.” As if the simple act of getting out of bed was easy for me. When I would gather enough strength to walk to the bathroom, I’d brush my teeth with a soft gaze, avoiding all eye contact with a ghost.

She wasn’t scary but she sure wasn’t pretty. She was pale with swollen eye lids, peeled lips and bleeding finger tips. She was trapped in her own world, bruising her hands against her concrete walls, wishing somebody would save her. I used to think she was quite pathetic, but when I chose to fall in love with her, was the moment I chose to fall in love with myself.

I was tired and I was through with devaluing myself. I frantically opened my laptop and typed the first words that came to mind, “Kripalu”, the School of Yoga and Health. I had taken all of one class but that didn’t stop me. Yoga was expanding and teachers were in demand. Kripalu was only a few hours north so I signed up. A month later I was standing on the grounds where I took my first few breaths of fresh air.

I knew absolutely nothing of what yoga truly is. They stripped my judgments of bendy, skinny females wearing Lululemon. My god, yoga saved my life. Every day I cried. At first it was out of pain; reliving every moment someone took something from me, every moment I failed, disappointed, hurt and lied. They taught me to be strong in my vulnerability and supplied me with affirmations that helped heal me.

The skin I used to inflict pain upon through cigarettes and razors is the skin I now touch as if it were a lover who just told me they loved me too. I massaged my feet with gratitude for walking so steady on shaky grounds and I kissed my palms with forgiveness because sometimes I did not hold hearts with care. I looked all around and saw the greener side of the grass. I was liberated from my own perception of hell.   My inward journey was nearly complete.

Finally, a miracle; tears of happiness slid down my cheeks as I danced and held others and allowed myself to be held. I was reborn in the hands of loving, empathetic human beings that have felt how exhausted shoulders can get and how heavy hearts can be. My teachers taught me more than warrior pose, tree pose and eagle pose. They taught me how to be a warrior and enter my inner power. They taught me how to be a tree; to grow with sturdiness. They taught me how to be an eagle and fly in freedom.

I’ve felt the pain of my ancestors as I walked their graves touring the German holocaust camps. I’ve felt the love and nurture of those who’ve harvested life as I danced along the Balinese rice patties. I have hugged the Australian wild life and did the HAKA with one of New Zealand’s tribes. I have cried with Peru’s poor and laughed with their children. There’s a lot I’ve seen and a lot I haven’t, a lot I know and a lot I don’t. I’ve learned the final destination of freedom was never my plane ticket. The final destination of freedom was the only place I did not think to go and that was through an inward journey.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Why Did You Come to Japan?

There is a television show in Japan that airs every Monday called Why Did You Come to Japan? A Japanese camera crew stops foreigners arriving at Narita airport in Tokyo and asks them what the purpose is for their visit. My best friend’s dad told me about this show shortly after I arrived for my six-week stay at their house. He joked that I was there, “to sleep and fold laundry!”

That was partially true while I was recovering from the mysterious virus I contracted on the plane ride there. But when I wasn’t sleeping or folding laundry I was on a search. Although I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for at first, I’m certain I found it along the way.

I overcame fear. My journey began when I was forced to maneuver the Japanese train system. Exhausted from traveling for three days from my home in Indiana, my plane was diverted a couple hundred miles south from Tokyo to Osaka airport due to turbulence. There were no more flights so I had to take a train to find my host family in Tokyo. I was terrified at the idea of going alone, but I quickly made friends with the angel God placed in the seat beside me on the plane. We plotted, prayed, sweated, laughed and cried through the ordeal but we bravely made it to our destination together.

I taught. I packed a children’s devotional in my suitcase and read an English lesson with my friend’s nine-year-old son every morning. Not only did he get to practice his English skills, he also learned about Jesus. I learned many Japanese words in the process.

I explored. I had my own bicycle and ventured out almost daily, some days riding ten miles or more. I visited shopping centers, beautiful shrines, Starbucks and my favorite Italian restaurant. Since I had been forced to overcome my fear of working the train system upon arrival in Japan, I rode one alone to Harajuku in Tokyo from my friend’s house in Inage-Ku and visited the famous Meiji Jingu Shrine. There I found confidence, gratitude and peace.

I made new friends. I connected with the family who lived across the street from my host family. They took me on several outings including gorgeous flower gardens and a gigantic mall. One evening they invited me to their backyard BBQ. The entire family spoke fluent English, which was refreshing. And their three-year old grandson Yuto sang Row Row Row Your Boat to me in the sweetest little voice reminding me of my childhood and that we are all children at heart no matter where we live in the world.

I survived multiple earthquakes. As if the mysterious illness I contracted on my journey there was not enough, after I recovered I had to deal with my bed shaking uncontrollably on at least four occasions. They were low magnitude quakes but that was more earth shaking than I had experienced in my entire life up to that point.

I relaxed. I took hot baths at public Japanese spas and experienced a hot rock bed for the first time. I took naps in the afternoons. I read several books cover to cover. I sat in the park and people watched. I drank a lot of coffee and daydreamed. I learned to breathe again.

I ate. I enjoyed delicious meals prepared at home by my host family and I learned how to prepare many dishes myself. I cooked dinner for my friends on my last night and they actually enjoyed it! I ate homemade miso soup and rice every day and ice cream for dessert. I took myself out to restaurants. Pointing at pictures on the menu works just as well in Japan as it does at Denny’s!

I traveled. I flew to Okinawa for three nights with my friend on a girl’s only trip. We enjoyed hanging out on the beautiful beach, touring a pineapple park and winery, eating a lot of good food, revisiting my Fuguki Tree Road and just enjoying quality time together.

I worshipped. I visited a Christian church on my last full Sunday in Japan where I prayed with a congregation full of Japanese Christians. They spoke a different language than me but together we worshipped the same God. I thanked Him for blessing me so much with the gift of such an amazing adventure in this wondrous country.

I may have slept and folded a lot of laundry but I did manage to do many wonderful things. I overcame fear in the process and I left behind anxiety that I brought to Japan with me. I slept in the top bunk and gazed at the glowing stars on the wall papered ceiling as I drifted off to sleep every night. I became physically active again. I bicycled. I kayaked. I even participated in a tug of war contest. I learned patience and endurance in ways I never experienced before. I learned that people everywhere are the same on the inside. And I thanked God for blessing me so much in life.

To simply answer the question, “Why did you come to Japan?”

I went to Japan to find freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

sky-500x500Hard fought Journeys to a Satisfied Freedom in the Philippines

When I saw the theme of this article writing contest, I remember a quote I have encountered before. The quote says “Learn the rules. Then break some”. It might sound rebellious to some but for me, I think of it as another way of saying you fight for your journeys freedom.

I believe there are different kinds of freedom each and every one of us is looking for. We all wanted to be free, free from the things that we think are holding us back from living the life we desire. We want to move away from what are bothering us, hurting us, our struggles, this is what being free might be for each of us. But where and when do we find our freedom? How do we fight for it? How can we say we feel free?

Speaking for myself, I still find me being stuck from where I am now. I feel like I’m still bounded with all the responsibilities I have for my Family. Still bounded from thinking about the approval of my society on how I should be living my life. But all of these things including self doubt and fear disappear whenever I am travelling alone in an unfamiliar territory.

When I get out there, I always choose to leave the things that are bringing me down. I clear my head from them. Yes, I am trying to run away from them and be free from them even for a while because this is where and when I find my freedom from what I think is a cruel reality.

I used to travel with people I know and used to be closed to me but it made a difference to see how free I can feel when I did a trip alone. During these journeys I learned how to decide everything for myself, which I think is one way of exercising my freedom. I usually make my own itinerary based on the information I get from travel blogs but there are times that I do not follow it and decide to get lost. I feel like I can afford to see the places where some do not go. I am free to explore. I am not bound by any box or circle.

From these travels I learned to be free from judgement and doubts. I started to convince myself to trust people who are very unfamiliar to me, who I just met or encountered at the moment. At these moments I do not have any thoughts to make me run from people I do not know. I invite them to be part of my new circle instead.

The best freedom I get from these experiences is that I am freely me. Everything is me. I am allowed to be myself. I open up myself to new territories, new people and new learning. I do not have to worry about being out of my usual comfort zone. I do not feel any pain. I am releasing my inner bravery and last but not the least I am free to hope without a limit. The hope that will give me strength to face every obstacle and struggles to achieve the life I have always been dreaming. A life where I get to have the freedom to be independent and to be myself whenever, wherever.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Freedom When an Amazing Life Flys Away in the US

It was three summers ago and I had just flown from Kauai to Portland, OR to be with my boyfriend after months of being apart. Everything was finally looking up, after going through hardships during my travels on the islands. I was exactly where I wanted to be.

I remember how exciting it was to feel the cool, crisp NW air and to see Portland for the first time. The city was coming alive, people were buzzing on the streets, cafés were clamoring with business, I had made it.
My boyfriend and I had driven down to his family farm in Dallas, OR, a small town in a valley at the edge of the Coast Range Mountains. The farm is a hundred years old and sits on seventy acres of open land, filled with fruit trees and a rambling river. If anything, my time in Oregon was only getting better.

However, three days into my trip, I received a phone call from my Aunt Lorie whom never calls. A red flag went up as I answered. “Your grandma is in hospice…” My heart sank into my chest as I heard these words. I had spoken to my grandmother occasionally throughout the past year but, it wasn’t enough. She was the woman who raised me from toddler to adult, she was my hero. I should have been more present.

I was feeling all sorts of emotions, but mostly sadness and despair that I wasn’t a car ride away. In fact, I was on the opposite end of the country, at least an eight-hour flight from home. Feeling helpless and confused, I continued my day, beneath a cloud. I was awaiting answers to my prayers. I prayed to my mother, whom passed away when I was two. I sought advice on the situation, if I should continue my trip or fly home. The following morning my prayer was answered in the form of a Robin bird who landed in front of me in between two large oak trees. My mother’s name was Robin. In that moment I felt a sigh of relief that even through difficulty, things can still make sense.

A couple more days had passed with no improvements to my grandmother’s health. Yet, I decided to remain in Oregon. We had made our way to the coast which is my favorite place to be. Throughout the days I had been given small universal signs that everything was going to be okay. I felt a little more at ease.

Throughout my travels I had picked up a used book called, The Invitation. At the end of every chapter the author asks the reader to write short exercises. They are based on looking inwards. Like most books I read, I found that every time I flipped the page, it was more and more relevant to my current situation. This time, the exercise was to write down ‘what I need and what I need from others’. I jotted down the answers in my journal and put it away. The following day would be pivotal.
In the afternoon my boyfriend and I found ourselves in a state park situated on the central coast. We climbed a sand dune to check the surf. It was small but looked worthwhile, so we grabbed our boards and ran to the water. It was a beautiful, sunny day. No one was around. We had this place to ourselves. I caught some really fun little peeling waves. This was my perfect moment.

When I got out of my wetsuit and changed into dry clothes, I grabbed my journal and climbed up a sand dune that overlooked the vast, glistening Pacific. I was in my peaceful place. Because I hadn’t had time the previous day to finish my journal entry, I did so on the dune. When I finished writing I sent my needs and needs of others into the universe. “I need Bubee to know that my brothers and I will be okay without her.” “I need Bubee to know that she is free to leave her body and to find her freedom.” I felt so relieved and uplifted from partaking in this exercise.

When I got back to the car I checked my phone; a missed call from my aunt. Before I listened to the message, I knew what I’d hear. And when I officially heard the words, tears fell from my eyes, but they were mostly tears of joy. I never thought I’d feel that way about my grandmothers passing. But, I couldn’t deny the sequence of events that occurred. I knew deep in my heart that someone was watching over us. She had passed when I was doing what I love most; surfing and traveling. And in that realization I too found my freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Interesting Strangers in transit through the USA

I used to dread traveling alone. I mean lets’ face it, sitting alone at an airport waiting for a flight, exhausted, trying to avoid talking to strangers you simply do not have the energy to communicate with is no one’s favorite pastime. At least not mine. I used to find it awkward, like all the other passengers were staring at me, judging me because I did not have a group of friends or family around me. Sometimes I was judging myself too, wondering what on earth was I doing, spending my time at yet another airport in the middle of nowhere, going to a city I had never been to before, only to wander around all by myself, since clearly I did not know anyone there. My family and friends, whom I gladly would have welcomed with me on my adventures but who unfortunately were not very keen on traveling with me, kept asking why I was going where I was going, with who, and every time I replied “alone”, they looked at me like I had gone nuts. Why would you travel somewhere you’ve never been to and know nothing about, completely alone, for no apparent reason? Yes, there were times when I myself questioned my sanity.

But there is a flipside to wandering around in a strange city all by yourself. It’s refreshing. Fascinating. Freeing. Empowering even. Watching the waves on the beach of Wilmington, admiring wonderful art and beautiful old buildings in Boston or sipping morning coffee at Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Thinking back, I don’t remember being lonely. I don’t remember feeling awkward or out of place. No, thinking back just makes me smile. What I remember is the warm wind and the salty smell of the ocean; the music, and the laughter; the smell of the coffee, the orchestra playing and how much I loved that little pink house with a porch full of colorful flowers. The interesting conversation with that silly old grandpa at the diner, or that kind stranger letting me crash on his couch when things went wrong in El Paso and I had nowhere to spend the night. I remember that time I randomly stumbled into a dive bar to see a band somewhere in Wisconsin, and ended up spending the next week hanging out with them, selling merchandise at a festival and sipping margaritas by the pool, having the time of my life. I remember all those fascinating, devastating and heart-warming life stories of strangers I met in passing, and all those moments I would not change for the world. And most of all I remember feeling stronger, more confident. I remember feeling free. All of a sudden none of those expectations, none of those horrifying tiny boxes people around me have always tried to fit me in did not matter anymore. On that plane or that strange city, surrounded by strangers, I was finally able to just be me. To be free.

The biggest realization traveling alone has given me, is that I can do this. I will get through and I will survive, whatever it is life throws at me. I will never be what other people expect me to be, so I might as well just follow my heart and do what I feel is right. The world is a magnificent, interesting and beautiful place, and I intend to see as much of it as I possibly can. Even if it means I’m seeing it alone.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Just Chasing a Photograph in the USA

I used to be a jet-setting executive who had the world at her feet. Nowadays, I travel because my three daughters live in different cities around the world: Seattle (next, San Francisco), Calgary, and Manila (London before, Melbourne next). Recently, my career-oriented middle daughter Claudine needed help. For the fifth time after I retired, I flew to Canada to take care of three young ones.

“We can go to Yoho and Kootenay in B.C., our chance to complete the quad parks named the World Heritage Site of the Canadian Rockies,” I convinced my husband, Bill. On the third weekend, I squeezed in a visit to the new Glacier Skywalk on the Columbia Icefields between Banff and Jasper, the two in Alberta we had visited earlier.

The only downside was driving the same section of the Trans-Canada Highway six more times. Sure enough, on the road to Yoho, I dozed off. Bill missed my chatter, nudging me, “Hey, sleepyhead, I bought you some Cheetos!” In a jiffy, the bag of my favorite cheesy crunchies was gone. I should have been upset he spoiled my beauty nap. Instead, I thanked him.

Between mouthfuls, I caught a glimpse of a scene that would haunt me. A lone red car seemed to rise on the road, driving straight into an enormous glacier-draped mountain. It vanished in a second. “I want that photograph!” whispered my heart. Staying glued to the windshield, soon a second chance came. Alas, the car was black, and the road was flat.

Photos of lovely sights around Yoho did not get my mind off that scene: Marble Canyon, Painted Pots, Sinclair Canyon, and Radium’s Hot Springs and bighorn sheep around town. The following Saturday, I was back with a vengeance. It didn’t take long and another such scene appeared. The mountain was even more majestic. But the car, being white, disappeared into the mist. Again, there was no road rise. I cried, “Can we just stage something?” Bill had one word, “Patience!”

Other photo-ops were on the road. An enormous yellow truck blazoned against the grays. White clouds cavorted with ice-lined pointed peaks. A multi-colored train ruffled through the Rockies’ skirts. Cute, curvy twin bridges punctuated the highway humdrum. Once in a while, a red-roofed cabin enlivened the greens. Around Kootenay, there was more: the Spiral Train, Emerald Lake, Natural Bridge, and the towns of Field and Golden. Still, I wanted that photo.

On the third weekend, the weather was itself, taking a sudden nasty turn. We proceeded and stayed at Banff for the night, hoping it would clear the next day. It didn’t. I have been through Philippine storms, but snow takes me right inside a freezer. But I had to go. It was my last chance.

I started feeling hopeless, but a smile returned to my face when, at more than 6,000 feet high, frosty evergreen began to grace both sides of the road. I asked Bill to stop and stepped out. Wet fluffy things instantly brushed against my face. I “smelled” chestnuts roasting nearby. From inside the car, Bill took my photo of Christmas in June! Still, I longed for another photo.

At the Skywalk, it wasn’t a panorama of glistening glaciers but gray and gloom that greeted us. Making the best of a bad situation, I noticed that my outfit had come together: the red beanie I just bought at the Gift Shop and the red gloves, red scarf and black winter jacket Claudine lent me. Bill took off his gloves to freely fiddle with the Nikon and the slippery platform turned into MY catwalk. “Hurry up! My fingers are already frozen!” interrupted my trance. But by then, I had precious photos of a glamorous fashion model at 67. Still, it was THAT scene I wanted.

On the way home, I was nervous. Bill’s words rang loud in my ears, “It’s now or never.” And, just like that, it came. The car wasn’t red and low-lying clouds partly hid the mountain. But the road had a slight rise, creating the magical effect I saw the first time. All the way home, a contest of who can give the best caption for the photo produced: “Into the Clouds”, “Into the Unknown”, and “Beyond the Ordinary.”

The grandkids hugged me tight as Claudine asked, “Is photography a new career?” I explained that the job I love most is that of a traveling Grandnanny. It doesn’t matter how many times I go back to a place. It’s the people that count. It doesn’t matter if I drive the same old familiar highway. Something else will catch my fancy. I am free to be with whomever I want, drive to wherever I please, and listen to whatever my heart whispers, even if it’s just chasing a photograph.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Free-falling to Freedom in Brazil

2010 was not my year; free-falling since 2009 from successful Customer Service Manager, rising rapidly through the ranks to redundant job seeker, an anonymous face caught up in the tsunami of unemployment as Australia was hit by the Global Economic Crisis. At the same time I went from being married, in love and planning a much dreamed of family, to separated and fighting in vein to save my marriage as my husband set up a cozy new life with his secret lover. Spiralling further and further downwards towards rock bottom, alone, jobless, heartbroken and without spousal support, I finally crash landed; in bankruptcy.

Well, the good thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only way is up!
I had a dream; to salvage the last shred of my life plan, stop the free-falling and move to Brazil!

Sure it would not be as a family unit and I would no longer be cocooned in the secure embrace of the upper middle class lifestyle my in-laws had offered, but the challenge gave me renewed purpose and hope. Still longing for a baby, I discovered that even singles can be eligible to adopt in Brazil, this became my beacon of hope, the driving force to follow my dreams and never give up, no matter what challenges lay ahead.

Simply affording the airfare seemed impossible, a pipe dream, but where there is a will there is a way and by selling almost all my worldly goods on eBay I did it. With enough spare funds to survive on a shoestring for around 12 weeks, it was make or break to find a job in that time.

With a mix of excitement and fear, armed only with a basic knowledge of Portuguese, a passion for Brazilian music and a few Capoeira moves up my sleeve, I flew off into the unknown.

My heart pulled me towards the state of Bahia, and after three bus trips totalling about 35 hours, I made it to Salvador early on a January morning in 2011.  I found a room in the heart of historic, sometimes dangerous and above all picturesque, Pelourinho for around USD$13 a night and there I began to live my dream.

My life story was a tapestry of hopes and dreams interwoven thread by thread with heartache and loss; thankfully I have a strong, independent core which worked like a flint to the sparks of freedom and adventure that came as each new stitch was sewn, thus fuelling the fire to survive here that burns deep inside me to this day.

I trod along the ancient cobbled streets, moving to the beat of drums, drinking in the sight of beautiful coloured buildings, and visiting the statue of Zumbi dos Palmares (an important figure in Capoeira) to sing to him and ask for guidance.

New found freedom combined with faith in my decision felled any remaining fear, my soul felt like it had come home. Against the odds I found a job with only days to go before my funds ran out, that dogged determination had paid it’s dividends. Sure, I was as poor as a church mouse, earning minimum wage of around USD$300 a month, but I was on my way!

From there the path has not been paved with gold, I have followed the paupers trail strewn with rocks, stumbled many times, scraped my knees and lived on the proverbial smell of an oily rag, sometimes in areas not too many steps above the poverty line but I have continued on my journey; a relentless dream catcher.

The experiences have been worth the struggles; I have seen sights both beautiful and historic that I could never have imagined, undertaken voluntary work with some amazing musicians which lead me to promote local Brazilian music to the world, something that became my soul food in this new life, and to top things off I have met so many diverse and wonderful people.

Living without mod cons; cold water showers, no washing machine, no oven, no fridge, no car, no TV, sometimes even no bed, brings sharply into focus what truly matters in life and those material items don’t even make the list! I have often had next to nothing in Brazil, but my life has been richer. Richer in experiences, richer in culture, richer in friendships.

My advice to those reading is, if you are struggling there is hope! Fears can be conquered, lows turned into highs and if you feel like running away, then sprint towards your dreams. Freedom is through that door you see just ahead, you hold the key so put it in the lock and walk through to the life that you dream of for yourself! As for me, I’m now applying to be a citizen of my new homeland; watch this space.

NB: Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

An Amazing Underwater paradise in Mexico

Grains of sand as soft and fine as powdery snow covered my toes as I tried to name all of the different shades of neon blue in the water. Turquoise, Aquamarine, Slate, Navy, Cerulean, Azure, Cornflower, Tiffany Blue. Sails on the yachts in front of me fluttered in the light sea breeze and the smell of coconut oil wafted by. Juice dripped down my fingers as I took a bite of the fresh cut pineapple. I was on the island paradise of Isla Mujeres in the Mexican Caribbean and I was in tears.

Down by the Belize border I burst into tears in Mahahual, swinging on a hammock suspended above the water. The sea was so clear that I could see the trumpet fish zig-zagging below me and even distinguish the individual grains in the rippled sand below. After that I cried at Santa Fe beach in Tulum, tears sliding down my face and into the fresh coconut I was drinking with a straw as I gazed up at the Mayan ruins on the cliff above.

A newly certified Dive Instructor, I’d been planning this move to the tropics for two years. I’d quit my job, gotten rid of my furniture, told my friends goodbye and made no promises to return. Now here I was in tropical paradise wondering if I could ask my Dad to stay in his spare room for a few months while I sorted my life out. Because my move to paradise was not going as planned.

The tourists around me were having a great time. They were on holiday, having adventures. I would come back to the hostel exhausted from a day walking in the blistering heat, hunting for a job and an apartment. Every day the tourists went swimming with whale sharks. Every day I followed false leads and faced new rejections.

Everything on the streets seemed strange. A man on a tricycle circled town with a loudspeaker blaring “…windows, refrigerators, doors, all you need, tables, chimneys, bathtubs, call me,” followed by a phone number. An eight year old boy leaned out of a truck window to wolf whistle at me. A woman tried to sell me a hand puppet shaped like a chicken.

“What is this place?” I called my Dad for advice. “I’m so tired, I don’t know if I can do this!”

“I have no doubt that you can make a life for yourself anywhere in the world,” my Dad said. “You’ve done it before.”

“I know I can make it here,” I said. “But I don’t know if I want to!”

“Give it another week.”

The next week I got a call from a dive shop offering me an instructor position. “It’s only confirmed for two months,” my new boss said, “but if it works out then you can stay through high season. The catch is that you’ll need to house-sit the apartment above the dive shop until we get the hurricane shutters installed. I hope that we can work this out.”

Needless to say, I took the job and the beachfront apartment. As soon as I was in the ocean I was in charge again; teaching people to breathe underwater, calming their fears about the equipment and the environment, introducing them to the reef ecosystem. I love taking people underwater for the first time, to see them experience the thrill of flying above the corals or encounter a creature that they didn’t even know existed. To see them face to face with a giant turtle, inside a tornado school of giant trevally, or hovering in place while manta rays do flips around them.

Life on land is still confusing, but I’m not crying anymore. I’m settling in to my new town and I’m enjoying the slow pace of life in the tropics. But underwater I have my freedom. The environment is so foreign that you can’t help but immerse yourself in the experience. You can’t feel tears underwater, you’re already totally wet.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

2016-07-08-06-57-09-1-300x300Instilling Comfortable Respect in the Philippines

The chorus of cascading waters was music to my ears as it dropped down from varying heights into an aquamarine pool. The sound mimics the sound of rain. The rhythm complements the magnificent and unadulterated view of water streaming onto rock walls and plants, giving off a thin cloud of droplets at the base of the waterfalls. This is Tinago Falls in Iligan City, Philippines. Its beauty is well hidden within the rainforest of the province hence the name “tinago”, a Filipino word that means hidden. As I stood there mesmerized by its beauty, I heaved a sigh of relief. I have finally conquered it but, unlike Tinago Falls, I need not hide because I am free.

Living in a country of diverse cultures, these diversity creates gaps in understanding that eventually leads to misconceptions. These questions in faith and beliefs, often fueled by ignorance, give birth to generalizations and bigotry. The news of tragic events happening in different parts of the world, often associated with our Muslim brothers, do not help in easing out these tensions. The Philippines, being predominantly of Christian faith, is not free from this imbalance. As most of our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters are concentrated in Mindanao, the island is still a subject that sometimes instills fear among many Filipinos. There are places that are “off-limits” in the minds of most Filipinos because it is tagged as “dangerous”.

A recent unplanned visit to Iligan City gave me the opportunity to open the mind of my 8 year old daughter on the importance of accepting diversity. It was our first time in the city and our plan was to visit the 3 of its 24 waterfalls. As we only had a couple of hours to go around, we had to hire a “habal-habal”, a motorcycle where we had to squeeze in three people and the driver, to get us around faster. It was another first for us. I had to explain to my daughter that this was the mode of public transportation in most Philippine provinces.

She was quick to notice that there were a lot of Muslims during our quick tour. She was able to identify them because of the way they dressed. She was used to the city where people dressed in a certain fashion and she saw how different this was in Iligan City. At one point, she asked me why people dressed that way.

I saw this as an opportunity to explain to her the rich and diverse culture of the Philippines. I explained to her that they were our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters. They believe in Allah and they practice their Islam faith so they have their own culture that they are proud of, and that includes the way they dress. I had to make her understand that despite these differences we were all Filipinos and should respect each other. She will meet a lot of Filipino Muslims as she grows up and will have a deeper understanding of their culture, both in our travels and in school. What is important was for her to open her mind and accept these differences just like the way she does with her friends in school. At that point, a young Muslim lady walked past our table and smiled at her to which she my daughter returned the favor.

At that point, I knew that she was on her way to understanding the lessons of cultural diversity.

As our world gets smaller with technology, it is very important to keep in mind that it will open us to the cultural exchanges from the different regions of the world. Most of these beliefs and practices may be similar and there will be a few that may contradict our very own. These exchanges will also open us to preconceived ideas and branding that can result to indifferences and, in some cases, can even lead to hate. We cannot allow these notions to affect the way we think about others because of their cultural background, their faith, the color of their skin, or the way they dress.

I find my freedom when I travel. Each destination is a new learning experience. Traveling introduced me to the different cultures and practices that makes the Philippines unique. It gave me the opportunity to help others understand the uniqueness of each culture paving the way for acceptance, just like what happened between me and my daughter during our trip in Mindanao. Traveling freed me from clutches of ignorance and taught me to respect the diversity that is present among us.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

The Inward Journey to Freedom in the US

By age fourteen I had been to twenty seven countries and four continents. How much more free could I be? Back then, life was much simpler. At twenty six years old, I’ve independently added four more countries. I had the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want, but there was something significantly different between traveling with my parents and traveling alone as an adult. Until a few years ago, I realized I was emotionally caged; trapped in heartaches, insecurities and self-loathing. Let me tell you a story of a traveler who never truly traveled until she started exploring an inward journey into herself.

I awoke, I gently began to open my eyes knowing there was no rush for anything. I graduated college, I had no job and no direction, but worst of all, I had no passion. I felt nothing and everything all at the same time. It was winter in Massachusetts and everything was dead, which is exactly how I felt. Every day it was cold and gray outside and my ribcage would tremble, trying to salvage the very last colors inside of me. Days were long and nights were longer.

Every phone call I’d bite my cheeks and pray that desperation could not be heard. I didn’t know how to ask for help, as I choked on words I could not speak. Everyone’s advice was so cliché and bland, “talk to someone, exercise, eat well, go out and meet people.” As if the simple act of getting out of bed was easy for me. When I would gather enough strength to walk to the bathroom, I’d brush my teeth with a soft gaze, avoiding all eye contact with a ghost.

She wasn’t scary but she sure wasn’t pretty. She was pale with swollen eye lids, peeled lips and bleeding finger tips. She was trapped in her own world, bruising her hands against her concrete walls, wishing somebody would save her. I used to think she was quite pathetic, but when I chose to fall in love with her, was the moment I chose to fall in love with myself.

I was tired and I was through with devaluing myself. I frantically opened my laptop and typed the first words that came to mind, “Kripalu”, the School of Yoga and Health. I had taken all of one class but that didn’t stop me. Yoga was expanding and teachers were in demand. Kripalu was only a few hours north so I signed up. A month later I was standing on the grounds where I took my first few breaths of fresh air.

I knew absolutely nothing of what yoga truly is. They stripped my judgments of bendy, skinny females wearing Lululemon. My god, yoga saved my life. Every day I cried. At first it was out of pain; reliving every moment someone took something from me, every moment I failed, disappointed, hurt and lied. They taught me to be strong in my vulnerability and supplied me with affirmations that helped heal me.

The skin I used to inflict pain upon through cigarettes and razors is the skin I now touch as if it were a lover who just told me they loved me too. I massaged my feet with gratitude for walking so steady on shaky grounds and I kissed my palms with forgiveness because sometimes I did not hold hearts with care. I looked all around and saw the greener side of the grass. I was liberated from my own perception of hell.   My inward journey was nearly complete.

Finally, a miracle; tears of happiness slid down my cheeks as I danced and held others and allowed myself to be held. I was reborn in the hands of loving, empathetic human beings that have felt how exhausted shoulders can get and how heavy hearts can be. My teachers taught me more than warrior pose, tree pose and eagle pose. They taught me how to be a warrior and enter my inner power. They taught me how to be a tree; to grow with sturdiness. They taught me how to be an eagle and fly in freedom.

I’ve felt the pain of my ancestors as I walked their graves touring the German holocaust camps. I’ve felt the love and nurture of those who’ve harvested life as I danced along the Balinese rice patties. I have hugged the Australian wild life and did the HAKA with one of New Zealand’s tribes. I have cried with Peru’s poor and laughed with their children. There’s a lot I’ve seen and a lot I haven’t, a lot I know and a lot I don’t. I’ve learned the final destination of freedom was never my plane ticket. The final destination of freedom was the only place I did not think to go and that was through an inward journey.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Why Did You Come to Japan?

There is a television show in Japan that airs every Monday called Why Did You Come to Japan? A Japanese camera crew stops foreigners arriving at Narita airport in Tokyo and asks them what the purpose is for their visit. My best friend’s dad told me about this show shortly after I arrived for my six-week stay at their house. He joked that I was there, “to sleep and fold laundry!”

That was partially true while I was recovering from the mysterious virus I contracted on the plane ride there. But when I wasn’t sleeping or folding laundry I was on a search. Although I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for at first, I’m certain I found it along the way.

I overcame fear. My journey began when I was forced to maneuver the Japanese train system. Exhausted from traveling for three days from my home in Indiana, my plane was diverted a couple hundred miles south from Tokyo to Osaka airport due to turbulence. There were no more flights so I had to take a train to find my host family in Tokyo. I was terrified at the idea of going alone, but I quickly made friends with the angel God placed in the seat beside me on the plane. We plotted, prayed, sweated, laughed and cried through the ordeal but we bravely made it to our destination together.

I taught. I packed a children’s devotional in my suitcase and read an English lesson with my friend’s nine-year-old son every morning. Not only did he get to practice his English skills, he also learned about Jesus. I learned many Japanese words in the process.

I explored. I had my own bicycle and ventured out almost daily, some days riding ten miles or more. I visited shopping centers, beautiful shrines, Starbucks and my favorite Italian restaurant. Since I had been forced to overcome my fear of working the train system upon arrival in Japan, I rode one alone to Harajuku in Tokyo from my friend’s house in Inage-Ku and visited the famous Meiji Jingu Shrine. There I found confidence, gratitude and peace.

I made new friends. I connected with the family who lived across the street from my host family. They took me on several outings including gorgeous flower gardens and a gigantic mall. One evening they invited me to their backyard BBQ. The entire family spoke fluent English, which was refreshing. And their three-year old grandson Yuto sang Row Row Row Your Boat to me in the sweetest little voice reminding me of my childhood and that we are all children at heart no matter where we live in the world.

I survived multiple earthquakes. As if the mysterious illness I contracted on my journey there was not enough, after I recovered I had to deal with my bed shaking uncontrollably on at least four occasions. They were low magnitude quakes but that was more earth shaking than I had experienced in my entire life up to that point.

I relaxed. I took hot baths at public Japanese spas and experienced a hot rock bed for the first time. I took naps in the afternoons. I read several books cover to cover. I sat in the park and people watched. I drank a lot of coffee and daydreamed. I learned to breathe again.

I ate. I enjoyed delicious meals prepared at home by my host family and I learned how to prepare many dishes myself. I cooked dinner for my friends on my last night and they actually enjoyed it! I ate homemade miso soup and rice every day and ice cream for dessert. I took myself out to restaurants. Pointing at pictures on the menu works just as well in Japan as it does at Denny’s!

I traveled. I flew to Okinawa for three nights with my friend on a girl’s only trip. We enjoyed hanging out on the beautiful beach, touring a pineapple park and winery, eating a lot of good food, revisiting my Fuguki Tree Road and just enjoying quality time together.

I worshipped. I visited a Christian church on my last full Sunday in Japan where I prayed with a congregation full of Japanese Christians. They spoke a different language than me but together we worshipped the same God. I thanked Him for blessing me so much with the gift of such an amazing adventure in this wondrous country.

I may have slept and folded a lot of laundry but I did manage to do many wonderful things. I overcame fear in the process and I left behind anxiety that I brought to Japan with me. I slept in the top bunk and gazed at the glowing stars on the wall papered ceiling as I drifted off to sleep every night. I became physically active again. I bicycled. I kayaked. I even participated in a tug of war contest. I learned patience and endurance in ways I never experienced before. I learned that people everywhere are the same on the inside. And I thanked God for blessing me so much in life.

To simply answer the question, “Why did you come to Japan?”

I went to Japan to find freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

sky-500x500Hard fought Journeys to a Satisfied Freedom in the Philippines

When I saw the theme of this article writing contest, I remember a quote I have encountered before. The quote says “Learn the rules. Then break some”. It might sound rebellious to some but for me, I think of it as another way of saying you fight for your journeys freedom.

I believe there are different kinds of freedom each and every one of us is looking for. We all wanted to be free, free from the things that we think are holding us back from living the life we desire. We want to move away from what are bothering us, hurting us, our struggles, this is what being free might be for each of us. But where and when do we find our freedom? How do we fight for it? How can we say we feel free?

Speaking for myself, I still find me being stuck from where I am now. I feel like I’m still bounded with all the responsibilities I have for my Family. Still bounded from thinking about the approval of my society on how I should be living my life. But all of these things including self doubt and fear disappear whenever I am travelling alone in an unfamiliar territory.

When I get out there, I always choose to leave the things that are bringing me down. I clear my head from them. Yes, I am trying to run away from them and be free from them even for a while because this is where and when I find my freedom from what I think is a cruel reality.

I used to travel with people I know and used to be closed to me but it made a difference to see how free I can feel when I did a trip alone. During these journeys I learned how to decide everything for myself, which I think is one way of exercising my freedom. I usually make my own itinerary based on the information I get from travel blogs but there are times that I do not follow it and decide to get lost. I feel like I can afford to see the places where some do not go. I am free to explore. I am not bound by any box or circle.

From these travels I learned to be free from judgement and doubts. I started to convince myself to trust people who are very unfamiliar to me, who I just met or encountered at the moment. At these moments I do not have any thoughts to make me run from people I do not know. I invite them to be part of my new circle instead.

The best freedom I get from these experiences is that I am freely me. Everything is me. I am allowed to be myself. I open up myself to new territories, new people and new learning. I do not have to worry about being out of my usual comfort zone. I do not feel any pain. I am releasing my inner bravery and last but not the least I am free to hope without a limit. The hope that will give me strength to face every obstacle and struggles to achieve the life I have always been dreaming. A life where I get to have the freedom to be independent and to be myself whenever, wherever.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Freedom When an Amazing Life Flys Away in the US

It was three summers ago and I had just flown from Kauai to Portland, OR to be with my boyfriend after months of being apart. Everything was finally looking up, after going through hardships during my travels on the islands. I was exactly where I wanted to be.

I remember how exciting it was to feel the cool, crisp NW air and to see Portland for the first time. The city was coming alive, people were buzzing on the streets, cafés were clamoring with business, I had made it.
My boyfriend and I had driven down to his family farm in Dallas, OR, a small town in a valley at the edge of the Coast Range Mountains. The farm is a hundred years old and sits on seventy acres of open land, filled with fruit trees and a rambling river. If anything, my time in Oregon was only getting better.

However, three days into my trip, I received a phone call from my Aunt Lorie whom never calls. A red flag went up as I answered. “Your grandma is in hospice…” My heart sank into my chest as I heard these words. I had spoken to my grandmother occasionally throughout the past year but, it wasn’t enough. She was the woman who raised me from toddler to adult, she was my hero. I should have been more present.

I was feeling all sorts of emotions, but mostly sadness and despair that I wasn’t a car ride away. In fact, I was on the opposite end of the country, at least an eight-hour flight from home. Feeling helpless and confused, I continued my day, beneath a cloud. I was awaiting answers to my prayers. I prayed to my mother, whom passed away when I was two. I sought advice on the situation, if I should continue my trip or fly home. The following morning my prayer was answered in the form of a Robin bird who landed in front of me in between two large oak trees. My mother’s name was Robin. In that moment I felt a sigh of relief that even through difficulty, things can still make sense.

A couple more days had passed with no improvements to my grandmother’s health. Yet, I decided to remain in Oregon. We had made our way to the coast which is my favorite place to be. Throughout the days I had been given small universal signs that everything was going to be okay. I felt a little more at ease.

Throughout my travels I had picked up a used book called, The Invitation. At the end of every chapter the author asks the reader to write short exercises. They are based on looking inwards. Like most books I read, I found that every time I flipped the page, it was more and more relevant to my current situation. This time, the exercise was to write down ‘what I need and what I need from others’. I jotted down the answers in my journal and put it away. The following day would be pivotal.
In the afternoon my boyfriend and I found ourselves in a state park situated on the central coast. We climbed a sand dune to check the surf. It was small but looked worthwhile, so we grabbed our boards and ran to the water. It was a beautiful, sunny day. No one was around. We had this place to ourselves. I caught some really fun little peeling waves. This was my perfect moment.

When I got out of my wetsuit and changed into dry clothes, I grabbed my journal and climbed up a sand dune that overlooked the vast, glistening Pacific. I was in my peaceful place. Because I hadn’t had time the previous day to finish my journal entry, I did so on the dune. When I finished writing I sent my needs and needs of others into the universe. “I need Bubee to know that my brothers and I will be okay without her.” “I need Bubee to know that she is free to leave her body and to find her freedom.” I felt so relieved and uplifted from partaking in this exercise.

When I got back to the car I checked my phone; a missed call from my aunt. Before I listened to the message, I knew what I’d hear. And when I officially heard the words, tears fell from my eyes, but they were mostly tears of joy. I never thought I’d feel that way about my grandmothers passing. But, I couldn’t deny the sequence of events that occurred. I knew deep in my heart that someone was watching over us. She had passed when I was doing what I love most; surfing and traveling. And in that realization I too found my freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Interesting Strangers in transit through the USA

I used to dread traveling alone. I mean lets’ face it, sitting alone at an airport waiting for a flight, exhausted, trying to avoid talking to strangers you simply do not have the energy to communicate with is no one’s favorite pastime. At least not mine. I used to find it awkward, like all the other passengers were staring at me, judging me because I did not have a group of friends or family around me. Sometimes I was judging myself too, wondering what on earth was I doing, spending my time at yet another airport in the middle of nowhere, going to a city I had never been to before, only to wander around all by myself, since clearly I did not know anyone there. My family and friends, whom I gladly would have welcomed with me on my adventures but who unfortunately were not very keen on traveling with me, kept asking why I was going where I was going, with who, and every time I replied “alone”, they looked at me like I had gone nuts. Why would you travel somewhere you’ve never been to and know nothing about, completely alone, for no apparent reason? Yes, there were times when I myself questioned my sanity.

But there is a flipside to wandering around in a strange city all by yourself. It’s refreshing. Fascinating. Freeing. Empowering even. Watching the waves on the beach of Wilmington, admiring wonderful art and beautiful old buildings in Boston or sipping morning coffee at Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Thinking back, I don’t remember being lonely. I don’t remember feeling awkward or out of place. No, thinking back just makes me smile. What I remember is the warm wind and the salty smell of the ocean; the music, and the laughter; the smell of the coffee, the orchestra playing and how much I loved that little pink house with a porch full of colorful flowers. The interesting conversation with that silly old grandpa at the diner, or that kind stranger letting me crash on his couch when things went wrong in El Paso and I had nowhere to spend the night. I remember that time I randomly stumbled into a dive bar to see a band somewhere in Wisconsin, and ended up spending the next week hanging out with them, selling merchandise at a festival and sipping margaritas by the pool, having the time of my life. I remember all those fascinating, devastating and heart-warming life stories of strangers I met in passing, and all those moments I would not change for the world. And most of all I remember feeling stronger, more confident. I remember feeling free. All of a sudden none of those expectations, none of those horrifying tiny boxes people around me have always tried to fit me in did not matter anymore. On that plane or that strange city, surrounded by strangers, I was finally able to just be me. To be free.

The biggest realization traveling alone has given me, is that I can do this. I will get through and I will survive, whatever it is life throws at me. I will never be what other people expect me to be, so I might as well just follow my heart and do what I feel is right. The world is a magnificent, interesting and beautiful place, and I intend to see as much of it as I possibly can. Even if it means I’m seeing it alone.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Just Chasing a Photograph in the USA

I used to be a jet-setting executive who had the world at her feet. Nowadays, I travel because my three daughters live in different cities around the world: Seattle (next, San Francisco), Calgary, and Manila (London before, Melbourne next). Recently, my career-oriented middle daughter Claudine needed help. For the fifth time after I retired, I flew to Canada to take care of three young ones.

“We can go to Yoho and Kootenay in B.C., our chance to complete the quad parks named the World Heritage Site of the Canadian Rockies,” I convinced my husband, Bill. On the third weekend, I squeezed in a visit to the new Glacier Skywalk on the Columbia Icefields between Banff and Jasper, the two in Alberta we had visited earlier.

The only downside was driving the same section of the Trans-Canada Highway six more times. Sure enough, on the road to Yoho, I dozed off. Bill missed my chatter, nudging me, “Hey, sleepyhead, I bought you some Cheetos!” In a jiffy, the bag of my favorite cheesy crunchies was gone. I should have been upset he spoiled my beauty nap. Instead, I thanked him.

Between mouthfuls, I caught a glimpse of a scene that would haunt me. A lone red car seemed to rise on the road, driving straight into an enormous glacier-draped mountain. It vanished in a second. “I want that photograph!” whispered my heart. Staying glued to the windshield, soon a second chance came. Alas, the car was black, and the road was flat.

Photos of lovely sights around Yoho did not get my mind off that scene: Marble Canyon, Painted Pots, Sinclair Canyon, and Radium’s Hot Springs and bighorn sheep around town. The following Saturday, I was back with a vengeance. It didn’t take long and another such scene appeared. The mountain was even more majestic. But the car, being white, disappeared into the mist. Again, there was no road rise. I cried, “Can we just stage something?” Bill had one word, “Patience!”

Other photo-ops were on the road. An enormous yellow truck blazoned against the grays. White clouds cavorted with ice-lined pointed peaks. A multi-colored train ruffled through the Rockies’ skirts. Cute, curvy twin bridges punctuated the highway humdrum. Once in a while, a red-roofed cabin enlivened the greens. Around Kootenay, there was more: the Spiral Train, Emerald Lake, Natural Bridge, and the towns of Field and Golden. Still, I wanted that photo.

On the third weekend, the weather was itself, taking a sudden nasty turn. We proceeded and stayed at Banff for the night, hoping it would clear the next day. It didn’t. I have been through Philippine storms, but snow takes me right inside a freezer. But I had to go. It was my last chance.

I started feeling hopeless, but a smile returned to my face when, at more than 6,000 feet high, frosty evergreen began to grace both sides of the road. I asked Bill to stop and stepped out. Wet fluffy things instantly brushed against my face. I “smelled” chestnuts roasting nearby. From inside the car, Bill took my photo of Christmas in June! Still, I longed for another photo.

At the Skywalk, it wasn’t a panorama of glistening glaciers but gray and gloom that greeted us. Making the best of a bad situation, I noticed that my outfit had come together: the red beanie I just bought at the Gift Shop and the red gloves, red scarf and black winter jacket Claudine lent me. Bill took off his gloves to freely fiddle with the Nikon and the slippery platform turned into MY catwalk. “Hurry up! My fingers are already frozen!” interrupted my trance. But by then, I had precious photos of a glamorous fashion model at 67. Still, it was THAT scene I wanted.

On the way home, I was nervous. Bill’s words rang loud in my ears, “It’s now or never.” And, just like that, it came. The car wasn’t red and low-lying clouds partly hid the mountain. But the road had a slight rise, creating the magical effect I saw the first time. All the way home, a contest of who can give the best caption for the photo produced: “Into the Clouds”, “Into the Unknown”, and “Beyond the Ordinary.”

The grandkids hugged me tight as Claudine asked, “Is photography a new career?” I explained that the job I love most is that of a traveling Grandnanny. It doesn’t matter how many times I go back to a place. It’s the people that count. It doesn’t matter if I drive the same old familiar highway. Something else will catch my fancy. I am free to be with whomever I want, drive to wherever I please, and listen to whatever my heart whispers, even if it’s just chasing a photograph.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Free-falling to Freedom in Brazil

2010 was not my year; free-falling since 2009 from successful Customer Service Manager, rising rapidly through the ranks to redundant job seeker, an anonymous face caught up in the tsunami of unemployment as Australia was hit by the Global Economic Crisis. At the same time I went from being married, in love and planning a much dreamed of family, to separated and fighting in vein to save my marriage as my husband set up a cozy new life with his secret lover. Spiralling further and further downwards towards rock bottom, alone, jobless, heartbroken and without spousal support, I finally crash landed; in bankruptcy.

Well, the good thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only way is up!
I had a dream; to salvage the last shred of my life plan, stop the free-falling and move to Brazil!

Sure it would not be as a family unit and I would no longer be cocooned in the secure embrace of the upper middle class lifestyle my in-laws had offered, but the challenge gave me renewed purpose and hope. Still longing for a baby, I discovered that even singles can be eligible to adopt in Brazil, this became my beacon of hope, the driving force to follow my dreams and never give up, no matter what challenges lay ahead.

Simply affording the airfare seemed impossible, a pipe dream, but where there is a will there is a way and by selling almost all my worldly goods on eBay I did it. With enough spare funds to survive on a shoestring for around 12 weeks, it was make or break to find a job in that time.

With a mix of excitement and fear, armed only with a basic knowledge of Portuguese, a passion for Brazilian music and a few Capoeira moves up my sleeve, I flew off into the unknown.

My heart pulled me towards the state of Bahia, and after three bus trips totalling about 35 hours, I made it to Salvador early on a January morning in 2011.  I found a room in the heart of historic, sometimes dangerous and above all picturesque, Pelourinho for around USD$13 a night and there I began to live my dream.

My life story was a tapestry of hopes and dreams interwoven thread by thread with heartache and loss; thankfully I have a strong, independent core which worked like a flint to the sparks of freedom and adventure that came as each new stitch was sewn, thus fuelling the fire to survive here that burns deep inside me to this day.

I trod along the ancient cobbled streets, moving to the beat of drums, drinking in the sight of beautiful coloured buildings, and visiting the statue of Zumbi dos Palmares (an important figure in Capoeira) to sing to him and ask for guidance.

New found freedom combined with faith in my decision felled any remaining fear, my soul felt like it had come home. Against the odds I found a job with only days to go before my funds ran out, that dogged determination had paid it’s dividends. Sure, I was as poor as a church mouse, earning minimum wage of around USD$300 a month, but I was on my way!

From there the path has not been paved with gold, I have followed the paupers trail strewn with rocks, stumbled many times, scraped my knees and lived on the proverbial smell of an oily rag, sometimes in areas not too many steps above the poverty line but I have continued on my journey; a relentless dream catcher.

The experiences have been worth the struggles; I have seen sights both beautiful and historic that I could never have imagined, undertaken voluntary work with some amazing musicians which lead me to promote local Brazilian music to the world, something that became my soul food in this new life, and to top things off I have met so many diverse and wonderful people.

Living without mod cons; cold water showers, no washing machine, no oven, no fridge, no car, no TV, sometimes even no bed, brings sharply into focus what truly matters in life and those material items don’t even make the list! I have often had next to nothing in Brazil, but my life has been richer. Richer in experiences, richer in culture, richer in friendships.

My advice to those reading is, if you are struggling there is hope! Fears can be conquered, lows turned into highs and if you feel like running away, then sprint towards your dreams. Freedom is through that door you see just ahead, you hold the key so put it in the lock and walk through to the life that you dream of for yourself! As for me, I’m now applying to be a citizen of my new homeland; watch this space.

NB: Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

An Amazing Underwater paradise in Mexico

Grains of sand as soft and fine as powdery snow covered my toes as I tried to name all of the different shades of neon blue in the water. Turquoise, Aquamarine, Slate, Navy, Cerulean, Azure, Cornflower, Tiffany Blue. Sails on the yachts in front of me fluttered in the light sea breeze and the smell of coconut oil wafted by. Juice dripped down my fingers as I took a bite of the fresh cut pineapple. I was on the island paradise of Isla Mujeres in the Mexican Caribbean and I was in tears.

Down by the Belize border I burst into tears in Mahahual, swinging on a hammock suspended above the water. The sea was so clear that I could see the trumpet fish zig-zagging below me and even distinguish the individual grains in the rippled sand below. After that I cried at Santa Fe beach in Tulum, tears sliding down my face and into the fresh coconut I was drinking with a straw as I gazed up at the Mayan ruins on the cliff above.

A newly certified Dive Instructor, I’d been planning this move to the tropics for two years. I’d quit my job, gotten rid of my furniture, told my friends goodbye and made no promises to return. Now here I was in tropical paradise wondering if I could ask my Dad to stay in his spare room for a few months while I sorted my life out. Because my move to paradise was not going as planned.

The tourists around me were having a great time. They were on holiday, having adventures. I would come back to the hostel exhausted from a day walking in the blistering heat, hunting for a job and an apartment. Every day the tourists went swimming with whale sharks. Every day I followed false leads and faced new rejections.

Everything on the streets seemed strange. A man on a tricycle circled town with a loudspeaker blaring “…windows, refrigerators, doors, all you need, tables, chimneys, bathtubs, call me,” followed by a phone number. An eight year old boy leaned out of a truck window to wolf whistle at me. A woman tried to sell me a hand puppet shaped like a chicken.

“What is this place?” I called my Dad for advice. “I’m so tired, I don’t know if I can do this!”

“I have no doubt that you can make a life for yourself anywhere in the world,” my Dad said. “You’ve done it before.”

“I know I can make it here,” I said. “But I don’t know if I want to!”

“Give it another week.”

The next week I got a call from a dive shop offering me an instructor position. “It’s only confirmed for two months,” my new boss said, “but if it works out then you can stay through high season. The catch is that you’ll need to house-sit the apartment above the dive shop until we get the hurricane shutters installed. I hope that we can work this out.”

Needless to say, I took the job and the beachfront apartment. As soon as I was in the ocean I was in charge again; teaching people to breathe underwater, calming their fears about the equipment and the environment, introducing them to the reef ecosystem. I love taking people underwater for the first time, to see them experience the thrill of flying above the corals or encounter a creature that they didn’t even know existed. To see them face to face with a giant turtle, inside a tornado school of giant trevally, or hovering in place while manta rays do flips around them.

Life on land is still confusing, but I’m not crying anymore. I’m settling in to my new town and I’m enjoying the slow pace of life in the tropics. But underwater I have my freedom. The environment is so foreign that you can’t help but immerse yourself in the experience. You can’t feel tears underwater, you’re already totally wet.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

2016-07-08-06-57-09-1-300x300Instilling Comfortable Respect in the Philippines

The chorus of cascading waters was music to my ears as it dropped down from varying heights into an aquamarine pool. The sound mimics the sound of rain. The rhythm complements the magnificent and unadulterated view of water streaming onto rock walls and plants, giving off a thin cloud of droplets at the base of the waterfalls. This is Tinago Falls in Iligan City, Philippines. Its beauty is well hidden within the rainforest of the province hence the name “tinago”, a Filipino word that means hidden. As I stood there mesmerized by its beauty, I heaved a sigh of relief. I have finally conquered it but, unlike Tinago Falls, I need not hide because I am free.

Living in a country of diverse cultures, these diversity creates gaps in understanding that eventually leads to misconceptions. These questions in faith and beliefs, often fueled by ignorance, give birth to generalizations and bigotry. The news of tragic events happening in different parts of the world, often associated with our Muslim brothers, do not help in easing out these tensions. The Philippines, being predominantly of Christian faith, is not free from this imbalance. As most of our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters are concentrated in Mindanao, the island is still a subject that sometimes instills fear among many Filipinos. There are places that are “off-limits” in the minds of most Filipinos because it is tagged as “dangerous”.

A recent unplanned visit to Iligan City gave me the opportunity to open the mind of my 8 year old daughter on the importance of accepting diversity. It was our first time in the city and our plan was to visit the 3 of its 24 waterfalls. As we only had a couple of hours to go around, we had to hire a “habal-habal”, a motorcycle where we had to squeeze in three people and the driver, to get us around faster. It was another first for us. I had to explain to my daughter that this was the mode of public transportation in most Philippine provinces.

She was quick to notice that there were a lot of Muslims during our quick tour. She was able to identify them because of the way they dressed. She was used to the city where people dressed in a certain fashion and she saw how different this was in Iligan City. At one point, she asked me why people dressed that way.

I saw this as an opportunity to explain to her the rich and diverse culture of the Philippines. I explained to her that they were our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters. They believe in Allah and they practice their Islam faith so they have their own culture that they are proud of, and that includes the way they dress. I had to make her understand that despite these differences we were all Filipinos and should respect each other. She will meet a lot of Filipino Muslims as she grows up and will have a deeper understanding of their culture, both in our travels and in school. What is important was for her to open her mind and accept these differences just like the way she does with her friends in school. At that point, a young Muslim lady walked past our table and smiled at her to which she my daughter returned the favor.

At that point, I knew that she was on her way to understanding the lessons of cultural diversity.

As our world gets smaller with technology, it is very important to keep in mind that it will open us to the cultural exchanges from the different regions of the world. Most of these beliefs and practices may be similar and there will be a few that may contradict our very own. These exchanges will also open us to preconceived ideas and branding that can result to indifferences and, in some cases, can even lead to hate. We cannot allow these notions to affect the way we think about others because of their cultural background, their faith, the color of their skin, or the way they dress.

I find my freedom when I travel. Each destination is a new learning experience. Traveling introduced me to the different cultures and practices that makes the Philippines unique. It gave me the opportunity to help others understand the uniqueness of each culture paving the way for acceptance, just like what happened between me and my daughter during our trip in Mindanao. Traveling freed me from clutches of ignorance and taught me to respect the diversity that is present among us.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

The Inward Journey to Freedom in the US

By age fourteen I had been to twenty seven countries and four continents. How much more free could I be? Back then, life was much simpler. At twenty six years old, I’ve independently added four more countries. I had the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want, but there was something significantly different between traveling with my parents and traveling alone as an adult. Until a few years ago, I realized I was emotionally caged; trapped in heartaches, insecurities and self-loathing. Let me tell you a story of a traveler who never truly traveled until she started exploring an inward journey into herself.

I awoke, I gently began to open my eyes knowing there was no rush for anything. I graduated college, I had no job and no direction, but worst of all, I had no passion. I felt nothing and everything all at the same time. It was winter in Massachusetts and everything was dead, which is exactly how I felt. Every day it was cold and gray outside and my ribcage would tremble, trying to salvage the very last colors inside of me. Days were long and nights were longer.

Every phone call I’d bite my cheeks and pray that desperation could not be heard. I didn’t know how to ask for help, as I choked on words I could not speak. Everyone’s advice was so cliché and bland, “talk to someone, exercise, eat well, go out and meet people.” As if the simple act of getting out of bed was easy for me. When I would gather enough strength to walk to the bathroom, I’d brush my teeth with a soft gaze, avoiding all eye contact with a ghost.

She wasn’t scary but she sure wasn’t pretty. She was pale with swollen eye lids, peeled lips and bleeding finger tips. She was trapped in her own world, bruising her hands against her concrete walls, wishing somebody would save her. I used to think she was quite pathetic, but when I chose to fall in love with her, was the moment I chose to fall in love with myself.

I was tired and I was through with devaluing myself. I frantically opened my laptop and typed the first words that came to mind, “Kripalu”, the School of Yoga and Health. I had taken all of one class but that didn’t stop me. Yoga was expanding and teachers were in demand. Kripalu was only a few hours north so I signed up. A month later I was standing on the grounds where I took my first few breaths of fresh air.

I knew absolutely nothing of what yoga truly is. They stripped my judgments of bendy, skinny females wearing Lululemon. My god, yoga saved my life. Every day I cried. At first it was out of pain; reliving every moment someone took something from me, every moment I failed, disappointed, hurt and lied. They taught me to be strong in my vulnerability and supplied me with affirmations that helped heal me.

The skin I used to inflict pain upon through cigarettes and razors is the skin I now touch as if it were a lover who just told me they loved me too. I massaged my feet with gratitude for walking so steady on shaky grounds and I kissed my palms with forgiveness because sometimes I did not hold hearts with care. I looked all around and saw the greener side of the grass. I was liberated from my own perception of hell.   My inward journey was nearly complete.

Finally, a miracle; tears of happiness slid down my cheeks as I danced and held others and allowed myself to be held. I was reborn in the hands of loving, empathetic human beings that have felt how exhausted shoulders can get and how heavy hearts can be. My teachers taught me more than warrior pose, tree pose and eagle pose. They taught me how to be a warrior and enter my inner power. They taught me how to be a tree; to grow with sturdiness. They taught me how to be an eagle and fly in freedom.

I’ve felt the pain of my ancestors as I walked their graves touring the German holocaust camps. I’ve felt the love and nurture of those who’ve harvested life as I danced along the Balinese rice patties. I have hugged the Australian wild life and did the HAKA with one of New Zealand’s tribes. I have cried with Peru’s poor and laughed with their children. There’s a lot I’ve seen and a lot I haven’t, a lot I know and a lot I don’t. I’ve learned the final destination of freedom was never my plane ticket. The final destination of freedom was the only place I did not think to go and that was through an inward journey.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Why Did You Come to Japan?

There is a television show in Japan that airs every Monday called Why Did You Come to Japan? A Japanese camera crew stops foreigners arriving at Narita airport in Tokyo and asks them what the purpose is for their visit. My best friend’s dad told me about this show shortly after I arrived for my six-week stay at their house. He joked that I was there, “to sleep and fold laundry!”

That was partially true while I was recovering from the mysterious virus I contracted on the plane ride there. But when I wasn’t sleeping or folding laundry I was on a search. Although I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for at first, I’m certain I found it along the way.

I overcame fear. My journey began when I was forced to maneuver the Japanese train system. Exhausted from traveling for three days from my home in Indiana, my plane was diverted a couple hundred miles south from Tokyo to Osaka airport due to turbulence. There were no more flights so I had to take a train to find my host family in Tokyo. I was terrified at the idea of going alone, but I quickly made friends with the angel God placed in the seat beside me on the plane. We plotted, prayed, sweated, laughed and cried through the ordeal but we bravely made it to our destination together.

I taught. I packed a children’s devotional in my suitcase and read an English lesson with my friend’s nine-year-old son every morning. Not only did he get to practice his English skills, he also learned about Jesus. I learned many Japanese words in the process.

I explored. I had my own bicycle and ventured out almost daily, some days riding ten miles or more. I visited shopping centers, beautiful shrines, Starbucks and my favorite Italian restaurant. Since I had been forced to overcome my fear of working the train system upon arrival in Japan, I rode one alone to Harajuku in Tokyo from my friend’s house in Inage-Ku and visited the famous Meiji Jingu Shrine. There I found confidence, gratitude and peace.

I made new friends. I connected with the family who lived across the street from my host family. They took me on several outings including gorgeous flower gardens and a gigantic mall. One evening they invited me to their backyard BBQ. The entire family spoke fluent English, which was refreshing. And their three-year old grandson Yuto sang Row Row Row Your Boat to me in the sweetest little voice reminding me of my childhood and that we are all children at heart no matter where we live in the world.

I survived multiple earthquakes. As if the mysterious illness I contracted on my journey there was not enough, after I recovered I had to deal with my bed shaking uncontrollably on at least four occasions. They were low magnitude quakes but that was more earth shaking than I had experienced in my entire life up to that point.

I relaxed. I took hot baths at public Japanese spas and experienced a hot rock bed for the first time. I took naps in the afternoons. I read several books cover to cover. I sat in the park and people watched. I drank a lot of coffee and daydreamed. I learned to breathe again.

I ate. I enjoyed delicious meals prepared at home by my host family and I learned how to prepare many dishes myself. I cooked dinner for my friends on my last night and they actually enjoyed it! I ate homemade miso soup and rice every day and ice cream for dessert. I took myself out to restaurants. Pointing at pictures on the menu works just as well in Japan as it does at Denny’s!

I traveled. I flew to Okinawa for three nights with my friend on a girl’s only trip. We enjoyed hanging out on the beautiful beach, touring a pineapple park and winery, eating a lot of good food, revisiting my Fuguki Tree Road and just enjoying quality time together.

I worshipped. I visited a Christian church on my last full Sunday in Japan where I prayed with a congregation full of Japanese Christians. They spoke a different language than me but together we worshipped the same God. I thanked Him for blessing me so much with the gift of such an amazing adventure in this wondrous country.

I may have slept and folded a lot of laundry but I did manage to do many wonderful things. I overcame fear in the process and I left behind anxiety that I brought to Japan with me. I slept in the top bunk and gazed at the glowing stars on the wall papered ceiling as I drifted off to sleep every night. I became physically active again. I bicycled. I kayaked. I even participated in a tug of war contest. I learned patience and endurance in ways I never experienced before. I learned that people everywhere are the same on the inside. And I thanked God for blessing me so much in life.

To simply answer the question, “Why did you come to Japan?”

I went to Japan to find freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

sky-500x500Hard fought Journeys to a Satisfied Freedom in the Philippines

When I saw the theme of this article writing contest, I remember a quote I have encountered before. The quote says “Learn the rules. Then break some”. It might sound rebellious to some but for me, I think of it as another way of saying you fight for your journeys freedom.

I believe there are different kinds of freedom each and every one of us is looking for. We all wanted to be free, free from the things that we think are holding us back from living the life we desire. We want to move away from what are bothering us, hurting us, our struggles, this is what being free might be for each of us. But where and when do we find our freedom? How do we fight for it? How can we say we feel free?

Speaking for myself, I still find me being stuck from where I am now. I feel like I’m still bounded with all the responsibilities I have for my Family. Still bounded from thinking about the approval of my society on how I should be living my life. But all of these things including self doubt and fear disappear whenever I am travelling alone in an unfamiliar territory.

When I get out there, I always choose to leave the things that are bringing me down. I clear my head from them. Yes, I am trying to run away from them and be free from them even for a while because this is where and when I find my freedom from what I think is a cruel reality.

I used to travel with people I know and used to be closed to me but it made a difference to see how free I can feel when I did a trip alone. During these journeys I learned how to decide everything for myself, which I think is one way of exercising my freedom. I usually make my own itinerary based on the information I get from travel blogs but there are times that I do not follow it and decide to get lost. I feel like I can afford to see the places where some do not go. I am free to explore. I am not bound by any box or circle.

From these travels I learned to be free from judgement and doubts. I started to convince myself to trust people who are very unfamiliar to me, who I just met or encountered at the moment. At these moments I do not have any thoughts to make me run from people I do not know. I invite them to be part of my new circle instead.

The best freedom I get from these experiences is that I am freely me. Everything is me. I am allowed to be myself. I open up myself to new territories, new people and new learning. I do not have to worry about being out of my usual comfort zone. I do not feel any pain. I am releasing my inner bravery and last but not the least I am free to hope without a limit. The hope that will give me strength to face every obstacle and struggles to achieve the life I have always been dreaming. A life where I get to have the freedom to be independent and to be myself whenever, wherever.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Freedom When an Amazing Life Flys Away in the US

It was three summers ago and I had just flown from Kauai to Portland, OR to be with my boyfriend after months of being apart. Everything was finally looking up, after going through hardships during my travels on the islands. I was exactly where I wanted to be.

I remember how exciting it was to feel the cool, crisp NW air and to see Portland for the first time. The city was coming alive, people were buzzing on the streets, cafés were clamoring with business, I had made it.
My boyfriend and I had driven down to his family farm in Dallas, OR, a small town in a valley at the edge of the Coast Range Mountains. The farm is a hundred years old and sits on seventy acres of open land, filled with fruit trees and a rambling river. If anything, my time in Oregon was only getting better.

However, three days into my trip, I received a phone call from my Aunt Lorie whom never calls. A red flag went up as I answered. “Your grandma is in hospice…” My heart sank into my chest as I heard these words. I had spoken to my grandmother occasionally throughout the past year but, it wasn’t enough. She was the woman who raised me from toddler to adult, she was my hero. I should have been more present.

I was feeling all sorts of emotions, but mostly sadness and despair that I wasn’t a car ride away. In fact, I was on the opposite end of the country, at least an eight-hour flight from home. Feeling helpless and confused, I continued my day, beneath a cloud. I was awaiting answers to my prayers. I prayed to my mother, whom passed away when I was two. I sought advice on the situation, if I should continue my trip or fly home. The following morning my prayer was answered in the form of a Robin bird who landed in front of me in between two large oak trees. My mother’s name was Robin. In that moment I felt a sigh of relief that even through difficulty, things can still make sense.

A couple more days had passed with no improvements to my grandmother’s health. Yet, I decided to remain in Oregon. We had made our way to the coast which is my favorite place to be. Throughout the days I had been given small universal signs that everything was going to be okay. I felt a little more at ease.

Throughout my travels I had picked up a used book called, The Invitation. At the end of every chapter the author asks the reader to write short exercises. They are based on looking inwards. Like most books I read, I found that every time I flipped the page, it was more and more relevant to my current situation. This time, the exercise was to write down ‘what I need and what I need from others’. I jotted down the answers in my journal and put it away. The following day would be pivotal.
In the afternoon my boyfriend and I found ourselves in a state park situated on the central coast. We climbed a sand dune to check the surf. It was small but looked worthwhile, so we grabbed our boards and ran to the water. It was a beautiful, sunny day. No one was around. We had this place to ourselves. I caught some really fun little peeling waves. This was my perfect moment.

When I got out of my wetsuit and changed into dry clothes, I grabbed my journal and climbed up a sand dune that overlooked the vast, glistening Pacific. I was in my peaceful place. Because I hadn’t had time the previous day to finish my journal entry, I did so on the dune. When I finished writing I sent my needs and needs of others into the universe. “I need Bubee to know that my brothers and I will be okay without her.” “I need Bubee to know that she is free to leave her body and to find her freedom.” I felt so relieved and uplifted from partaking in this exercise.

When I got back to the car I checked my phone; a missed call from my aunt. Before I listened to the message, I knew what I’d hear. And when I officially heard the words, tears fell from my eyes, but they were mostly tears of joy. I never thought I’d feel that way about my grandmothers passing. But, I couldn’t deny the sequence of events that occurred. I knew deep in my heart that someone was watching over us. She had passed when I was doing what I love most; surfing and traveling. And in that realization I too found my freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Interesting Strangers in transit through the USA

I used to dread traveling alone. I mean lets’ face it, sitting alone at an airport waiting for a flight, exhausted, trying to avoid talking to strangers you simply do not have the energy to communicate with is no one’s favorite pastime. At least not mine. I used to find it awkward, like all the other passengers were staring at me, judging me because I did not have a group of friends or family around me. Sometimes I was judging myself too, wondering what on earth was I doing, spending my time at yet another airport in the middle of nowhere, going to a city I had never been to before, only to wander around all by myself, since clearly I did not know anyone there. My family and friends, whom I gladly would have welcomed with me on my adventures but who unfortunately were not very keen on traveling with me, kept asking why I was going where I was going, with who, and every time I replied “alone”, they looked at me like I had gone nuts. Why would you travel somewhere you’ve never been to and know nothing about, completely alone, for no apparent reason? Yes, there were times when I myself questioned my sanity.

But there is a flipside to wandering around in a strange city all by yourself. It’s refreshing. Fascinating. Freeing. Empowering even. Watching the waves on the beach of Wilmington, admiring wonderful art and beautiful old buildings in Boston or sipping morning coffee at Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Thinking back, I don’t remember being lonely. I don’t remember feeling awkward or out of place. No, thinking back just makes me smile. What I remember is the warm wind and the salty smell of the ocean; the music, and the laughter; the smell of the coffee, the orchestra playing and how much I loved that little pink house with a porch full of colorful flowers. The interesting conversation with that silly old grandpa at the diner, or that kind stranger letting me crash on his couch when things went wrong in El Paso and I had nowhere to spend the night. I remember that time I randomly stumbled into a dive bar to see a band somewhere in Wisconsin, and ended up spending the next week hanging out with them, selling merchandise at a festival and sipping margaritas by the pool, having the time of my life. I remember all those fascinating, devastating and heart-warming life stories of strangers I met in passing, and all those moments I would not change for the world. And most of all I remember feeling stronger, more confident. I remember feeling free. All of a sudden none of those expectations, none of those horrifying tiny boxes people around me have always tried to fit me in did not matter anymore. On that plane or that strange city, surrounded by strangers, I was finally able to just be me. To be free.

The biggest realization traveling alone has given me, is that I can do this. I will get through and I will survive, whatever it is life throws at me. I will never be what other people expect me to be, so I might as well just follow my heart and do what I feel is right. The world is a magnificent, interesting and beautiful place, and I intend to see as much of it as I possibly can. Even if it means I’m seeing it alone.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Just Chasing a Photograph in the USA

I used to be a jet-setting executive who had the world at her feet. Nowadays, I travel because my three daughters live in different cities around the world: Seattle (next, San Francisco), Calgary, and Manila (London before, Melbourne next). Recently, my career-oriented middle daughter Claudine needed help. For the fifth time after I retired, I flew to Canada to take care of three young ones.

“We can go to Yoho and Kootenay in B.C., our chance to complete the quad parks named the World Heritage Site of the Canadian Rockies,” I convinced my husband, Bill. On the third weekend, I squeezed in a visit to the new Glacier Skywalk on the Columbia Icefields between Banff and Jasper, the two in Alberta we had visited earlier.

The only downside was driving the same section of the Trans-Canada Highway six more times. Sure enough, on the road to Yoho, I dozed off. Bill missed my chatter, nudging me, “Hey, sleepyhead, I bought you some Cheetos!” In a jiffy, the bag of my favorite cheesy crunchies was gone. I should have been upset he spoiled my beauty nap. Instead, I thanked him.

Between mouthfuls, I caught a glimpse of a scene that would haunt me. A lone red car seemed to rise on the road, driving straight into an enormous glacier-draped mountain. It vanished in a second. “I want that photograph!” whispered my heart. Staying glued to the windshield, soon a second chance came. Alas, the car was black, and the road was flat.

Photos of lovely sights around Yoho did not get my mind off that scene: Marble Canyon, Painted Pots, Sinclair Canyon, and Radium’s Hot Springs and bighorn sheep around town. The following Saturday, I was back with a vengeance. It didn’t take long and another such scene appeared. The mountain was even more majestic. But the car, being white, disappeared into the mist. Again, there was no road rise. I cried, “Can we just stage something?” Bill had one word, “Patience!”

Other photo-ops were on the road. An enormous yellow truck blazoned against the grays. White clouds cavorted with ice-lined pointed peaks. A multi-colored train ruffled through the Rockies’ skirts. Cute, curvy twin bridges punctuated the highway humdrum. Once in a while, a red-roofed cabin enlivened the greens. Around Kootenay, there was more: the Spiral Train, Emerald Lake, Natural Bridge, and the towns of Field and Golden. Still, I wanted that photo.

On the third weekend, the weather was itself, taking a sudden nasty turn. We proceeded and stayed at Banff for the night, hoping it would clear the next day. It didn’t. I have been through Philippine storms, but snow takes me right inside a freezer. But I had to go. It was my last chance.

I started feeling hopeless, but a smile returned to my face when, at more than 6,000 feet high, frosty evergreen began to grace both sides of the road. I asked Bill to stop and stepped out. Wet fluffy things instantly brushed against my face. I “smelled” chestnuts roasting nearby. From inside the car, Bill took my photo of Christmas in June! Still, I longed for another photo.

At the Skywalk, it wasn’t a panorama of glistening glaciers but gray and gloom that greeted us. Making the best of a bad situation, I noticed that my outfit had come together: the red beanie I just bought at the Gift Shop and the red gloves, red scarf and black winter jacket Claudine lent me. Bill took off his gloves to freely fiddle with the Nikon and the slippery platform turned into MY catwalk. “Hurry up! My fingers are already frozen!” interrupted my trance. But by then, I had precious photos of a glamorous fashion model at 67. Still, it was THAT scene I wanted.

On the way home, I was nervous. Bill’s words rang loud in my ears, “It’s now or never.” And, just like that, it came. The car wasn’t red and low-lying clouds partly hid the mountain. But the road had a slight rise, creating the magical effect I saw the first time. All the way home, a contest of who can give the best caption for the photo produced: “Into the Clouds”, “Into the Unknown”, and “Beyond the Ordinary.”

The grandkids hugged me tight as Claudine asked, “Is photography a new career?” I explained that the job I love most is that of a traveling Grandnanny. It doesn’t matter how many times I go back to a place. It’s the people that count. It doesn’t matter if I drive the same old familiar highway. Something else will catch my fancy. I am free to be with whomever I want, drive to wherever I please, and listen to whatever my heart whispers, even if it’s just chasing a photograph.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Free-falling to Freedom in Brazil

2010 was not my year; free-falling since 2009 from successful Customer Service Manager, rising rapidly through the ranks to redundant job seeker, an anonymous face caught up in the tsunami of unemployment as Australia was hit by the Global Economic Crisis. At the same time I went from being married, in love and planning a much dreamed of family, to separated and fighting in vein to save my marriage as my husband set up a cozy new life with his secret lover. Spiralling further and further downwards towards rock bottom, alone, jobless, heartbroken and without spousal support, I finally crash landed; in bankruptcy.

Well, the good thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only way is up!
I had a dream; to salvage the last shred of my life plan, stop the free-falling and move to Brazil!

Sure it would not be as a family unit and I would no longer be cocooned in the secure embrace of the upper middle class lifestyle my in-laws had offered, but the challenge gave me renewed purpose and hope. Still longing for a baby, I discovered that even singles can be eligible to adopt in Brazil, this became my beacon of hope, the driving force to follow my dreams and never give up, no matter what challenges lay ahead.

Simply affording the airfare seemed impossible, a pipe dream, but where there is a will there is a way and by selling almost all my worldly goods on eBay I did it. With enough spare funds to survive on a shoestring for around 12 weeks, it was make or break to find a job in that time.

With a mix of excitement and fear, armed only with a basic knowledge of Portuguese, a passion for Brazilian music and a few Capoeira moves up my sleeve, I flew off into the unknown.

My heart pulled me towards the state of Bahia, and after three bus trips totalling about 35 hours, I made it to Salvador early on a January morning in 2011.  I found a room in the heart of historic, sometimes dangerous and above all picturesque, Pelourinho for around USD$13 a night and there I began to live my dream.

My life story was a tapestry of hopes and dreams interwoven thread by thread with heartache and loss; thankfully I have a strong, independent core which worked like a flint to the sparks of freedom and adventure that came as each new stitch was sewn, thus fuelling the fire to survive here that burns deep inside me to this day.

I trod along the ancient cobbled streets, moving to the beat of drums, drinking in the sight of beautiful coloured buildings, and visiting the statue of Zumbi dos Palmares (an important figure in Capoeira) to sing to him and ask for guidance.

New found freedom combined with faith in my decision felled any remaining fear, my soul felt like it had come home. Against the odds I found a job with only days to go before my funds ran out, that dogged determination had paid it’s dividends. Sure, I was as poor as a church mouse, earning minimum wage of around USD$300 a month, but I was on my way!

From there the path has not been paved with gold, I have followed the paupers trail strewn with rocks, stumbled many times, scraped my knees and lived on the proverbial smell of an oily rag, sometimes in areas not too many steps above the poverty line but I have continued on my journey; a relentless dream catcher.

The experiences have been worth the struggles; I have seen sights both beautiful and historic that I could never have imagined, undertaken voluntary work with some amazing musicians which lead me to promote local Brazilian music to the world, something that became my soul food in this new life, and to top things off I have met so many diverse and wonderful people.

Living without mod cons; cold water showers, no washing machine, no oven, no fridge, no car, no TV, sometimes even no bed, brings sharply into focus what truly matters in life and those material items don’t even make the list! I have often had next to nothing in Brazil, but my life has been richer. Richer in experiences, richer in culture, richer in friendships.

My advice to those reading is, if you are struggling there is hope! Fears can be conquered, lows turned into highs and if you feel like running away, then sprint towards your dreams. Freedom is through that door you see just ahead, you hold the key so put it in the lock and walk through to the life that you dream of for yourself! As for me, I’m now applying to be a citizen of my new homeland; watch this space.

NB: Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

An Amazing Underwater paradise in Mexico

Grains of sand as soft and fine as powdery snow covered my toes as I tried to name all of the different shades of neon blue in the water. Turquoise, Aquamarine, Slate, Navy, Cerulean, Azure, Cornflower, Tiffany Blue. Sails on the yachts in front of me fluttered in the light sea breeze and the smell of coconut oil wafted by. Juice dripped down my fingers as I took a bite of the fresh cut pineapple. I was on the island paradise of Isla Mujeres in the Mexican Caribbean and I was in tears.

Down by the Belize border I burst into tears in Mahahual, swinging on a hammock suspended above the water. The sea was so clear that I could see the trumpet fish zig-zagging below me and even distinguish the individual grains in the rippled sand below. After that I cried at Santa Fe beach in Tulum, tears sliding down my face and into the fresh coconut I was drinking with a straw as I gazed up at the Mayan ruins on the cliff above.

A newly certified Dive Instructor, I’d been planning this move to the tropics for two years. I’d quit my job, gotten rid of my furniture, told my friends goodbye and made no promises to return. Now here I was in tropical paradise wondering if I could ask my Dad to stay in his spare room for a few months while I sorted my life out. Because my move to paradise was not going as planned.

The tourists around me were having a great time. They were on holiday, having adventures. I would come back to the hostel exhausted from a day walking in the blistering heat, hunting for a job and an apartment. Every day the tourists went swimming with whale sharks. Every day I followed false leads and faced new rejections.

Everything on the streets seemed strange. A man on a tricycle circled town with a loudspeaker blaring “…windows, refrigerators, doors, all you need, tables, chimneys, bathtubs, call me,” followed by a phone number. An eight year old boy leaned out of a truck window to wolf whistle at me. A woman tried to sell me a hand puppet shaped like a chicken.

“What is this place?” I called my Dad for advice. “I’m so tired, I don’t know if I can do this!”

“I have no doubt that you can make a life for yourself anywhere in the world,” my Dad said. “You’ve done it before.”

“I know I can make it here,” I said. “But I don’t know if I want to!”

“Give it another week.”

The next week I got a call from a dive shop offering me an instructor position. “It’s only confirmed for two months,” my new boss said, “but if it works out then you can stay through high season. The catch is that you’ll need to house-sit the apartment above the dive shop until we get the hurricane shutters installed. I hope that we can work this out.”

Needless to say, I took the job and the beachfront apartment. As soon as I was in the ocean I was in charge again; teaching people to breathe underwater, calming their fears about the equipment and the environment, introducing them to the reef ecosystem. I love taking people underwater for the first time, to see them experience the thrill of flying above the corals or encounter a creature that they didn’t even know existed. To see them face to face with a giant turtle, inside a tornado school of giant trevally, or hovering in place while manta rays do flips around them.

Life on land is still confusing, but I’m not crying anymore. I’m settling in to my new town and I’m enjoying the slow pace of life in the tropics. But underwater I have my freedom. The environment is so foreign that you can’t help but immerse yourself in the experience. You can’t feel tears underwater, you’re already totally wet.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

2016-07-08-06-57-09-1-300x300Instilling Comfortable Respect in the Philippines

The chorus of cascading waters was music to my ears as it dropped down from varying heights into an aquamarine pool. The sound mimics the sound of rain. The rhythm complements the magnificent and unadulterated view of water streaming onto rock walls and plants, giving off a thin cloud of droplets at the base of the waterfalls. This is Tinago Falls in Iligan City, Philippines. Its beauty is well hidden within the rainforest of the province hence the name “tinago”, a Filipino word that means hidden. As I stood there mesmerized by its beauty, I heaved a sigh of relief. I have finally conquered it but, unlike Tinago Falls, I need not hide because I am free.

Living in a country of diverse cultures, these diversity creates gaps in understanding that eventually leads to misconceptions. These questions in faith and beliefs, often fueled by ignorance, give birth to generalizations and bigotry. The news of tragic events happening in different parts of the world, often associated with our Muslim brothers, do not help in easing out these tensions. The Philippines, being predominantly of Christian faith, is not free from this imbalance. As most of our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters are concentrated in Mindanao, the island is still a subject that sometimes instills fear among many Filipinos. There are places that are “off-limits” in the minds of most Filipinos because it is tagged as “dangerous”.

A recent unplanned visit to Iligan City gave me the opportunity to open the mind of my 8 year old daughter on the importance of accepting diversity. It was our first time in the city and our plan was to visit the 3 of its 24 waterfalls. As we only had a couple of hours to go around, we had to hire a “habal-habal”, a motorcycle where we had to squeeze in three people and the driver, to get us around faster. It was another first for us. I had to explain to my daughter that this was the mode of public transportation in most Philippine provinces.

She was quick to notice that there were a lot of Muslims during our quick tour. She was able to identify them because of the way they dressed. She was used to the city where people dressed in a certain fashion and she saw how different this was in Iligan City. At one point, she asked me why people dressed that way.

I saw this as an opportunity to explain to her the rich and diverse culture of the Philippines. I explained to her that they were our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters. They believe in Allah and they practice their Islam faith so they have their own culture that they are proud of, and that includes the way they dress. I had to make her understand that despite these differences we were all Filipinos and should respect each other. She will meet a lot of Filipino Muslims as she grows up and will have a deeper understanding of their culture, both in our travels and in school. What is important was for her to open her mind and accept these differences just like the way she does with her friends in school. At that point, a young Muslim lady walked past our table and smiled at her to which she my daughter returned the favor.

At that point, I knew that she was on her way to understanding the lessons of cultural diversity.

As our world gets smaller with technology, it is very important to keep in mind that it will open us to the cultural exchanges from the different regions of the world. Most of these beliefs and practices may be similar and there will be a few that may contradict our very own. These exchanges will also open us to preconceived ideas and branding that can result to indifferences and, in some cases, can even lead to hate. We cannot allow these notions to affect the way we think about others because of their cultural background, their faith, the color of their skin, or the way they dress.

I find my freedom when I travel. Each destination is a new learning experience. Traveling introduced me to the different cultures and practices that makes the Philippines unique. It gave me the opportunity to help others understand the uniqueness of each culture paving the way for acceptance, just like what happened between me and my daughter during our trip in Mindanao. Traveling freed me from clutches of ignorance and taught me to respect the diversity that is present among us.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

The Inward Journey to Freedom in the US

By age fourteen I had been to twenty seven countries and four continents. How much more free could I be? Back then, life was much simpler. At twenty six years old, I’ve independently added four more countries. I had the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want, but there was something significantly different between traveling with my parents and traveling alone as an adult. Until a few years ago, I realized I was emotionally caged; trapped in heartaches, insecurities and self-loathing. Let me tell you a story of a traveler who never truly traveled until she started exploring an inward journey into herself.

I awoke, I gently began to open my eyes knowing there was no rush for anything. I graduated college, I had no job and no direction, but worst of all, I had no passion. I felt nothing and everything all at the same time. It was winter in Massachusetts and everything was dead, which is exactly how I felt. Every day it was cold and gray outside and my ribcage would tremble, trying to salvage the very last colors inside of me. Days were long and nights were longer.

Every phone call I’d bite my cheeks and pray that desperation could not be heard. I didn’t know how to ask for help, as I choked on words I could not speak. Everyone’s advice was so cliché and bland, “talk to someone, exercise, eat well, go out and meet people.” As if the simple act of getting out of bed was easy for me. When I would gather enough strength to walk to the bathroom, I’d brush my teeth with a soft gaze, avoiding all eye contact with a ghost.

She wasn’t scary but she sure wasn’t pretty. She was pale with swollen eye lids, peeled lips and bleeding finger tips. She was trapped in her own world, bruising her hands against her concrete walls, wishing somebody would save her. I used to think she was quite pathetic, but when I chose to fall in love with her, was the moment I chose to fall in love with myself.

I was tired and I was through with devaluing myself. I frantically opened my laptop and typed the first words that came to mind, “Kripalu”, the School of Yoga and Health. I had taken all of one class but that didn’t stop me. Yoga was expanding and teachers were in demand. Kripalu was only a few hours north so I signed up. A month later I was standing on the grounds where I took my first few breaths of fresh air.

I knew absolutely nothing of what yoga truly is. They stripped my judgments of bendy, skinny females wearing Lululemon. My god, yoga saved my life. Every day I cried. At first it was out of pain; reliving every moment someone took something from me, every moment I failed, disappointed, hurt and lied. They taught me to be strong in my vulnerability and supplied me with affirmations that helped heal me.

The skin I used to inflict pain upon through cigarettes and razors is the skin I now touch as if it were a lover who just told me they loved me too. I massaged my feet with gratitude for walking so steady on shaky grounds and I kissed my palms with forgiveness because sometimes I did not hold hearts with care. I looked all around and saw the greener side of the grass. I was liberated from my own perception of hell.   My inward journey was nearly complete.

Finally, a miracle; tears of happiness slid down my cheeks as I danced and held others and allowed myself to be held. I was reborn in the hands of loving, empathetic human beings that have felt how exhausted shoulders can get and how heavy hearts can be. My teachers taught me more than warrior pose, tree pose and eagle pose. They taught me how to be a warrior and enter my inner power. They taught me how to be a tree; to grow with sturdiness. They taught me how to be an eagle and fly in freedom.

I’ve felt the pain of my ancestors as I walked their graves touring the German holocaust camps. I’ve felt the love and nurture of those who’ve harvested life as I danced along the Balinese rice patties. I have hugged the Australian wild life and did the HAKA with one of New Zealand’s tribes. I have cried with Peru’s poor and laughed with their children. There’s a lot I’ve seen and a lot I haven’t, a lot I know and a lot I don’t. I’ve learned the final destination of freedom was never my plane ticket. The final destination of freedom was the only place I did not think to go and that was through an inward journey.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Why Did You Come to Japan?

There is a television show in Japan that airs every Monday called Why Did You Come to Japan? A Japanese camera crew stops foreigners arriving at Narita airport in Tokyo and asks them what the purpose is for their visit. My best friend’s dad told me about this show shortly after I arrived for my six-week stay at their house. He joked that I was there, “to sleep and fold laundry!”

That was partially true while I was recovering from the mysterious virus I contracted on the plane ride there. But when I wasn’t sleeping or folding laundry I was on a search. Although I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for at first, I’m certain I found it along the way.

I overcame fear. My journey began when I was forced to maneuver the Japanese train system. Exhausted from traveling for three days from my home in Indiana, my plane was diverted a couple hundred miles south from Tokyo to Osaka airport due to turbulence. There were no more flights so I had to take a train to find my host family in Tokyo. I was terrified at the idea of going alone, but I quickly made friends with the angel God placed in the seat beside me on the plane. We plotted, prayed, sweated, laughed and cried through the ordeal but we bravely made it to our destination together.

I taught. I packed a children’s devotional in my suitcase and read an English lesson with my friend’s nine-year-old son every morning. Not only did he get to practice his English skills, he also learned about Jesus. I learned many Japanese words in the process.

I explored. I had my own bicycle and ventured out almost daily, some days riding ten miles or more. I visited shopping centers, beautiful shrines, Starbucks and my favorite Italian restaurant. Since I had been forced to overcome my fear of working the train system upon arrival in Japan, I rode one alone to Harajuku in Tokyo from my friend’s house in Inage-Ku and visited the famous Meiji Jingu Shrine. There I found confidence, gratitude and peace.

I made new friends. I connected with the family who lived across the street from my host family. They took me on several outings including gorgeous flower gardens and a gigantic mall. One evening they invited me to their backyard BBQ. The entire family spoke fluent English, which was refreshing. And their three-year old grandson Yuto sang Row Row Row Your Boat to me in the sweetest little voice reminding me of my childhood and that we are all children at heart no matter where we live in the world.

I survived multiple earthquakes. As if the mysterious illness I contracted on my journey there was not enough, after I recovered I had to deal with my bed shaking uncontrollably on at least four occasions. They were low magnitude quakes but that was more earth shaking than I had experienced in my entire life up to that point.

I relaxed. I took hot baths at public Japanese spas and experienced a hot rock bed for the first time. I took naps in the afternoons. I read several books cover to cover. I sat in the park and people watched. I drank a lot of coffee and daydreamed. I learned to breathe again.

I ate. I enjoyed delicious meals prepared at home by my host family and I learned how to prepare many dishes myself. I cooked dinner for my friends on my last night and they actually enjoyed it! I ate homemade miso soup and rice every day and ice cream for dessert. I took myself out to restaurants. Pointing at pictures on the menu works just as well in Japan as it does at Denny’s!

I traveled. I flew to Okinawa for three nights with my friend on a girl’s only trip. We enjoyed hanging out on the beautiful beach, touring a pineapple park and winery, eating a lot of good food, revisiting my Fuguki Tree Road and just enjoying quality time together.

I worshipped. I visited a Christian church on my last full Sunday in Japan where I prayed with a congregation full of Japanese Christians. They spoke a different language than me but together we worshipped the same God. I thanked Him for blessing me so much with the gift of such an amazing adventure in this wondrous country.

I may have slept and folded a lot of laundry but I did manage to do many wonderful things. I overcame fear in the process and I left behind anxiety that I brought to Japan with me. I slept in the top bunk and gazed at the glowing stars on the wall papered ceiling as I drifted off to sleep every night. I became physically active again. I bicycled. I kayaked. I even participated in a tug of war contest. I learned patience and endurance in ways I never experienced before. I learned that people everywhere are the same on the inside. And I thanked God for blessing me so much in life.

To simply answer the question, “Why did you come to Japan?”

I went to Japan to find freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

sky-500x500Hard fought Journeys to a Satisfied Freedom in the Philippines

When I saw the theme of this article writing contest, I remember a quote I have encountered before. The quote says “Learn the rules. Then break some”. It might sound rebellious to some but for me, I think of it as another way of saying you fight for your journeys freedom.

I believe there are different kinds of freedom each and every one of us is looking for. We all wanted to be free, free from the things that we think are holding us back from living the life we desire. We want to move away from what are bothering us, hurting us, our struggles, this is what being free might be for each of us. But where and when do we find our freedom? How do we fight for it? How can we say we feel free?

Speaking for myself, I still find me being stuck from where I am now. I feel like I’m still bounded with all the responsibilities I have for my Family. Still bounded from thinking about the approval of my society on how I should be living my life. But all of these things including self doubt and fear disappear whenever I am travelling alone in an unfamiliar territory.

When I get out there, I always choose to leave the things that are bringing me down. I clear my head from them. Yes, I am trying to run away from them and be free from them even for a while because this is where and when I find my freedom from what I think is a cruel reality.

I used to travel with people I know and used to be closed to me but it made a difference to see how free I can feel when I did a trip alone. During these journeys I learned how to decide everything for myself, which I think is one way of exercising my freedom. I usually make my own itinerary based on the information I get from travel blogs but there are times that I do not follow it and decide to get lost. I feel like I can afford to see the places where some do not go. I am free to explore. I am not bound by any box or circle.

From these travels I learned to be free from judgement and doubts. I started to convince myself to trust people who are very unfamiliar to me, who I just met or encountered at the moment. At these moments I do not have any thoughts to make me run from people I do not know. I invite them to be part of my new circle instead.

The best freedom I get from these experiences is that I am freely me. Everything is me. I am allowed to be myself. I open up myself to new territories, new people and new learning. I do not have to worry about being out of my usual comfort zone. I do not feel any pain. I am releasing my inner bravery and last but not the least I am free to hope without a limit. The hope that will give me strength to face every obstacle and struggles to achieve the life I have always been dreaming. A life where I get to have the freedom to be independent and to be myself whenever, wherever.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Freedom When an Amazing Life Flys Away in the US

It was three summers ago and I had just flown from Kauai to Portland, OR to be with my boyfriend after months of being apart. Everything was finally looking up, after going through hardships during my travels on the islands. I was exactly where I wanted to be.

I remember how exciting it was to feel the cool, crisp NW air and to see Portland for the first time. The city was coming alive, people were buzzing on the streets, cafés were clamoring with business, I had made it.
My boyfriend and I had driven down to his family farm in Dallas, OR, a small town in a valley at the edge of the Coast Range Mountains. The farm is a hundred years old and sits on seventy acres of open land, filled with fruit trees and a rambling river. If anything, my time in Oregon was only getting better.

However, three days into my trip, I received a phone call from my Aunt Lorie whom never calls. A red flag went up as I answered. “Your grandma is in hospice…” My heart sank into my chest as I heard these words. I had spoken to my grandmother occasionally throughout the past year but, it wasn’t enough. She was the woman who raised me from toddler to adult, she was my hero. I should have been more present.

I was feeling all sorts of emotions, but mostly sadness and despair that I wasn’t a car ride away. In fact, I was on the opposite end of the country, at least an eight-hour flight from home. Feeling helpless and confused, I continued my day, beneath a cloud. I was awaiting answers to my prayers. I prayed to my mother, whom passed away when I was two. I sought advice on the situation, if I should continue my trip or fly home. The following morning my prayer was answered in the form of a Robin bird who landed in front of me in between two large oak trees. My mother’s name was Robin. In that moment I felt a sigh of relief that even through difficulty, things can still make sense.

A couple more days had passed with no improvements to my grandmother’s health. Yet, I decided to remain in Oregon. We had made our way to the coast which is my favorite place to be. Throughout the days I had been given small universal signs that everything was going to be okay. I felt a little more at ease.

Throughout my travels I had picked up a used book called, The Invitation. At the end of every chapter the author asks the reader to write short exercises. They are based on looking inwards. Like most books I read, I found that every time I flipped the page, it was more and more relevant to my current situation. This time, the exercise was to write down ‘what I need and what I need from others’. I jotted down the answers in my journal and put it away. The following day would be pivotal.
In the afternoon my boyfriend and I found ourselves in a state park situated on the central coast. We climbed a sand dune to check the surf. It was small but looked worthwhile, so we grabbed our boards and ran to the water. It was a beautiful, sunny day. No one was around. We had this place to ourselves. I caught some really fun little peeling waves. This was my perfect moment.

When I got out of my wetsuit and changed into dry clothes, I grabbed my journal and climbed up a sand dune that overlooked the vast, glistening Pacific. I was in my peaceful place. Because I hadn’t had time the previous day to finish my journal entry, I did so on the dune. When I finished writing I sent my needs and needs of others into the universe. “I need Bubee to know that my brothers and I will be okay without her.” “I need Bubee to know that she is free to leave her body and to find her freedom.” I felt so relieved and uplifted from partaking in this exercise.

When I got back to the car I checked my phone; a missed call from my aunt. Before I listened to the message, I knew what I’d hear. And when I officially heard the words, tears fell from my eyes, but they were mostly tears of joy. I never thought I’d feel that way about my grandmothers passing. But, I couldn’t deny the sequence of events that occurred. I knew deep in my heart that someone was watching over us. She had passed when I was doing what I love most; surfing and traveling. And in that realization I too found my freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Interesting Strangers in transit through the USA

I used to dread traveling alone. I mean lets’ face it, sitting alone at an airport waiting for a flight, exhausted, trying to avoid talking to strangers you simply do not have the energy to communicate with is no one’s favorite pastime. At least not mine. I used to find it awkward, like all the other passengers were staring at me, judging me because I did not have a group of friends or family around me. Sometimes I was judging myself too, wondering what on earth was I doing, spending my time at yet another airport in the middle of nowhere, going to a city I had never been to before, only to wander around all by myself, since clearly I did not know anyone there. My family and friends, whom I gladly would have welcomed with me on my adventures but who unfortunately were not very keen on traveling with me, kept asking why I was going where I was going, with who, and every time I replied “alone”, they looked at me like I had gone nuts. Why would you travel somewhere you’ve never been to and know nothing about, completely alone, for no apparent reason? Yes, there were times when I myself questioned my sanity.

But there is a flipside to wandering around in a strange city all by yourself. It’s refreshing. Fascinating. Freeing. Empowering even. Watching the waves on the beach of Wilmington, admiring wonderful art and beautiful old buildings in Boston or sipping morning coffee at Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Thinking back, I don’t remember being lonely. I don’t remember feeling awkward or out of place. No, thinking back just makes me smile. What I remember is the warm wind and the salty smell of the ocean; the music, and the laughter; the smell of the coffee, the orchestra playing and how much I loved that little pink house with a porch full of colorful flowers. The interesting conversation with that silly old grandpa at the diner, or that kind stranger letting me crash on his couch when things went wrong in El Paso and I had nowhere to spend the night. I remember that time I randomly stumbled into a dive bar to see a band somewhere in Wisconsin, and ended up spending the next week hanging out with them, selling merchandise at a festival and sipping margaritas by the pool, having the time of my life. I remember all those fascinating, devastating and heart-warming life stories of strangers I met in passing, and all those moments I would not change for the world. And most of all I remember feeling stronger, more confident. I remember feeling free. All of a sudden none of those expectations, none of those horrifying tiny boxes people around me have always tried to fit me in did not matter anymore. On that plane or that strange city, surrounded by strangers, I was finally able to just be me. To be free.

The biggest realization traveling alone has given me, is that I can do this. I will get through and I will survive, whatever it is life throws at me. I will never be what other people expect me to be, so I might as well just follow my heart and do what I feel is right. The world is a magnificent, interesting and beautiful place, and I intend to see as much of it as I possibly can. Even if it means I’m seeing it alone.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Just Chasing a Photograph in the USA

I used to be a jet-setting executive who had the world at her feet. Nowadays, I travel because my three daughters live in different cities around the world: Seattle (next, San Francisco), Calgary, and Manila (London before, Melbourne next). Recently, my career-oriented middle daughter Claudine needed help. For the fifth time after I retired, I flew to Canada to take care of three young ones.

“We can go to Yoho and Kootenay in B.C., our chance to complete the quad parks named the World Heritage Site of the Canadian Rockies,” I convinced my husband, Bill. On the third weekend, I squeezed in a visit to the new Glacier Skywalk on the Columbia Icefields between Banff and Jasper, the two in Alberta we had visited earlier.

The only downside was driving the same section of the Trans-Canada Highway six more times. Sure enough, on the road to Yoho, I dozed off. Bill missed my chatter, nudging me, “Hey, sleepyhead, I bought you some Cheetos!” In a jiffy, the bag of my favorite cheesy crunchies was gone. I should have been upset he spoiled my beauty nap. Instead, I thanked him.

Between mouthfuls, I caught a glimpse of a scene that would haunt me. A lone red car seemed to rise on the road, driving straight into an enormous glacier-draped mountain. It vanished in a second. “I want that photograph!” whispered my heart. Staying glued to the windshield, soon a second chance came. Alas, the car was black, and the road was flat.

Photos of lovely sights around Yoho did not get my mind off that scene: Marble Canyon, Painted Pots, Sinclair Canyon, and Radium’s Hot Springs and bighorn sheep around town. The following Saturday, I was back with a vengeance. It didn’t take long and another such scene appeared. The mountain was even more majestic. But the car, being white, disappeared into the mist. Again, there was no road rise. I cried, “Can we just stage something?” Bill had one word, “Patience!”

Other photo-ops were on the road. An enormous yellow truck blazoned against the grays. White clouds cavorted with ice-lined pointed peaks. A multi-colored train ruffled through the Rockies’ skirts. Cute, curvy twin bridges punctuated the highway humdrum. Once in a while, a red-roofed cabin enlivened the greens. Around Kootenay, there was more: the Spiral Train, Emerald Lake, Natural Bridge, and the towns of Field and Golden. Still, I wanted that photo.

On the third weekend, the weather was itself, taking a sudden nasty turn. We proceeded and stayed at Banff for the night, hoping it would clear the next day. It didn’t. I have been through Philippine storms, but snow takes me right inside a freezer. But I had to go. It was my last chance.

I started feeling hopeless, but a smile returned to my face when, at more than 6,000 feet high, frosty evergreen began to grace both sides of the road. I asked Bill to stop and stepped out. Wet fluffy things instantly brushed against my face. I “smelled” chestnuts roasting nearby. From inside the car, Bill took my photo of Christmas in June! Still, I longed for another photo.

At the Skywalk, it wasn’t a panorama of glistening glaciers but gray and gloom that greeted us. Making the best of a bad situation, I noticed that my outfit had come together: the red beanie I just bought at the Gift Shop and the red gloves, red scarf and black winter jacket Claudine lent me. Bill took off his gloves to freely fiddle with the Nikon and the slippery platform turned into MY catwalk. “Hurry up! My fingers are already frozen!” interrupted my trance. But by then, I had precious photos of a glamorous fashion model at 67. Still, it was THAT scene I wanted.

On the way home, I was nervous. Bill’s words rang loud in my ears, “It’s now or never.” And, just like that, it came. The car wasn’t red and low-lying clouds partly hid the mountain. But the road had a slight rise, creating the magical effect I saw the first time. All the way home, a contest of who can give the best caption for the photo produced: “Into the Clouds”, “Into the Unknown”, and “Beyond the Ordinary.”

The grandkids hugged me tight as Claudine asked, “Is photography a new career?” I explained that the job I love most is that of a traveling Grandnanny. It doesn’t matter how many times I go back to a place. It’s the people that count. It doesn’t matter if I drive the same old familiar highway. Something else will catch my fancy. I am free to be with whomever I want, drive to wherever I please, and listen to whatever my heart whispers, even if it’s just chasing a photograph.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Free-falling to Freedom in Brazil

2010 was not my year; free-falling since 2009 from successful Customer Service Manager, rising rapidly through the ranks to redundant job seeker, an anonymous face caught up in the tsunami of unemployment as Australia was hit by the Global Economic Crisis. At the same time I went from being married, in love and planning a much dreamed of family, to separated and fighting in vein to save my marriage as my husband set up a cozy new life with his secret lover. Spiralling further and further downwards towards rock bottom, alone, jobless, heartbroken and without spousal support, I finally crash landed; in bankruptcy.

Well, the good thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only way is up!
I had a dream; to salvage the last shred of my life plan, stop the free-falling and move to Brazil!

Sure it would not be as a family unit and I would no longer be cocooned in the secure embrace of the upper middle class lifestyle my in-laws had offered, but the challenge gave me renewed purpose and hope. Still longing for a baby, I discovered that even singles can be eligible to adopt in Brazil, this became my beacon of hope, the driving force to follow my dreams and never give up, no matter what challenges lay ahead.

Simply affording the airfare seemed impossible, a pipe dream, but where there is a will there is a way and by selling almost all my worldly goods on eBay I did it. With enough spare funds to survive on a shoestring for around 12 weeks, it was make or break to find a job in that time.

With a mix of excitement and fear, armed only with a basic knowledge of Portuguese, a passion for Brazilian music and a few Capoeira moves up my sleeve, I flew off into the unknown.

My heart pulled me towards the state of Bahia, and after three bus trips totalling about 35 hours, I made it to Salvador early on a January morning in 2011.  I found a room in the heart of historic, sometimes dangerous and above all picturesque, Pelourinho for around USD$13 a night and there I began to live my dream.

My life story was a tapestry of hopes and dreams interwoven thread by thread with heartache and loss; thankfully I have a strong, independent core which worked like a flint to the sparks of freedom and adventure that came as each new stitch was sewn, thus fuelling the fire to survive here that burns deep inside me to this day.

I trod along the ancient cobbled streets, moving to the beat of drums, drinking in the sight of beautiful coloured buildings, and visiting the statue of Zumbi dos Palmares (an important figure in Capoeira) to sing to him and ask for guidance.

New found freedom combined with faith in my decision felled any remaining fear, my soul felt like it had come home. Against the odds I found a job with only days to go before my funds ran out, that dogged determination had paid it’s dividends. Sure, I was as poor as a church mouse, earning minimum wage of around USD$300 a month, but I was on my way!

From there the path has not been paved with gold, I have followed the paupers trail strewn with rocks, stumbled many times, scraped my knees and lived on the proverbial smell of an oily rag, sometimes in areas not too many steps above the poverty line but I have continued on my journey; a relentless dream catcher.

The experiences have been worth the struggles; I have seen sights both beautiful and historic that I could never have imagined, undertaken voluntary work with some amazing musicians which lead me to promote local Brazilian music to the world, something that became my soul food in this new life, and to top things off I have met so many diverse and wonderful people.

Living without mod cons; cold water showers, no washing machine, no oven, no fridge, no car, no TV, sometimes even no bed, brings sharply into focus what truly matters in life and those material items don’t even make the list! I have often had next to nothing in Brazil, but my life has been richer. Richer in experiences, richer in culture, richer in friendships.

My advice to those reading is, if you are struggling there is hope! Fears can be conquered, lows turned into highs and if you feel like running away, then sprint towards your dreams. Freedom is through that door you see just ahead, you hold the key so put it in the lock and walk through to the life that you dream of for yourself! As for me, I’m now applying to be a citizen of my new homeland; watch this space.

NB: Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

An Amazing Underwater paradise in Mexico

Grains of sand as soft and fine as powdery snow covered my toes as I tried to name all of the different shades of neon blue in the water. Turquoise, Aquamarine, Slate, Navy, Cerulean, Azure, Cornflower, Tiffany Blue. Sails on the yachts in front of me fluttered in the light sea breeze and the smell of coconut oil wafted by. Juice dripped down my fingers as I took a bite of the fresh cut pineapple. I was on the island paradise of Isla Mujeres in the Mexican Caribbean and I was in tears.

Down by the Belize border I burst into tears in Mahahual, swinging on a hammock suspended above the water. The sea was so clear that I could see the trumpet fish zig-zagging below me and even distinguish the individual grains in the rippled sand below. After that I cried at Santa Fe beach in Tulum, tears sliding down my face and into the fresh coconut I was drinking with a straw as I gazed up at the Mayan ruins on the cliff above.

A newly certified Dive Instructor, I’d been planning this move to the tropics for two years. I’d quit my job, gotten rid of my furniture, told my friends goodbye and made no promises to return. Now here I was in tropical paradise wondering if I could ask my Dad to stay in his spare room for a few months while I sorted my life out. Because my move to paradise was not going as planned.

The tourists around me were having a great time. They were on holiday, having adventures. I would come back to the hostel exhausted from a day walking in the blistering heat, hunting for a job and an apartment. Every day the tourists went swimming with whale sharks. Every day I followed false leads and faced new rejections.

Everything on the streets seemed strange. A man on a tricycle circled town with a loudspeaker blaring “…windows, refrigerators, doors, all you need, tables, chimneys, bathtubs, call me,” followed by a phone number. An eight year old boy leaned out of a truck window to wolf whistle at me. A woman tried to sell me a hand puppet shaped like a chicken.

“What is this place?” I called my Dad for advice. “I’m so tired, I don’t know if I can do this!”

“I have no doubt that you can make a life for yourself anywhere in the world,” my Dad said. “You’ve done it before.”

“I know I can make it here,” I said. “But I don’t know if I want to!”

“Give it another week.”

The next week I got a call from a dive shop offering me an instructor position. “It’s only confirmed for two months,” my new boss said, “but if it works out then you can stay through high season. The catch is that you’ll need to house-sit the apartment above the dive shop until we get the hurricane shutters installed. I hope that we can work this out.”

Needless to say, I took the job and the beachfront apartment. As soon as I was in the ocean I was in charge again; teaching people to breathe underwater, calming their fears about the equipment and the environment, introducing them to the reef ecosystem. I love taking people underwater for the first time, to see them experience the thrill of flying above the corals or encounter a creature that they didn’t even know existed. To see them face to face with a giant turtle, inside a tornado school of giant trevally, or hovering in place while manta rays do flips around them.

Life on land is still confusing, but I’m not crying anymore. I’m settling in to my new town and I’m enjoying the slow pace of life in the tropics. But underwater I have my freedom. The environment is so foreign that you can’t help but immerse yourself in the experience. You can’t feel tears underwater, you’re already totally wet.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

2016-07-08-06-57-09-1-300x300Instilling Comfortable Respect in the Philippines

The chorus of cascading waters was music to my ears as it dropped down from varying heights into an aquamarine pool. The sound mimics the sound of rain. The rhythm complements the magnificent and unadulterated view of water streaming onto rock walls and plants, giving off a thin cloud of droplets at the base of the waterfalls. This is Tinago Falls in Iligan City, Philippines. Its beauty is well hidden within the rainforest of the province hence the name “tinago”, a Filipino word that means hidden. As I stood there mesmerized by its beauty, I heaved a sigh of relief. I have finally conquered it but, unlike Tinago Falls, I need not hide because I am free.

Living in a country of diverse cultures, these diversity creates gaps in understanding that eventually leads to misconceptions. These questions in faith and beliefs, often fueled by ignorance, give birth to generalizations and bigotry. The news of tragic events happening in different parts of the world, often associated with our Muslim brothers, do not help in easing out these tensions. The Philippines, being predominantly of Christian faith, is not free from this imbalance. As most of our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters are concentrated in Mindanao, the island is still a subject that sometimes instills fear among many Filipinos. There are places that are “off-limits” in the minds of most Filipinos because it is tagged as “dangerous”.

A recent unplanned visit to Iligan City gave me the opportunity to open the mind of my 8 year old daughter on the importance of accepting diversity. It was our first time in the city and our plan was to visit the 3 of its 24 waterfalls. As we only had a couple of hours to go around, we had to hire a “habal-habal”, a motorcycle where we had to squeeze in three people and the driver, to get us around faster. It was another first for us. I had to explain to my daughter that this was the mode of public transportation in most Philippine provinces.

She was quick to notice that there were a lot of Muslims during our quick tour. She was able to identify them because of the way they dressed. She was used to the city where people dressed in a certain fashion and she saw how different this was in Iligan City. At one point, she asked me why people dressed that way.

I saw this as an opportunity to explain to her the rich and diverse culture of the Philippines. I explained to her that they were our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters. They believe in Allah and they practice their Islam faith so they have their own culture that they are proud of, and that includes the way they dress. I had to make her understand that despite these differences we were all Filipinos and should respect each other. She will meet a lot of Filipino Muslims as she grows up and will have a deeper understanding of their culture, both in our travels and in school. What is important was for her to open her mind and accept these differences just like the way she does with her friends in school. At that point, a young Muslim lady walked past our table and smiled at her to which she my daughter returned the favor.

At that point, I knew that she was on her way to understanding the lessons of cultural diversity.

As our world gets smaller with technology, it is very important to keep in mind that it will open us to the cultural exchanges from the different regions of the world. Most of these beliefs and practices may be similar and there will be a few that may contradict our very own. These exchanges will also open us to preconceived ideas and branding that can result to indifferences and, in some cases, can even lead to hate. We cannot allow these notions to affect the way we think about others because of their cultural background, their faith, the color of their skin, or the way they dress.

I find my freedom when I travel. Each destination is a new learning experience. Traveling introduced me to the different cultures and practices that makes the Philippines unique. It gave me the opportunity to help others understand the uniqueness of each culture paving the way for acceptance, just like what happened between me and my daughter during our trip in Mindanao. Traveling freed me from clutches of ignorance and taught me to respect the diversity that is present among us.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

The Inward Journey to Freedom in the US

By age fourteen I had been to twenty seven countries and four continents. How much more free could I be? Back then, life was much simpler. At twenty six years old, I’ve independently added four more countries. I had the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want, but there was something significantly different between traveling with my parents and traveling alone as an adult. Until a few years ago, I realized I was emotionally caged; trapped in heartaches, insecurities and self-loathing. Let me tell you a story of a traveler who never truly traveled until she started exploring an inward journey into herself.

I awoke, I gently began to open my eyes knowing there was no rush for anything. I graduated college, I had no job and no direction, but worst of all, I had no passion. I felt nothing and everything all at the same time. It was winter in Massachusetts and everything was dead, which is exactly how I felt. Every day it was cold and gray outside and my ribcage would tremble, trying to salvage the very last colors inside of me. Days were long and nights were longer.

Every phone call I’d bite my cheeks and pray that desperation could not be heard. I didn’t know how to ask for help, as I choked on words I could not speak. Everyone’s advice was so cliché and bland, “talk to someone, exercise, eat well, go out and meet people.” As if the simple act of getting out of bed was easy for me. When I would gather enough strength to walk to the bathroom, I’d brush my teeth with a soft gaze, avoiding all eye contact with a ghost.

She wasn’t scary but she sure wasn’t pretty. She was pale with swollen eye lids, peeled lips and bleeding finger tips. She was trapped in her own world, bruising her hands against her concrete walls, wishing somebody would save her. I used to think she was quite pathetic, but when I chose to fall in love with her, was the moment I chose to fall in love with myself.

I was tired and I was through with devaluing myself. I frantically opened my laptop and typed the first words that came to mind, “Kripalu”, the School of Yoga and Health. I had taken all of one class but that didn’t stop me. Yoga was expanding and teachers were in demand. Kripalu was only a few hours north so I signed up. A month later I was standing on the grounds where I took my first few breaths of fresh air.

I knew absolutely nothing of what yoga truly is. They stripped my judgments of bendy, skinny females wearing Lululemon. My god, yoga saved my life. Every day I cried. At first it was out of pain; reliving every moment someone took something from me, every moment I failed, disappointed, hurt and lied. They taught me to be strong in my vulnerability and supplied me with affirmations that helped heal me.

The skin I used to inflict pain upon through cigarettes and razors is the skin I now touch as if it were a lover who just told me they loved me too. I massaged my feet with gratitude for walking so steady on shaky grounds and I kissed my palms with forgiveness because sometimes I did not hold hearts with care. I looked all around and saw the greener side of the grass. I was liberated from my own perception of hell.   My inward journey was nearly complete.

Finally, a miracle; tears of happiness slid down my cheeks as I danced and held others and allowed myself to be held. I was reborn in the hands of loving, empathetic human beings that have felt how exhausted shoulders can get and how heavy hearts can be. My teachers taught me more than warrior pose, tree pose and eagle pose. They taught me how to be a warrior and enter my inner power. They taught me how to be a tree; to grow with sturdiness. They taught me how to be an eagle and fly in freedom.

I’ve felt the pain of my ancestors as I walked their graves touring the German holocaust camps. I’ve felt the love and nurture of those who’ve harvested life as I danced along the Balinese rice patties. I have hugged the Australian wild life and did the HAKA with one of New Zealand’s tribes. I have cried with Peru’s poor and laughed with their children. There’s a lot I’ve seen and a lot I haven’t, a lot I know and a lot I don’t. I’ve learned the final destination of freedom was never my plane ticket. The final destination of freedom was the only place I did not think to go and that was through an inward journey.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Why Did You Come to Japan?

There is a television show in Japan that airs every Monday called Why Did You Come to Japan? A Japanese camera crew stops foreigners arriving at Narita airport in Tokyo and asks them what the purpose is for their visit. My best friend’s dad told me about this show shortly after I arrived for my six-week stay at their house. He joked that I was there, “to sleep and fold laundry!”

That was partially true while I was recovering from the mysterious virus I contracted on the plane ride there. But when I wasn’t sleeping or folding laundry I was on a search. Although I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for at first, I’m certain I found it along the way.

I overcame fear. My journey began when I was forced to maneuver the Japanese train system. Exhausted from traveling for three days from my home in Indiana, my plane was diverted a couple hundred miles south from Tokyo to Osaka airport due to turbulence. There were no more flights so I had to take a train to find my host family in Tokyo. I was terrified at the idea of going alone, but I quickly made friends with the angel God placed in the seat beside me on the plane. We plotted, prayed, sweated, laughed and cried through the ordeal but we bravely made it to our destination together.

I taught. I packed a children’s devotional in my suitcase and read an English lesson with my friend’s nine-year-old son every morning. Not only did he get to practice his English skills, he also learned about Jesus. I learned many Japanese words in the process.

I explored. I had my own bicycle and ventured out almost daily, some days riding ten miles or more. I visited shopping centers, beautiful shrines, Starbucks and my favorite Italian restaurant. Since I had been forced to overcome my fear of working the train system upon arrival in Japan, I rode one alone to Harajuku in Tokyo from my friend’s house in Inage-Ku and visited the famous Meiji Jingu Shrine. There I found confidence, gratitude and peace.

I made new friends. I connected with the family who lived across the street from my host family. They took me on several outings including gorgeous flower gardens and a gigantic mall. One evening they invited me to their backyard BBQ. The entire family spoke fluent English, which was refreshing. And their three-year old grandson Yuto sang Row Row Row Your Boat to me in the sweetest little voice reminding me of my childhood and that we are all children at heart no matter where we live in the world.

I survived multiple earthquakes. As if the mysterious illness I contracted on my journey there was not enough, after I recovered I had to deal with my bed shaking uncontrollably on at least four occasions. They were low magnitude quakes but that was more earth shaking than I had experienced in my entire life up to that point.

I relaxed. I took hot baths at public Japanese spas and experienced a hot rock bed for the first time. I took naps in the afternoons. I read several books cover to cover. I sat in the park and people watched. I drank a lot of coffee and daydreamed. I learned to breathe again.

I ate. I enjoyed delicious meals prepared at home by my host family and I learned how to prepare many dishes myself. I cooked dinner for my friends on my last night and they actually enjoyed it! I ate homemade miso soup and rice every day and ice cream for dessert. I took myself out to restaurants. Pointing at pictures on the menu works just as well in Japan as it does at Denny’s!

I traveled. I flew to Okinawa for three nights with my friend on a girl’s only trip. We enjoyed hanging out on the beautiful beach, touring a pineapple park and winery, eating a lot of good food, revisiting my Fuguki Tree Road and just enjoying quality time together.

I worshipped. I visited a Christian church on my last full Sunday in Japan where I prayed with a congregation full of Japanese Christians. They spoke a different language than me but together we worshipped the same God. I thanked Him for blessing me so much with the gift of such an amazing adventure in this wondrous country.

I may have slept and folded a lot of laundry but I did manage to do many wonderful things. I overcame fear in the process and I left behind anxiety that I brought to Japan with me. I slept in the top bunk and gazed at the glowing stars on the wall papered ceiling as I drifted off to sleep every night. I became physically active again. I bicycled. I kayaked. I even participated in a tug of war contest. I learned patience and endurance in ways I never experienced before. I learned that people everywhere are the same on the inside. And I thanked God for blessing me so much in life.

To simply answer the question, “Why did you come to Japan?”

I went to Japan to find freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

sky-500x500Hard fought Journeys to a Satisfied Freedom in the Philippines

When I saw the theme of this article writing contest, I remember a quote I have encountered before. The quote says “Learn the rules. Then break some”. It might sound rebellious to some but for me, I think of it as another way of saying you fight for your journeys freedom.

I believe there are different kinds of freedom each and every one of us is looking for. We all wanted to be free, free from the things that we think are holding us back from living the life we desire. We want to move away from what are bothering us, hurting us, our struggles, this is what being free might be for each of us. But where and when do we find our freedom? How do we fight for it? How can we say we feel free?

Speaking for myself, I still find me being stuck from where I am now. I feel like I’m still bounded with all the responsibilities I have for my Family. Still bounded from thinking about the approval of my society on how I should be living my life. But all of these things including self doubt and fear disappear whenever I am travelling alone in an unfamiliar territory.

When I get out there, I always choose to leave the things that are bringing me down. I clear my head from them. Yes, I am trying to run away from them and be free from them even for a while because this is where and when I find my freedom from what I think is a cruel reality.

I used to travel with people I know and used to be closed to me but it made a difference to see how free I can feel when I did a trip alone. During these journeys I learned how to decide everything for myself, which I think is one way of exercising my freedom. I usually make my own itinerary based on the information I get from travel blogs but there are times that I do not follow it and decide to get lost. I feel like I can afford to see the places where some do not go. I am free to explore. I am not bound by any box or circle.

From these travels I learned to be free from judgement and doubts. I started to convince myself to trust people who are very unfamiliar to me, who I just met or encountered at the moment. At these moments I do not have any thoughts to make me run from people I do not know. I invite them to be part of my new circle instead.

The best freedom I get from these experiences is that I am freely me. Everything is me. I am allowed to be myself. I open up myself to new territories, new people and new learning. I do not have to worry about being out of my usual comfort zone. I do not feel any pain. I am releasing my inner bravery and last but not the least I am free to hope without a limit. The hope that will give me strength to face every obstacle and struggles to achieve the life I have always been dreaming. A life where I get to have the freedom to be independent and to be myself whenever, wherever.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Freedom When an Amazing Life Flys Away in the US

It was three summers ago and I had just flown from Kauai to Portland, OR to be with my boyfriend after months of being apart. Everything was finally looking up, after going through hardships during my travels on the islands. I was exactly where I wanted to be.

I remember how exciting it was to feel the cool, crisp NW air and to see Portland for the first time. The city was coming alive, people were buzzing on the streets, cafés were clamoring with business, I had made it.
My boyfriend and I had driven down to his family farm in Dallas, OR, a small town in a valley at the edge of the Coast Range Mountains. The farm is a hundred years old and sits on seventy acres of open land, filled with fruit trees and a rambling river. If anything, my time in Oregon was only getting better.

However, three days into my trip, I received a phone call from my Aunt Lorie whom never calls. A red flag went up as I answered. “Your grandma is in hospice…” My heart sank into my chest as I heard these words. I had spoken to my grandmother occasionally throughout the past year but, it wasn’t enough. She was the woman who raised me from toddler to adult, she was my hero. I should have been more present.

I was feeling all sorts of emotions, but mostly sadness and despair that I wasn’t a car ride away. In fact, I was on the opposite end of the country, at least an eight-hour flight from home. Feeling helpless and confused, I continued my day, beneath a cloud. I was awaiting answers to my prayers. I prayed to my mother, whom passed away when I was two. I sought advice on the situation, if I should continue my trip or fly home. The following morning my prayer was answered in the form of a Robin bird who landed in front of me in between two large oak trees. My mother’s name was Robin. In that moment I felt a sigh of relief that even through difficulty, things can still make sense.

A couple more days had passed with no improvements to my grandmother’s health. Yet, I decided to remain in Oregon. We had made our way to the coast which is my favorite place to be. Throughout the days I had been given small universal signs that everything was going to be okay. I felt a little more at ease.

Throughout my travels I had picked up a used book called, The Invitation. At the end of every chapter the author asks the reader to write short exercises. They are based on looking inwards. Like most books I read, I found that every time I flipped the page, it was more and more relevant to my current situation. This time, the exercise was to write down ‘what I need and what I need from others’. I jotted down the answers in my journal and put it away. The following day would be pivotal.
In the afternoon my boyfriend and I found ourselves in a state park situated on the central coast. We climbed a sand dune to check the surf. It was small but looked worthwhile, so we grabbed our boards and ran to the water. It was a beautiful, sunny day. No one was around. We had this place to ourselves. I caught some really fun little peeling waves. This was my perfect moment.

When I got out of my wetsuit and changed into dry clothes, I grabbed my journal and climbed up a sand dune that overlooked the vast, glistening Pacific. I was in my peaceful place. Because I hadn’t had time the previous day to finish my journal entry, I did so on the dune. When I finished writing I sent my needs and needs of others into the universe. “I need Bubee to know that my brothers and I will be okay without her.” “I need Bubee to know that she is free to leave her body and to find her freedom.” I felt so relieved and uplifted from partaking in this exercise.

When I got back to the car I checked my phone; a missed call from my aunt. Before I listened to the message, I knew what I’d hear. And when I officially heard the words, tears fell from my eyes, but they were mostly tears of joy. I never thought I’d feel that way about my grandmothers passing. But, I couldn’t deny the sequence of events that occurred. I knew deep in my heart that someone was watching over us. She had passed when I was doing what I love most; surfing and traveling. And in that realization I too found my freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Interesting Strangers in transit through the USA

I used to dread traveling alone. I mean lets’ face it, sitting alone at an airport waiting for a flight, exhausted, trying to avoid talking to strangers you simply do not have the energy to communicate with is no one’s favorite pastime. At least not mine. I used to find it awkward, like all the other passengers were staring at me, judging me because I did not have a group of friends or family around me. Sometimes I was judging myself too, wondering what on earth was I doing, spending my time at yet another airport in the middle of nowhere, going to a city I had never been to before, only to wander around all by myself, since clearly I did not know anyone there. My family and friends, whom I gladly would have welcomed with me on my adventures but who unfortunately were not very keen on traveling with me, kept asking why I was going where I was going, with who, and every time I replied “alone”, they looked at me like I had gone nuts. Why would you travel somewhere you’ve never been to and know nothing about, completely alone, for no apparent reason? Yes, there were times when I myself questioned my sanity.

But there is a flipside to wandering around in a strange city all by yourself. It’s refreshing. Fascinating. Freeing. Empowering even. Watching the waves on the beach of Wilmington, admiring wonderful art and beautiful old buildings in Boston or sipping morning coffee at Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Thinking back, I don’t remember being lonely. I don’t remember feeling awkward or out of place. No, thinking back just makes me smile. What I remember is the warm wind and the salty smell of the ocean; the music, and the laughter; the smell of the coffee, the orchestra playing and how much I loved that little pink house with a porch full of colorful flowers. The interesting conversation with that silly old grandpa at the diner, or that kind stranger letting me crash on his couch when things went wrong in El Paso and I had nowhere to spend the night. I remember that time I randomly stumbled into a dive bar to see a band somewhere in Wisconsin, and ended up spending the next week hanging out with them, selling merchandise at a festival and sipping margaritas by the pool, having the time of my life. I remember all those fascinating, devastating and heart-warming life stories of strangers I met in passing, and all those moments I would not change for the world. And most of all I remember feeling stronger, more confident. I remember feeling free. All of a sudden none of those expectations, none of those horrifying tiny boxes people around me have always tried to fit me in did not matter anymore. On that plane or that strange city, surrounded by strangers, I was finally able to just be me. To be free.

The biggest realization traveling alone has given me, is that I can do this. I will get through and I will survive, whatever it is life throws at me. I will never be what other people expect me to be, so I might as well just follow my heart and do what I feel is right. The world is a magnificent, interesting and beautiful place, and I intend to see as much of it as I possibly can. Even if it means I’m seeing it alone.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Just Chasing a Photograph in the USA

I used to be a jet-setting executive who had the world at her feet. Nowadays, I travel because my three daughters live in different cities around the world: Seattle (next, San Francisco), Calgary, and Manila (London before, Melbourne next). Recently, my career-oriented middle daughter Claudine needed help. For the fifth time after I retired, I flew to Canada to take care of three young ones.

“We can go to Yoho and Kootenay in B.C., our chance to complete the quad parks named the World Heritage Site of the Canadian Rockies,” I convinced my husband, Bill. On the third weekend, I squeezed in a visit to the new Glacier Skywalk on the Columbia Icefields between Banff and Jasper, the two in Alberta we had visited earlier.

The only downside was driving the same section of the Trans-Canada Highway six more times. Sure enough, on the road to Yoho, I dozed off. Bill missed my chatter, nudging me, “Hey, sleepyhead, I bought you some Cheetos!” In a jiffy, the bag of my favorite cheesy crunchies was gone. I should have been upset he spoiled my beauty nap. Instead, I thanked him.

Between mouthfuls, I caught a glimpse of a scene that would haunt me. A lone red car seemed to rise on the road, driving straight into an enormous glacier-draped mountain. It vanished in a second. “I want that photograph!” whispered my heart. Staying glued to the windshield, soon a second chance came. Alas, the car was black, and the road was flat.

Photos of lovely sights around Yoho did not get my mind off that scene: Marble Canyon, Painted Pots, Sinclair Canyon, and Radium’s Hot Springs and bighorn sheep around town. The following Saturday, I was back with a vengeance. It didn’t take long and another such scene appeared. The mountain was even more majestic. But the car, being white, disappeared into the mist. Again, there was no road rise. I cried, “Can we just stage something?” Bill had one word, “Patience!”

Other photo-ops were on the road. An enormous yellow truck blazoned against the grays. White clouds cavorted with ice-lined pointed peaks. A multi-colored train ruffled through the Rockies’ skirts. Cute, curvy twin bridges punctuated the highway humdrum. Once in a while, a red-roofed cabin enlivened the greens. Around Kootenay, there was more: the Spiral Train, Emerald Lake, Natural Bridge, and the towns of Field and Golden. Still, I wanted that photo.

On the third weekend, the weather was itself, taking a sudden nasty turn. We proceeded and stayed at Banff for the night, hoping it would clear the next day. It didn’t. I have been through Philippine storms, but snow takes me right inside a freezer. But I had to go. It was my last chance.

I started feeling hopeless, but a smile returned to my face when, at more than 6,000 feet high, frosty evergreen began to grace both sides of the road. I asked Bill to stop and stepped out. Wet fluffy things instantly brushed against my face. I “smelled” chestnuts roasting nearby. From inside the car, Bill took my photo of Christmas in June! Still, I longed for another photo.

At the Skywalk, it wasn’t a panorama of glistening glaciers but gray and gloom that greeted us. Making the best of a bad situation, I noticed that my outfit had come together: the red beanie I just bought at the Gift Shop and the red gloves, red scarf and black winter jacket Claudine lent me. Bill took off his gloves to freely fiddle with the Nikon and the slippery platform turned into MY catwalk. “Hurry up! My fingers are already frozen!” interrupted my trance. But by then, I had precious photos of a glamorous fashion model at 67. Still, it was THAT scene I wanted.

On the way home, I was nervous. Bill’s words rang loud in my ears, “It’s now or never.” And, just like that, it came. The car wasn’t red and low-lying clouds partly hid the mountain. But the road had a slight rise, creating the magical effect I saw the first time. All the way home, a contest of who can give the best caption for the photo produced: “Into the Clouds”, “Into the Unknown”, and “Beyond the Ordinary.”

The grandkids hugged me tight as Claudine asked, “Is photography a new career?” I explained that the job I love most is that of a traveling Grandnanny. It doesn’t matter how many times I go back to a place. It’s the people that count. It doesn’t matter if I drive the same old familiar highway. Something else will catch my fancy. I am free to be with whomever I want, drive to wherever I please, and listen to whatever my heart whispers, even if it’s just chasing a photograph.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Free-falling to Freedom in Brazil

2010 was not my year; free-falling since 2009 from successful Customer Service Manager, rising rapidly through the ranks to redundant job seeker, an anonymous face caught up in the tsunami of unemployment as Australia was hit by the Global Economic Crisis. At the same time I went from being married, in love and planning a much dreamed of family, to separated and fighting in vein to save my marriage as my husband set up a cozy new life with his secret lover. Spiralling further and further downwards towards rock bottom, alone, jobless, heartbroken and without spousal support, I finally crash landed; in bankruptcy.

Well, the good thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only way is up!
I had a dream; to salvage the last shred of my life plan, stop the free-falling and move to Brazil!

Sure it would not be as a family unit and I would no longer be cocooned in the secure embrace of the upper middle class lifestyle my in-laws had offered, but the challenge gave me renewed purpose and hope. Still longing for a baby, I discovered that even singles can be eligible to adopt in Brazil, this became my beacon of hope, the driving force to follow my dreams and never give up, no matter what challenges lay ahead.

Simply affording the airfare seemed impossible, a pipe dream, but where there is a will there is a way and by selling almost all my worldly goods on eBay I did it. With enough spare funds to survive on a shoestring for around 12 weeks, it was make or break to find a job in that time.

With a mix of excitement and fear, armed only with a basic knowledge of Portuguese, a passion for Brazilian music and a few Capoeira moves up my sleeve, I flew off into the unknown.

My heart pulled me towards the state of Bahia, and after three bus trips totalling about 35 hours, I made it to Salvador early on a January morning in 2011.  I found a room in the heart of historic, sometimes dangerous and above all picturesque, Pelourinho for around USD$13 a night and there I began to live my dream.

My life story was a tapestry of hopes and dreams interwoven thread by thread with heartache and loss; thankfully I have a strong, independent core which worked like a flint to the sparks of freedom and adventure that came as each new stitch was sewn, thus fuelling the fire to survive here that burns deep inside me to this day.

I trod along the ancient cobbled streets, moving to the beat of drums, drinking in the sight of beautiful coloured buildings, and visiting the statue of Zumbi dos Palmares (an important figure in Capoeira) to sing to him and ask for guidance.

New found freedom combined with faith in my decision felled any remaining fear, my soul felt like it had come home. Against the odds I found a job with only days to go before my funds ran out, that dogged determination had paid it’s dividends. Sure, I was as poor as a church mouse, earning minimum wage of around USD$300 a month, but I was on my way!

From there the path has not been paved with gold, I have followed the paupers trail strewn with rocks, stumbled many times, scraped my knees and lived on the proverbial smell of an oily rag, sometimes in areas not too many steps above the poverty line but I have continued on my journey; a relentless dream catcher.

The experiences have been worth the struggles; I have seen sights both beautiful and historic that I could never have imagined, undertaken voluntary work with some amazing musicians which lead me to promote local Brazilian music to the world, something that became my soul food in this new life, and to top things off I have met so many diverse and wonderful people.

Living without mod cons; cold water showers, no washing machine, no oven, no fridge, no car, no TV, sometimes even no bed, brings sharply into focus what truly matters in life and those material items don’t even make the list! I have often had next to nothing in Brazil, but my life has been richer. Richer in experiences, richer in culture, richer in friendships.

My advice to those reading is, if you are struggling there is hope! Fears can be conquered, lows turned into highs and if you feel like running away, then sprint towards your dreams. Freedom is through that door you see just ahead, you hold the key so put it in the lock and walk through to the life that you dream of for yourself! As for me, I’m now applying to be a citizen of my new homeland; watch this space.

NB: Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

An Amazing Underwater paradise in Mexico

Grains of sand as soft and fine as powdery snow covered my toes as I tried to name all of the different shades of neon blue in the water. Turquoise, Aquamarine, Slate, Navy, Cerulean, Azure, Cornflower, Tiffany Blue. Sails on the yachts in front of me fluttered in the light sea breeze and the smell of coconut oil wafted by. Juice dripped down my fingers as I took a bite of the fresh cut pineapple. I was on the island paradise of Isla Mujeres in the Mexican Caribbean and I was in tears.

Down by the Belize border I burst into tears in Mahahual, swinging on a hammock suspended above the water. The sea was so clear that I could see the trumpet fish zig-zagging below me and even distinguish the individual grains in the rippled sand below. After that I cried at Santa Fe beach in Tulum, tears sliding down my face and into the fresh coconut I was drinking with a straw as I gazed up at the Mayan ruins on the cliff above.

A newly certified Dive Instructor, I’d been planning this move to the tropics for two years. I’d quit my job, gotten rid of my furniture, told my friends goodbye and made no promises to return. Now here I was in tropical paradise wondering if I could ask my Dad to stay in his spare room for a few months while I sorted my life out. Because my move to paradise was not going as planned.

The tourists around me were having a great time. They were on holiday, having adventures. I would come back to the hostel exhausted from a day walking in the blistering heat, hunting for a job and an apartment. Every day the tourists went swimming with whale sharks. Every day I followed false leads and faced new rejections.

Everything on the streets seemed strange. A man on a tricycle circled town with a loudspeaker blaring “…windows, refrigerators, doors, all you need, tables, chimneys, bathtubs, call me,” followed by a phone number. An eight year old boy leaned out of a truck window to wolf whistle at me. A woman tried to sell me a hand puppet shaped like a chicken.

“What is this place?” I called my Dad for advice. “I’m so tired, I don’t know if I can do this!”

“I have no doubt that you can make a life for yourself anywhere in the world,” my Dad said. “You’ve done it before.”

“I know I can make it here,” I said. “But I don’t know if I want to!”

“Give it another week.”

The next week I got a call from a dive shop offering me an instructor position. “It’s only confirmed for two months,” my new boss said, “but if it works out then you can stay through high season. The catch is that you’ll need to house-sit the apartment above the dive shop until we get the hurricane shutters installed. I hope that we can work this out.”

Needless to say, I took the job and the beachfront apartment. As soon as I was in the ocean I was in charge again; teaching people to breathe underwater, calming their fears about the equipment and the environment, introducing them to the reef ecosystem. I love taking people underwater for the first time, to see them experience the thrill of flying above the corals or encounter a creature that they didn’t even know existed. To see them face to face with a giant turtle, inside a tornado school of giant trevally, or hovering in place while manta rays do flips around them.

Life on land is still confusing, but I’m not crying anymore. I’m settling in to my new town and I’m enjoying the slow pace of life in the tropics. But underwater I have my freedom. The environment is so foreign that you can’t help but immerse yourself in the experience. You can’t feel tears underwater, you’re already totally wet.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

2016-07-08-06-57-09-1-300x300Instilling Comfortable Respect in the Philippines

The chorus of cascading waters was music to my ears as it dropped down from varying heights into an aquamarine pool. The sound mimics the sound of rain. The rhythm complements the magnificent and unadulterated view of water streaming onto rock walls and plants, giving off a thin cloud of droplets at the base of the waterfalls. This is Tinago Falls in Iligan City, Philippines. Its beauty is well hidden within the rainforest of the province hence the name “tinago”, a Filipino word that means hidden. As I stood there mesmerized by its beauty, I heaved a sigh of relief. I have finally conquered it but, unlike Tinago Falls, I need not hide because I am free.

Living in a country of diverse cultures, these diversity creates gaps in understanding that eventually leads to misconceptions. These questions in faith and beliefs, often fueled by ignorance, give birth to generalizations and bigotry. The news of tragic events happening in different parts of the world, often associated with our Muslim brothers, do not help in easing out these tensions. The Philippines, being predominantly of Christian faith, is not free from this imbalance. As most of our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters are concentrated in Mindanao, the island is still a subject that sometimes instills fear among many Filipinos. There are places that are “off-limits” in the minds of most Filipinos because it is tagged as “dangerous”.

A recent unplanned visit to Iligan City gave me the opportunity to open the mind of my 8 year old daughter on the importance of accepting diversity. It was our first time in the city and our plan was to visit the 3 of its 24 waterfalls. As we only had a couple of hours to go around, we had to hire a “habal-habal”, a motorcycle where we had to squeeze in three people and the driver, to get us around faster. It was another first for us. I had to explain to my daughter that this was the mode of public transportation in most Philippine provinces.

She was quick to notice that there were a lot of Muslims during our quick tour. She was able to identify them because of the way they dressed. She was used to the city where people dressed in a certain fashion and she saw how different this was in Iligan City. At one point, she asked me why people dressed that way.

I saw this as an opportunity to explain to her the rich and diverse culture of the Philippines. I explained to her that they were our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters. They believe in Allah and they practice their Islam faith so they have their own culture that they are proud of, and that includes the way they dress. I had to make her understand that despite these differences we were all Filipinos and should respect each other. She will meet a lot of Filipino Muslims as she grows up and will have a deeper understanding of their culture, both in our travels and in school. What is important was for her to open her mind and accept these differences just like the way she does with her friends in school. At that point, a young Muslim lady walked past our table and smiled at her to which she my daughter returned the favor.

At that point, I knew that she was on her way to understanding the lessons of cultural diversity.

As our world gets smaller with technology, it is very important to keep in mind that it will open us to the cultural exchanges from the different regions of the world. Most of these beliefs and practices may be similar and there will be a few that may contradict our very own. These exchanges will also open us to preconceived ideas and branding that can result to indifferences and, in some cases, can even lead to hate. We cannot allow these notions to affect the way we think about others because of their cultural background, their faith, the color of their skin, or the way they dress.

I find my freedom when I travel. Each destination is a new learning experience. Traveling introduced me to the different cultures and practices that makes the Philippines unique. It gave me the opportunity to help others understand the uniqueness of each culture paving the way for acceptance, just like what happened between me and my daughter during our trip in Mindanao. Traveling freed me from clutches of ignorance and taught me to respect the diversity that is present among us.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

The Inward Journey to Freedom in the US

By age fourteen I had been to twenty seven countries and four continents. How much more free could I be? Back then, life was much simpler. At twenty six years old, I’ve independently added four more countries. I had the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want, but there was something significantly different between traveling with my parents and traveling alone as an adult. Until a few years ago, I realized I was emotionally caged; trapped in heartaches, insecurities and self-loathing. Let me tell you a story of a traveler who never truly traveled until she started exploring an inward journey into herself.

I awoke, I gently began to open my eyes knowing there was no rush for anything. I graduated college, I had no job and no direction, but worst of all, I had no passion. I felt nothing and everything all at the same time. It was winter in Massachusetts and everything was dead, which is exactly how I felt. Every day it was cold and gray outside and my ribcage would tremble, trying to salvage the very last colors inside of me. Days were long and nights were longer.

Every phone call I’d bite my cheeks and pray that desperation could not be heard. I didn’t know how to ask for help, as I choked on words I could not speak. Everyone’s advice was so cliché and bland, “talk to someone, exercise, eat well, go out and meet people.” As if the simple act of getting out of bed was easy for me. When I would gather enough strength to walk to the bathroom, I’d brush my teeth with a soft gaze, avoiding all eye contact with a ghost.

She wasn’t scary but she sure wasn’t pretty. She was pale with swollen eye lids, peeled lips and bleeding finger tips. She was trapped in her own world, bruising her hands against her concrete walls, wishing somebody would save her. I used to think she was quite pathetic, but when I chose to fall in love with her, was the moment I chose to fall in love with myself.

I was tired and I was through with devaluing myself. I frantically opened my laptop and typed the first words that came to mind, “Kripalu”, the School of Yoga and Health. I had taken all of one class but that didn’t stop me. Yoga was expanding and teachers were in demand. Kripalu was only a few hours north so I signed up. A month later I was standing on the grounds where I took my first few breaths of fresh air.

I knew absolutely nothing of what yoga truly is. They stripped my judgments of bendy, skinny females wearing Lululemon. My god, yoga saved my life. Every day I cried. At first it was out of pain; reliving every moment someone took something from me, every moment I failed, disappointed, hurt and lied. They taught me to be strong in my vulnerability and supplied me with affirmations that helped heal me.

The skin I used to inflict pain upon through cigarettes and razors is the skin I now touch as if it were a lover who just told me they loved me too. I massaged my feet with gratitude for walking so steady on shaky grounds and I kissed my palms with forgiveness because sometimes I did not hold hearts with care. I looked all around and saw the greener side of the grass. I was liberated from my own perception of hell.   My inward journey was nearly complete.

Finally, a miracle; tears of happiness slid down my cheeks as I danced and held others and allowed myself to be held. I was reborn in the hands of loving, empathetic human beings that have felt how exhausted shoulders can get and how heavy hearts can be. My teachers taught me more than warrior pose, tree pose and eagle pose. They taught me how to be a warrior and enter my inner power. They taught me how to be a tree; to grow with sturdiness. They taught me how to be an eagle and fly in freedom.

I’ve felt the pain of my ancestors as I walked their graves touring the German holocaust camps. I’ve felt the love and nurture of those who’ve harvested life as I danced along the Balinese rice patties. I have hugged the Australian wild life and did the HAKA with one of New Zealand’s tribes. I have cried with Peru’s poor and laughed with their children. There’s a lot I’ve seen and a lot I haven’t, a lot I know and a lot I don’t. I’ve learned the final destination of freedom was never my plane ticket. The final destination of freedom was the only place I did not think to go and that was through an inward journey.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Why Did You Come to Japan?

There is a television show in Japan that airs every Monday called Why Did You Come to Japan? A Japanese camera crew stops foreigners arriving at Narita airport in Tokyo and asks them what the purpose is for their visit. My best friend’s dad told me about this show shortly after I arrived for my six-week stay at their house. He joked that I was there, “to sleep and fold laundry!”

That was partially true while I was recovering from the mysterious virus I contracted on the plane ride there. But when I wasn’t sleeping or folding laundry I was on a search. Although I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for at first, I’m certain I found it along the way.

I overcame fear. My journey began when I was forced to maneuver the Japanese train system. Exhausted from traveling for three days from my home in Indiana, my plane was diverted a couple hundred miles south from Tokyo to Osaka airport due to turbulence. There were no more flights so I had to take a train to find my host family in Tokyo. I was terrified at the idea of going alone, but I quickly made friends with the angel God placed in the seat beside me on the plane. We plotted, prayed, sweated, laughed and cried through the ordeal but we bravely made it to our destination together.

I taught. I packed a children’s devotional in my suitcase and read an English lesson with my friend’s nine-year-old son every morning. Not only did he get to practice his English skills, he also learned about Jesus. I learned many Japanese words in the process.

I explored. I had my own bicycle and ventured out almost daily, some days riding ten miles or more. I visited shopping centers, beautiful shrines, Starbucks and my favorite Italian restaurant. Since I had been forced to overcome my fear of working the train system upon arrival in Japan, I rode one alone to Harajuku in Tokyo from my friend’s house in Inage-Ku and visited the famous Meiji Jingu Shrine. There I found confidence, gratitude and peace.

I made new friends. I connected with the family who lived across the street from my host family. They took me on several outings including gorgeous flower gardens and a gigantic mall. One evening they invited me to their backyard BBQ. The entire family spoke fluent English, which was refreshing. And their three-year old grandson Yuto sang Row Row Row Your Boat to me in the sweetest little voice reminding me of my childhood and that we are all children at heart no matter where we live in the world.

I survived multiple earthquakes. As if the mysterious illness I contracted on my journey there was not enough, after I recovered I had to deal with my bed shaking uncontrollably on at least four occasions. They were low magnitude quakes but that was more earth shaking than I had experienced in my entire life up to that point.

I relaxed. I took hot baths at public Japanese spas and experienced a hot rock bed for the first time. I took naps in the afternoons. I read several books cover to cover. I sat in the park and people watched. I drank a lot of coffee and daydreamed. I learned to breathe again.

I ate. I enjoyed delicious meals prepared at home by my host family and I learned how to prepare many dishes myself. I cooked dinner for my friends on my last night and they actually enjoyed it! I ate homemade miso soup and rice every day and ice cream for dessert. I took myself out to restaurants. Pointing at pictures on the menu works just as well in Japan as it does at Denny’s!

I traveled. I flew to Okinawa for three nights with my friend on a girl’s only trip. We enjoyed hanging out on the beautiful beach, touring a pineapple park and winery, eating a lot of good food, revisiting my Fuguki Tree Road and just enjoying quality time together.

I worshipped. I visited a Christian church on my last full Sunday in Japan where I prayed with a congregation full of Japanese Christians. They spoke a different language than me but together we worshipped the same God. I thanked Him for blessing me so much with the gift of such an amazing adventure in this wondrous country.

I may have slept and folded a lot of laundry but I did manage to do many wonderful things. I overcame fear in the process and I left behind anxiety that I brought to Japan with me. I slept in the top bunk and gazed at the glowing stars on the wall papered ceiling as I drifted off to sleep every night. I became physically active again. I bicycled. I kayaked. I even participated in a tug of war contest. I learned patience and endurance in ways I never experienced before. I learned that people everywhere are the same on the inside. And I thanked God for blessing me so much in life.

To simply answer the question, “Why did you come to Japan?”

I went to Japan to find freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

sky-500x500Hard fought Journeys to a Satisfied Freedom in the Philippines

When I saw the theme of this article writing contest, I remember a quote I have encountered before. The quote says “Learn the rules. Then break some”. It might sound rebellious to some but for me, I think of it as another way of saying you fight for your journeys freedom.

I believe there are different kinds of freedom each and every one of us is looking for. We all wanted to be free, free from the things that we think are holding us back from living the life we desire. We want to move away from what are bothering us, hurting us, our struggles, this is what being free might be for each of us. But where and when do we find our freedom? How do we fight for it? How can we say we feel free?

Speaking for myself, I still find me being stuck from where I am now. I feel like I’m still bounded with all the responsibilities I have for my Family. Still bounded from thinking about the approval of my society on how I should be living my life. But all of these things including self doubt and fear disappear whenever I am travelling alone in an unfamiliar territory.

When I get out there, I always choose to leave the things that are bringing me down. I clear my head from them. Yes, I am trying to run away from them and be free from them even for a while because this is where and when I find my freedom from what I think is a cruel reality.

I used to travel with people I know and used to be closed to me but it made a difference to see how free I can feel when I did a trip alone. During these journeys I learned how to decide everything for myself, which I think is one way of exercising my freedom. I usually make my own itinerary based on the information I get from travel blogs but there are times that I do not follow it and decide to get lost. I feel like I can afford to see the places where some do not go. I am free to explore. I am not bound by any box or circle.

From these travels I learned to be free from judgement and doubts. I started to convince myself to trust people who are very unfamiliar to me, who I just met or encountered at the moment. At these moments I do not have any thoughts to make me run from people I do not know. I invite them to be part of my new circle instead.

The best freedom I get from these experiences is that I am freely me. Everything is me. I am allowed to be myself. I open up myself to new territories, new people and new learning. I do not have to worry about being out of my usual comfort zone. I do not feel any pain. I am releasing my inner bravery and last but not the least I am free to hope without a limit. The hope that will give me strength to face every obstacle and struggles to achieve the life I have always been dreaming. A life where I get to have the freedom to be independent and to be myself whenever, wherever.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Freedom When an Amazing Life Flys Away in the US

It was three summers ago and I had just flown from Kauai to Portland, OR to be with my boyfriend after months of being apart. Everything was finally looking up, after going through hardships during my travels on the islands. I was exactly where I wanted to be.

I remember how exciting it was to feel the cool, crisp NW air and to see Portland for the first time. The city was coming alive, people were buzzing on the streets, cafés were clamoring with business, I had made it.
My boyfriend and I had driven down to his family farm in Dallas, OR, a small town in a valley at the edge of the Coast Range Mountains. The farm is a hundred years old and sits on seventy acres of open land, filled with fruit trees and a rambling river. If anything, my time in Oregon was only getting better.

However, three days into my trip, I received a phone call from my Aunt Lorie whom never calls. A red flag went up as I answered. “Your grandma is in hospice…” My heart sank into my chest as I heard these words. I had spoken to my grandmother occasionally throughout the past year but, it wasn’t enough. She was the woman who raised me from toddler to adult, she was my hero. I should have been more present.

I was feeling all sorts of emotions, but mostly sadness and despair that I wasn’t a car ride away. In fact, I was on the opposite end of the country, at least an eight-hour flight from home. Feeling helpless and confused, I continued my day, beneath a cloud. I was awaiting answers to my prayers. I prayed to my mother, whom passed away when I was two. I sought advice on the situation, if I should continue my trip or fly home. The following morning my prayer was answered in the form of a Robin bird who landed in front of me in between two large oak trees. My mother’s name was Robin. In that moment I felt a sigh of relief that even through difficulty, things can still make sense.

A couple more days had passed with no improvements to my grandmother’s health. Yet, I decided to remain in Oregon. We had made our way to the coast which is my favorite place to be. Throughout the days I had been given small universal signs that everything was going to be okay. I felt a little more at ease.

Throughout my travels I had picked up a used book called, The Invitation. At the end of every chapter the author asks the reader to write short exercises. They are based on looking inwards. Like most books I read, I found that every time I flipped the page, it was more and more relevant to my current situation. This time, the exercise was to write down ‘what I need and what I need from others’. I jotted down the answers in my journal and put it away. The following day would be pivotal.
In the afternoon my boyfriend and I found ourselves in a state park situated on the central coast. We climbed a sand dune to check the surf. It was small but looked worthwhile, so we grabbed our boards and ran to the water. It was a beautiful, sunny day. No one was around. We had this place to ourselves. I caught some really fun little peeling waves. This was my perfect moment.

When I got out of my wetsuit and changed into dry clothes, I grabbed my journal and climbed up a sand dune that overlooked the vast, glistening Pacific. I was in my peaceful place. Because I hadn’t had time the previous day to finish my journal entry, I did so on the dune. When I finished writing I sent my needs and needs of others into the universe. “I need Bubee to know that my brothers and I will be okay without her.” “I need Bubee to know that she is free to leave her body and to find her freedom.” I felt so relieved and uplifted from partaking in this exercise.

When I got back to the car I checked my phone; a missed call from my aunt. Before I listened to the message, I knew what I’d hear. And when I officially heard the words, tears fell from my eyes, but they were mostly tears of joy. I never thought I’d feel that way about my grandmothers passing. But, I couldn’t deny the sequence of events that occurred. I knew deep in my heart that someone was watching over us. She had passed when I was doing what I love most; surfing and traveling. And in that realization I too found my freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Interesting Strangers in transit through the USA

I used to dread traveling alone. I mean lets’ face it, sitting alone at an airport waiting for a flight, exhausted, trying to avoid talking to strangers you simply do not have the energy to communicate with is no one’s favorite pastime. At least not mine. I used to find it awkward, like all the other passengers were staring at me, judging me because I did not have a group of friends or family around me. Sometimes I was judging myself too, wondering what on earth was I doing, spending my time at yet another airport in the middle of nowhere, going to a city I had never been to before, only to wander around all by myself, since clearly I did not know anyone there. My family and friends, whom I gladly would have welcomed with me on my adventures but who unfortunately were not very keen on traveling with me, kept asking why I was going where I was going, with who, and every time I replied “alone”, they looked at me like I had gone nuts. Why would you travel somewhere you’ve never been to and know nothing about, completely alone, for no apparent reason? Yes, there were times when I myself questioned my sanity.

But there is a flipside to wandering around in a strange city all by yourself. It’s refreshing. Fascinating. Freeing. Empowering even. Watching the waves on the beach of Wilmington, admiring wonderful art and beautiful old buildings in Boston or sipping morning coffee at Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Thinking back, I don’t remember being lonely. I don’t remember feeling awkward or out of place. No, thinking back just makes me smile. What I remember is the warm wind and the salty smell of the ocean; the music, and the laughter; the smell of the coffee, the orchestra playing and how much I loved that little pink house with a porch full of colorful flowers. The interesting conversation with that silly old grandpa at the diner, or that kind stranger letting me crash on his couch when things went wrong in El Paso and I had nowhere to spend the night. I remember that time I randomly stumbled into a dive bar to see a band somewhere in Wisconsin, and ended up spending the next week hanging out with them, selling merchandise at a festival and sipping margaritas by the pool, having the time of my life. I remember all those fascinating, devastating and heart-warming life stories of strangers I met in passing, and all those moments I would not change for the world. And most of all I remember feeling stronger, more confident. I remember feeling free. All of a sudden none of those expectations, none of those horrifying tiny boxes people around me have always tried to fit me in did not matter anymore. On that plane or that strange city, surrounded by strangers, I was finally able to just be me. To be free.

The biggest realization traveling alone has given me, is that I can do this. I will get through and I will survive, whatever it is life throws at me. I will never be what other people expect me to be, so I might as well just follow my heart and do what I feel is right. The world is a magnificent, interesting and beautiful place, and I intend to see as much of it as I possibly can. Even if it means I’m seeing it alone.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Just Chasing a Photograph in the USA

I used to be a jet-setting executive who had the world at her feet. Nowadays, I travel because my three daughters live in different cities around the world: Seattle (next, San Francisco), Calgary, and Manila (London before, Melbourne next). Recently, my career-oriented middle daughter Claudine needed help. For the fifth time after I retired, I flew to Canada to take care of three young ones.

“We can go to Yoho and Kootenay in B.C., our chance to complete the quad parks named the World Heritage Site of the Canadian Rockies,” I convinced my husband, Bill. On the third weekend, I squeezed in a visit to the new Glacier Skywalk on the Columbia Icefields between Banff and Jasper, the two in Alberta we had visited earlier.

The only downside was driving the same section of the Trans-Canada Highway six more times. Sure enough, on the road to Yoho, I dozed off. Bill missed my chatter, nudging me, “Hey, sleepyhead, I bought you some Cheetos!” In a jiffy, the bag of my favorite cheesy crunchies was gone. I should have been upset he spoiled my beauty nap. Instead, I thanked him.

Between mouthfuls, I caught a glimpse of a scene that would haunt me. A lone red car seemed to rise on the road, driving straight into an enormous glacier-draped mountain. It vanished in a second. “I want that photograph!” whispered my heart. Staying glued to the windshield, soon a second chance came. Alas, the car was black, and the road was flat.

Photos of lovely sights around Yoho did not get my mind off that scene: Marble Canyon, Painted Pots, Sinclair Canyon, and Radium’s Hot Springs and bighorn sheep around town. The following Saturday, I was back with a vengeance. It didn’t take long and another such scene appeared. The mountain was even more majestic. But the car, being white, disappeared into the mist. Again, there was no road rise. I cried, “Can we just stage something?” Bill had one word, “Patience!”

Other photo-ops were on the road. An enormous yellow truck blazoned against the grays. White clouds cavorted with ice-lined pointed peaks. A multi-colored train ruffled through the Rockies’ skirts. Cute, curvy twin bridges punctuated the highway humdrum. Once in a while, a red-roofed cabin enlivened the greens. Around Kootenay, there was more: the Spiral Train, Emerald Lake, Natural Bridge, and the towns of Field and Golden. Still, I wanted that photo.

On the third weekend, the weather was itself, taking a sudden nasty turn. We proceeded and stayed at Banff for the night, hoping it would clear the next day. It didn’t. I have been through Philippine storms, but snow takes me right inside a freezer. But I had to go. It was my last chance.

I started feeling hopeless, but a smile returned to my face when, at more than 6,000 feet high, frosty evergreen began to grace both sides of the road. I asked Bill to stop and stepped out. Wet fluffy things instantly brushed against my face. I “smelled” chestnuts roasting nearby. From inside the car, Bill took my photo of Christmas in June! Still, I longed for another photo.

At the Skywalk, it wasn’t a panorama of glistening glaciers but gray and gloom that greeted us. Making the best of a bad situation, I noticed that my outfit had come together: the red beanie I just bought at the Gift Shop and the red gloves, red scarf and black winter jacket Claudine lent me. Bill took off his gloves to freely fiddle with the Nikon and the slippery platform turned into MY catwalk. “Hurry up! My fingers are already frozen!” interrupted my trance. But by then, I had precious photos of a glamorous fashion model at 67. Still, it was THAT scene I wanted.

On the way home, I was nervous. Bill’s words rang loud in my ears, “It’s now or never.” And, just like that, it came. The car wasn’t red and low-lying clouds partly hid the mountain. But the road had a slight rise, creating the magical effect I saw the first time. All the way home, a contest of who can give the best caption for the photo produced: “Into the Clouds”, “Into the Unknown”, and “Beyond the Ordinary.”

The grandkids hugged me tight as Claudine asked, “Is photography a new career?” I explained that the job I love most is that of a traveling Grandnanny. It doesn’t matter how many times I go back to a place. It’s the people that count. It doesn’t matter if I drive the same old familiar highway. Something else will catch my fancy. I am free to be with whomever I want, drive to wherever I please, and listen to whatever my heart whispers, even if it’s just chasing a photograph.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Free-falling to Freedom in Brazil

2010 was not my year; free-falling since 2009 from successful Customer Service Manager, rising rapidly through the ranks to redundant job seeker, an anonymous face caught up in the tsunami of unemployment as Australia was hit by the Global Economic Crisis. At the same time I went from being married, in love and planning a much dreamed of family, to separated and fighting in vein to save my marriage as my husband set up a cozy new life with his secret lover. Spiralling further and further downwards towards rock bottom, alone, jobless, heartbroken and without spousal support, I finally crash landed; in bankruptcy.

Well, the good thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only way is up!
I had a dream; to salvage the last shred of my life plan, stop the free-falling and move to Brazil!

Sure it would not be as a family unit and I would no longer be cocooned in the secure embrace of the upper middle class lifestyle my in-laws had offered, but the challenge gave me renewed purpose and hope. Still longing for a baby, I discovered that even singles can be eligible to adopt in Brazil, this became my beacon of hope, the driving force to follow my dreams and never give up, no matter what challenges lay ahead.

Simply affording the airfare seemed impossible, a pipe dream, but where there is a will there is a way and by selling almost all my worldly goods on eBay I did it. With enough spare funds to survive on a shoestring for around 12 weeks, it was make or break to find a job in that time.

With a mix of excitement and fear, armed only with a basic knowledge of Portuguese, a passion for Brazilian music and a few Capoeira moves up my sleeve, I flew off into the unknown.

My heart pulled me towards the state of Bahia, and after three bus trips totalling about 35 hours, I made it to Salvador early on a January morning in 2011.  I found a room in the heart of historic, sometimes dangerous and above all picturesque, Pelourinho for around USD$13 a night and there I began to live my dream.

My life story was a tapestry of hopes and dreams interwoven thread by thread with heartache and loss; thankfully I have a strong, independent core which worked like a flint to the sparks of freedom and adventure that came as each new stitch was sewn, thus fuelling the fire to survive here that burns deep inside me to this day.

I trod along the ancient cobbled streets, moving to the beat of drums, drinking in the sight of beautiful coloured buildings, and visiting the statue of Zumbi dos Palmares (an important figure in Capoeira) to sing to him and ask for guidance.

New found freedom combined with faith in my decision felled any remaining fear, my soul felt like it had come home. Against the odds I found a job with only days to go before my funds ran out, that dogged determination had paid it’s dividends. Sure, I was as poor as a church mouse, earning minimum wage of around USD$300 a month, but I was on my way!

From there the path has not been paved with gold, I have followed the paupers trail strewn with rocks, stumbled many times, scraped my knees and lived on the proverbial smell of an oily rag, sometimes in areas not too many steps above the poverty line but I have continued on my journey; a relentless dream catcher.

The experiences have been worth the struggles; I have seen sights both beautiful and historic that I could never have imagined, undertaken voluntary work with some amazing musicians which lead me to promote local Brazilian music to the world, something that became my soul food in this new life, and to top things off I have met so many diverse and wonderful people.

Living without mod cons; cold water showers, no washing machine, no oven, no fridge, no car, no TV, sometimes even no bed, brings sharply into focus what truly matters in life and those material items don’t even make the list! I have often had next to nothing in Brazil, but my life has been richer. Richer in experiences, richer in culture, richer in friendships.

My advice to those reading is, if you are struggling there is hope! Fears can be conquered, lows turned into highs and if you feel like running away, then sprint towards your dreams. Freedom is through that door you see just ahead, you hold the key so put it in the lock and walk through to the life that you dream of for yourself! As for me, I’m now applying to be a citizen of my new homeland; watch this space.

NB: Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

An Amazing Underwater paradise in Mexico

Grains of sand as soft and fine as powdery snow covered my toes as I tried to name all of the different shades of neon blue in the water. Turquoise, Aquamarine, Slate, Navy, Cerulean, Azure, Cornflower, Tiffany Blue. Sails on the yachts in front of me fluttered in the light sea breeze and the smell of coconut oil wafted by. Juice dripped down my fingers as I took a bite of the fresh cut pineapple. I was on the island paradise of Isla Mujeres in the Mexican Caribbean and I was in tears.

Down by the Belize border I burst into tears in Mahahual, swinging on a hammock suspended above the water. The sea was so clear that I could see the trumpet fish zig-zagging below me and even distinguish the individual grains in the rippled sand below. After that I cried at Santa Fe beach in Tulum, tears sliding down my face and into the fresh coconut I was drinking with a straw as I gazed up at the Mayan ruins on the cliff above.

A newly certified Dive Instructor, I’d been planning this move to the tropics for two years. I’d quit my job, gotten rid of my furniture, told my friends goodbye and made no promises to return. Now here I was in tropical paradise wondering if I could ask my Dad to stay in his spare room for a few months while I sorted my life out. Because my move to paradise was not going as planned.

The tourists around me were having a great time. They were on holiday, having adventures. I would come back to the hostel exhausted from a day walking in the blistering heat, hunting for a job and an apartment. Every day the tourists went swimming with whale sharks. Every day I followed false leads and faced new rejections.

Everything on the streets seemed strange. A man on a tricycle circled town with a loudspeaker blaring “…windows, refrigerators, doors, all you need, tables, chimneys, bathtubs, call me,” followed by a phone number. An eight year old boy leaned out of a truck window to wolf whistle at me. A woman tried to sell me a hand puppet shaped like a chicken.

“What is this place?” I called my Dad for advice. “I’m so tired, I don’t know if I can do this!”

“I have no doubt that you can make a life for yourself anywhere in the world,” my Dad said. “You’ve done it before.”

“I know I can make it here,” I said. “But I don’t know if I want to!”

“Give it another week.”

The next week I got a call from a dive shop offering me an instructor position. “It’s only confirmed for two months,” my new boss said, “but if it works out then you can stay through high season. The catch is that you’ll need to house-sit the apartment above the dive shop until we get the hurricane shutters installed. I hope that we can work this out.”

Needless to say, I took the job and the beachfront apartment. As soon as I was in the ocean I was in charge again; teaching people to breathe underwater, calming their fears about the equipment and the environment, introducing them to the reef ecosystem. I love taking people underwater for the first time, to see them experience the thrill of flying above the corals or encounter a creature that they didn’t even know existed. To see them face to face with a giant turtle, inside a tornado school of giant trevally, or hovering in place while manta rays do flips around them.

Life on land is still confusing, but I’m not crying anymore. I’m settling in to my new town and I’m enjoying the slow pace of life in the tropics. But underwater I have my freedom. The environment is so foreign that you can’t help but immerse yourself in the experience. You can’t feel tears underwater, you’re already totally wet.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

2016-07-08-06-57-09-1-300x300Instilling Comfortable Respect in the Philippines

The chorus of cascading waters was music to my ears as it dropped down from varying heights into an aquamarine pool. The sound mimics the sound of rain. The rhythm complements the magnificent and unadulterated view of water streaming onto rock walls and plants, giving off a thin cloud of droplets at the base of the waterfalls. This is Tinago Falls in Iligan City, Philippines. Its beauty is well hidden within the rainforest of the province hence the name “tinago”, a Filipino word that means hidden. As I stood there mesmerized by its beauty, I heaved a sigh of relief. I have finally conquered it but, unlike Tinago Falls, I need not hide because I am free.

Living in a country of diverse cultures, these diversity creates gaps in understanding that eventually leads to misconceptions. These questions in faith and beliefs, often fueled by ignorance, give birth to generalizations and bigotry. The news of tragic events happening in different parts of the world, often associated with our Muslim brothers, do not help in easing out these tensions. The Philippines, being predominantly of Christian faith, is not free from this imbalance. As most of our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters are concentrated in Mindanao, the island is still a subject that sometimes instills fear among many Filipinos. There are places that are “off-limits” in the minds of most Filipinos because it is tagged as “dangerous”.

A recent unplanned visit to Iligan City gave me the opportunity to open the mind of my 8 year old daughter on the importance of accepting diversity. It was our first time in the city and our plan was to visit the 3 of its 24 waterfalls. As we only had a couple of hours to go around, we had to hire a “habal-habal”, a motorcycle where we had to squeeze in three people and the driver, to get us around faster. It was another first for us. I had to explain to my daughter that this was the mode of public transportation in most Philippine provinces.

She was quick to notice that there were a lot of Muslims during our quick tour. She was able to identify them because of the way they dressed. She was used to the city where people dressed in a certain fashion and she saw how different this was in Iligan City. At one point, she asked me why people dressed that way.

I saw this as an opportunity to explain to her the rich and diverse culture of the Philippines. I explained to her that they were our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters. They believe in Allah and they practice their Islam faith so they have their own culture that they are proud of, and that includes the way they dress. I had to make her understand that despite these differences we were all Filipinos and should respect each other. She will meet a lot of Filipino Muslims as she grows up and will have a deeper understanding of their culture, both in our travels and in school. What is important was for her to open her mind and accept these differences just like the way she does with her friends in school. At that point, a young Muslim lady walked past our table and smiled at her to which she my daughter returned the favor.

At that point, I knew that she was on her way to understanding the lessons of cultural diversity.

As our world gets smaller with technology, it is very important to keep in mind that it will open us to the cultural exchanges from the different regions of the world. Most of these beliefs and practices may be similar and there will be a few that may contradict our very own. These exchanges will also open us to preconceived ideas and branding that can result to indifferences and, in some cases, can even lead to hate. We cannot allow these notions to affect the way we think about others because of their cultural background, their faith, the color of their skin, or the way they dress.

I find my freedom when I travel. Each destination is a new learning experience. Traveling introduced me to the different cultures and practices that makes the Philippines unique. It gave me the opportunity to help others understand the uniqueness of each culture paving the way for acceptance, just like what happened between me and my daughter during our trip in Mindanao. Traveling freed me from clutches of ignorance and taught me to respect the diversity that is present among us.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

The Inward Journey to Freedom in the US

By age fourteen I had been to twenty seven countries and four continents. How much more free could I be? Back then, life was much simpler. At twenty six years old, I’ve independently added four more countries. I had the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want, but there was something significantly different between traveling with my parents and traveling alone as an adult. Until a few years ago, I realized I was emotionally caged; trapped in heartaches, insecurities and self-loathing. Let me tell you a story of a traveler who never truly traveled until she started exploring an inward journey into herself.

I awoke, I gently began to open my eyes knowing there was no rush for anything. I graduated college, I had no job and no direction, but worst of all, I had no passion. I felt nothing and everything all at the same time. It was winter in Massachusetts and everything was dead, which is exactly how I felt. Every day it was cold and gray outside and my ribcage would tremble, trying to salvage the very last colors inside of me. Days were long and nights were longer.

Every phone call I’d bite my cheeks and pray that desperation could not be heard. I didn’t know how to ask for help, as I choked on words I could not speak. Everyone’s advice was so cliché and bland, “talk to someone, exercise, eat well, go out and meet people.” As if the simple act of getting out of bed was easy for me. When I would gather enough strength to walk to the bathroom, I’d brush my teeth with a soft gaze, avoiding all eye contact with a ghost.

She wasn’t scary but she sure wasn’t pretty. She was pale with swollen eye lids, peeled lips and bleeding finger tips. She was trapped in her own world, bruising her hands against her concrete walls, wishing somebody would save her. I used to think she was quite pathetic, but when I chose to fall in love with her, was the moment I chose to fall in love with myself.

I was tired and I was through with devaluing myself. I frantically opened my laptop and typed the first words that came to mind, “Kripalu”, the School of Yoga and Health. I had taken all of one class but that didn’t stop me. Yoga was expanding and teachers were in demand. Kripalu was only a few hours north so I signed up. A month later I was standing on the grounds where I took my first few breaths of fresh air.

I knew absolutely nothing of what yoga truly is. They stripped my judgments of bendy, skinny females wearing Lululemon. My god, yoga saved my life. Every day I cried. At first it was out of pain; reliving every moment someone took something from me, every moment I failed, disappointed, hurt and lied. They taught me to be strong in my vulnerability and supplied me with affirmations that helped heal me.

The skin I used to inflict pain upon through cigarettes and razors is the skin I now touch as if it were a lover who just told me they loved me too. I massaged my feet with gratitude for walking so steady on shaky grounds and I kissed my palms with forgiveness because sometimes I did not hold hearts with care. I looked all around and saw the greener side of the grass. I was liberated from my own perception of hell.   My inward journey was nearly complete.

Finally, a miracle; tears of happiness slid down my cheeks as I danced and held others and allowed myself to be held. I was reborn in the hands of loving, empathetic human beings that have felt how exhausted shoulders can get and how heavy hearts can be. My teachers taught me more than warrior pose, tree pose and eagle pose. They taught me how to be a warrior and enter my inner power. They taught me how to be a tree; to grow with sturdiness. They taught me how to be an eagle and fly in freedom.

I’ve felt the pain of my ancestors as I walked their graves touring the German holocaust camps. I’ve felt the love and nurture of those who’ve harvested life as I danced along the Balinese rice patties. I have hugged the Australian wild life and did the HAKA with one of New Zealand’s tribes. I have cried with Peru’s poor and laughed with their children. There’s a lot I’ve seen and a lot I haven’t, a lot I know and a lot I don’t. I’ve learned the final destination of freedom was never my plane ticket. The final destination of freedom was the only place I did not think to go and that was through an inward journey.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Why Did You Come to Japan?

There is a television show in Japan that airs every Monday called Why Did You Come to Japan? A Japanese camera crew stops foreigners arriving at Narita airport in Tokyo and asks them what the purpose is for their visit. My best friend’s dad told me about this show shortly after I arrived for my six-week stay at their house. He joked that I was there, “to sleep and fold laundry!”

That was partially true while I was recovering from the mysterious virus I contracted on the plane ride there. But when I wasn’t sleeping or folding laundry I was on a search. Although I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for at first, I’m certain I found it along the way.

I overcame fear. My journey began when I was forced to maneuver the Japanese train system. Exhausted from traveling for three days from my home in Indiana, my plane was diverted a couple hundred miles south from Tokyo to Osaka airport due to turbulence. There were no more flights so I had to take a train to find my host family in Tokyo. I was terrified at the idea of going alone, but I quickly made friends with the angel God placed in the seat beside me on the plane. We plotted, prayed, sweated, laughed and cried through the ordeal but we bravely made it to our destination together.

I taught. I packed a children’s devotional in my suitcase and read an English lesson with my friend’s nine-year-old son every morning. Not only did he get to practice his English skills, he also learned about Jesus. I learned many Japanese words in the process.

I explored. I had my own bicycle and ventured out almost daily, some days riding ten miles or more. I visited shopping centers, beautiful shrines, Starbucks and my favorite Italian restaurant. Since I had been forced to overcome my fear of working the train system upon arrival in Japan, I rode one alone to Harajuku in Tokyo from my friend’s house in Inage-Ku and visited the famous Meiji Jingu Shrine. There I found confidence, gratitude and peace.

I made new friends. I connected with the family who lived across the street from my host family. They took me on several outings including gorgeous flower gardens and a gigantic mall. One evening they invited me to their backyard BBQ. The entire family spoke fluent English, which was refreshing. And their three-year old grandson Yuto sang Row Row Row Your Boat to me in the sweetest little voice reminding me of my childhood and that we are all children at heart no matter where we live in the world.

I survived multiple earthquakes. As if the mysterious illness I contracted on my journey there was not enough, after I recovered I had to deal with my bed shaking uncontrollably on at least four occasions. They were low magnitude quakes but that was more earth shaking than I had experienced in my entire life up to that point.

I relaxed. I took hot baths at public Japanese spas and experienced a hot rock bed for the first time. I took naps in the afternoons. I read several books cover to cover. I sat in the park and people watched. I drank a lot of coffee and daydreamed. I learned to breathe again.

I ate. I enjoyed delicious meals prepared at home by my host family and I learned how to prepare many dishes myself. I cooked dinner for my friends on my last night and they actually enjoyed it! I ate homemade miso soup and rice every day and ice cream for dessert. I took myself out to restaurants. Pointing at pictures on the menu works just as well in Japan as it does at Denny’s!

I traveled. I flew to Okinawa for three nights with my friend on a girl’s only trip. We enjoyed hanging out on the beautiful beach, touring a pineapple park and winery, eating a lot of good food, revisiting my Fuguki Tree Road and just enjoying quality time together.

I worshipped. I visited a Christian church on my last full Sunday in Japan where I prayed with a congregation full of Japanese Christians. They spoke a different language than me but together we worshipped the same God. I thanked Him for blessing me so much with the gift of such an amazing adventure in this wondrous country.

I may have slept and folded a lot of laundry but I did manage to do many wonderful things. I overcame fear in the process and I left behind anxiety that I brought to Japan with me. I slept in the top bunk and gazed at the glowing stars on the wall papered ceiling as I drifted off to sleep every night. I became physically active again. I bicycled. I kayaked. I even participated in a tug of war contest. I learned patience and endurance in ways I never experienced before. I learned that people everywhere are the same on the inside. And I thanked God for blessing me so much in life.

To simply answer the question, “Why did you come to Japan?”

I went to Japan to find freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

sky-500x500Hard fought Journeys to a Satisfied Freedom in the Philippines

When I saw the theme of this article writing contest, I remember a quote I have encountered before. The quote says “Learn the rules. Then break some”. It might sound rebellious to some but for me, I think of it as another way of saying you fight for your journeys freedom.

I believe there are different kinds of freedom each and every one of us is looking for. We all wanted to be free, free from the things that we think are holding us back from living the life we desire. We want to move away from what are bothering us, hurting us, our struggles, this is what being free might be for each of us. But where and when do we find our freedom? How do we fight for it? How can we say we feel free?

Speaking for myself, I still find me being stuck from where I am now. I feel like I’m still bounded with all the responsibilities I have for my Family. Still bounded from thinking about the approval of my society on how I should be living my life. But all of these things including self doubt and fear disappear whenever I am travelling alone in an unfamiliar territory.

When I get out there, I always choose to leave the things that are bringing me down. I clear my head from them. Yes, I am trying to run away from them and be free from them even for a while because this is where and when I find my freedom from what I think is a cruel reality.

I used to travel with people I know and used to be closed to me but it made a difference to see how free I can feel when I did a trip alone. During these journeys I learned how to decide everything for myself, which I think is one way of exercising my freedom. I usually make my own itinerary based on the information I get from travel blogs but there are times that I do not follow it and decide to get lost. I feel like I can afford to see the places where some do not go. I am free to explore. I am not bound by any box or circle.

From these travels I learned to be free from judgement and doubts. I started to convince myself to trust people who are very unfamiliar to me, who I just met or encountered at the moment. At these moments I do not have any thoughts to make me run from people I do not know. I invite them to be part of my new circle instead.

The best freedom I get from these experiences is that I am freely me. Everything is me. I am allowed to be myself. I open up myself to new territories, new people and new learning. I do not have to worry about being out of my usual comfort zone. I do not feel any pain. I am releasing my inner bravery and last but not the least I am free to hope without a limit. The hope that will give me strength to face every obstacle and struggles to achieve the life I have always been dreaming. A life where I get to have the freedom to be independent and to be myself whenever, wherever.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Freedom When an Amazing Life Flys Away in the US

It was three summers ago and I had just flown from Kauai to Portland, OR to be with my boyfriend after months of being apart. Everything was finally looking up, after going through hardships during my travels on the islands. I was exactly where I wanted to be.

I remember how exciting it was to feel the cool, crisp NW air and to see Portland for the first time. The city was coming alive, people were buzzing on the streets, cafés were clamoring with business, I had made it.
My boyfriend and I had driven down to his family farm in Dallas, OR, a small town in a valley at the edge of the Coast Range Mountains. The farm is a hundred years old and sits on seventy acres of open land, filled with fruit trees and a rambling river. If anything, my time in Oregon was only getting better.

However, three days into my trip, I received a phone call from my Aunt Lorie whom never calls. A red flag went up as I answered. “Your grandma is in hospice…” My heart sank into my chest as I heard these words. I had spoken to my grandmother occasionally throughout the past year but, it wasn’t enough. She was the woman who raised me from toddler to adult, she was my hero. I should have been more present.

I was feeling all sorts of emotions, but mostly sadness and despair that I wasn’t a car ride away. In fact, I was on the opposite end of the country, at least an eight-hour flight from home. Feeling helpless and confused, I continued my day, beneath a cloud. I was awaiting answers to my prayers. I prayed to my mother, whom passed away when I was two. I sought advice on the situation, if I should continue my trip or fly home. The following morning my prayer was answered in the form of a Robin bird who landed in front of me in between two large oak trees. My mother’s name was Robin. In that moment I felt a sigh of relief that even through difficulty, things can still make sense.

A couple more days had passed with no improvements to my grandmother’s health. Yet, I decided to remain in Oregon. We had made our way to the coast which is my favorite place to be. Throughout the days I had been given small universal signs that everything was going to be okay. I felt a little more at ease.

Throughout my travels I had picked up a used book called, The Invitation. At the end of every chapter the author asks the reader to write short exercises. They are based on looking inwards. Like most books I read, I found that every time I flipped the page, it was more and more relevant to my current situation. This time, the exercise was to write down ‘what I need and what I need from others’. I jotted down the answers in my journal and put it away. The following day would be pivotal.
In the afternoon my boyfriend and I found ourselves in a state park situated on the central coast. We climbed a sand dune to check the surf. It was small but looked worthwhile, so we grabbed our boards and ran to the water. It was a beautiful, sunny day. No one was around. We had this place to ourselves. I caught some really fun little peeling waves. This was my perfect moment.

When I got out of my wetsuit and changed into dry clothes, I grabbed my journal and climbed up a sand dune that overlooked the vast, glistening Pacific. I was in my peaceful place. Because I hadn’t had time the previous day to finish my journal entry, I did so on the dune. When I finished writing I sent my needs and needs of others into the universe. “I need Bubee to know that my brothers and I will be okay without her.” “I need Bubee to know that she is free to leave her body and to find her freedom.” I felt so relieved and uplifted from partaking in this exercise.

When I got back to the car I checked my phone; a missed call from my aunt. Before I listened to the message, I knew what I’d hear. And when I officially heard the words, tears fell from my eyes, but they were mostly tears of joy. I never thought I’d feel that way about my grandmothers passing. But, I couldn’t deny the sequence of events that occurred. I knew deep in my heart that someone was watching over us. She had passed when I was doing what I love most; surfing and traveling. And in that realization I too found my freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Interesting Strangers in transit through the USA

I used to dread traveling alone. I mean lets’ face it, sitting alone at an airport waiting for a flight, exhausted, trying to avoid talking to strangers you simply do not have the energy to communicate with is no one’s favorite pastime. At least not mine. I used to find it awkward, like all the other passengers were staring at me, judging me because I did not have a group of friends or family around me. Sometimes I was judging myself too, wondering what on earth was I doing, spending my time at yet another airport in the middle of nowhere, going to a city I had never been to before, only to wander around all by myself, since clearly I did not know anyone there. My family and friends, whom I gladly would have welcomed with me on my adventures but who unfortunately were not very keen on traveling with me, kept asking why I was going where I was going, with who, and every time I replied “alone”, they looked at me like I had gone nuts. Why would you travel somewhere you’ve never been to and know nothing about, completely alone, for no apparent reason? Yes, there were times when I myself questioned my sanity.

But there is a flipside to wandering around in a strange city all by yourself. It’s refreshing. Fascinating. Freeing. Empowering even. Watching the waves on the beach of Wilmington, admiring wonderful art and beautiful old buildings in Boston or sipping morning coffee at Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Thinking back, I don’t remember being lonely. I don’t remember feeling awkward or out of place. No, thinking back just makes me smile. What I remember is the warm wind and the salty smell of the ocean; the music, and the laughter; the smell of the coffee, the orchestra playing and how much I loved that little pink house with a porch full of colorful flowers. The interesting conversation with that silly old grandpa at the diner, or that kind stranger letting me crash on his couch when things went wrong in El Paso and I had nowhere to spend the night. I remember that time I randomly stumbled into a dive bar to see a band somewhere in Wisconsin, and ended up spending the next week hanging out with them, selling merchandise at a festival and sipping margaritas by the pool, having the time of my life. I remember all those fascinating, devastating and heart-warming life stories of strangers I met in passing, and all those moments I would not change for the world. And most of all I remember feeling stronger, more confident. I remember feeling free. All of a sudden none of those expectations, none of those horrifying tiny boxes people around me have always tried to fit me in did not matter anymore. On that plane or that strange city, surrounded by strangers, I was finally able to just be me. To be free.

The biggest realization traveling alone has given me, is that I can do this. I will get through and I will survive, whatever it is life throws at me. I will never be what other people expect me to be, so I might as well just follow my heart and do what I feel is right. The world is a magnificent, interesting and beautiful place, and I intend to see as much of it as I possibly can. Even if it means I’m seeing it alone.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Just Chasing a Photograph in the USA

I used to be a jet-setting executive who had the world at her feet. Nowadays, I travel because my three daughters live in different cities around the world: Seattle (next, San Francisco), Calgary, and Manila (London before, Melbourne next). Recently, my career-oriented middle daughter Claudine needed help. For the fifth time after I retired, I flew to Canada to take care of three young ones.

“We can go to Yoho and Kootenay in B.C., our chance to complete the quad parks named the World Heritage Site of the Canadian Rockies,” I convinced my husband, Bill. On the third weekend, I squeezed in a visit to the new Glacier Skywalk on the Columbia Icefields between Banff and Jasper, the two in Alberta we had visited earlier.

The only downside was driving the same section of the Trans-Canada Highway six more times. Sure enough, on the road to Yoho, I dozed off. Bill missed my chatter, nudging me, “Hey, sleepyhead, I bought you some Cheetos!” In a jiffy, the bag of my favorite cheesy crunchies was gone. I should have been upset he spoiled my beauty nap. Instead, I thanked him.

Between mouthfuls, I caught a glimpse of a scene that would haunt me. A lone red car seemed to rise on the road, driving straight into an enormous glacier-draped mountain. It vanished in a second. “I want that photograph!” whispered my heart. Staying glued to the windshield, soon a second chance came. Alas, the car was black, and the road was flat.

Photos of lovely sights around Yoho did not get my mind off that scene: Marble Canyon, Painted Pots, Sinclair Canyon, and Radium’s Hot Springs and bighorn sheep around town. The following Saturday, I was back with a vengeance. It didn’t take long and another such scene appeared. The mountain was even more majestic. But the car, being white, disappeared into the mist. Again, there was no road rise. I cried, “Can we just stage something?” Bill had one word, “Patience!”

Other photo-ops were on the road. An enormous yellow truck blazoned against the grays. White clouds cavorted with ice-lined pointed peaks. A multi-colored train ruffled through the Rockies’ skirts. Cute, curvy twin bridges punctuated the highway humdrum. Once in a while, a red-roofed cabin enlivened the greens. Around Kootenay, there was more: the Spiral Train, Emerald Lake, Natural Bridge, and the towns of Field and Golden. Still, I wanted that photo.

On the third weekend, the weather was itself, taking a sudden nasty turn. We proceeded and stayed at Banff for the night, hoping it would clear the next day. It didn’t. I have been through Philippine storms, but snow takes me right inside a freezer. But I had to go. It was my last chance.

I started feeling hopeless, but a smile returned to my face when, at more than 6,000 feet high, frosty evergreen began to grace both sides of the road. I asked Bill to stop and stepped out. Wet fluffy things instantly brushed against my face. I “smelled” chestnuts roasting nearby. From inside the car, Bill took my photo of Christmas in June! Still, I longed for another photo.

At the Skywalk, it wasn’t a panorama of glistening glaciers but gray and gloom that greeted us. Making the best of a bad situation, I noticed that my outfit had come together: the red beanie I just bought at the Gift Shop and the red gloves, red scarf and black winter jacket Claudine lent me. Bill took off his gloves to freely fiddle with the Nikon and the slippery platform turned into MY catwalk. “Hurry up! My fingers are already frozen!” interrupted my trance. But by then, I had precious photos of a glamorous fashion model at 67. Still, it was THAT scene I wanted.

On the way home, I was nervous. Bill’s words rang loud in my ears, “It’s now or never.” And, just like that, it came. The car wasn’t red and low-lying clouds partly hid the mountain. But the road had a slight rise, creating the magical effect I saw the first time. All the way home, a contest of who can give the best caption for the photo produced: “Into the Clouds”, “Into the Unknown”, and “Beyond the Ordinary.”

The grandkids hugged me tight as Claudine asked, “Is photography a new career?” I explained that the job I love most is that of a traveling Grandnanny. It doesn’t matter how many times I go back to a place. It’s the people that count. It doesn’t matter if I drive the same old familiar highway. Something else will catch my fancy. I am free to be with whomever I want, drive to wherever I please, and listen to whatever my heart whispers, even if it’s just chasing a photograph.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Free-falling to Freedom in Brazil

2010 was not my year; free-falling since 2009 from successful Customer Service Manager, rising rapidly through the ranks to redundant job seeker, an anonymous face caught up in the tsunami of unemployment as Australia was hit by the Global Economic Crisis. At the same time I went from being married, in love and planning a much dreamed of family, to separated and fighting in vein to save my marriage as my husband set up a cozy new life with his secret lover. Spiralling further and further downwards towards rock bottom, alone, jobless, heartbroken and without spousal support, I finally crash landed; in bankruptcy.

Well, the good thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only way is up!
I had a dream; to salvage the last shred of my life plan, stop the free-falling and move to Brazil!

Sure it would not be as a family unit and I would no longer be cocooned in the secure embrace of the upper middle class lifestyle my in-laws had offered, but the challenge gave me renewed purpose and hope. Still longing for a baby, I discovered that even singles can be eligible to adopt in Brazil, this became my beacon of hope, the driving force to follow my dreams and never give up, no matter what challenges lay ahead.

Simply affording the airfare seemed impossible, a pipe dream, but where there is a will there is a way and by selling almost all my worldly goods on eBay I did it. With enough spare funds to survive on a shoestring for around 12 weeks, it was make or break to find a job in that time.

With a mix of excitement and fear, armed only with a basic knowledge of Portuguese, a passion for Brazilian music and a few Capoeira moves up my sleeve, I flew off into the unknown.

My heart pulled me towards the state of Bahia, and after three bus trips totalling about 35 hours, I made it to Salvador early on a January morning in 2011.  I found a room in the heart of historic, sometimes dangerous and above all picturesque, Pelourinho for around USD$13 a night and there I began to live my dream.

My life story was a tapestry of hopes and dreams interwoven thread by thread with heartache and loss; thankfully I have a strong, independent core which worked like a flint to the sparks of freedom and adventure that came as each new stitch was sewn, thus fuelling the fire to survive here that burns deep inside me to this day.

I trod along the ancient cobbled streets, moving to the beat of drums, drinking in the sight of beautiful coloured buildings, and visiting the statue of Zumbi dos Palmares (an important figure in Capoeira) to sing to him and ask for guidance.

New found freedom combined with faith in my decision felled any remaining fear, my soul felt like it had come home. Against the odds I found a job with only days to go before my funds ran out, that dogged determination had paid it’s dividends. Sure, I was as poor as a church mouse, earning minimum wage of around USD$300 a month, but I was on my way!

From there the path has not been paved with gold, I have followed the paupers trail strewn with rocks, stumbled many times, scraped my knees and lived on the proverbial smell of an oily rag, sometimes in areas not too many steps above the poverty line but I have continued on my journey; a relentless dream catcher.

The experiences have been worth the struggles; I have seen sights both beautiful and historic that I could never have imagined, undertaken voluntary work with some amazing musicians which lead me to promote local Brazilian music to the world, something that became my soul food in this new life, and to top things off I have met so many diverse and wonderful people.

Living without mod cons; cold water showers, no washing machine, no oven, no fridge, no car, no TV, sometimes even no bed, brings sharply into focus what truly matters in life and those material items don’t even make the list! I have often had next to nothing in Brazil, but my life has been richer. Richer in experiences, richer in culture, richer in friendships.

My advice to those reading is, if you are struggling there is hope! Fears can be conquered, lows turned into highs and if you feel like running away, then sprint towards your dreams. Freedom is through that door you see just ahead, you hold the key so put it in the lock and walk through to the life that you dream of for yourself! As for me, I’m now applying to be a citizen of my new homeland; watch this space.

NB: Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

An Amazing Underwater paradise in Mexico

Grains of sand as soft and fine as powdery snow covered my toes as I tried to name all of the different shades of neon blue in the water. Turquoise, Aquamarine, Slate, Navy, Cerulean, Azure, Cornflower, Tiffany Blue. Sails on the yachts in front of me fluttered in the light sea breeze and the smell of coconut oil wafted by. Juice dripped down my fingers as I took a bite of the fresh cut pineapple. I was on the island paradise of Isla Mujeres in the Mexican Caribbean and I was in tears.

Down by the Belize border I burst into tears in Mahahual, swinging on a hammock suspended above the water. The sea was so clear that I could see the trumpet fish zig-zagging below me and even distinguish the individual grains in the rippled sand below. After that I cried at Santa Fe beach in Tulum, tears sliding down my face and into the fresh coconut I was drinking with a straw as I gazed up at the Mayan ruins on the cliff above.

A newly certified Dive Instructor, I’d been planning this move to the tropics for two years. I’d quit my job, gotten rid of my furniture, told my friends goodbye and made no promises to return. Now here I was in tropical paradise wondering if I could ask my Dad to stay in his spare room for a few months while I sorted my life out. Because my move to paradise was not going as planned.

The tourists around me were having a great time. They were on holiday, having adventures. I would come back to the hostel exhausted from a day walking in the blistering heat, hunting for a job and an apartment. Every day the tourists went swimming with whale sharks. Every day I followed false leads and faced new rejections.

Everything on the streets seemed strange. A man on a tricycle circled town with a loudspeaker blaring “…windows, refrigerators, doors, all you need, tables, chimneys, bathtubs, call me,” followed by a phone number. An eight year old boy leaned out of a truck window to wolf whistle at me. A woman tried to sell me a hand puppet shaped like a chicken.

“What is this place?” I called my Dad for advice. “I’m so tired, I don’t know if I can do this!”

“I have no doubt that you can make a life for yourself anywhere in the world,” my Dad said. “You’ve done it before.”

“I know I can make it here,” I said. “But I don’t know if I want to!”

“Give it another week.”

The next week I got a call from a dive shop offering me an instructor position. “It’s only confirmed for two months,” my new boss said, “but if it works out then you can stay through high season. The catch is that you’ll need to house-sit the apartment above the dive shop until we get the hurricane shutters installed. I hope that we can work this out.”

Needless to say, I took the job and the beachfront apartment. As soon as I was in the ocean I was in charge again; teaching people to breathe underwater, calming their fears about the equipment and the environment, introducing them to the reef ecosystem. I love taking people underwater for the first time, to see them experience the thrill of flying above the corals or encounter a creature that they didn’t even know existed. To see them face to face with a giant turtle, inside a tornado school of giant trevally, or hovering in place while manta rays do flips around them.

Life on land is still confusing, but I’m not crying anymore. I’m settling in to my new town and I’m enjoying the slow pace of life in the tropics. But underwater I have my freedom. The environment is so foreign that you can’t help but immerse yourself in the experience. You can’t feel tears underwater, you’re already totally wet.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

2016-07-08-06-57-09-1-300x300Instilling Comfortable Respect in the Philippines

The chorus of cascading waters was music to my ears as it dropped down from varying heights into an aquamarine pool. The sound mimics the sound of rain. The rhythm complements the magnificent and unadulterated view of water streaming onto rock walls and plants, giving off a thin cloud of droplets at the base of the waterfalls. This is Tinago Falls in Iligan City, Philippines. Its beauty is well hidden within the rainforest of the province hence the name “tinago”, a Filipino word that means hidden. As I stood there mesmerized by its beauty, I heaved a sigh of relief. I have finally conquered it but, unlike Tinago Falls, I need not hide because I am free.

Living in a country of diverse cultures, these diversity creates gaps in understanding that eventually leads to misconceptions. These questions in faith and beliefs, often fueled by ignorance, give birth to generalizations and bigotry. The news of tragic events happening in different parts of the world, often associated with our Muslim brothers, do not help in easing out these tensions. The Philippines, being predominantly of Christian faith, is not free from this imbalance. As most of our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters are concentrated in Mindanao, the island is still a subject that sometimes instills fear among many Filipinos. There are places that are “off-limits” in the minds of most Filipinos because it is tagged as “dangerous”.

A recent unplanned visit to Iligan City gave me the opportunity to open the mind of my 8 year old daughter on the importance of accepting diversity. It was our first time in the city and our plan was to visit the 3 of its 24 waterfalls. As we only had a couple of hours to go around, we had to hire a “habal-habal”, a motorcycle where we had to squeeze in three people and the driver, to get us around faster. It was another first for us. I had to explain to my daughter that this was the mode of public transportation in most Philippine provinces.

She was quick to notice that there were a lot of Muslims during our quick tour. She was able to identify them because of the way they dressed. She was used to the city where people dressed in a certain fashion and she saw how different this was in Iligan City. At one point, she asked me why people dressed that way.

I saw this as an opportunity to explain to her the rich and diverse culture of the Philippines. I explained to her that they were our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters. They believe in Allah and they practice their Islam faith so they have their own culture that they are proud of, and that includes the way they dress. I had to make her understand that despite these differences we were all Filipinos and should respect each other. She will meet a lot of Filipino Muslims as she grows up and will have a deeper understanding of their culture, both in our travels and in school. What is important was for her to open her mind and accept these differences just like the way she does with her friends in school. At that point, a young Muslim lady walked past our table and smiled at her to which she my daughter returned the favor.

At that point, I knew that she was on her way to understanding the lessons of cultural diversity.

As our world gets smaller with technology, it is very important to keep in mind that it will open us to the cultural exchanges from the different regions of the world. Most of these beliefs and practices may be similar and there will be a few that may contradict our very own. These exchanges will also open us to preconceived ideas and branding that can result to indifferences and, in some cases, can even lead to hate. We cannot allow these notions to affect the way we think about others because of their cultural background, their faith, the color of their skin, or the way they dress.

I find my freedom when I travel. Each destination is a new learning experience. Traveling introduced me to the different cultures and practices that makes the Philippines unique. It gave me the opportunity to help others understand the uniqueness of each culture paving the way for acceptance, just like what happened between me and my daughter during our trip in Mindanao. Traveling freed me from clutches of ignorance and taught me to respect the diversity that is present among us.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

The Inward Journey to Freedom in the US

By age fourteen I had been to twenty seven countries and four continents. How much more free could I be? Back then, life was much simpler. At twenty six years old, I’ve independently added four more countries. I had the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want, but there was something significantly different between traveling with my parents and traveling alone as an adult. Until a few years ago, I realized I was emotionally caged; trapped in heartaches, insecurities and self-loathing. Let me tell you a story of a traveler who never truly traveled until she started exploring an inward journey into herself.

I awoke, I gently began to open my eyes knowing there was no rush for anything. I graduated college, I had no job and no direction, but worst of all, I had no passion. I felt nothing and everything all at the same time. It was winter in Massachusetts and everything was dead, which is exactly how I felt. Every day it was cold and gray outside and my ribcage would tremble, trying to salvage the very last colors inside of me. Days were long and nights were longer.

Every phone call I’d bite my cheeks and pray that desperation could not be heard. I didn’t know how to ask for help, as I choked on words I could not speak. Everyone’s advice was so cliché and bland, “talk to someone, exercise, eat well, go out and meet people.” As if the simple act of getting out of bed was easy for me. When I would gather enough strength to walk to the bathroom, I’d brush my teeth with a soft gaze, avoiding all eye contact with a ghost.

She wasn’t scary but she sure wasn’t pretty. She was pale with swollen eye lids, peeled lips and bleeding finger tips. She was trapped in her own world, bruising her hands against her concrete walls, wishing somebody would save her. I used to think she was quite pathetic, but when I chose to fall in love with her, was the moment I chose to fall in love with myself.

I was tired and I was through with devaluing myself. I frantically opened my laptop and typed the first words that came to mind, “Kripalu”, the School of Yoga and Health. I had taken all of one class but that didn’t stop me. Yoga was expanding and teachers were in demand. Kripalu was only a few hours north so I signed up. A month later I was standing on the grounds where I took my first few breaths of fresh air.

I knew absolutely nothing of what yoga truly is. They stripped my judgments of bendy, skinny females wearing Lululemon. My god, yoga saved my life. Every day I cried. At first it was out of pain; reliving every moment someone took something from me, every moment I failed, disappointed, hurt and lied. They taught me to be strong in my vulnerability and supplied me with affirmations that helped heal me.

The skin I used to inflict pain upon through cigarettes and razors is the skin I now touch as if it were a lover who just told me they loved me too. I massaged my feet with gratitude for walking so steady on shaky grounds and I kissed my palms with forgiveness because sometimes I did not hold hearts with care. I looked all around and saw the greener side of the grass. I was liberated from my own perception of hell.   My inward journey was nearly complete.

Finally, a miracle; tears of happiness slid down my cheeks as I danced and held others and allowed myself to be held. I was reborn in the hands of loving, empathetic human beings that have felt how exhausted shoulders can get and how heavy hearts can be. My teachers taught me more than warrior pose, tree pose and eagle pose. They taught me how to be a warrior and enter my inner power. They taught me how to be a tree; to grow with sturdiness. They taught me how to be an eagle and fly in freedom.

I’ve felt the pain of my ancestors as I walked their graves touring the German holocaust camps. I’ve felt the love and nurture of those who’ve harvested life as I danced along the Balinese rice patties. I have hugged the Australian wild life and did the HAKA with one of New Zealand’s tribes. I have cried with Peru’s poor and laughed with their children. There’s a lot I’ve seen and a lot I haven’t, a lot I know and a lot I don’t. I’ve learned the final destination of freedom was never my plane ticket. The final destination of freedom was the only place I did not think to go and that was through an inward journey.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Why Did You Come to Japan?

There is a television show in Japan that airs every Monday called Why Did You Come to Japan? A Japanese camera crew stops foreigners arriving at Narita airport in Tokyo and asks them what the purpose is for their visit. My best friend’s dad told me about this show shortly after I arrived for my six-week stay at their house. He joked that I was there, “to sleep and fold laundry!”

That was partially true while I was recovering from the mysterious virus I contracted on the plane ride there. But when I wasn’t sleeping or folding laundry I was on a search. Although I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for at first, I’m certain I found it along the way.

I overcame fear. My journey began when I was forced to maneuver the Japanese train system. Exhausted from traveling for three days from my home in Indiana, my plane was diverted a couple hundred miles south from Tokyo to Osaka airport due to turbulence. There were no more flights so I had to take a train to find my host family in Tokyo. I was terrified at the idea of going alone, but I quickly made friends with the angel God placed in the seat beside me on the plane. We plotted, prayed, sweated, laughed and cried through the ordeal but we bravely made it to our destination together.

I taught. I packed a children’s devotional in my suitcase and read an English lesson with my friend’s nine-year-old son every morning. Not only did he get to practice his English skills, he also learned about Jesus. I learned many Japanese words in the process.

I explored. I had my own bicycle and ventured out almost daily, some days riding ten miles or more. I visited shopping centers, beautiful shrines, Starbucks and my favorite Italian restaurant. Since I had been forced to overcome my fear of working the train system upon arrival in Japan, I rode one alone to Harajuku in Tokyo from my friend’s house in Inage-Ku and visited the famous Meiji Jingu Shrine. There I found confidence, gratitude and peace.

I made new friends. I connected with the family who lived across the street from my host family. They took me on several outings including gorgeous flower gardens and a gigantic mall. One evening they invited me to their backyard BBQ. The entire family spoke fluent English, which was refreshing. And their three-year old grandson Yuto sang Row Row Row Your Boat to me in the sweetest little voice reminding me of my childhood and that we are all children at heart no matter where we live in the world.

I survived multiple earthquakes. As if the mysterious illness I contracted on my journey there was not enough, after I recovered I had to deal with my bed shaking uncontrollably on at least four occasions. They were low magnitude quakes but that was more earth shaking than I had experienced in my entire life up to that point.

I relaxed. I took hot baths at public Japanese spas and experienced a hot rock bed for the first time. I took naps in the afternoons. I read several books cover to cover. I sat in the park and people watched. I drank a lot of coffee and daydreamed. I learned to breathe again.

I ate. I enjoyed delicious meals prepared at home by my host family and I learned how to prepare many dishes myself. I cooked dinner for my friends on my last night and they actually enjoyed it! I ate homemade miso soup and rice every day and ice cream for dessert. I took myself out to restaurants. Pointing at pictures on the menu works just as well in Japan as it does at Denny’s!

I traveled. I flew to Okinawa for three nights with my friend on a girl’s only trip. We enjoyed hanging out on the beautiful beach, touring a pineapple park and winery, eating a lot of good food, revisiting my Fuguki Tree Road and just enjoying quality time together.

I worshipped. I visited a Christian church on my last full Sunday in Japan where I prayed with a congregation full of Japanese Christians. They spoke a different language than me but together we worshipped the same God. I thanked Him for blessing me so much with the gift of such an amazing adventure in this wondrous country.

I may have slept and folded a lot of laundry but I did manage to do many wonderful things. I overcame fear in the process and I left behind anxiety that I brought to Japan with me. I slept in the top bunk and gazed at the glowing stars on the wall papered ceiling as I drifted off to sleep every night. I became physically active again. I bicycled. I kayaked. I even participated in a tug of war contest. I learned patience and endurance in ways I never experienced before. I learned that people everywhere are the same on the inside. And I thanked God for blessing me so much in life.

To simply answer the question, “Why did you come to Japan?”

I went to Japan to find freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

sky-500x500Hard fought Journeys to a Satisfied Freedom in the Philippines

When I saw the theme of this article writing contest, I remember a quote I have encountered before. The quote says “Learn the rules. Then break some”. It might sound rebellious to some but for me, I think of it as another way of saying you fight for your journeys freedom.

I believe there are different kinds of freedom each and every one of us is looking for. We all wanted to be free, free from the things that we think are holding us back from living the life we desire. We want to move away from what are bothering us, hurting us, our struggles, this is what being free might be for each of us. But where and when do we find our freedom? How do we fight for it? How can we say we feel free?

Speaking for myself, I still find me being stuck from where I am now. I feel like I’m still bounded with all the responsibilities I have for my Family. Still bounded from thinking about the approval of my society on how I should be living my life. But all of these things including self doubt and fear disappear whenever I am travelling alone in an unfamiliar territory.

When I get out there, I always choose to leave the things that are bringing me down. I clear my head from them. Yes, I am trying to run away from them and be free from them even for a while because this is where and when I find my freedom from what I think is a cruel reality.

I used to travel with people I know and used to be closed to me but it made a difference to see how free I can feel when I did a trip alone. During these journeys I learned how to decide everything for myself, which I think is one way of exercising my freedom. I usually make my own itinerary based on the information I get from travel blogs but there are times that I do not follow it and decide to get lost. I feel like I can afford to see the places where some do not go. I am free to explore. I am not bound by any box or circle.

From these travels I learned to be free from judgement and doubts. I started to convince myself to trust people who are very unfamiliar to me, who I just met or encountered at the moment. At these moments I do not have any thoughts to make me run from people I do not know. I invite them to be part of my new circle instead.

The best freedom I get from these experiences is that I am freely me. Everything is me. I am allowed to be myself. I open up myself to new territories, new people and new learning. I do not have to worry about being out of my usual comfort zone. I do not feel any pain. I am releasing my inner bravery and last but not the least I am free to hope without a limit. The hope that will give me strength to face every obstacle and struggles to achieve the life I have always been dreaming. A life where I get to have the freedom to be independent and to be myself whenever, wherever.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Freedom When an Amazing Life Flys Away in the US

It was three summers ago and I had just flown from Kauai to Portland, OR to be with my boyfriend after months of being apart. Everything was finally looking up, after going through hardships during my travels on the islands. I was exactly where I wanted to be.

I remember how exciting it was to feel the cool, crisp NW air and to see Portland for the first time. The city was coming alive, people were buzzing on the streets, cafés were clamoring with business, I had made it.
My boyfriend and I had driven down to his family farm in Dallas, OR, a small town in a valley at the edge of the Coast Range Mountains. The farm is a hundred years old and sits on seventy acres of open land, filled with fruit trees and a rambling river. If anything, my time in Oregon was only getting better.

However, three days into my trip, I received a phone call from my Aunt Lorie whom never calls. A red flag went up as I answered. “Your grandma is in hospice…” My heart sank into my chest as I heard these words. I had spoken to my grandmother occasionally throughout the past year but, it wasn’t enough. She was the woman who raised me from toddler to adult, she was my hero. I should have been more present.

I was feeling all sorts of emotions, but mostly sadness and despair that I wasn’t a car ride away. In fact, I was on the opposite end of the country, at least an eight-hour flight from home. Feeling helpless and confused, I continued my day, beneath a cloud. I was awaiting answers to my prayers. I prayed to my mother, whom passed away when I was two. I sought advice on the situation, if I should continue my trip or fly home. The following morning my prayer was answered in the form of a Robin bird who landed in front of me in between two large oak trees. My mother’s name was Robin. In that moment I felt a sigh of relief that even through difficulty, things can still make sense.

A couple more days had passed with no improvements to my grandmother’s health. Yet, I decided to remain in Oregon. We had made our way to the coast which is my favorite place to be. Throughout the days I had been given small universal signs that everything was going to be okay. I felt a little more at ease.

Throughout my travels I had picked up a used book called, The Invitation. At the end of every chapter the author asks the reader to write short exercises. They are based on looking inwards. Like most books I read, I found that every time I flipped the page, it was more and more relevant to my current situation. This time, the exercise was to write down ‘what I need and what I need from others’. I jotted down the answers in my journal and put it away. The following day would be pivotal.
In the afternoon my boyfriend and I found ourselves in a state park situated on the central coast. We climbed a sand dune to check the surf. It was small but looked worthwhile, so we grabbed our boards and ran to the water. It was a beautiful, sunny day. No one was around. We had this place to ourselves. I caught some really fun little peeling waves. This was my perfect moment.

When I got out of my wetsuit and changed into dry clothes, I grabbed my journal and climbed up a sand dune that overlooked the vast, glistening Pacific. I was in my peaceful place. Because I hadn’t had time the previous day to finish my journal entry, I did so on the dune. When I finished writing I sent my needs and needs of others into the universe. “I need Bubee to know that my brothers and I will be okay without her.” “I need Bubee to know that she is free to leave her body and to find her freedom.” I felt so relieved and uplifted from partaking in this exercise.

When I got back to the car I checked my phone; a missed call from my aunt. Before I listened to the message, I knew what I’d hear. And when I officially heard the words, tears fell from my eyes, but they were mostly tears of joy. I never thought I’d feel that way about my grandmothers passing. But, I couldn’t deny the sequence of events that occurred. I knew deep in my heart that someone was watching over us. She had passed when I was doing what I love most; surfing and traveling. And in that realization I too found my freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Interesting Strangers in transit through the USA

I used to dread traveling alone. I mean lets’ face it, sitting alone at an airport waiting for a flight, exhausted, trying to avoid talking to strangers you simply do not have the energy to communicate with is no one’s favorite pastime. At least not mine. I used to find it awkward, like all the other passengers were staring at me, judging me because I did not have a group of friends or family around me. Sometimes I was judging myself too, wondering what on earth was I doing, spending my time at yet another airport in the middle of nowhere, going to a city I had never been to before, only to wander around all by myself, since clearly I did not know anyone there. My family and friends, whom I gladly would have welcomed with me on my adventures but who unfortunately were not very keen on traveling with me, kept asking why I was going where I was going, with who, and every time I replied “alone”, they looked at me like I had gone nuts. Why would you travel somewhere you’ve never been to and know nothing about, completely alone, for no apparent reason? Yes, there were times when I myself questioned my sanity.

But there is a flipside to wandering around in a strange city all by yourself. It’s refreshing. Fascinating. Freeing. Empowering even. Watching the waves on the beach of Wilmington, admiring wonderful art and beautiful old buildings in Boston or sipping morning coffee at Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Thinking back, I don’t remember being lonely. I don’t remember feeling awkward or out of place. No, thinking back just makes me smile. What I remember is the warm wind and the salty smell of the ocean; the music, and the laughter; the smell of the coffee, the orchestra playing and how much I loved that little pink house with a porch full of colorful flowers. The interesting conversation with that silly old grandpa at the diner, or that kind stranger letting me crash on his couch when things went wrong in El Paso and I had nowhere to spend the night. I remember that time I randomly stumbled into a dive bar to see a band somewhere in Wisconsin, and ended up spending the next week hanging out with them, selling merchandise at a festival and sipping margaritas by the pool, having the time of my life. I remember all those fascinating, devastating and heart-warming life stories of strangers I met in passing, and all those moments I would not change for the world. And most of all I remember feeling stronger, more confident. I remember feeling free. All of a sudden none of those expectations, none of those horrifying tiny boxes people around me have always tried to fit me in did not matter anymore. On that plane or that strange city, surrounded by strangers, I was finally able to just be me. To be free.

The biggest realization traveling alone has given me, is that I can do this. I will get through and I will survive, whatever it is life throws at me. I will never be what other people expect me to be, so I might as well just follow my heart and do what I feel is right. The world is a magnificent, interesting and beautiful place, and I intend to see as much of it as I possibly can. Even if it means I’m seeing it alone.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Just Chasing a Photograph in the USA

I used to be a jet-setting executive who had the world at her feet. Nowadays, I travel because my three daughters live in different cities around the world: Seattle (next, San Francisco), Calgary, and Manila (London before, Melbourne next). Recently, my career-oriented middle daughter Claudine needed help. For the fifth time after I retired, I flew to Canada to take care of three young ones.

“We can go to Yoho and Kootenay in B.C., our chance to complete the quad parks named the World Heritage Site of the Canadian Rockies,” I convinced my husband, Bill. On the third weekend, I squeezed in a visit to the new Glacier Skywalk on the Columbia Icefields between Banff and Jasper, the two in Alberta we had visited earlier.

The only downside was driving the same section of the Trans-Canada Highway six more times. Sure enough, on the road to Yoho, I dozed off. Bill missed my chatter, nudging me, “Hey, sleepyhead, I bought you some Cheetos!” In a jiffy, the bag of my favorite cheesy crunchies was gone. I should have been upset he spoiled my beauty nap. Instead, I thanked him.

Between mouthfuls, I caught a glimpse of a scene that would haunt me. A lone red car seemed to rise on the road, driving straight into an enormous glacier-draped mountain. It vanished in a second. “I want that photograph!” whispered my heart. Staying glued to the windshield, soon a second chance came. Alas, the car was black, and the road was flat.

Photos of lovely sights around Yoho did not get my mind off that scene: Marble Canyon, Painted Pots, Sinclair Canyon, and Radium’s Hot Springs and bighorn sheep around town. The following Saturday, I was back with a vengeance. It didn’t take long and another such scene appeared. The mountain was even more majestic. But the car, being white, disappeared into the mist. Again, there was no road rise. I cried, “Can we just stage something?” Bill had one word, “Patience!”

Other photo-ops were on the road. An enormous yellow truck blazoned against the grays. White clouds cavorted with ice-lined pointed peaks. A multi-colored train ruffled through the Rockies’ skirts. Cute, curvy twin bridges punctuated the highway humdrum. Once in a while, a red-roofed cabin enlivened the greens. Around Kootenay, there was more: the Spiral Train, Emerald Lake, Natural Bridge, and the towns of Field and Golden. Still, I wanted that photo.

On the third weekend, the weather was itself, taking a sudden nasty turn. We proceeded and stayed at Banff for the night, hoping it would clear the next day. It didn’t. I have been through Philippine storms, but snow takes me right inside a freezer. But I had to go. It was my last chance.

I started feeling hopeless, but a smile returned to my face when, at more than 6,000 feet high, frosty evergreen began to grace both sides of the road. I asked Bill to stop and stepped out. Wet fluffy things instantly brushed against my face. I “smelled” chestnuts roasting nearby. From inside the car, Bill took my photo of Christmas in June! Still, I longed for another photo.

At the Skywalk, it wasn’t a panorama of glistening glaciers but gray and gloom that greeted us. Making the best of a bad situation, I noticed that my outfit had come together: the red beanie I just bought at the Gift Shop and the red gloves, red scarf and black winter jacket Claudine lent me. Bill took off his gloves to freely fiddle with the Nikon and the slippery platform turned into MY catwalk. “Hurry up! My fingers are already frozen!” interrupted my trance. But by then, I had precious photos of a glamorous fashion model at 67. Still, it was THAT scene I wanted.

On the way home, I was nervous. Bill’s words rang loud in my ears, “It’s now or never.” And, just like that, it came. The car wasn’t red and low-lying clouds partly hid the mountain. But the road had a slight rise, creating the magical effect I saw the first time. All the way home, a contest of who can give the best caption for the photo produced: “Into the Clouds”, “Into the Unknown”, and “Beyond the Ordinary.”

The grandkids hugged me tight as Claudine asked, “Is photography a new career?” I explained that the job I love most is that of a traveling Grandnanny. It doesn’t matter how many times I go back to a place. It’s the people that count. It doesn’t matter if I drive the same old familiar highway. Something else will catch my fancy. I am free to be with whomever I want, drive to wherever I please, and listen to whatever my heart whispers, even if it’s just chasing a photograph.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Free-falling to Freedom in Brazil

2010 was not my year; free-falling since 2009 from successful Customer Service Manager, rising rapidly through the ranks to redundant job seeker, an anonymous face caught up in the tsunami of unemployment as Australia was hit by the Global Economic Crisis. At the same time I went from being married, in love and planning a much dreamed of family, to separated and fighting in vein to save my marriage as my husband set up a cozy new life with his secret lover. Spiralling further and further downwards towards rock bottom, alone, jobless, heartbroken and without spousal support, I finally crash landed; in bankruptcy.

Well, the good thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only way is up!
I had a dream; to salvage the last shred of my life plan, stop the free-falling and move to Brazil!

Sure it would not be as a family unit and I would no longer be cocooned in the secure embrace of the upper middle class lifestyle my in-laws had offered, but the challenge gave me renewed purpose and hope. Still longing for a baby, I discovered that even singles can be eligible to adopt in Brazil, this became my beacon of hope, the driving force to follow my dreams and never give up, no matter what challenges lay ahead.

Simply affording the airfare seemed impossible, a pipe dream, but where there is a will there is a way and by selling almost all my worldly goods on eBay I did it. With enough spare funds to survive on a shoestring for around 12 weeks, it was make or break to find a job in that time.

With a mix of excitement and fear, armed only with a basic knowledge of Portuguese, a passion for Brazilian music and a few Capoeira moves up my sleeve, I flew off into the unknown.

My heart pulled me towards the state of Bahia, and after three bus trips totalling about 35 hours, I made it to Salvador early on a January morning in 2011.  I found a room in the heart of historic, sometimes dangerous and above all picturesque, Pelourinho for around USD$13 a night and there I began to live my dream.

My life story was a tapestry of hopes and dreams interwoven thread by thread with heartache and loss; thankfully I have a strong, independent core which worked like a flint to the sparks of freedom and adventure that came as each new stitch was sewn, thus fuelling the fire to survive here that burns deep inside me to this day.

I trod along the ancient cobbled streets, moving to the beat of drums, drinking in the sight of beautiful coloured buildings, and visiting the statue of Zumbi dos Palmares (an important figure in Capoeira) to sing to him and ask for guidance.

New found freedom combined with faith in my decision felled any remaining fear, my soul felt like it had come home. Against the odds I found a job with only days to go before my funds ran out, that dogged determination had paid it’s dividends. Sure, I was as poor as a church mouse, earning minimum wage of around USD$300 a month, but I was on my way!

From there the path has not been paved with gold, I have followed the paupers trail strewn with rocks, stumbled many times, scraped my knees and lived on the proverbial smell of an oily rag, sometimes in areas not too many steps above the poverty line but I have continued on my journey; a relentless dream catcher.

The experiences have been worth the struggles; I have seen sights both beautiful and historic that I could never have imagined, undertaken voluntary work with some amazing musicians which lead me to promote local Brazilian music to the world, something that became my soul food in this new life, and to top things off I have met so many diverse and wonderful people.

Living without mod cons; cold water showers, no washing machine, no oven, no fridge, no car, no TV, sometimes even no bed, brings sharply into focus what truly matters in life and those material items don’t even make the list! I have often had next to nothing in Brazil, but my life has been richer. Richer in experiences, richer in culture, richer in friendships.

My advice to those reading is, if you are struggling there is hope! Fears can be conquered, lows turned into highs and if you feel like running away, then sprint towards your dreams. Freedom is through that door you see just ahead, you hold the key so put it in the lock and walk through to the life that you dream of for yourself! As for me, I’m now applying to be a citizen of my new homeland; watch this space.

NB: Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

An Amazing Underwater paradise in Mexico

Grains of sand as soft and fine as powdery snow covered my toes as I tried to name all of the different shades of neon blue in the water. Turquoise, Aquamarine, Slate, Navy, Cerulean, Azure, Cornflower, Tiffany Blue. Sails on the yachts in front of me fluttered in the light sea breeze and the smell of coconut oil wafted by. Juice dripped down my fingers as I took a bite of the fresh cut pineapple. I was on the island paradise of Isla Mujeres in the Mexican Caribbean and I was in tears.

Down by the Belize border I burst into tears in Mahahual, swinging on a hammock suspended above the water. The sea was so clear that I could see the trumpet fish zig-zagging below me and even distinguish the individual grains in the rippled sand below. After that I cried at Santa Fe beach in Tulum, tears sliding down my face and into the fresh coconut I was drinking with a straw as I gazed up at the Mayan ruins on the cliff above.

A newly certified Dive Instructor, I’d been planning this move to the tropics for two years. I’d quit my job, gotten rid of my furniture, told my friends goodbye and made no promises to return. Now here I was in tropical paradise wondering if I could ask my Dad to stay in his spare room for a few months while I sorted my life out. Because my move to paradise was not going as planned.

The tourists around me were having a great time. They were on holiday, having adventures. I would come back to the hostel exhausted from a day walking in the blistering heat, hunting for a job and an apartment. Every day the tourists went swimming with whale sharks. Every day I followed false leads and faced new rejections.

Everything on the streets seemed strange. A man on a tricycle circled town with a loudspeaker blaring “…windows, refrigerators, doors, all you need, tables, chimneys, bathtubs, call me,” followed by a phone number. An eight year old boy leaned out of a truck window to wolf whistle at me. A woman tried to sell me a hand puppet shaped like a chicken.

“What is this place?” I called my Dad for advice. “I’m so tired, I don’t know if I can do this!”

“I have no doubt that you can make a life for yourself anywhere in the world,” my Dad said. “You’ve done it before.”

“I know I can make it here,” I said. “But I don’t know if I want to!”

“Give it another week.”

The next week I got a call from a dive shop offering me an instructor position. “It’s only confirmed for two months,” my new boss said, “but if it works out then you can stay through high season. The catch is that you’ll need to house-sit the apartment above the dive shop until we get the hurricane shutters installed. I hope that we can work this out.”

Needless to say, I took the job and the beachfront apartment. As soon as I was in the ocean I was in charge again; teaching people to breathe underwater, calming their fears about the equipment and the environment, introducing them to the reef ecosystem. I love taking people underwater for the first time, to see them experience the thrill of flying above the corals or encounter a creature that they didn’t even know existed. To see them face to face with a giant turtle, inside a tornado school of giant trevally, or hovering in place while manta rays do flips around them.

Life on land is still confusing, but I’m not crying anymore. I’m settling in to my new town and I’m enjoying the slow pace of life in the tropics. But underwater I have my freedom. The environment is so foreign that you can’t help but immerse yourself in the experience. You can’t feel tears underwater, you’re already totally wet.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

2016-07-08-06-57-09-1-300x300Instilling Comfortable Respect in the Philippines

The chorus of cascading waters was music to my ears as it dropped down from varying heights into an aquamarine pool. The sound mimics the sound of rain. The rhythm complements the magnificent and unadulterated view of water streaming onto rock walls and plants, giving off a thin cloud of droplets at the base of the waterfalls. This is Tinago Falls in Iligan City, Philippines. Its beauty is well hidden within the rainforest of the province hence the name “tinago”, a Filipino word that means hidden. As I stood there mesmerized by its beauty, I heaved a sigh of relief. I have finally conquered it but, unlike Tinago Falls, I need not hide because I am free.

Living in a country of diverse cultures, these diversity creates gaps in understanding that eventually leads to misconceptions. These questions in faith and beliefs, often fueled by ignorance, give birth to generalizations and bigotry. The news of tragic events happening in different parts of the world, often associated with our Muslim brothers, do not help in easing out these tensions. The Philippines, being predominantly of Christian faith, is not free from this imbalance. As most of our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters are concentrated in Mindanao, the island is still a subject that sometimes instills fear among many Filipinos. There are places that are “off-limits” in the minds of most Filipinos because it is tagged as “dangerous”.

A recent unplanned visit to Iligan City gave me the opportunity to open the mind of my 8 year old daughter on the importance of accepting diversity. It was our first time in the city and our plan was to visit the 3 of its 24 waterfalls. As we only had a couple of hours to go around, we had to hire a “habal-habal”, a motorcycle where we had to squeeze in three people and the driver, to get us around faster. It was another first for us. I had to explain to my daughter that this was the mode of public transportation in most Philippine provinces.

She was quick to notice that there were a lot of Muslims during our quick tour. She was able to identify them because of the way they dressed. She was used to the city where people dressed in a certain fashion and she saw how different this was in Iligan City. At one point, she asked me why people dressed that way.

I saw this as an opportunity to explain to her the rich and diverse culture of the Philippines. I explained to her that they were our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters. They believe in Allah and they practice their Islam faith so they have their own culture that they are proud of, and that includes the way they dress. I had to make her understand that despite these differences we were all Filipinos and should respect each other. She will meet a lot of Filipino Muslims as she grows up and will have a deeper understanding of their culture, both in our travels and in school. What is important was for her to open her mind and accept these differences just like the way she does with her friends in school. At that point, a young Muslim lady walked past our table and smiled at her to which she my daughter returned the favor.

At that point, I knew that she was on her way to understanding the lessons of cultural diversity.

As our world gets smaller with technology, it is very important to keep in mind that it will open us to the cultural exchanges from the different regions of the world. Most of these beliefs and practices may be similar and there will be a few that may contradict our very own. These exchanges will also open us to preconceived ideas and branding that can result to indifferences and, in some cases, can even lead to hate. We cannot allow these notions to affect the way we think about others because of their cultural background, their faith, the color of their skin, or the way they dress.

I find my freedom when I travel. Each destination is a new learning experience. Traveling introduced me to the different cultures and practices that makes the Philippines unique. It gave me the opportunity to help others understand the uniqueness of each culture paving the way for acceptance, just like what happened between me and my daughter during our trip in Mindanao. Traveling freed me from clutches of ignorance and taught me to respect the diversity that is present among us.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

The Inward Journey to Freedom in the US

By age fourteen I had been to twenty seven countries and four continents. How much more free could I be? Back then, life was much simpler. At twenty six years old, I’ve independently added four more countries. I had the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want, but there was something significantly different between traveling with my parents and traveling alone as an adult. Until a few years ago, I realized I was emotionally caged; trapped in heartaches, insecurities and self-loathing. Let me tell you a story of a traveler who never truly traveled until she started exploring an inward journey into herself.

I awoke, I gently began to open my eyes knowing there was no rush for anything. I graduated college, I had no job and no direction, but worst of all, I had no passion. I felt nothing and everything all at the same time. It was winter in Massachusetts and everything was dead, which is exactly how I felt. Every day it was cold and gray outside and my ribcage would tremble, trying to salvage the very last colors inside of me. Days were long and nights were longer.

Every phone call I’d bite my cheeks and pray that desperation could not be heard. I didn’t know how to ask for help, as I choked on words I could not speak. Everyone’s advice was so cliché and bland, “talk to someone, exercise, eat well, go out and meet people.” As if the simple act of getting out of bed was easy for me. When I would gather enough strength to walk to the bathroom, I’d brush my teeth with a soft gaze, avoiding all eye contact with a ghost.

She wasn’t scary but she sure wasn’t pretty. She was pale with swollen eye lids, peeled lips and bleeding finger tips. She was trapped in her own world, bruising her hands against her concrete walls, wishing somebody would save her. I used to think she was quite pathetic, but when I chose to fall in love with her, was the moment I chose to fall in love with myself.

I was tired and I was through with devaluing myself. I frantically opened my laptop and typed the first words that came to mind, “Kripalu”, the School of Yoga and Health. I had taken all of one class but that didn’t stop me. Yoga was expanding and teachers were in demand. Kripalu was only a few hours north so I signed up. A month later I was standing on the grounds where I took my first few breaths of fresh air.

I knew absolutely nothing of what yoga truly is. They stripped my judgments of bendy, skinny females wearing Lululemon. My god, yoga saved my life. Every day I cried. At first it was out of pain; reliving every moment someone took something from me, every moment I failed, disappointed, hurt and lied. They taught me to be strong in my vulnerability and supplied me with affirmations that helped heal me.

The skin I used to inflict pain upon through cigarettes and razors is the skin I now touch as if it were a lover who just told me they loved me too. I massaged my feet with gratitude for walking so steady on shaky grounds and I kissed my palms with forgiveness because sometimes I did not hold hearts with care. I looked all around and saw the greener side of the grass. I was liberated from my own perception of hell.   My inward journey was nearly complete.

Finally, a miracle; tears of happiness slid down my cheeks as I danced and held others and allowed myself to be held. I was reborn in the hands of loving, empathetic human beings that have felt how exhausted shoulders can get and how heavy hearts can be. My teachers taught me more than warrior pose, tree pose and eagle pose. They taught me how to be a warrior and enter my inner power. They taught me how to be a tree; to grow with sturdiness. They taught me how to be an eagle and fly in freedom.

I’ve felt the pain of my ancestors as I walked their graves touring the German holocaust camps. I’ve felt the love and nurture of those who’ve harvested life as I danced along the Balinese rice patties. I have hugged the Australian wild life and did the HAKA with one of New Zealand’s tribes. I have cried with Peru’s poor and laughed with their children. There’s a lot I’ve seen and a lot I haven’t, a lot I know and a lot I don’t. I’ve learned the final destination of freedom was never my plane ticket. The final destination of freedom was the only place I did not think to go and that was through an inward journey.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Why Did You Come to Japan?

There is a television show in Japan that airs every Monday called Why Did You Come to Japan? A Japanese camera crew stops foreigners arriving at Narita airport in Tokyo and asks them what the purpose is for their visit. My best friend’s dad told me about this show shortly after I arrived for my six-week stay at their house. He joked that I was there, “to sleep and fold laundry!”

That was partially true while I was recovering from the mysterious virus I contracted on the plane ride there. But when I wasn’t sleeping or folding laundry I was on a search. Although I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for at first, I’m certain I found it along the way.

I overcame fear. My journey began when I was forced to maneuver the Japanese train system. Exhausted from traveling for three days from my home in Indiana, my plane was diverted a couple hundred miles south from Tokyo to Osaka airport due to turbulence. There were no more flights so I had to take a train to find my host family in Tokyo. I was terrified at the idea of going alone, but I quickly made friends with the angel God placed in the seat beside me on the plane. We plotted, prayed, sweated, laughed and cried through the ordeal but we bravely made it to our destination together.

I taught. I packed a children’s devotional in my suitcase and read an English lesson with my friend’s nine-year-old son every morning. Not only did he get to practice his English skills, he also learned about Jesus. I learned many Japanese words in the process.

I explored. I had my own bicycle and ventured out almost daily, some days riding ten miles or more. I visited shopping centers, beautiful shrines, Starbucks and my favorite Italian restaurant. Since I had been forced to overcome my fear of working the train system upon arrival in Japan, I rode one alone to Harajuku in Tokyo from my friend’s house in Inage-Ku and visited the famous Meiji Jingu Shrine. There I found confidence, gratitude and peace.

I made new friends. I connected with the family who lived across the street from my host family. They took me on several outings including gorgeous flower gardens and a gigantic mall. One evening they invited me to their backyard BBQ. The entire family spoke fluent English, which was refreshing. And their three-year old grandson Yuto sang Row Row Row Your Boat to me in the sweetest little voice reminding me of my childhood and that we are all children at heart no matter where we live in the world.

I survived multiple earthquakes. As if the mysterious illness I contracted on my journey there was not enough, after I recovered I had to deal with my bed shaking uncontrollably on at least four occasions. They were low magnitude quakes but that was more earth shaking than I had experienced in my entire life up to that point.

I relaxed. I took hot baths at public Japanese spas and experienced a hot rock bed for the first time. I took naps in the afternoons. I read several books cover to cover. I sat in the park and people watched. I drank a lot of coffee and daydreamed. I learned to breathe again.

I ate. I enjoyed delicious meals prepared at home by my host family and I learned how to prepare many dishes myself. I cooked dinner for my friends on my last night and they actually enjoyed it! I ate homemade miso soup and rice every day and ice cream for dessert. I took myself out to restaurants. Pointing at pictures on the menu works just as well in Japan as it does at Denny’s!

I traveled. I flew to Okinawa for three nights with my friend on a girl’s only trip. We enjoyed hanging out on the beautiful beach, touring a pineapple park and winery, eating a lot of good food, revisiting my Fuguki Tree Road and just enjoying quality time together.

I worshipped. I visited a Christian church on my last full Sunday in Japan where I prayed with a congregation full of Japanese Christians. They spoke a different language than me but together we worshipped the same God. I thanked Him for blessing me so much with the gift of such an amazing adventure in this wondrous country.

I may have slept and folded a lot of laundry but I did manage to do many wonderful things. I overcame fear in the process and I left behind anxiety that I brought to Japan with me. I slept in the top bunk and gazed at the glowing stars on the wall papered ceiling as I drifted off to sleep every night. I became physically active again. I bicycled. I kayaked. I even participated in a tug of war contest. I learned patience and endurance in ways I never experienced before. I learned that people everywhere are the same on the inside. And I thanked God for blessing me so much in life.

To simply answer the question, “Why did you come to Japan?”

I went to Japan to find freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

sky-500x500Hard fought Journeys to a Satisfied Freedom in the Philippines

When I saw the theme of this article writing contest, I remember a quote I have encountered before. The quote says “Learn the rules. Then break some”. It might sound rebellious to some but for me, I think of it as another way of saying you fight for your journeys freedom.

I believe there are different kinds of freedom each and every one of us is looking for. We all wanted to be free, free from the things that we think are holding us back from living the life we desire. We want to move away from what are bothering us, hurting us, our struggles, this is what being free might be for each of us. But where and when do we find our freedom? How do we fight for it? How can we say we feel free?

Speaking for myself, I still find me being stuck from where I am now. I feel like I’m still bounded with all the responsibilities I have for my Family. Still bounded from thinking about the approval of my society on how I should be living my life. But all of these things including self doubt and fear disappear whenever I am travelling alone in an unfamiliar territory.

When I get out there, I always choose to leave the things that are bringing me down. I clear my head from them. Yes, I am trying to run away from them and be free from them even for a while because this is where and when I find my freedom from what I think is a cruel reality.

I used to travel with people I know and used to be closed to me but it made a difference to see how free I can feel when I did a trip alone. During these journeys I learned how to decide everything for myself, which I think is one way of exercising my freedom. I usually make my own itinerary based on the information I get from travel blogs but there are times that I do not follow it and decide to get lost. I feel like I can afford to see the places where some do not go. I am free to explore. I am not bound by any box or circle.

From these travels I learned to be free from judgement and doubts. I started to convince myself to trust people who are very unfamiliar to me, who I just met or encountered at the moment. At these moments I do not have any thoughts to make me run from people I do not know. I invite them to be part of my new circle instead.

The best freedom I get from these experiences is that I am freely me. Everything is me. I am allowed to be myself. I open up myself to new territories, new people and new learning. I do not have to worry about being out of my usual comfort zone. I do not feel any pain. I am releasing my inner bravery and last but not the least I am free to hope without a limit. The hope that will give me strength to face every obstacle and struggles to achieve the life I have always been dreaming. A life where I get to have the freedom to be independent and to be myself whenever, wherever.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Freedom When an Amazing Life Flys Away in the US

It was three summers ago and I had just flown from Kauai to Portland, OR to be with my boyfriend after months of being apart. Everything was finally looking up, after going through hardships during my travels on the islands. I was exactly where I wanted to be.

I remember how exciting it was to feel the cool, crisp NW air and to see Portland for the first time. The city was coming alive, people were buzzing on the streets, cafés were clamoring with business, I had made it.
My boyfriend and I had driven down to his family farm in Dallas, OR, a small town in a valley at the edge of the Coast Range Mountains. The farm is a hundred years old and sits on seventy acres of open land, filled with fruit trees and a rambling river. If anything, my time in Oregon was only getting better.

However, three days into my trip, I received a phone call from my Aunt Lorie whom never calls. A red flag went up as I answered. “Your grandma is in hospice…” My heart sank into my chest as I heard these words. I had spoken to my grandmother occasionally throughout the past year but, it wasn’t enough. She was the woman who raised me from toddler to adult, she was my hero. I should have been more present.

I was feeling all sorts of emotions, but mostly sadness and despair that I wasn’t a car ride away. In fact, I was on the opposite end of the country, at least an eight-hour flight from home. Feeling helpless and confused, I continued my day, beneath a cloud. I was awaiting answers to my prayers. I prayed to my mother, whom passed away when I was two. I sought advice on the situation, if I should continue my trip or fly home. The following morning my prayer was answered in the form of a Robin bird who landed in front of me in between two large oak trees. My mother’s name was Robin. In that moment I felt a sigh of relief that even through difficulty, things can still make sense.

A couple more days had passed with no improvements to my grandmother’s health. Yet, I decided to remain in Oregon. We had made our way to the coast which is my favorite place to be. Throughout the days I had been given small universal signs that everything was going to be okay. I felt a little more at ease.

Throughout my travels I had picked up a used book called, The Invitation. At the end of every chapter the author asks the reader to write short exercises. They are based on looking inwards. Like most books I read, I found that every time I flipped the page, it was more and more relevant to my current situation. This time, the exercise was to write down ‘what I need and what I need from others’. I jotted down the answers in my journal and put it away. The following day would be pivotal.
In the afternoon my boyfriend and I found ourselves in a state park situated on the central coast. We climbed a sand dune to check the surf. It was small but looked worthwhile, so we grabbed our boards and ran to the water. It was a beautiful, sunny day. No one was around. We had this place to ourselves. I caught some really fun little peeling waves. This was my perfect moment.

When I got out of my wetsuit and changed into dry clothes, I grabbed my journal and climbed up a sand dune that overlooked the vast, glistening Pacific. I was in my peaceful place. Because I hadn’t had time the previous day to finish my journal entry, I did so on the dune. When I finished writing I sent my needs and needs of others into the universe. “I need Bubee to know that my brothers and I will be okay without her.” “I need Bubee to know that she is free to leave her body and to find her freedom.” I felt so relieved and uplifted from partaking in this exercise.

When I got back to the car I checked my phone; a missed call from my aunt. Before I listened to the message, I knew what I’d hear. And when I officially heard the words, tears fell from my eyes, but they were mostly tears of joy. I never thought I’d feel that way about my grandmothers passing. But, I couldn’t deny the sequence of events that occurred. I knew deep in my heart that someone was watching over us. She had passed when I was doing what I love most; surfing and traveling. And in that realization I too found my freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Interesting Strangers in transit through the USA

I used to dread traveling alone. I mean lets’ face it, sitting alone at an airport waiting for a flight, exhausted, trying to avoid talking to strangers you simply do not have the energy to communicate with is no one’s favorite pastime. At least not mine. I used to find it awkward, like all the other passengers were staring at me, judging me because I did not have a group of friends or family around me. Sometimes I was judging myself too, wondering what on earth was I doing, spending my time at yet another airport in the middle of nowhere, going to a city I had never been to before, only to wander around all by myself, since clearly I did not know anyone there. My family and friends, whom I gladly would have welcomed with me on my adventures but who unfortunately were not very keen on traveling with me, kept asking why I was going where I was going, with who, and every time I replied “alone”, they looked at me like I had gone nuts. Why would you travel somewhere you’ve never been to and know nothing about, completely alone, for no apparent reason? Yes, there were times when I myself questioned my sanity.

But there is a flipside to wandering around in a strange city all by yourself. It’s refreshing. Fascinating. Freeing. Empowering even. Watching the waves on the beach of Wilmington, admiring wonderful art and beautiful old buildings in Boston or sipping morning coffee at Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Thinking back, I don’t remember being lonely. I don’t remember feeling awkward or out of place. No, thinking back just makes me smile. What I remember is the warm wind and the salty smell of the ocean; the music, and the laughter; the smell of the coffee, the orchestra playing and how much I loved that little pink house with a porch full of colorful flowers. The interesting conversation with that silly old grandpa at the diner, or that kind stranger letting me crash on his couch when things went wrong in El Paso and I had nowhere to spend the night. I remember that time I randomly stumbled into a dive bar to see a band somewhere in Wisconsin, and ended up spending the next week hanging out with them, selling merchandise at a festival and sipping margaritas by the pool, having the time of my life. I remember all those fascinating, devastating and heart-warming life stories of strangers I met in passing, and all those moments I would not change for the world. And most of all I remember feeling stronger, more confident. I remember feeling free. All of a sudden none of those expectations, none of those horrifying tiny boxes people around me have always tried to fit me in did not matter anymore. On that plane or that strange city, surrounded by strangers, I was finally able to just be me. To be free.

The biggest realization traveling alone has given me, is that I can do this. I will get through and I will survive, whatever it is life throws at me. I will never be what other people expect me to be, so I might as well just follow my heart and do what I feel is right. The world is a magnificent, interesting and beautiful place, and I intend to see as much of it as I possibly can. Even if it means I’m seeing it alone.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Just Chasing a Photograph in the USA

I used to be a jet-setting executive who had the world at her feet. Nowadays, I travel because my three daughters live in different cities around the world: Seattle (next, San Francisco), Calgary, and Manila (London before, Melbourne next). Recently, my career-oriented middle daughter Claudine needed help. For the fifth time after I retired, I flew to Canada to take care of three young ones.

“We can go to Yoho and Kootenay in B.C., our chance to complete the quad parks named the World Heritage Site of the Canadian Rockies,” I convinced my husband, Bill. On the third weekend, I squeezed in a visit to the new Glacier Skywalk on the Columbia Icefields between Banff and Jasper, the two in Alberta we had visited earlier.

The only downside was driving the same section of the Trans-Canada Highway six more times. Sure enough, on the road to Yoho, I dozed off. Bill missed my chatter, nudging me, “Hey, sleepyhead, I bought you some Cheetos!” In a jiffy, the bag of my favorite cheesy crunchies was gone. I should have been upset he spoiled my beauty nap. Instead, I thanked him.

Between mouthfuls, I caught a glimpse of a scene that would haunt me. A lone red car seemed to rise on the road, driving straight into an enormous glacier-draped mountain. It vanished in a second. “I want that photograph!” whispered my heart. Staying glued to the windshield, soon a second chance came. Alas, the car was black, and the road was flat.

Photos of lovely sights around Yoho did not get my mind off that scene: Marble Canyon, Painted Pots, Sinclair Canyon, and Radium’s Hot Springs and bighorn sheep around town. The following Saturday, I was back with a vengeance. It didn’t take long and another such scene appeared. The mountain was even more majestic. But the car, being white, disappeared into the mist. Again, there was no road rise. I cried, “Can we just stage something?” Bill had one word, “Patience!”

Other photo-ops were on the road. An enormous yellow truck blazoned against the grays. White clouds cavorted with ice-lined pointed peaks. A multi-colored train ruffled through the Rockies’ skirts. Cute, curvy twin bridges punctuated the highway humdrum. Once in a while, a red-roofed cabin enlivened the greens. Around Kootenay, there was more: the Spiral Train, Emerald Lake, Natural Bridge, and the towns of Field and Golden. Still, I wanted that photo.

On the third weekend, the weather was itself, taking a sudden nasty turn. We proceeded and stayed at Banff for the night, hoping it would clear the next day. It didn’t. I have been through Philippine storms, but snow takes me right inside a freezer. But I had to go. It was my last chance.

I started feeling hopeless, but a smile returned to my face when, at more than 6,000 feet high, frosty evergreen began to grace both sides of the road. I asked Bill to stop and stepped out. Wet fluffy things instantly brushed against my face. I “smelled” chestnuts roasting nearby. From inside the car, Bill took my photo of Christmas in June! Still, I longed for another photo.

At the Skywalk, it wasn’t a panorama of glistening glaciers but gray and gloom that greeted us. Making the best of a bad situation, I noticed that my outfit had come together: the red beanie I just bought at the Gift Shop and the red gloves, red scarf and black winter jacket Claudine lent me. Bill took off his gloves to freely fiddle with the Nikon and the slippery platform turned into MY catwalk. “Hurry up! My fingers are already frozen!” interrupted my trance. But by then, I had precious photos of a glamorous fashion model at 67. Still, it was THAT scene I wanted.

On the way home, I was nervous. Bill’s words rang loud in my ears, “It’s now or never.” And, just like that, it came. The car wasn’t red and low-lying clouds partly hid the mountain. But the road had a slight rise, creating the magical effect I saw the first time. All the way home, a contest of who can give the best caption for the photo produced: “Into the Clouds”, “Into the Unknown”, and “Beyond the Ordinary.”

The grandkids hugged me tight as Claudine asked, “Is photography a new career?” I explained that the job I love most is that of a traveling Grandnanny. It doesn’t matter how many times I go back to a place. It’s the people that count. It doesn’t matter if I drive the same old familiar highway. Something else will catch my fancy. I am free to be with whomever I want, drive to wherever I please, and listen to whatever my heart whispers, even if it’s just chasing a photograph.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Free-falling to Freedom in Brazil

2010 was not my year; free-falling since 2009 from successful Customer Service Manager, rising rapidly through the ranks to redundant job seeker, an anonymous face caught up in the tsunami of unemployment as Australia was hit by the Global Economic Crisis. At the same time I went from being married, in love and planning a much dreamed of family, to separated and fighting in vein to save my marriage as my husband set up a cozy new life with his secret lover. Spiralling further and further downwards towards rock bottom, alone, jobless, heartbroken and without spousal support, I finally crash landed; in bankruptcy.

Well, the good thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only way is up!
I had a dream; to salvage the last shred of my life plan, stop the free-falling and move to Brazil!

Sure it would not be as a family unit and I would no longer be cocooned in the secure embrace of the upper middle class lifestyle my in-laws had offered, but the challenge gave me renewed purpose and hope. Still longing for a baby, I discovered that even singles can be eligible to adopt in Brazil, this became my beacon of hope, the driving force to follow my dreams and never give up, no matter what challenges lay ahead.

Simply affording the airfare seemed impossible, a pipe dream, but where there is a will there is a way and by selling almost all my worldly goods on eBay I did it. With enough spare funds to survive on a shoestring for around 12 weeks, it was make or break to find a job in that time.

With a mix of excitement and fear, armed only with a basic knowledge of Portuguese, a passion for Brazilian music and a few Capoeira moves up my sleeve, I flew off into the unknown.

My heart pulled me towards the state of Bahia, and after three bus trips totalling about 35 hours, I made it to Salvador early on a January morning in 2011.  I found a room in the heart of historic, sometimes dangerous and above all picturesque, Pelourinho for around USD$13 a night and there I began to live my dream.

My life story was a tapestry of hopes and dreams interwoven thread by thread with heartache and loss; thankfully I have a strong, independent core which worked like a flint to the sparks of freedom and adventure that came as each new stitch was sewn, thus fuelling the fire to survive here that burns deep inside me to this day.

I trod along the ancient cobbled streets, moving to the beat of drums, drinking in the sight of beautiful coloured buildings, and visiting the statue of Zumbi dos Palmares (an important figure in Capoeira) to sing to him and ask for guidance.

New found freedom combined with faith in my decision felled any remaining fear, my soul felt like it had come home. Against the odds I found a job with only days to go before my funds ran out, that dogged determination had paid it’s dividends. Sure, I was as poor as a church mouse, earning minimum wage of around USD$300 a month, but I was on my way!

From there the path has not been paved with gold, I have followed the paupers trail strewn with rocks, stumbled many times, scraped my knees and lived on the proverbial smell of an oily rag, sometimes in areas not too many steps above the poverty line but I have continued on my journey; a relentless dream catcher.

The experiences have been worth the struggles; I have seen sights both beautiful and historic that I could never have imagined, undertaken voluntary work with some amazing musicians which lead me to promote local Brazilian music to the world, something that became my soul food in this new life, and to top things off I have met so many diverse and wonderful people.

Living without mod cons; cold water showers, no washing machine, no oven, no fridge, no car, no TV, sometimes even no bed, brings sharply into focus what truly matters in life and those material items don’t even make the list! I have often had next to nothing in Brazil, but my life has been richer. Richer in experiences, richer in culture, richer in friendships.

My advice to those reading is, if you are struggling there is hope! Fears can be conquered, lows turned into highs and if you feel like running away, then sprint towards your dreams. Freedom is through that door you see just ahead, you hold the key so put it in the lock and walk through to the life that you dream of for yourself! As for me, I’m now applying to be a citizen of my new homeland; watch this space.

NB: Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

An Amazing Underwater paradise in Mexico

Grains of sand as soft and fine as powdery snow covered my toes as I tried to name all of the different shades of neon blue in the water. Turquoise, Aquamarine, Slate, Navy, Cerulean, Azure, Cornflower, Tiffany Blue. Sails on the yachts in front of me fluttered in the light sea breeze and the smell of coconut oil wafted by. Juice dripped down my fingers as I took a bite of the fresh cut pineapple. I was on the island paradise of Isla Mujeres in the Mexican Caribbean and I was in tears.

Down by the Belize border I burst into tears in Mahahual, swinging on a hammock suspended above the water. The sea was so clear that I could see the trumpet fish zig-zagging below me and even distinguish the individual grains in the rippled sand below. After that I cried at Santa Fe beach in Tulum, tears sliding down my face and into the fresh coconut I was drinking with a straw as I gazed up at the Mayan ruins on the cliff above.

A newly certified Dive Instructor, I’d been planning this move to the tropics for two years. I’d quit my job, gotten rid of my furniture, told my friends goodbye and made no promises to return. Now here I was in tropical paradise wondering if I could ask my Dad to stay in his spare room for a few months while I sorted my life out. Because my move to paradise was not going as planned.

The tourists around me were having a great time. They were on holiday, having adventures. I would come back to the hostel exhausted from a day walking in the blistering heat, hunting for a job and an apartment. Every day the tourists went swimming with whale sharks. Every day I followed false leads and faced new rejections.

Everything on the streets seemed strange. A man on a tricycle circled town with a loudspeaker blaring “…windows, refrigerators, doors, all you need, tables, chimneys, bathtubs, call me,” followed by a phone number. An eight year old boy leaned out of a truck window to wolf whistle at me. A woman tried to sell me a hand puppet shaped like a chicken.

“What is this place?” I called my Dad for advice. “I’m so tired, I don’t know if I can do this!”

“I have no doubt that you can make a life for yourself anywhere in the world,” my Dad said. “You’ve done it before.”

“I know I can make it here,” I said. “But I don’t know if I want to!”

“Give it another week.”

The next week I got a call from a dive shop offering me an instructor position. “It’s only confirmed for two months,” my new boss said, “but if it works out then you can stay through high season. The catch is that you’ll need to house-sit the apartment above the dive shop until we get the hurricane shutters installed. I hope that we can work this out.”

Needless to say, I took the job and the beachfront apartment. As soon as I was in the ocean I was in charge again; teaching people to breathe underwater, calming their fears about the equipment and the environment, introducing them to the reef ecosystem. I love taking people underwater for the first time, to see them experience the thrill of flying above the corals or encounter a creature that they didn’t even know existed. To see them face to face with a giant turtle, inside a tornado school of giant trevally, or hovering in place while manta rays do flips around them.

Life on land is still confusing, but I’m not crying anymore. I’m settling in to my new town and I’m enjoying the slow pace of life in the tropics. But underwater I have my freedom. The environment is so foreign that you can’t help but immerse yourself in the experience. You can’t feel tears underwater, you’re already totally wet.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

2016-07-08-06-57-09-1-300x300Instilling Comfortable Respect in the Philippines

The chorus of cascading waters was music to my ears as it dropped down from varying heights into an aquamarine pool. The sound mimics the sound of rain. The rhythm complements the magnificent and unadulterated view of water streaming onto rock walls and plants, giving off a thin cloud of droplets at the base of the waterfalls. This is Tinago Falls in Iligan City, Philippines. Its beauty is well hidden within the rainforest of the province hence the name “tinago”, a Filipino word that means hidden. As I stood there mesmerized by its beauty, I heaved a sigh of relief. I have finally conquered it but, unlike Tinago Falls, I need not hide because I am free.

Living in a country of diverse cultures, these diversity creates gaps in understanding that eventually leads to misconceptions. These questions in faith and beliefs, often fueled by ignorance, give birth to generalizations and bigotry. The news of tragic events happening in different parts of the world, often associated with our Muslim brothers, do not help in easing out these tensions. The Philippines, being predominantly of Christian faith, is not free from this imbalance. As most of our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters are concentrated in Mindanao, the island is still a subject that sometimes instills fear among many Filipinos. There are places that are “off-limits” in the minds of most Filipinos because it is tagged as “dangerous”.

A recent unplanned visit to Iligan City gave me the opportunity to open the mind of my 8 year old daughter on the importance of accepting diversity. It was our first time in the city and our plan was to visit the 3 of its 24 waterfalls. As we only had a couple of hours to go around, we had to hire a “habal-habal”, a motorcycle where we had to squeeze in three people and the driver, to get us around faster. It was another first for us. I had to explain to my daughter that this was the mode of public transportation in most Philippine provinces.

She was quick to notice that there were a lot of Muslims during our quick tour. She was able to identify them because of the way they dressed. She was used to the city where people dressed in a certain fashion and she saw how different this was in Iligan City. At one point, she asked me why people dressed that way.

I saw this as an opportunity to explain to her the rich and diverse culture of the Philippines. I explained to her that they were our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters. They believe in Allah and they practice their Islam faith so they have their own culture that they are proud of, and that includes the way they dress. I had to make her understand that despite these differences we were all Filipinos and should respect each other. She will meet a lot of Filipino Muslims as she grows up and will have a deeper understanding of their culture, both in our travels and in school. What is important was for her to open her mind and accept these differences just like the way she does with her friends in school. At that point, a young Muslim lady walked past our table and smiled at her to which she my daughter returned the favor.

At that point, I knew that she was on her way to understanding the lessons of cultural diversity.

As our world gets smaller with technology, it is very important to keep in mind that it will open us to the cultural exchanges from the different regions of the world. Most of these beliefs and practices may be similar and there will be a few that may contradict our very own. These exchanges will also open us to preconceived ideas and branding that can result to indifferences and, in some cases, can even lead to hate. We cannot allow these notions to affect the way we think about others because of their cultural background, their faith, the color of their skin, or the way they dress.

I find my freedom when I travel. Each destination is a new learning experience. Traveling introduced me to the different cultures and practices that makes the Philippines unique. It gave me the opportunity to help others understand the uniqueness of each culture paving the way for acceptance, just like what happened between me and my daughter during our trip in Mindanao. Traveling freed me from clutches of ignorance and taught me to respect the diversity that is present among us.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

The Inward Journey to Freedom in the US

By age fourteen I had been to twenty seven countries and four continents. How much more free could I be? Back then, life was much simpler. At twenty six years old, I’ve independently added four more countries. I had the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want, but there was something significantly different between traveling with my parents and traveling alone as an adult. Until a few years ago, I realized I was emotionally caged; trapped in heartaches, insecurities and self-loathing. Let me tell you a story of a traveler who never truly traveled until she started exploring an inward journey into herself.

I awoke, I gently began to open my eyes knowing there was no rush for anything. I graduated college, I had no job and no direction, but worst of all, I had no passion. I felt nothing and everything all at the same time. It was winter in Massachusetts and everything was dead, which is exactly how I felt. Every day it was cold and gray outside and my ribcage would tremble, trying to salvage the very last colors inside of me. Days were long and nights were longer.

Every phone call I’d bite my cheeks and pray that desperation could not be heard. I didn’t know how to ask for help, as I choked on words I could not speak. Everyone’s advice was so cliché and bland, “talk to someone, exercise, eat well, go out and meet people.” As if the simple act of getting out of bed was easy for me. When I would gather enough strength to walk to the bathroom, I’d brush my teeth with a soft gaze, avoiding all eye contact with a ghost.

She wasn’t scary but she sure wasn’t pretty. She was pale with swollen eye lids, peeled lips and bleeding finger tips. She was trapped in her own world, bruising her hands against her concrete walls, wishing somebody would save her. I used to think she was quite pathetic, but when I chose to fall in love with her, was the moment I chose to fall in love with myself.

I was tired and I was through with devaluing myself. I frantically opened my laptop and typed the first words that came to mind, “Kripalu”, the School of Yoga and Health. I had taken all of one class but that didn’t stop me. Yoga was expanding and teachers were in demand. Kripalu was only a few hours north so I signed up. A month later I was standing on the grounds where I took my first few breaths of fresh air.

I knew absolutely nothing of what yoga truly is. They stripped my judgments of bendy, skinny females wearing Lululemon. My god, yoga saved my life. Every day I cried. At first it was out of pain; reliving every moment someone took something from me, every moment I failed, disappointed, hurt and lied. They taught me to be strong in my vulnerability and supplied me with affirmations that helped heal me.

The skin I used to inflict pain upon through cigarettes and razors is the skin I now touch as if it were a lover who just told me they loved me too. I massaged my feet with gratitude for walking so steady on shaky grounds and I kissed my palms with forgiveness because sometimes I did not hold hearts with care. I looked all around and saw the greener side of the grass. I was liberated from my own perception of hell.   My inward journey was nearly complete.

Finally, a miracle; tears of happiness slid down my cheeks as I danced and held others and allowed myself to be held. I was reborn in the hands of loving, empathetic human beings that have felt how exhausted shoulders can get and how heavy hearts can be. My teachers taught me more than warrior pose, tree pose and eagle pose. They taught me how to be a warrior and enter my inner power. They taught me how to be a tree; to grow with sturdiness. They taught me how to be an eagle and fly in freedom.

I’ve felt the pain of my ancestors as I walked their graves touring the German holocaust camps. I’ve felt the love and nurture of those who’ve harvested life as I danced along the Balinese rice patties. I have hugged the Australian wild life and did the HAKA with one of New Zealand’s tribes. I have cried with Peru’s poor and laughed with their children. There’s a lot I’ve seen and a lot I haven’t, a lot I know and a lot I don’t. I’ve learned the final destination of freedom was never my plane ticket. The final destination of freedom was the only place I did not think to go and that was through an inward journey.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Why Did You Come to Japan?

There is a television show in Japan that airs every Monday called Why Did You Come to Japan? A Japanese camera crew stops foreigners arriving at Narita airport in Tokyo and asks them what the purpose is for their visit. My best friend’s dad told me about this show shortly after I arrived for my six-week stay at their house. He joked that I was there, “to sleep and fold laundry!”

That was partially true while I was recovering from the mysterious virus I contracted on the plane ride there. But when I wasn’t sleeping or folding laundry I was on a search. Although I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for at first, I’m certain I found it along the way.

I overcame fear. My journey began when I was forced to maneuver the Japanese train system. Exhausted from traveling for three days from my home in Indiana, my plane was diverted a couple hundred miles south from Tokyo to Osaka airport due to turbulence. There were no more flights so I had to take a train to find my host family in Tokyo. I was terrified at the idea of going alone, but I quickly made friends with the angel God placed in the seat beside me on the plane. We plotted, prayed, sweated, laughed and cried through the ordeal but we bravely made it to our destination together.

I taught. I packed a children’s devotional in my suitcase and read an English lesson with my friend’s nine-year-old son every morning. Not only did he get to practice his English skills, he also learned about Jesus. I learned many Japanese words in the process.

I explored. I had my own bicycle and ventured out almost daily, some days riding ten miles or more. I visited shopping centers, beautiful shrines, Starbucks and my favorite Italian restaurant. Since I had been forced to overcome my fear of working the train system upon arrival in Japan, I rode one alone to Harajuku in Tokyo from my friend’s house in Inage-Ku and visited the famous Meiji Jingu Shrine. There I found confidence, gratitude and peace.

I made new friends. I connected with the family who lived across the street from my host family. They took me on several outings including gorgeous flower gardens and a gigantic mall. One evening they invited me to their backyard BBQ. The entire family spoke fluent English, which was refreshing. And their three-year old grandson Yuto sang Row Row Row Your Boat to me in the sweetest little voice reminding me of my childhood and that we are all children at heart no matter where we live in the world.

I survived multiple earthquakes. As if the mysterious illness I contracted on my journey there was not enough, after I recovered I had to deal with my bed shaking uncontrollably on at least four occasions. They were low magnitude quakes but that was more earth shaking than I had experienced in my entire life up to that point.

I relaxed. I took hot baths at public Japanese spas and experienced a hot rock bed for the first time. I took naps in the afternoons. I read several books cover to cover. I sat in the park and people watched. I drank a lot of coffee and daydreamed. I learned to breathe again.

I ate. I enjoyed delicious meals prepared at home by my host family and I learned how to prepare many dishes myself. I cooked dinner for my friends on my last night and they actually enjoyed it! I ate homemade miso soup and rice every day and ice cream for dessert. I took myself out to restaurants. Pointing at pictures on the menu works just as well in Japan as it does at Denny’s!

I traveled. I flew to Okinawa for three nights with my friend on a girl’s only trip. We enjoyed hanging out on the beautiful beach, touring a pineapple park and winery, eating a lot of good food, revisiting my Fuguki Tree Road and just enjoying quality time together.

I worshipped. I visited a Christian church on my last full Sunday in Japan where I prayed with a congregation full of Japanese Christians. They spoke a different language than me but together we worshipped the same God. I thanked Him for blessing me so much with the gift of such an amazing adventure in this wondrous country.

I may have slept and folded a lot of laundry but I did manage to do many wonderful things. I overcame fear in the process and I left behind anxiety that I brought to Japan with me. I slept in the top bunk and gazed at the glowing stars on the wall papered ceiling as I drifted off to sleep every night. I became physically active again. I bicycled. I kayaked. I even participated in a tug of war contest. I learned patience and endurance in ways I never experienced before. I learned that people everywhere are the same on the inside. And I thanked God for blessing me so much in life.

To simply answer the question, “Why did you come to Japan?”

I went to Japan to find freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

sky-500x500Hard fought Journeys to a Satisfied Freedom in the Philippines

When I saw the theme of this article writing contest, I remember a quote I have encountered before. The quote says “Learn the rules. Then break some”. It might sound rebellious to some but for me, I think of it as another way of saying you fight for your journeys freedom.

I believe there are different kinds of freedom each and every one of us is looking for. We all wanted to be free, free from the things that we think are holding us back from living the life we desire. We want to move away from what are bothering us, hurting us, our struggles, this is what being free might be for each of us. But where and when do we find our freedom? How do we fight for it? How can we say we feel free?

Speaking for myself, I still find me being stuck from where I am now. I feel like I’m still bounded with all the responsibilities I have for my Family. Still bounded from thinking about the approval of my society on how I should be living my life. But all of these things including self doubt and fear disappear whenever I am travelling alone in an unfamiliar territory.

When I get out there, I always choose to leave the things that are bringing me down. I clear my head from them. Yes, I am trying to run away from them and be free from them even for a while because this is where and when I find my freedom from what I think is a cruel reality.

I used to travel with people I know and used to be closed to me but it made a difference to see how free I can feel when I did a trip alone. During these journeys I learned how to decide everything for myself, which I think is one way of exercising my freedom. I usually make my own itinerary based on the information I get from travel blogs but there are times that I do not follow it and decide to get lost. I feel like I can afford to see the places where some do not go. I am free to explore. I am not bound by any box or circle.

From these travels I learned to be free from judgement and doubts. I started to convince myself to trust people who are very unfamiliar to me, who I just met or encountered at the moment. At these moments I do not have any thoughts to make me run from people I do not know. I invite them to be part of my new circle instead.

The best freedom I get from these experiences is that I am freely me. Everything is me. I am allowed to be myself. I open up myself to new territories, new people and new learning. I do not have to worry about being out of my usual comfort zone. I do not feel any pain. I am releasing my inner bravery and last but not the least I am free to hope without a limit. The hope that will give me strength to face every obstacle and struggles to achieve the life I have always been dreaming. A life where I get to have the freedom to be independent and to be myself whenever, wherever.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Freedom When an Amazing Life Flys Away in the US

It was three summers ago and I had just flown from Kauai to Portland, OR to be with my boyfriend after months of being apart. Everything was finally looking up, after going through hardships during my travels on the islands. I was exactly where I wanted to be.

I remember how exciting it was to feel the cool, crisp NW air and to see Portland for the first time. The city was coming alive, people were buzzing on the streets, cafés were clamoring with business, I had made it.
My boyfriend and I had driven down to his family farm in Dallas, OR, a small town in a valley at the edge of the Coast Range Mountains. The farm is a hundred years old and sits on seventy acres of open land, filled with fruit trees and a rambling river. If anything, my time in Oregon was only getting better.

However, three days into my trip, I received a phone call from my Aunt Lorie whom never calls. A red flag went up as I answered. “Your grandma is in hospice…” My heart sank into my chest as I heard these words. I had spoken to my grandmother occasionally throughout the past year but, it wasn’t enough. She was the woman who raised me from toddler to adult, she was my hero. I should have been more present.

I was feeling all sorts of emotions, but mostly sadness and despair that I wasn’t a car ride away. In fact, I was on the opposite end of the country, at least an eight-hour flight from home. Feeling helpless and confused, I continued my day, beneath a cloud. I was awaiting answers to my prayers. I prayed to my mother, whom passed away when I was two. I sought advice on the situation, if I should continue my trip or fly home. The following morning my prayer was answered in the form of a Robin bird who landed in front of me in between two large oak trees. My mother’s name was Robin. In that moment I felt a sigh of relief that even through difficulty, things can still make sense.

A couple more days had passed with no improvements to my grandmother’s health. Yet, I decided to remain in Oregon. We had made our way to the coast which is my favorite place to be. Throughout the days I had been given small universal signs that everything was going to be okay. I felt a little more at ease.

Throughout my travels I had picked up a used book called, The Invitation. At the end of every chapter the author asks the reader to write short exercises. They are based on looking inwards. Like most books I read, I found that every time I flipped the page, it was more and more relevant to my current situation. This time, the exercise was to write down ‘what I need and what I need from others’. I jotted down the answers in my journal and put it away. The following day would be pivotal.
In the afternoon my boyfriend and I found ourselves in a state park situated on the central coast. We climbed a sand dune to check the surf. It was small but looked worthwhile, so we grabbed our boards and ran to the water. It was a beautiful, sunny day. No one was around. We had this place to ourselves. I caught some really fun little peeling waves. This was my perfect moment.

When I got out of my wetsuit and changed into dry clothes, I grabbed my journal and climbed up a sand dune that overlooked the vast, glistening Pacific. I was in my peaceful place. Because I hadn’t had time the previous day to finish my journal entry, I did so on the dune. When I finished writing I sent my needs and needs of others into the universe. “I need Bubee to know that my brothers and I will be okay without her.” “I need Bubee to know that she is free to leave her body and to find her freedom.” I felt so relieved and uplifted from partaking in this exercise.

When I got back to the car I checked my phone; a missed call from my aunt. Before I listened to the message, I knew what I’d hear. And when I officially heard the words, tears fell from my eyes, but they were mostly tears of joy. I never thought I’d feel that way about my grandmothers passing. But, I couldn’t deny the sequence of events that occurred. I knew deep in my heart that someone was watching over us. She had passed when I was doing what I love most; surfing and traveling. And in that realization I too found my freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Interesting Strangers in transit through the USA

I used to dread traveling alone. I mean lets’ face it, sitting alone at an airport waiting for a flight, exhausted, trying to avoid talking to strangers you simply do not have the energy to communicate with is no one’s favorite pastime. At least not mine. I used to find it awkward, like all the other passengers were staring at me, judging me because I did not have a group of friends or family around me. Sometimes I was judging myself too, wondering what on earth was I doing, spending my time at yet another airport in the middle of nowhere, going to a city I had never been to before, only to wander around all by myself, since clearly I did not know anyone there. My family and friends, whom I gladly would have welcomed with me on my adventures but who unfortunately were not very keen on traveling with me, kept asking why I was going where I was going, with who, and every time I replied “alone”, they looked at me like I had gone nuts. Why would you travel somewhere you’ve never been to and know nothing about, completely alone, for no apparent reason? Yes, there were times when I myself questioned my sanity.

But there is a flipside to wandering around in a strange city all by yourself. It’s refreshing. Fascinating. Freeing. Empowering even. Watching the waves on the beach of Wilmington, admiring wonderful art and beautiful old buildings in Boston or sipping morning coffee at Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Thinking back, I don’t remember being lonely. I don’t remember feeling awkward or out of place. No, thinking back just makes me smile. What I remember is the warm wind and the salty smell of the ocean; the music, and the laughter; the smell of the coffee, the orchestra playing and how much I loved that little pink house with a porch full of colorful flowers. The interesting conversation with that silly old grandpa at the diner, or that kind stranger letting me crash on his couch when things went wrong in El Paso and I had nowhere to spend the night. I remember that time I randomly stumbled into a dive bar to see a band somewhere in Wisconsin, and ended up spending the next week hanging out with them, selling merchandise at a festival and sipping margaritas by the pool, having the time of my life. I remember all those fascinating, devastating and heart-warming life stories of strangers I met in passing, and all those moments I would not change for the world. And most of all I remember feeling stronger, more confident. I remember feeling free. All of a sudden none of those expectations, none of those horrifying tiny boxes people around me have always tried to fit me in did not matter anymore. On that plane or that strange city, surrounded by strangers, I was finally able to just be me. To be free.

The biggest realization traveling alone has given me, is that I can do this. I will get through and I will survive, whatever it is life throws at me. I will never be what other people expect me to be, so I might as well just follow my heart and do what I feel is right. The world is a magnificent, interesting and beautiful place, and I intend to see as much of it as I possibly can. Even if it means I’m seeing it alone.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Just Chasing a Photograph in the USA

I used to be a jet-setting executive who had the world at her feet. Nowadays, I travel because my three daughters live in different cities around the world: Seattle (next, San Francisco), Calgary, and Manila (London before, Melbourne next). Recently, my career-oriented middle daughter Claudine needed help. For the fifth time after I retired, I flew to Canada to take care of three young ones.

“We can go to Yoho and Kootenay in B.C., our chance to complete the quad parks named the World Heritage Site of the Canadian Rockies,” I convinced my husband, Bill. On the third weekend, I squeezed in a visit to the new Glacier Skywalk on the Columbia Icefields between Banff and Jasper, the two in Alberta we had visited earlier.

The only downside was driving the same section of the Trans-Canada Highway six more times. Sure enough, on the road to Yoho, I dozed off. Bill missed my chatter, nudging me, “Hey, sleepyhead, I bought you some Cheetos!” In a jiffy, the bag of my favorite cheesy crunchies was gone. I should have been upset he spoiled my beauty nap. Instead, I thanked him.

Between mouthfuls, I caught a glimpse of a scene that would haunt me. A lone red car seemed to rise on the road, driving straight into an enormous glacier-draped mountain. It vanished in a second. “I want that photograph!” whispered my heart. Staying glued to the windshield, soon a second chance came. Alas, the car was black, and the road was flat.

Photos of lovely sights around Yoho did not get my mind off that scene: Marble Canyon, Painted Pots, Sinclair Canyon, and Radium’s Hot Springs and bighorn sheep around town. The following Saturday, I was back with a vengeance. It didn’t take long and another such scene appeared. The mountain was even more majestic. But the car, being white, disappeared into the mist. Again, there was no road rise. I cried, “Can we just stage something?” Bill had one word, “Patience!”

Other photo-ops were on the road. An enormous yellow truck blazoned against the grays. White clouds cavorted with ice-lined pointed peaks. A multi-colored train ruffled through the Rockies’ skirts. Cute, curvy twin bridges punctuated the highway humdrum. Once in a while, a red-roofed cabin enlivened the greens. Around Kootenay, there was more: the Spiral Train, Emerald Lake, Natural Bridge, and the towns of Field and Golden. Still, I wanted that photo.

On the third weekend, the weather was itself, taking a sudden nasty turn. We proceeded and stayed at Banff for the night, hoping it would clear the next day. It didn’t. I have been through Philippine storms, but snow takes me right inside a freezer. But I had to go. It was my last chance.

I started feeling hopeless, but a smile returned to my face when, at more than 6,000 feet high, frosty evergreen began to grace both sides of the road. I asked Bill to stop and stepped out. Wet fluffy things instantly brushed against my face. I “smelled” chestnuts roasting nearby. From inside the car, Bill took my photo of Christmas in June! Still, I longed for another photo.

At the Skywalk, it wasn’t a panorama of glistening glaciers but gray and gloom that greeted us. Making the best of a bad situation, I noticed that my outfit had come together: the red beanie I just bought at the Gift Shop and the red gloves, red scarf and black winter jacket Claudine lent me. Bill took off his gloves to freely fiddle with the Nikon and the slippery platform turned into MY catwalk. “Hurry up! My fingers are already frozen!” interrupted my trance. But by then, I had precious photos of a glamorous fashion model at 67. Still, it was THAT scene I wanted.

On the way home, I was nervous. Bill’s words rang loud in my ears, “It’s now or never.” And, just like that, it came. The car wasn’t red and low-lying clouds partly hid the mountain. But the road had a slight rise, creating the magical effect I saw the first time. All the way home, a contest of who can give the best caption for the photo produced: “Into the Clouds”, “Into the Unknown”, and “Beyond the Ordinary.”

The grandkids hugged me tight as Claudine asked, “Is photography a new career?” I explained that the job I love most is that of a traveling Grandnanny. It doesn’t matter how many times I go back to a place. It’s the people that count. It doesn’t matter if I drive the same old familiar highway. Something else will catch my fancy. I am free to be with whomever I want, drive to wherever I please, and listen to whatever my heart whispers, even if it’s just chasing a photograph.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Free-falling to Freedom in Brazil

2010 was not my year; free-falling since 2009 from successful Customer Service Manager, rising rapidly through the ranks to redundant job seeker, an anonymous face caught up in the tsunami of unemployment as Australia was hit by the Global Economic Crisis. At the same time I went from being married, in love and planning a much dreamed of family, to separated and fighting in vein to save my marriage as my husband set up a cozy new life with his secret lover. Spiralling further and further downwards towards rock bottom, alone, jobless, heartbroken and without spousal support, I finally crash landed; in bankruptcy.

Well, the good thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only way is up!
I had a dream; to salvage the last shred of my life plan, stop the free-falling and move to Brazil!

Sure it would not be as a family unit and I would no longer be cocooned in the secure embrace of the upper middle class lifestyle my in-laws had offered, but the challenge gave me renewed purpose and hope. Still longing for a baby, I discovered that even singles can be eligible to adopt in Brazil, this became my beacon of hope, the driving force to follow my dreams and never give up, no matter what challenges lay ahead.

Simply affording the airfare seemed impossible, a pipe dream, but where there is a will there is a way and by selling almost all my worldly goods on eBay I did it. With enough spare funds to survive on a shoestring for around 12 weeks, it was make or break to find a job in that time.

With a mix of excitement and fear, armed only with a basic knowledge of Portuguese, a passion for Brazilian music and a few Capoeira moves up my sleeve, I flew off into the unknown.

My heart pulled me towards the state of Bahia, and after three bus trips totalling about 35 hours, I made it to Salvador early on a January morning in 2011.  I found a room in the heart of historic, sometimes dangerous and above all picturesque, Pelourinho for around USD$13 a night and there I began to live my dream.

My life story was a tapestry of hopes and dreams interwoven thread by thread with heartache and loss; thankfully I have a strong, independent core which worked like a flint to the sparks of freedom and adventure that came as each new stitch was sewn, thus fuelling the fire to survive here that burns deep inside me to this day.

I trod along the ancient cobbled streets, moving to the beat of drums, drinking in the sight of beautiful coloured buildings, and visiting the statue of Zumbi dos Palmares (an important figure in Capoeira) to sing to him and ask for guidance.

New found freedom combined with faith in my decision felled any remaining fear, my soul felt like it had come home. Against the odds I found a job with only days to go before my funds ran out, that dogged determination had paid it’s dividends. Sure, I was as poor as a church mouse, earning minimum wage of around USD$300 a month, but I was on my way!

From there the path has not been paved with gold, I have followed the paupers trail strewn with rocks, stumbled many times, scraped my knees and lived on the proverbial smell of an oily rag, sometimes in areas not too many steps above the poverty line but I have continued on my journey; a relentless dream catcher.

The experiences have been worth the struggles; I have seen sights both beautiful and historic that I could never have imagined, undertaken voluntary work with some amazing musicians which lead me to promote local Brazilian music to the world, something that became my soul food in this new life, and to top things off I have met so many diverse and wonderful people.

Living without mod cons; cold water showers, no washing machine, no oven, no fridge, no car, no TV, sometimes even no bed, brings sharply into focus what truly matters in life and those material items don’t even make the list! I have often had next to nothing in Brazil, but my life has been richer. Richer in experiences, richer in culture, richer in friendships.

My advice to those reading is, if you are struggling there is hope! Fears can be conquered, lows turned into highs and if you feel like running away, then sprint towards your dreams. Freedom is through that door you see just ahead, you hold the key so put it in the lock and walk through to the life that you dream of for yourself! As for me, I’m now applying to be a citizen of my new homeland; watch this space.

NB: Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

An Amazing Underwater paradise in Mexico

Grains of sand as soft and fine as powdery snow covered my toes as I tried to name all of the different shades of neon blue in the water. Turquoise, Aquamarine, Slate, Navy, Cerulean, Azure, Cornflower, Tiffany Blue. Sails on the yachts in front of me fluttered in the light sea breeze and the smell of coconut oil wafted by. Juice dripped down my fingers as I took a bite of the fresh cut pineapple. I was on the island paradise of Isla Mujeres in the Mexican Caribbean and I was in tears.

Down by the Belize border I burst into tears in Mahahual, swinging on a hammock suspended above the water. The sea was so clear that I could see the trumpet fish zig-zagging below me and even distinguish the individual grains in the rippled sand below. After that I cried at Santa Fe beach in Tulum, tears sliding down my face and into the fresh coconut I was drinking with a straw as I gazed up at the Mayan ruins on the cliff above.

A newly certified Dive Instructor, I’d been planning this move to the tropics for two years. I’d quit my job, gotten rid of my furniture, told my friends goodbye and made no promises to return. Now here I was in tropical paradise wondering if I could ask my Dad to stay in his spare room for a few months while I sorted my life out. Because my move to paradise was not going as planned.

The tourists around me were having a great time. They were on holiday, having adventures. I would come back to the hostel exhausted from a day walking in the blistering heat, hunting for a job and an apartment. Every day the tourists went swimming with whale sharks. Every day I followed false leads and faced new rejections.

Everything on the streets seemed strange. A man on a tricycle circled town with a loudspeaker blaring “…windows, refrigerators, doors, all you need, tables, chimneys, bathtubs, call me,” followed by a phone number. An eight year old boy leaned out of a truck window to wolf whistle at me. A woman tried to sell me a hand puppet shaped like a chicken.

“What is this place?” I called my Dad for advice. “I’m so tired, I don’t know if I can do this!”

“I have no doubt that you can make a life for yourself anywhere in the world,” my Dad said. “You’ve done it before.”

“I know I can make it here,” I said. “But I don’t know if I want to!”

“Give it another week.”

The next week I got a call from a dive shop offering me an instructor position. “It’s only confirmed for two months,” my new boss said, “but if it works out then you can stay through high season. The catch is that you’ll need to house-sit the apartment above the dive shop until we get the hurricane shutters installed. I hope that we can work this out.”

Needless to say, I took the job and the beachfront apartment. As soon as I was in the ocean I was in charge again; teaching people to breathe underwater, calming their fears about the equipment and the environment, introducing them to the reef ecosystem. I love taking people underwater for the first time, to see them experience the thrill of flying above the corals or encounter a creature that they didn’t even know existed. To see them face to face with a giant turtle, inside a tornado school of giant trevally, or hovering in place while manta rays do flips around them.

Life on land is still confusing, but I’m not crying anymore. I’m settling in to my new town and I’m enjoying the slow pace of life in the tropics. But underwater I have my freedom. The environment is so foreign that you can’t help but immerse yourself in the experience. You can’t feel tears underwater, you’re already totally wet.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

2016-07-08-06-57-09-1-300x300Instilling Comfortable Respect in the Philippines

The chorus of cascading waters was music to my ears as it dropped down from varying heights into an aquamarine pool. The sound mimics the sound of rain. The rhythm complements the magnificent and unadulterated view of water streaming onto rock walls and plants, giving off a thin cloud of droplets at the base of the waterfalls. This is Tinago Falls in Iligan City, Philippines. Its beauty is well hidden within the rainforest of the province hence the name “tinago”, a Filipino word that means hidden. As I stood there mesmerized by its beauty, I heaved a sigh of relief. I have finally conquered it but, unlike Tinago Falls, I need not hide because I am free.

Living in a country of diverse cultures, these diversity creates gaps in understanding that eventually leads to misconceptions. These questions in faith and beliefs, often fueled by ignorance, give birth to generalizations and bigotry. The news of tragic events happening in different parts of the world, often associated with our Muslim brothers, do not help in easing out these tensions. The Philippines, being predominantly of Christian faith, is not free from this imbalance. As most of our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters are concentrated in Mindanao, the island is still a subject that sometimes instills fear among many Filipinos. There are places that are “off-limits” in the minds of most Filipinos because it is tagged as “dangerous”.

A recent unplanned visit to Iligan City gave me the opportunity to open the mind of my 8 year old daughter on the importance of accepting diversity. It was our first time in the city and our plan was to visit the 3 of its 24 waterfalls. As we only had a couple of hours to go around, we had to hire a “habal-habal”, a motorcycle where we had to squeeze in three people and the driver, to get us around faster. It was another first for us. I had to explain to my daughter that this was the mode of public transportation in most Philippine provinces.

She was quick to notice that there were a lot of Muslims during our quick tour. She was able to identify them because of the way they dressed. She was used to the city where people dressed in a certain fashion and she saw how different this was in Iligan City. At one point, she asked me why people dressed that way.

I saw this as an opportunity to explain to her the rich and diverse culture of the Philippines. I explained to her that they were our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters. They believe in Allah and they practice their Islam faith so they have their own culture that they are proud of, and that includes the way they dress. I had to make her understand that despite these differences we were all Filipinos and should respect each other. She will meet a lot of Filipino Muslims as she grows up and will have a deeper understanding of their culture, both in our travels and in school. What is important was for her to open her mind and accept these differences just like the way she does with her friends in school. At that point, a young Muslim lady walked past our table and smiled at her to which she my daughter returned the favor.

At that point, I knew that she was on her way to understanding the lessons of cultural diversity.

As our world gets smaller with technology, it is very important to keep in mind that it will open us to the cultural exchanges from the different regions of the world. Most of these beliefs and practices may be similar and there will be a few that may contradict our very own. These exchanges will also open us to preconceived ideas and branding that can result to indifferences and, in some cases, can even lead to hate. We cannot allow these notions to affect the way we think about others because of their cultural background, their faith, the color of their skin, or the way they dress.

I find my freedom when I travel. Each destination is a new learning experience. Traveling introduced me to the different cultures and practices that makes the Philippines unique. It gave me the opportunity to help others understand the uniqueness of each culture paving the way for acceptance, just like what happened between me and my daughter during our trip in Mindanao. Traveling freed me from clutches of ignorance and taught me to respect the diversity that is present among us.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

The Inward Journey to Freedom in the US

By age fourteen I had been to twenty seven countries and four continents. How much more free could I be? Back then, life was much simpler. At twenty six years old, I’ve independently added four more countries. I had the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want, but there was something significantly different between traveling with my parents and traveling alone as an adult. Until a few years ago, I realized I was emotionally caged; trapped in heartaches, insecurities and self-loathing. Let me tell you a story of a traveler who never truly traveled until she started exploring an inward journey into herself.

I awoke, I gently began to open my eyes knowing there was no rush for anything. I graduated college, I had no job and no direction, but worst of all, I had no passion. I felt nothing and everything all at the same time. It was winter in Massachusetts and everything was dead, which is exactly how I felt. Every day it was cold and gray outside and my ribcage would tremble, trying to salvage the very last colors inside of me. Days were long and nights were longer.

Every phone call I’d bite my cheeks and pray that desperation could not be heard. I didn’t know how to ask for help, as I choked on words I could not speak. Everyone’s advice was so cliché and bland, “talk to someone, exercise, eat well, go out and meet people.” As if the simple act of getting out of bed was easy for me. When I would gather enough strength to walk to the bathroom, I’d brush my teeth with a soft gaze, avoiding all eye contact with a ghost.

She wasn’t scary but she sure wasn’t pretty. She was pale with swollen eye lids, peeled lips and bleeding finger tips. She was trapped in her own world, bruising her hands against her concrete walls, wishing somebody would save her. I used to think she was quite pathetic, but when I chose to fall in love with her, was the moment I chose to fall in love with myself.

I was tired and I was through with devaluing myself. I frantically opened my laptop and typed the first words that came to mind, “Kripalu”, the School of Yoga and Health. I had taken all of one class but that didn’t stop me. Yoga was expanding and teachers were in demand. Kripalu was only a few hours north so I signed up. A month later I was standing on the grounds where I took my first few breaths of fresh air.

I knew absolutely nothing of what yoga truly is. They stripped my judgments of bendy, skinny females wearing Lululemon. My god, yoga saved my life. Every day I cried. At first it was out of pain; reliving every moment someone took something from me, every moment I failed, disappointed, hurt and lied. They taught me to be strong in my vulnerability and supplied me with affirmations that helped heal me.

The skin I used to inflict pain upon through cigarettes and razors is the skin I now touch as if it were a lover who just told me they loved me too. I massaged my feet with gratitude for walking so steady on shaky grounds and I kissed my palms with forgiveness because sometimes I did not hold hearts with care. I looked all around and saw the greener side of the grass. I was liberated from my own perception of hell.   My inward journey was nearly complete.

Finally, a miracle; tears of happiness slid down my cheeks as I danced and held others and allowed myself to be held. I was reborn in the hands of loving, empathetic human beings that have felt how exhausted shoulders can get and how heavy hearts can be. My teachers taught me more than warrior pose, tree pose and eagle pose. They taught me how to be a warrior and enter my inner power. They taught me how to be a tree; to grow with sturdiness. They taught me how to be an eagle and fly in freedom.

I’ve felt the pain of my ancestors as I walked their graves touring the German holocaust camps. I’ve felt the love and nurture of those who’ve harvested life as I danced along the Balinese rice patties. I have hugged the Australian wild life and did the HAKA with one of New Zealand’s tribes. I have cried with Peru’s poor and laughed with their children. There’s a lot I’ve seen and a lot I haven’t, a lot I know and a lot I don’t. I’ve learned the final destination of freedom was never my plane ticket. The final destination of freedom was the only place I did not think to go and that was through an inward journey.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Why Did You Come to Japan?

There is a television show in Japan that airs every Monday called Why Did You Come to Japan? A Japanese camera crew stops foreigners arriving at Narita airport in Tokyo and asks them what the purpose is for their visit. My best friend’s dad told me about this show shortly after I arrived for my six-week stay at their house. He joked that I was there, “to sleep and fold laundry!”

That was partially true while I was recovering from the mysterious virus I contracted on the plane ride there. But when I wasn’t sleeping or folding laundry I was on a search. Although I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for at first, I’m certain I found it along the way.

I overcame fear. My journey began when I was forced to maneuver the Japanese train system. Exhausted from traveling for three days from my home in Indiana, my plane was diverted a couple hundred miles south from Tokyo to Osaka airport due to turbulence. There were no more flights so I had to take a train to find my host family in Tokyo. I was terrified at the idea of going alone, but I quickly made friends with the angel God placed in the seat beside me on the plane. We plotted, prayed, sweated, laughed and cried through the ordeal but we bravely made it to our destination together.

I taught. I packed a children’s devotional in my suitcase and read an English lesson with my friend’s nine-year-old son every morning. Not only did he get to practice his English skills, he also learned about Jesus. I learned many Japanese words in the process.

I explored. I had my own bicycle and ventured out almost daily, some days riding ten miles or more. I visited shopping centers, beautiful shrines, Starbucks and my favorite Italian restaurant. Since I had been forced to overcome my fear of working the train system upon arrival in Japan, I rode one alone to Harajuku in Tokyo from my friend’s house in Inage-Ku and visited the famous Meiji Jingu Shrine. There I found confidence, gratitude and peace.

I made new friends. I connected with the family who lived across the street from my host family. They took me on several outings including gorgeous flower gardens and a gigantic mall. One evening they invited me to their backyard BBQ. The entire family spoke fluent English, which was refreshing. And their three-year old grandson Yuto sang Row Row Row Your Boat to me in the sweetest little voice reminding me of my childhood and that we are all children at heart no matter where we live in the world.

I survived multiple earthquakes. As if the mysterious illness I contracted on my journey there was not enough, after I recovered I had to deal with my bed shaking uncontrollably on at least four occasions. They were low magnitude quakes but that was more earth shaking than I had experienced in my entire life up to that point.

I relaxed. I took hot baths at public Japanese spas and experienced a hot rock bed for the first time. I took naps in the afternoons. I read several books cover to cover. I sat in the park and people watched. I drank a lot of coffee and daydreamed. I learned to breathe again.

I ate. I enjoyed delicious meals prepared at home by my host family and I learned how to prepare many dishes myself. I cooked dinner for my friends on my last night and they actually enjoyed it! I ate homemade miso soup and rice every day and ice cream for dessert. I took myself out to restaurants. Pointing at pictures on the menu works just as well in Japan as it does at Denny’s!

I traveled. I flew to Okinawa for three nights with my friend on a girl’s only trip. We enjoyed hanging out on the beautiful beach, touring a pineapple park and winery, eating a lot of good food, revisiting my Fuguki Tree Road and just enjoying quality time together.

I worshipped. I visited a Christian church on my last full Sunday in Japan where I prayed with a congregation full of Japanese Christians. They spoke a different language than me but together we worshipped the same God. I thanked Him for blessing me so much with the gift of such an amazing adventure in this wondrous country.

I may have slept and folded a lot of laundry but I did manage to do many wonderful things. I overcame fear in the process and I left behind anxiety that I brought to Japan with me. I slept in the top bunk and gazed at the glowing stars on the wall papered ceiling as I drifted off to sleep every night. I became physically active again. I bicycled. I kayaked. I even participated in a tug of war contest. I learned patience and endurance in ways I never experienced before. I learned that people everywhere are the same on the inside. And I thanked God for blessing me so much in life.

To simply answer the question, “Why did you come to Japan?”

I went to Japan to find freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

sky-500x500Hard fought Journeys to a Satisfied Freedom in the Philippines

When I saw the theme of this article writing contest, I remember a quote I have encountered before. The quote says “Learn the rules. Then break some”. It might sound rebellious to some but for me, I think of it as another way of saying you fight for your journeys freedom.

I believe there are different kinds of freedom each and every one of us is looking for. We all wanted to be free, free from the things that we think are holding us back from living the life we desire. We want to move away from what are bothering us, hurting us, our struggles, this is what being free might be for each of us. But where and when do we find our freedom? How do we fight for it? How can we say we feel free?

Speaking for myself, I still find me being stuck from where I am now. I feel like I’m still bounded with all the responsibilities I have for my Family. Still bounded from thinking about the approval of my society on how I should be living my life. But all of these things including self doubt and fear disappear whenever I am travelling alone in an unfamiliar territory.

When I get out there, I always choose to leave the things that are bringing me down. I clear my head from them. Yes, I am trying to run away from them and be free from them even for a while because this is where and when I find my freedom from what I think is a cruel reality.

I used to travel with people I know and used to be closed to me but it made a difference to see how free I can feel when I did a trip alone. During these journeys I learned how to decide everything for myself, which I think is one way of exercising my freedom. I usually make my own itinerary based on the information I get from travel blogs but there are times that I do not follow it and decide to get lost. I feel like I can afford to see the places where some do not go. I am free to explore. I am not bound by any box or circle.

From these travels I learned to be free from judgement and doubts. I started to convince myself to trust people who are very unfamiliar to me, who I just met or encountered at the moment. At these moments I do not have any thoughts to make me run from people I do not know. I invite them to be part of my new circle instead.

The best freedom I get from these experiences is that I am freely me. Everything is me. I am allowed to be myself. I open up myself to new territories, new people and new learning. I do not have to worry about being out of my usual comfort zone. I do not feel any pain. I am releasing my inner bravery and last but not the least I am free to hope without a limit. The hope that will give me strength to face every obstacle and struggles to achieve the life I have always been dreaming. A life where I get to have the freedom to be independent and to be myself whenever, wherever.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Freedom When an Amazing Life Flys Away in the US

It was three summers ago and I had just flown from Kauai to Portland, OR to be with my boyfriend after months of being apart. Everything was finally looking up, after going through hardships during my travels on the islands. I was exactly where I wanted to be.

I remember how exciting it was to feel the cool, crisp NW air and to see Portland for the first time. The city was coming alive, people were buzzing on the streets, cafés were clamoring with business, I had made it.
My boyfriend and I had driven down to his family farm in Dallas, OR, a small town in a valley at the edge of the Coast Range Mountains. The farm is a hundred years old and sits on seventy acres of open land, filled with fruit trees and a rambling river. If anything, my time in Oregon was only getting better.

However, three days into my trip, I received a phone call from my Aunt Lorie whom never calls. A red flag went up as I answered. “Your grandma is in hospice…” My heart sank into my chest as I heard these words. I had spoken to my grandmother occasionally throughout the past year but, it wasn’t enough. She was the woman who raised me from toddler to adult, she was my hero. I should have been more present.

I was feeling all sorts of emotions, but mostly sadness and despair that I wasn’t a car ride away. In fact, I was on the opposite end of the country, at least an eight-hour flight from home. Feeling helpless and confused, I continued my day, beneath a cloud. I was awaiting answers to my prayers. I prayed to my mother, whom passed away when I was two. I sought advice on the situation, if I should continue my trip or fly home. The following morning my prayer was answered in the form of a Robin bird who landed in front of me in between two large oak trees. My mother’s name was Robin. In that moment I felt a sigh of relief that even through difficulty, things can still make sense.

A couple more days had passed with no improvements to my grandmother’s health. Yet, I decided to remain in Oregon. We had made our way to the coast which is my favorite place to be. Throughout the days I had been given small universal signs that everything was going to be okay. I felt a little more at ease.

Throughout my travels I had picked up a used book called, The Invitation. At the end of every chapter the author asks the reader to write short exercises. They are based on looking inwards. Like most books I read, I found that every time I flipped the page, it was more and more relevant to my current situation. This time, the exercise was to write down ‘what I need and what I need from others’. I jotted down the answers in my journal and put it away. The following day would be pivotal.
In the afternoon my boyfriend and I found ourselves in a state park situated on the central coast. We climbed a sand dune to check the surf. It was small but looked worthwhile, so we grabbed our boards and ran to the water. It was a beautiful, sunny day. No one was around. We had this place to ourselves. I caught some really fun little peeling waves. This was my perfect moment.

When I got out of my wetsuit and changed into dry clothes, I grabbed my journal and climbed up a sand dune that overlooked the vast, glistening Pacific. I was in my peaceful place. Because I hadn’t had time the previous day to finish my journal entry, I did so on the dune. When I finished writing I sent my needs and needs of others into the universe. “I need Bubee to know that my brothers and I will be okay without her.” “I need Bubee to know that she is free to leave her body and to find her freedom.” I felt so relieved and uplifted from partaking in this exercise.

When I got back to the car I checked my phone; a missed call from my aunt. Before I listened to the message, I knew what I’d hear. And when I officially heard the words, tears fell from my eyes, but they were mostly tears of joy. I never thought I’d feel that way about my grandmothers passing. But, I couldn’t deny the sequence of events that occurred. I knew deep in my heart that someone was watching over us. She had passed when I was doing what I love most; surfing and traveling. And in that realization I too found my freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Interesting Strangers in transit through the USA

I used to dread traveling alone. I mean lets’ face it, sitting alone at an airport waiting for a flight, exhausted, trying to avoid talking to strangers you simply do not have the energy to communicate with is no one’s favorite pastime. At least not mine. I used to find it awkward, like all the other passengers were staring at me, judging me because I did not have a group of friends or family around me. Sometimes I was judging myself too, wondering what on earth was I doing, spending my time at yet another airport in the middle of nowhere, going to a city I had never been to before, only to wander around all by myself, since clearly I did not know anyone there. My family and friends, whom I gladly would have welcomed with me on my adventures but who unfortunately were not very keen on traveling with me, kept asking why I was going where I was going, with who, and every time I replied “alone”, they looked at me like I had gone nuts. Why would you travel somewhere you’ve never been to and know nothing about, completely alone, for no apparent reason? Yes, there were times when I myself questioned my sanity.

But there is a flipside to wandering around in a strange city all by yourself. It’s refreshing. Fascinating. Freeing. Empowering even. Watching the waves on the beach of Wilmington, admiring wonderful art and beautiful old buildings in Boston or sipping morning coffee at Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Thinking back, I don’t remember being lonely. I don’t remember feeling awkward or out of place. No, thinking back just makes me smile. What I remember is the warm wind and the salty smell of the ocean; the music, and the laughter; the smell of the coffee, the orchestra playing and how much I loved that little pink house with a porch full of colorful flowers. The interesting conversation with that silly old grandpa at the diner, or that kind stranger letting me crash on his couch when things went wrong in El Paso and I had nowhere to spend the night. I remember that time I randomly stumbled into a dive bar to see a band somewhere in Wisconsin, and ended up spending the next week hanging out with them, selling merchandise at a festival and sipping margaritas by the pool, having the time of my life. I remember all those fascinating, devastating and heart-warming life stories of strangers I met in passing, and all those moments I would not change for the world. And most of all I remember feeling stronger, more confident. I remember feeling free. All of a sudden none of those expectations, none of those horrifying tiny boxes people around me have always tried to fit me in did not matter anymore. On that plane or that strange city, surrounded by strangers, I was finally able to just be me. To be free.

The biggest realization traveling alone has given me, is that I can do this. I will get through and I will survive, whatever it is life throws at me. I will never be what other people expect me to be, so I might as well just follow my heart and do what I feel is right. The world is a magnificent, interesting and beautiful place, and I intend to see as much of it as I possibly can. Even if it means I’m seeing it alone.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Just Chasing a Photograph in the USA

I used to be a jet-setting executive who had the world at her feet. Nowadays, I travel because my three daughters live in different cities around the world: Seattle (next, San Francisco), Calgary, and Manila (London before, Melbourne next). Recently, my career-oriented middle daughter Claudine needed help. For the fifth time after I retired, I flew to Canada to take care of three young ones.

“We can go to Yoho and Kootenay in B.C., our chance to complete the quad parks named the World Heritage Site of the Canadian Rockies,” I convinced my husband, Bill. On the third weekend, I squeezed in a visit to the new Glacier Skywalk on the Columbia Icefields between Banff and Jasper, the two in Alberta we had visited earlier.

The only downside was driving the same section of the Trans-Canada Highway six more times. Sure enough, on the road to Yoho, I dozed off. Bill missed my chatter, nudging me, “Hey, sleepyhead, I bought you some Cheetos!” In a jiffy, the bag of my favorite cheesy crunchies was gone. I should have been upset he spoiled my beauty nap. Instead, I thanked him.

Between mouthfuls, I caught a glimpse of a scene that would haunt me. A lone red car seemed to rise on the road, driving straight into an enormous glacier-draped mountain. It vanished in a second. “I want that photograph!” whispered my heart. Staying glued to the windshield, soon a second chance came. Alas, the car was black, and the road was flat.

Photos of lovely sights around Yoho did not get my mind off that scene: Marble Canyon, Painted Pots, Sinclair Canyon, and Radium’s Hot Springs and bighorn sheep around town. The following Saturday, I was back with a vengeance. It didn’t take long and another such scene appeared. The mountain was even more majestic. But the car, being white, disappeared into the mist. Again, there was no road rise. I cried, “Can we just stage something?” Bill had one word, “Patience!”

Other photo-ops were on the road. An enormous yellow truck blazoned against the grays. White clouds cavorted with ice-lined pointed peaks. A multi-colored train ruffled through the Rockies’ skirts. Cute, curvy twin bridges punctuated the highway humdrum. Once in a while, a red-roofed cabin enlivened the greens. Around Kootenay, there was more: the Spiral Train, Emerald Lake, Natural Bridge, and the towns of Field and Golden. Still, I wanted that photo.

On the third weekend, the weather was itself, taking a sudden nasty turn. We proceeded and stayed at Banff for the night, hoping it would clear the next day. It didn’t. I have been through Philippine storms, but snow takes me right inside a freezer. But I had to go. It was my last chance.

I started feeling hopeless, but a smile returned to my face when, at more than 6,000 feet high, frosty evergreen began to grace both sides of the road. I asked Bill to stop and stepped out. Wet fluffy things instantly brushed against my face. I “smelled” chestnuts roasting nearby. From inside the car, Bill took my photo of Christmas in June! Still, I longed for another photo.

At the Skywalk, it wasn’t a panorama of glistening glaciers but gray and gloom that greeted us. Making the best of a bad situation, I noticed that my outfit had come together: the red beanie I just bought at the Gift Shop and the red gloves, red scarf and black winter jacket Claudine lent me. Bill took off his gloves to freely fiddle with the Nikon and the slippery platform turned into MY catwalk. “Hurry up! My fingers are already frozen!” interrupted my trance. But by then, I had precious photos of a glamorous fashion model at 67. Still, it was THAT scene I wanted.

On the way home, I was nervous. Bill’s words rang loud in my ears, “It’s now or never.” And, just like that, it came. The car wasn’t red and low-lying clouds partly hid the mountain. But the road had a slight rise, creating the magical effect I saw the first time. All the way home, a contest of who can give the best caption for the photo produced: “Into the Clouds”, “Into the Unknown”, and “Beyond the Ordinary.”

The grandkids hugged me tight as Claudine asked, “Is photography a new career?” I explained that the job I love most is that of a traveling Grandnanny. It doesn’t matter how many times I go back to a place. It’s the people that count. It doesn’t matter if I drive the same old familiar highway. Something else will catch my fancy. I am free to be with whomever I want, drive to wherever I please, and listen to whatever my heart whispers, even if it’s just chasing a photograph.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Free-falling to Freedom in Brazil

2010 was not my year; free-falling since 2009 from successful Customer Service Manager, rising rapidly through the ranks to redundant job seeker, an anonymous face caught up in the tsunami of unemployment as Australia was hit by the Global Economic Crisis. At the same time I went from being married, in love and planning a much dreamed of family, to separated and fighting in vein to save my marriage as my husband set up a cozy new life with his secret lover. Spiralling further and further downwards towards rock bottom, alone, jobless, heartbroken and without spousal support, I finally crash landed; in bankruptcy.

Well, the good thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only way is up!
I had a dream; to salvage the last shred of my life plan, stop the free-falling and move to Brazil!

Sure it would not be as a family unit and I would no longer be cocooned in the secure embrace of the upper middle class lifestyle my in-laws had offered, but the challenge gave me renewed purpose and hope. Still longing for a baby, I discovered that even singles can be eligible to adopt in Brazil, this became my beacon of hope, the driving force to follow my dreams and never give up, no matter what challenges lay ahead.

Simply affording the airfare seemed impossible, a pipe dream, but where there is a will there is a way and by selling almost all my worldly goods on eBay I did it. With enough spare funds to survive on a shoestring for around 12 weeks, it was make or break to find a job in that time.

With a mix of excitement and fear, armed only with a basic knowledge of Portuguese, a passion for Brazilian music and a few Capoeira moves up my sleeve, I flew off into the unknown.

My heart pulled me towards the state of Bahia, and after three bus trips totalling about 35 hours, I made it to Salvador early on a January morning in 2011.  I found a room in the heart of historic, sometimes dangerous and above all picturesque, Pelourinho for around USD$13 a night and there I began to live my dream.

My life story was a tapestry of hopes and dreams interwoven thread by thread with heartache and loss; thankfully I have a strong, independent core which worked like a flint to the sparks of freedom and adventure that came as each new stitch was sewn, thus fuelling the fire to survive here that burns deep inside me to this day.

I trod along the ancient cobbled streets, moving to the beat of drums, drinking in the sight of beautiful coloured buildings, and visiting the statue of Zumbi dos Palmares (an important figure in Capoeira) to sing to him and ask for guidance.

New found freedom combined with faith in my decision felled any remaining fear, my soul felt like it had come home. Against the odds I found a job with only days to go before my funds ran out, that dogged determination had paid it’s dividends. Sure, I was as poor as a church mouse, earning minimum wage of around USD$300 a month, but I was on my way!

From there the path has not been paved with gold, I have followed the paupers trail strewn with rocks, stumbled many times, scraped my knees and lived on the proverbial smell of an oily rag, sometimes in areas not too many steps above the poverty line but I have continued on my journey; a relentless dream catcher.

The experiences have been worth the struggles; I have seen sights both beautiful and historic that I could never have imagined, undertaken voluntary work with some amazing musicians which lead me to promote local Brazilian music to the world, something that became my soul food in this new life, and to top things off I have met so many diverse and wonderful people.

Living without mod cons; cold water showers, no washing machine, no oven, no fridge, no car, no TV, sometimes even no bed, brings sharply into focus what truly matters in life and those material items don’t even make the list! I have often had next to nothing in Brazil, but my life has been richer. Richer in experiences, richer in culture, richer in friendships.

My advice to those reading is, if you are struggling there is hope! Fears can be conquered, lows turned into highs and if you feel like running away, then sprint towards your dreams. Freedom is through that door you see just ahead, you hold the key so put it in the lock and walk through to the life that you dream of for yourself! As for me, I’m now applying to be a citizen of my new homeland; watch this space.

NB: Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

An Amazing Underwater paradise in Mexico

Grains of sand as soft and fine as powdery snow covered my toes as I tried to name all of the different shades of neon blue in the water. Turquoise, Aquamarine, Slate, Navy, Cerulean, Azure, Cornflower, Tiffany Blue. Sails on the yachts in front of me fluttered in the light sea breeze and the smell of coconut oil wafted by. Juice dripped down my fingers as I took a bite of the fresh cut pineapple. I was on the island paradise of Isla Mujeres in the Mexican Caribbean and I was in tears.

Down by the Belize border I burst into tears in Mahahual, swinging on a hammock suspended above the water. The sea was so clear that I could see the trumpet fish zig-zagging below me and even distinguish the individual grains in the rippled sand below. After that I cried at Santa Fe beach in Tulum, tears sliding down my face and into the fresh coconut I was drinking with a straw as I gazed up at the Mayan ruins on the cliff above.

A newly certified Dive Instructor, I’d been planning this move to the tropics for two years. I’d quit my job, gotten rid of my furniture, told my friends goodbye and made no promises to return. Now here I was in tropical paradise wondering if I could ask my Dad to stay in his spare room for a few months while I sorted my life out. Because my move to paradise was not going as planned.

The tourists around me were having a great time. They were on holiday, having adventures. I would come back to the hostel exhausted from a day walking in the blistering heat, hunting for a job and an apartment. Every day the tourists went swimming with whale sharks. Every day I followed false leads and faced new rejections.

Everything on the streets seemed strange. A man on a tricycle circled town with a loudspeaker blaring “…windows, refrigerators, doors, all you need, tables, chimneys, bathtubs, call me,” followed by a phone number. An eight year old boy leaned out of a truck window to wolf whistle at me. A woman tried to sell me a hand puppet shaped like a chicken.

“What is this place?” I called my Dad for advice. “I’m so tired, I don’t know if I can do this!”

“I have no doubt that you can make a life for yourself anywhere in the world,” my Dad said. “You’ve done it before.”

“I know I can make it here,” I said. “But I don’t know if I want to!”

“Give it another week.”

The next week I got a call from a dive shop offering me an instructor position. “It’s only confirmed for two months,” my new boss said, “but if it works out then you can stay through high season. The catch is that you’ll need to house-sit the apartment above the dive shop until we get the hurricane shutters installed. I hope that we can work this out.”

Needless to say, I took the job and the beachfront apartment. As soon as I was in the ocean I was in charge again; teaching people to breathe underwater, calming their fears about the equipment and the environment, introducing them to the reef ecosystem. I love taking people underwater for the first time, to see them experience the thrill of flying above the corals or encounter a creature that they didn’t even know existed. To see them face to face with a giant turtle, inside a tornado school of giant trevally, or hovering in place while manta rays do flips around them.

Life on land is still confusing, but I’m not crying anymore. I’m settling in to my new town and I’m enjoying the slow pace of life in the tropics. But underwater I have my freedom. The environment is so foreign that you can’t help but immerse yourself in the experience. You can’t feel tears underwater, you’re already totally wet.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

2016-07-08-06-57-09-1-300x300Instilling Comfortable Respect in the Philippines

The chorus of cascading waters was music to my ears as it dropped down from varying heights into an aquamarine pool. The sound mimics the sound of rain. The rhythm complements the magnificent and unadulterated view of water streaming onto rock walls and plants, giving off a thin cloud of droplets at the base of the waterfalls. This is Tinago Falls in Iligan City, Philippines. Its beauty is well hidden within the rainforest of the province hence the name “tinago”, a Filipino word that means hidden. As I stood there mesmerized by its beauty, I heaved a sigh of relief. I have finally conquered it but, unlike Tinago Falls, I need not hide because I am free.

Living in a country of diverse cultures, these diversity creates gaps in understanding that eventually leads to misconceptions. These questions in faith and beliefs, often fueled by ignorance, give birth to generalizations and bigotry. The news of tragic events happening in different parts of the world, often associated with our Muslim brothers, do not help in easing out these tensions. The Philippines, being predominantly of Christian faith, is not free from this imbalance. As most of our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters are concentrated in Mindanao, the island is still a subject that sometimes instills fear among many Filipinos. There are places that are “off-limits” in the minds of most Filipinos because it is tagged as “dangerous”.

A recent unplanned visit to Iligan City gave me the opportunity to open the mind of my 8 year old daughter on the importance of accepting diversity. It was our first time in the city and our plan was to visit the 3 of its 24 waterfalls. As we only had a couple of hours to go around, we had to hire a “habal-habal”, a motorcycle where we had to squeeze in three people and the driver, to get us around faster. It was another first for us. I had to explain to my daughter that this was the mode of public transportation in most Philippine provinces.

She was quick to notice that there were a lot of Muslims during our quick tour. She was able to identify them because of the way they dressed. She was used to the city where people dressed in a certain fashion and she saw how different this was in Iligan City. At one point, she asked me why people dressed that way.

I saw this as an opportunity to explain to her the rich and diverse culture of the Philippines. I explained to her that they were our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters. They believe in Allah and they practice their Islam faith so they have their own culture that they are proud of, and that includes the way they dress. I had to make her understand that despite these differences we were all Filipinos and should respect each other. She will meet a lot of Filipino Muslims as she grows up and will have a deeper understanding of their culture, both in our travels and in school. What is important was for her to open her mind and accept these differences just like the way she does with her friends in school. At that point, a young Muslim lady walked past our table and smiled at her to which she my daughter returned the favor.

At that point, I knew that she was on her way to understanding the lessons of cultural diversity.

As our world gets smaller with technology, it is very important to keep in mind that it will open us to the cultural exchanges from the different regions of the world. Most of these beliefs and practices may be similar and there will be a few that may contradict our very own. These exchanges will also open us to preconceived ideas and branding that can result to indifferences and, in some cases, can even lead to hate. We cannot allow these notions to affect the way we think about others because of their cultural background, their faith, the color of their skin, or the way they dress.

I find my freedom when I travel. Each destination is a new learning experience. Traveling introduced me to the different cultures and practices that makes the Philippines unique. It gave me the opportunity to help others understand the uniqueness of each culture paving the way for acceptance, just like what happened between me and my daughter during our trip in Mindanao. Traveling freed me from clutches of ignorance and taught me to respect the diversity that is present among us.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

The Inward Journey to Freedom in the US

By age fourteen I had been to twenty seven countries and four continents. How much more free could I be? Back then, life was much simpler. At twenty six years old, I’ve independently added four more countries. I had the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want, but there was something significantly different between traveling with my parents and traveling alone as an adult. Until a few years ago, I realized I was emotionally caged; trapped in heartaches, insecurities and self-loathing. Let me tell you a story of a traveler who never truly traveled until she started exploring an inward journey into herself.

I awoke, I gently began to open my eyes knowing there was no rush for anything. I graduated college, I had no job and no direction, but worst of all, I had no passion. I felt nothing and everything all at the same time. It was winter in Massachusetts and everything was dead, which is exactly how I felt. Every day it was cold and gray outside and my ribcage would tremble, trying to salvage the very last colors inside of me. Days were long and nights were longer.

Every phone call I’d bite my cheeks and pray that desperation could not be heard. I didn’t know how to ask for help, as I choked on words I could not speak. Everyone’s advice was so cliché and bland, “talk to someone, exercise, eat well, go out and meet people.” As if the simple act of getting out of bed was easy for me. When I would gather enough strength to walk to the bathroom, I’d brush my teeth with a soft gaze, avoiding all eye contact with a ghost.

She wasn’t scary but she sure wasn’t pretty. She was pale with swollen eye lids, peeled lips and bleeding finger tips. She was trapped in her own world, bruising her hands against her concrete walls, wishing somebody would save her. I used to think she was quite pathetic, but when I chose to fall in love with her, was the moment I chose to fall in love with myself.

I was tired and I was through with devaluing myself. I frantically opened my laptop and typed the first words that came to mind, “Kripalu”, the School of Yoga and Health. I had taken all of one class but that didn’t stop me. Yoga was expanding and teachers were in demand. Kripalu was only a few hours north so I signed up. A month later I was standing on the grounds where I took my first few breaths of fresh air.

I knew absolutely nothing of what yoga truly is. They stripped my judgments of bendy, skinny females wearing Lululemon. My god, yoga saved my life. Every day I cried. At first it was out of pain; reliving every moment someone took something from me, every moment I failed, disappointed, hurt and lied. They taught me to be strong in my vulnerability and supplied me with affirmations that helped heal me.

The skin I used to inflict pain upon through cigarettes and razors is the skin I now touch as if it were a lover who just told me they loved me too. I massaged my feet with gratitude for walking so steady on shaky grounds and I kissed my palms with forgiveness because sometimes I did not hold hearts with care. I looked all around and saw the greener side of the grass. I was liberated from my own perception of hell.   My inward journey was nearly complete.

Finally, a miracle; tears of happiness slid down my cheeks as I danced and held others and allowed myself to be held. I was reborn in the hands of loving, empathetic human beings that have felt how exhausted shoulders can get and how heavy hearts can be. My teachers taught me more than warrior pose, tree pose and eagle pose. They taught me how to be a warrior and enter my inner power. They taught me how to be a tree; to grow with sturdiness. They taught me how to be an eagle and fly in freedom.

I’ve felt the pain of my ancestors as I walked their graves touring the German holocaust camps. I’ve felt the love and nurture of those who’ve harvested life as I danced along the Balinese rice patties. I have hugged the Australian wild life and did the HAKA with one of New Zealand’s tribes. I have cried with Peru’s poor and laughed with their children. There’s a lot I’ve seen and a lot I haven’t, a lot I know and a lot I don’t. I’ve learned the final destination of freedom was never my plane ticket. The final destination of freedom was the only place I did not think to go and that was through an inward journey.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Why Did You Come to Japan?

There is a television show in Japan that airs every Monday called Why Did You Come to Japan? A Japanese camera crew stops foreigners arriving at Narita airport in Tokyo and asks them what the purpose is for their visit. My best friend’s dad told me about this show shortly after I arrived for my six-week stay at their house. He joked that I was there, “to sleep and fold laundry!”

That was partially true while I was recovering from the mysterious virus I contracted on the plane ride there. But when I wasn’t sleeping or folding laundry I was on a search. Although I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for at first, I’m certain I found it along the way.

I overcame fear. My journey began when I was forced to maneuver the Japanese train system. Exhausted from traveling for three days from my home in Indiana, my plane was diverted a couple hundred miles south from Tokyo to Osaka airport due to turbulence. There were no more flights so I had to take a train to find my host family in Tokyo. I was terrified at the idea of going alone, but I quickly made friends with the angel God placed in the seat beside me on the plane. We plotted, prayed, sweated, laughed and cried through the ordeal but we bravely made it to our destination together.

I taught. I packed a children’s devotional in my suitcase and read an English lesson with my friend’s nine-year-old son every morning. Not only did he get to practice his English skills, he also learned about Jesus. I learned many Japanese words in the process.

I explored. I had my own bicycle and ventured out almost daily, some days riding ten miles or more. I visited shopping centers, beautiful shrines, Starbucks and my favorite Italian restaurant. Since I had been forced to overcome my fear of working the train system upon arrival in Japan, I rode one alone to Harajuku in Tokyo from my friend’s house in Inage-Ku and visited the famous Meiji Jingu Shrine. There I found confidence, gratitude and peace.

I made new friends. I connected with the family who lived across the street from my host family. They took me on several outings including gorgeous flower gardens and a gigantic mall. One evening they invited me to their backyard BBQ. The entire family spoke fluent English, which was refreshing. And their three-year old grandson Yuto sang Row Row Row Your Boat to me in the sweetest little voice reminding me of my childhood and that we are all children at heart no matter where we live in the world.

I survived multiple earthquakes. As if the mysterious illness I contracted on my journey there was not enough, after I recovered I had to deal with my bed shaking uncontrollably on at least four occasions. They were low magnitude quakes but that was more earth shaking than I had experienced in my entire life up to that point.

I relaxed. I took hot baths at public Japanese spas and experienced a hot rock bed for the first time. I took naps in the afternoons. I read several books cover to cover. I sat in the park and people watched. I drank a lot of coffee and daydreamed. I learned to breathe again.

I ate. I enjoyed delicious meals prepared at home by my host family and I learned how to prepare many dishes myself. I cooked dinner for my friends on my last night and they actually enjoyed it! I ate homemade miso soup and rice every day and ice cream for dessert. I took myself out to restaurants. Pointing at pictures on the menu works just as well in Japan as it does at Denny’s!

I traveled. I flew to Okinawa for three nights with my friend on a girl’s only trip. We enjoyed hanging out on the beautiful beach, touring a pineapple park and winery, eating a lot of good food, revisiting my Fuguki Tree Road and just enjoying quality time together.

I worshipped. I visited a Christian church on my last full Sunday in Japan where I prayed with a congregation full of Japanese Christians. They spoke a different language than me but together we worshipped the same God. I thanked Him for blessing me so much with the gift of such an amazing adventure in this wondrous country.

I may have slept and folded a lot of laundry but I did manage to do many wonderful things. I overcame fear in the process and I left behind anxiety that I brought to Japan with me. I slept in the top bunk and gazed at the glowing stars on the wall papered ceiling as I drifted off to sleep every night. I became physically active again. I bicycled. I kayaked. I even participated in a tug of war contest. I learned patience and endurance in ways I never experienced before. I learned that people everywhere are the same on the inside. And I thanked God for blessing me so much in life.

To simply answer the question, “Why did you come to Japan?”

I went to Japan to find freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

sky-500x500Hard fought Journeys to a Satisfied Freedom in the Philippines

When I saw the theme of this article writing contest, I remember a quote I have encountered before. The quote says “Learn the rules. Then break some”. It might sound rebellious to some but for me, I think of it as another way of saying you fight for your journeys freedom.

I believe there are different kinds of freedom each and every one of us is looking for. We all wanted to be free, free from the things that we think are holding us back from living the life we desire. We want to move away from what are bothering us, hurting us, our struggles, this is what being free might be for each of us. But where and when do we find our freedom? How do we fight for it? How can we say we feel free?

Speaking for myself, I still find me being stuck from where I am now. I feel like I’m still bounded with all the responsibilities I have for my Family. Still bounded from thinking about the approval of my society on how I should be living my life. But all of these things including self doubt and fear disappear whenever I am travelling alone in an unfamiliar territory.

When I get out there, I always choose to leave the things that are bringing me down. I clear my head from them. Yes, I am trying to run away from them and be free from them even for a while because this is where and when I find my freedom from what I think is a cruel reality.

I used to travel with people I know and used to be closed to me but it made a difference to see how free I can feel when I did a trip alone. During these journeys I learned how to decide everything for myself, which I think is one way of exercising my freedom. I usually make my own itinerary based on the information I get from travel blogs but there are times that I do not follow it and decide to get lost. I feel like I can afford to see the places where some do not go. I am free to explore. I am not bound by any box or circle.

From these travels I learned to be free from judgement and doubts. I started to convince myself to trust people who are very unfamiliar to me, who I just met or encountered at the moment. At these moments I do not have any thoughts to make me run from people I do not know. I invite them to be part of my new circle instead.

The best freedom I get from these experiences is that I am freely me. Everything is me. I am allowed to be myself. I open up myself to new territories, new people and new learning. I do not have to worry about being out of my usual comfort zone. I do not feel any pain. I am releasing my inner bravery and last but not the least I am free to hope without a limit. The hope that will give me strength to face every obstacle and struggles to achieve the life I have always been dreaming. A life where I get to have the freedom to be independent and to be myself whenever, wherever.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Freedom When an Amazing Life Flys Away in the US

It was three summers ago and I had just flown from Kauai to Portland, OR to be with my boyfriend after months of being apart. Everything was finally looking up, after going through hardships during my travels on the islands. I was exactly where I wanted to be.

I remember how exciting it was to feel the cool, crisp NW air and to see Portland for the first time. The city was coming alive, people were buzzing on the streets, cafés were clamoring with business, I had made it.
My boyfriend and I had driven down to his family farm in Dallas, OR, a small town in a valley at the edge of the Coast Range Mountains. The farm is a hundred years old and sits on seventy acres of open land, filled with fruit trees and a rambling river. If anything, my time in Oregon was only getting better.

However, three days into my trip, I received a phone call from my Aunt Lorie whom never calls. A red flag went up as I answered. “Your grandma is in hospice…” My heart sank into my chest as I heard these words. I had spoken to my grandmother occasionally throughout the past year but, it wasn’t enough. She was the woman who raised me from toddler to adult, she was my hero. I should have been more present.

I was feeling all sorts of emotions, but mostly sadness and despair that I wasn’t a car ride away. In fact, I was on the opposite end of the country, at least an eight-hour flight from home. Feeling helpless and confused, I continued my day, beneath a cloud. I was awaiting answers to my prayers. I prayed to my mother, whom passed away when I was two. I sought advice on the situation, if I should continue my trip or fly home. The following morning my prayer was answered in the form of a Robin bird who landed in front of me in between two large oak trees. My mother’s name was Robin. In that moment I felt a sigh of relief that even through difficulty, things can still make sense.

A couple more days had passed with no improvements to my grandmother’s health. Yet, I decided to remain in Oregon. We had made our way to the coast which is my favorite place to be. Throughout the days I had been given small universal signs that everything was going to be okay. I felt a little more at ease.

Throughout my travels I had picked up a used book called, The Invitation. At the end of every chapter the author asks the reader to write short exercises. They are based on looking inwards. Like most books I read, I found that every time I flipped the page, it was more and more relevant to my current situation. This time, the exercise was to write down ‘what I need and what I need from others’. I jotted down the answers in my journal and put it away. The following day would be pivotal.
In the afternoon my boyfriend and I found ourselves in a state park situated on the central coast. We climbed a sand dune to check the surf. It was small but looked worthwhile, so we grabbed our boards and ran to the water. It was a beautiful, sunny day. No one was around. We had this place to ourselves. I caught some really fun little peeling waves. This was my perfect moment.

When I got out of my wetsuit and changed into dry clothes, I grabbed my journal and climbed up a sand dune that overlooked the vast, glistening Pacific. I was in my peaceful place. Because I hadn’t had time the previous day to finish my journal entry, I did so on the dune. When I finished writing I sent my needs and needs of others into the universe. “I need Bubee to know that my brothers and I will be okay without her.” “I need Bubee to know that she is free to leave her body and to find her freedom.” I felt so relieved and uplifted from partaking in this exercise.

When I got back to the car I checked my phone; a missed call from my aunt. Before I listened to the message, I knew what I’d hear. And when I officially heard the words, tears fell from my eyes, but they were mostly tears of joy. I never thought I’d feel that way about my grandmothers passing. But, I couldn’t deny the sequence of events that occurred. I knew deep in my heart that someone was watching over us. She had passed when I was doing what I love most; surfing and traveling. And in that realization I too found my freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Interesting Strangers in transit through the USA

I used to dread traveling alone. I mean lets’ face it, sitting alone at an airport waiting for a flight, exhausted, trying to avoid talking to strangers you simply do not have the energy to communicate with is no one’s favorite pastime. At least not mine. I used to find it awkward, like all the other passengers were staring at me, judging me because I did not have a group of friends or family around me. Sometimes I was judging myself too, wondering what on earth was I doing, spending my time at yet another airport in the middle of nowhere, going to a city I had never been to before, only to wander around all by myself, since clearly I did not know anyone there. My family and friends, whom I gladly would have welcomed with me on my adventures but who unfortunately were not very keen on traveling with me, kept asking why I was going where I was going, with who, and every time I replied “alone”, they looked at me like I had gone nuts. Why would you travel somewhere you’ve never been to and know nothing about, completely alone, for no apparent reason? Yes, there were times when I myself questioned my sanity.

But there is a flipside to wandering around in a strange city all by yourself. It’s refreshing. Fascinating. Freeing. Empowering even. Watching the waves on the beach of Wilmington, admiring wonderful art and beautiful old buildings in Boston or sipping morning coffee at Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Thinking back, I don’t remember being lonely. I don’t remember feeling awkward or out of place. No, thinking back just makes me smile. What I remember is the warm wind and the salty smell of the ocean; the music, and the laughter; the smell of the coffee, the orchestra playing and how much I loved that little pink house with a porch full of colorful flowers. The interesting conversation with that silly old grandpa at the diner, or that kind stranger letting me crash on his couch when things went wrong in El Paso and I had nowhere to spend the night. I remember that time I randomly stumbled into a dive bar to see a band somewhere in Wisconsin, and ended up spending the next week hanging out with them, selling merchandise at a festival and sipping margaritas by the pool, having the time of my life. I remember all those fascinating, devastating and heart-warming life stories of strangers I met in passing, and all those moments I would not change for the world. And most of all I remember feeling stronger, more confident. I remember feeling free. All of a sudden none of those expectations, none of those horrifying tiny boxes people around me have always tried to fit me in did not matter anymore. On that plane or that strange city, surrounded by strangers, I was finally able to just be me. To be free.

The biggest realization traveling alone has given me, is that I can do this. I will get through and I will survive, whatever it is life throws at me. I will never be what other people expect me to be, so I might as well just follow my heart and do what I feel is right. The world is a magnificent, interesting and beautiful place, and I intend to see as much of it as I possibly can. Even if it means I’m seeing it alone.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Just Chasing a Photograph in the USA

I used to be a jet-setting executive who had the world at her feet. Nowadays, I travel because my three daughters live in different cities around the world: Seattle (next, San Francisco), Calgary, and Manila (London before, Melbourne next). Recently, my career-oriented middle daughter Claudine needed help. For the fifth time after I retired, I flew to Canada to take care of three young ones.

“We can go to Yoho and Kootenay in B.C., our chance to complete the quad parks named the World Heritage Site of the Canadian Rockies,” I convinced my husband, Bill. On the third weekend, I squeezed in a visit to the new Glacier Skywalk on the Columbia Icefields between Banff and Jasper, the two in Alberta we had visited earlier.

The only downside was driving the same section of the Trans-Canada Highway six more times. Sure enough, on the road to Yoho, I dozed off. Bill missed my chatter, nudging me, “Hey, sleepyhead, I bought you some Cheetos!” In a jiffy, the bag of my favorite cheesy crunchies was gone. I should have been upset he spoiled my beauty nap. Instead, I thanked him.

Between mouthfuls, I caught a glimpse of a scene that would haunt me. A lone red car seemed to rise on the road, driving straight into an enormous glacier-draped mountain. It vanished in a second. “I want that photograph!” whispered my heart. Staying glued to the windshield, soon a second chance came. Alas, the car was black, and the road was flat.

Photos of lovely sights around Yoho did not get my mind off that scene: Marble Canyon, Painted Pots, Sinclair Canyon, and Radium’s Hot Springs and bighorn sheep around town. The following Saturday, I was back with a vengeance. It didn’t take long and another such scene appeared. The mountain was even more majestic. But the car, being white, disappeared into the mist. Again, there was no road rise. I cried, “Can we just stage something?” Bill had one word, “Patience!”

Other photo-ops were on the road. An enormous yellow truck blazoned against the grays. White clouds cavorted with ice-lined pointed peaks. A multi-colored train ruffled through the Rockies’ skirts. Cute, curvy twin bridges punctuated the highway humdrum. Once in a while, a red-roofed cabin enlivened the greens. Around Kootenay, there was more: the Spiral Train, Emerald Lake, Natural Bridge, and the towns of Field and Golden. Still, I wanted that photo.

On the third weekend, the weather was itself, taking a sudden nasty turn. We proceeded and stayed at Banff for the night, hoping it would clear the next day. It didn’t. I have been through Philippine storms, but snow takes me right inside a freezer. But I had to go. It was my last chance.

I started feeling hopeless, but a smile returned to my face when, at more than 6,000 feet high, frosty evergreen began to grace both sides of the road. I asked Bill to stop and stepped out. Wet fluffy things instantly brushed against my face. I “smelled” chestnuts roasting nearby. From inside the car, Bill took my photo of Christmas in June! Still, I longed for another photo.

At the Skywalk, it wasn’t a panorama of glistening glaciers but gray and gloom that greeted us. Making the best of a bad situation, I noticed that my outfit had come together: the red beanie I just bought at the Gift Shop and the red gloves, red scarf and black winter jacket Claudine lent me. Bill took off his gloves to freely fiddle with the Nikon and the slippery platform turned into MY catwalk. “Hurry up! My fingers are already frozen!” interrupted my trance. But by then, I had precious photos of a glamorous fashion model at 67. Still, it was THAT scene I wanted.

On the way home, I was nervous. Bill’s words rang loud in my ears, “It’s now or never.” And, just like that, it came. The car wasn’t red and low-lying clouds partly hid the mountain. But the road had a slight rise, creating the magical effect I saw the first time. All the way home, a contest of who can give the best caption for the photo produced: “Into the Clouds”, “Into the Unknown”, and “Beyond the Ordinary.”

The grandkids hugged me tight as Claudine asked, “Is photography a new career?” I explained that the job I love most is that of a traveling Grandnanny. It doesn’t matter how many times I go back to a place. It’s the people that count. It doesn’t matter if I drive the same old familiar highway. Something else will catch my fancy. I am free to be with whomever I want, drive to wherever I please, and listen to whatever my heart whispers, even if it’s just chasing a photograph.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Free-falling to Freedom in Brazil

2010 was not my year; free-falling since 2009 from successful Customer Service Manager, rising rapidly through the ranks to redundant job seeker, an anonymous face caught up in the tsunami of unemployment as Australia was hit by the Global Economic Crisis. At the same time I went from being married, in love and planning a much dreamed of family, to separated and fighting in vein to save my marriage as my husband set up a cozy new life with his secret lover. Spiralling further and further downwards towards rock bottom, alone, jobless, heartbroken and without spousal support, I finally crash landed; in bankruptcy.

Well, the good thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only way is up!
I had a dream; to salvage the last shred of my life plan, stop the free-falling and move to Brazil!

Sure it would not be as a family unit and I would no longer be cocooned in the secure embrace of the upper middle class lifestyle my in-laws had offered, but the challenge gave me renewed purpose and hope. Still longing for a baby, I discovered that even singles can be eligible to adopt in Brazil, this became my beacon of hope, the driving force to follow my dreams and never give up, no matter what challenges lay ahead.

Simply affording the airfare seemed impossible, a pipe dream, but where there is a will there is a way and by selling almost all my worldly goods on eBay I did it. With enough spare funds to survive on a shoestring for around 12 weeks, it was make or break to find a job in that time.

With a mix of excitement and fear, armed only with a basic knowledge of Portuguese, a passion for Brazilian music and a few Capoeira moves up my sleeve, I flew off into the unknown.

My heart pulled me towards the state of Bahia, and after three bus trips totalling about 35 hours, I made it to Salvador early on a January morning in 2011.  I found a room in the heart of historic, sometimes dangerous and above all picturesque, Pelourinho for around USD$13 a night and there I began to live my dream.

My life story was a tapestry of hopes and dreams interwoven thread by thread with heartache and loss; thankfully I have a strong, independent core which worked like a flint to the sparks of freedom and adventure that came as each new stitch was sewn, thus fuelling the fire to survive here that burns deep inside me to this day.

I trod along the ancient cobbled streets, moving to the beat of drums, drinking in the sight of beautiful coloured buildings, and visiting the statue of Zumbi dos Palmares (an important figure in Capoeira) to sing to him and ask for guidance.

New found freedom combined with faith in my decision felled any remaining fear, my soul felt like it had come home. Against the odds I found a job with only days to go before my funds ran out, that dogged determination had paid it’s dividends. Sure, I was as poor as a church mouse, earning minimum wage of around USD$300 a month, but I was on my way!

From there the path has not been paved with gold, I have followed the paupers trail strewn with rocks, stumbled many times, scraped my knees and lived on the proverbial smell of an oily rag, sometimes in areas not too many steps above the poverty line but I have continued on my journey; a relentless dream catcher.

The experiences have been worth the struggles; I have seen sights both beautiful and historic that I could never have imagined, undertaken voluntary work with some amazing musicians which lead me to promote local Brazilian music to the world, something that became my soul food in this new life, and to top things off I have met so many diverse and wonderful people.

Living without mod cons; cold water showers, no washing machine, no oven, no fridge, no car, no TV, sometimes even no bed, brings sharply into focus what truly matters in life and those material items don’t even make the list! I have often had next to nothing in Brazil, but my life has been richer. Richer in experiences, richer in culture, richer in friendships.

My advice to those reading is, if you are struggling there is hope! Fears can be conquered, lows turned into highs and if you feel like running away, then sprint towards your dreams. Freedom is through that door you see just ahead, you hold the key so put it in the lock and walk through to the life that you dream of for yourself! As for me, I’m now applying to be a citizen of my new homeland; watch this space.

NB: Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

An Amazing Underwater paradise in Mexico

Grains of sand as soft and fine as powdery snow covered my toes as I tried to name all of the different shades of neon blue in the water. Turquoise, Aquamarine, Slate, Navy, Cerulean, Azure, Cornflower, Tiffany Blue. Sails on the yachts in front of me fluttered in the light sea breeze and the smell of coconut oil wafted by. Juice dripped down my fingers as I took a bite of the fresh cut pineapple. I was on the island paradise of Isla Mujeres in the Mexican Caribbean and I was in tears.

Down by the Belize border I burst into tears in Mahahual, swinging on a hammock suspended above the water. The sea was so clear that I could see the trumpet fish zig-zagging below me and even distinguish the individual grains in the rippled sand below. After that I cried at Santa Fe beach in Tulum, tears sliding down my face and into the fresh coconut I was drinking with a straw as I gazed up at the Mayan ruins on the cliff above.

A newly certified Dive Instructor, I’d been planning this move to the tropics for two years. I’d quit my job, gotten rid of my furniture, told my friends goodbye and made no promises to return. Now here I was in tropical paradise wondering if I could ask my Dad to stay in his spare room for a few months while I sorted my life out. Because my move to paradise was not going as planned.

The tourists around me were having a great time. They were on holiday, having adventures. I would come back to the hostel exhausted from a day walking in the blistering heat, hunting for a job and an apartment. Every day the tourists went swimming with whale sharks. Every day I followed false leads and faced new rejections.

Everything on the streets seemed strange. A man on a tricycle circled town with a loudspeaker blaring “…windows, refrigerators, doors, all you need, tables, chimneys, bathtubs, call me,” followed by a phone number. An eight year old boy leaned out of a truck window to wolf whistle at me. A woman tried to sell me a hand puppet shaped like a chicken.

“What is this place?” I called my Dad for advice. “I’m so tired, I don’t know if I can do this!”

“I have no doubt that you can make a life for yourself anywhere in the world,” my Dad said. “You’ve done it before.”

“I know I can make it here,” I said. “But I don’t know if I want to!”

“Give it another week.”

The next week I got a call from a dive shop offering me an instructor position. “It’s only confirmed for two months,” my new boss said, “but if it works out then you can stay through high season. The catch is that you’ll need to house-sit the apartment above the dive shop until we get the hurricane shutters installed. I hope that we can work this out.”

Needless to say, I took the job and the beachfront apartment. As soon as I was in the ocean I was in charge again; teaching people to breathe underwater, calming their fears about the equipment and the environment, introducing them to the reef ecosystem. I love taking people underwater for the first time, to see them experience the thrill of flying above the corals or encounter a creature that they didn’t even know existed. To see them face to face with a giant turtle, inside a tornado school of giant trevally, or hovering in place while manta rays do flips around them.

Life on land is still confusing, but I’m not crying anymore. I’m settling in to my new town and I’m enjoying the slow pace of life in the tropics. But underwater I have my freedom. The environment is so foreign that you can’t help but immerse yourself in the experience. You can’t feel tears underwater, you’re already totally wet.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

2016-07-08-06-57-09-1-300x300Instilling Comfortable Respect in the Philippines

The chorus of cascading waters was music to my ears as it dropped down from varying heights into an aquamarine pool. The sound mimics the sound of rain. The rhythm complements the magnificent and unadulterated view of water streaming onto rock walls and plants, giving off a thin cloud of droplets at the base of the waterfalls. This is Tinago Falls in Iligan City, Philippines. Its beauty is well hidden within the rainforest of the province hence the name “tinago”, a Filipino word that means hidden. As I stood there mesmerized by its beauty, I heaved a sigh of relief. I have finally conquered it but, unlike Tinago Falls, I need not hide because I am free.

Living in a country of diverse cultures, these diversity creates gaps in understanding that eventually leads to misconceptions. These questions in faith and beliefs, often fueled by ignorance, give birth to generalizations and bigotry. The news of tragic events happening in different parts of the world, often associated with our Muslim brothers, do not help in easing out these tensions. The Philippines, being predominantly of Christian faith, is not free from this imbalance. As most of our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters are concentrated in Mindanao, the island is still a subject that sometimes instills fear among many Filipinos. There are places that are “off-limits” in the minds of most Filipinos because it is tagged as “dangerous”.

A recent unplanned visit to Iligan City gave me the opportunity to open the mind of my 8 year old daughter on the importance of accepting diversity. It was our first time in the city and our plan was to visit the 3 of its 24 waterfalls. As we only had a couple of hours to go around, we had to hire a “habal-habal”, a motorcycle where we had to squeeze in three people and the driver, to get us around faster. It was another first for us. I had to explain to my daughter that this was the mode of public transportation in most Philippine provinces.

She was quick to notice that there were a lot of Muslims during our quick tour. She was able to identify them because of the way they dressed. She was used to the city where people dressed in a certain fashion and she saw how different this was in Iligan City. At one point, she asked me why people dressed that way.

I saw this as an opportunity to explain to her the rich and diverse culture of the Philippines. I explained to her that they were our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters. They believe in Allah and they practice their Islam faith so they have their own culture that they are proud of, and that includes the way they dress. I had to make her understand that despite these differences we were all Filipinos and should respect each other. She will meet a lot of Filipino Muslims as she grows up and will have a deeper understanding of their culture, both in our travels and in school. What is important was for her to open her mind and accept these differences just like the way she does with her friends in school. At that point, a young Muslim lady walked past our table and smiled at her to which she my daughter returned the favor.

At that point, I knew that she was on her way to understanding the lessons of cultural diversity.

As our world gets smaller with technology, it is very important to keep in mind that it will open us to the cultural exchanges from the different regions of the world. Most of these beliefs and practices may be similar and there will be a few that may contradict our very own. These exchanges will also open us to preconceived ideas and branding that can result to indifferences and, in some cases, can even lead to hate. We cannot allow these notions to affect the way we think about others because of their cultural background, their faith, the color of their skin, or the way they dress.

I find my freedom when I travel. Each destination is a new learning experience. Traveling introduced me to the different cultures and practices that makes the Philippines unique. It gave me the opportunity to help others understand the uniqueness of each culture paving the way for acceptance, just like what happened between me and my daughter during our trip in Mindanao. Traveling freed me from clutches of ignorance and taught me to respect the diversity that is present among us.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

The Inward Journey to Freedom in the US

By age fourteen I had been to twenty seven countries and four continents. How much more free could I be? Back then, life was much simpler. At twenty six years old, I’ve independently added four more countries. I had the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want, but there was something significantly different between traveling with my parents and traveling alone as an adult. Until a few years ago, I realized I was emotionally caged; trapped in heartaches, insecurities and self-loathing. Let me tell you a story of a traveler who never truly traveled until she started exploring an inward journey into herself.

I awoke, I gently began to open my eyes knowing there was no rush for anything. I graduated college, I had no job and no direction, but worst of all, I had no passion. I felt nothing and everything all at the same time. It was winter in Massachusetts and everything was dead, which is exactly how I felt. Every day it was cold and gray outside and my ribcage would tremble, trying to salvage the very last colors inside of me. Days were long and nights were longer.

Every phone call I’d bite my cheeks and pray that desperation could not be heard. I didn’t know how to ask for help, as I choked on words I could not speak. Everyone’s advice was so cliché and bland, “talk to someone, exercise, eat well, go out and meet people.” As if the simple act of getting out of bed was easy for me. When I would gather enough strength to walk to the bathroom, I’d brush my teeth with a soft gaze, avoiding all eye contact with a ghost.

She wasn’t scary but she sure wasn’t pretty. She was pale with swollen eye lids, peeled lips and bleeding finger tips. She was trapped in her own world, bruising her hands against her concrete walls, wishing somebody would save her. I used to think she was quite pathetic, but when I chose to fall in love with her, was the moment I chose to fall in love with myself.

I was tired and I was through with devaluing myself. I frantically opened my laptop and typed the first words that came to mind, “Kripalu”, the School of Yoga and Health. I had taken all of one class but that didn’t stop me. Yoga was expanding and teachers were in demand. Kripalu was only a few hours north so I signed up. A month later I was standing on the grounds where I took my first few breaths of fresh air.

I knew absolutely nothing of what yoga truly is. They stripped my judgments of bendy, skinny females wearing Lululemon. My god, yoga saved my life. Every day I cried. At first it was out of pain; reliving every moment someone took something from me, every moment I failed, disappointed, hurt and lied. They taught me to be strong in my vulnerability and supplied me with affirmations that helped heal me.

The skin I used to inflict pain upon through cigarettes and razors is the skin I now touch as if it were a lover who just told me they loved me too. I massaged my feet with gratitude for walking so steady on shaky grounds and I kissed my palms with forgiveness because sometimes I did not hold hearts with care. I looked all around and saw the greener side of the grass. I was liberated from my own perception of hell.   My inward journey was nearly complete.

Finally, a miracle; tears of happiness slid down my cheeks as I danced and held others and allowed myself to be held. I was reborn in the hands of loving, empathetic human beings that have felt how exhausted shoulders can get and how heavy hearts can be. My teachers taught me more than warrior pose, tree pose and eagle pose. They taught me how to be a warrior and enter my inner power. They taught me how to be a tree; to grow with sturdiness. They taught me how to be an eagle and fly in freedom.

I’ve felt the pain of my ancestors as I walked their graves touring the German holocaust camps. I’ve felt the love and nurture of those who’ve harvested life as I danced along the Balinese rice patties. I have hugged the Australian wild life and did the HAKA with one of New Zealand’s tribes. I have cried with Peru’s poor and laughed with their children. There’s a lot I’ve seen and a lot I haven’t, a lot I know and a lot I don’t. I’ve learned the final destination of freedom was never my plane ticket. The final destination of freedom was the only place I did not think to go and that was through an inward journey.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Why Did You Come to Japan?

There is a television show in Japan that airs every Monday called Why Did You Come to Japan? A Japanese camera crew stops foreigners arriving at Narita airport in Tokyo and asks them what the purpose is for their visit. My best friend’s dad told me about this show shortly after I arrived for my six-week stay at their house. He joked that I was there, “to sleep and fold laundry!”

That was partially true while I was recovering from the mysterious virus I contracted on the plane ride there. But when I wasn’t sleeping or folding laundry I was on a search. Although I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for at first, I’m certain I found it along the way.

I overcame fear. My journey began when I was forced to maneuver the Japanese train system. Exhausted from traveling for three days from my home in Indiana, my plane was diverted a couple hundred miles south from Tokyo to Osaka airport due to turbulence. There were no more flights so I had to take a train to find my host family in Tokyo. I was terrified at the idea of going alone, but I quickly made friends with the angel God placed in the seat beside me on the plane. We plotted, prayed, sweated, laughed and cried through the ordeal but we bravely made it to our destination together.

I taught. I packed a children’s devotional in my suitcase and read an English lesson with my friend’s nine-year-old son every morning. Not only did he get to practice his English skills, he also learned about Jesus. I learned many Japanese words in the process.

I explored. I had my own bicycle and ventured out almost daily, some days riding ten miles or more. I visited shopping centers, beautiful shrines, Starbucks and my favorite Italian restaurant. Since I had been forced to overcome my fear of working the train system upon arrival in Japan, I rode one alone to Harajuku in Tokyo from my friend’s house in Inage-Ku and visited the famous Meiji Jingu Shrine. There I found confidence, gratitude and peace.

I made new friends. I connected with the family who lived across the street from my host family. They took me on several outings including gorgeous flower gardens and a gigantic mall. One evening they invited me to their backyard BBQ. The entire family spoke fluent English, which was refreshing. And their three-year old grandson Yuto sang Row Row Row Your Boat to me in the sweetest little voice reminding me of my childhood and that we are all children at heart no matter where we live in the world.

I survived multiple earthquakes. As if the mysterious illness I contracted on my journey there was not enough, after I recovered I had to deal with my bed shaking uncontrollably on at least four occasions. They were low magnitude quakes but that was more earth shaking than I had experienced in my entire life up to that point.

I relaxed. I took hot baths at public Japanese spas and experienced a hot rock bed for the first time. I took naps in the afternoons. I read several books cover to cover. I sat in the park and people watched. I drank a lot of coffee and daydreamed. I learned to breathe again.

I ate. I enjoyed delicious meals prepared at home by my host family and I learned how to prepare many dishes myself. I cooked dinner for my friends on my last night and they actually enjoyed it! I ate homemade miso soup and rice every day and ice cream for dessert. I took myself out to restaurants. Pointing at pictures on the menu works just as well in Japan as it does at Denny’s!

I traveled. I flew to Okinawa for three nights with my friend on a girl’s only trip. We enjoyed hanging out on the beautiful beach, touring a pineapple park and winery, eating a lot of good food, revisiting my Fuguki Tree Road and just enjoying quality time together.

I worshipped. I visited a Christian church on my last full Sunday in Japan where I prayed with a congregation full of Japanese Christians. They spoke a different language than me but together we worshipped the same God. I thanked Him for blessing me so much with the gift of such an amazing adventure in this wondrous country.

I may have slept and folded a lot of laundry but I did manage to do many wonderful things. I overcame fear in the process and I left behind anxiety that I brought to Japan with me. I slept in the top bunk and gazed at the glowing stars on the wall papered ceiling as I drifted off to sleep every night. I became physically active again. I bicycled. I kayaked. I even participated in a tug of war contest. I learned patience and endurance in ways I never experienced before. I learned that people everywhere are the same on the inside. And I thanked God for blessing me so much in life.

To simply answer the question, “Why did you come to Japan?”

I went to Japan to find freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

sky-500x500Hard fought Journeys to a Satisfied Freedom in the Philippines

When I saw the theme of this article writing contest, I remember a quote I have encountered before. The quote says “Learn the rules. Then break some”. It might sound rebellious to some but for me, I think of it as another way of saying you fight for your journeys freedom.

I believe there are different kinds of freedom each and every one of us is looking for. We all wanted to be free, free from the things that we think are holding us back from living the life we desire. We want to move away from what are bothering us, hurting us, our struggles, this is what being free might be for each of us. But where and when do we find our freedom? How do we fight for it? How can we say we feel free?

Speaking for myself, I still find me being stuck from where I am now. I feel like I’m still bounded with all the responsibilities I have for my Family. Still bounded from thinking about the approval of my society on how I should be living my life. But all of these things including self doubt and fear disappear whenever I am travelling alone in an unfamiliar territory.

When I get out there, I always choose to leave the things that are bringing me down. I clear my head from them. Yes, I am trying to run away from them and be free from them even for a while because this is where and when I find my freedom from what I think is a cruel reality.

I used to travel with people I know and used to be closed to me but it made a difference to see how free I can feel when I did a trip alone. During these journeys I learned how to decide everything for myself, which I think is one way of exercising my freedom. I usually make my own itinerary based on the information I get from travel blogs but there are times that I do not follow it and decide to get lost. I feel like I can afford to see the places where some do not go. I am free to explore. I am not bound by any box or circle.

From these travels I learned to be free from judgement and doubts. I started to convince myself to trust people who are very unfamiliar to me, who I just met or encountered at the moment. At these moments I do not have any thoughts to make me run from people I do not know. I invite them to be part of my new circle instead.

The best freedom I get from these experiences is that I am freely me. Everything is me. I am allowed to be myself. I open up myself to new territories, new people and new learning. I do not have to worry about being out of my usual comfort zone. I do not feel any pain. I am releasing my inner bravery and last but not the least I am free to hope without a limit. The hope that will give me strength to face every obstacle and struggles to achieve the life I have always been dreaming. A life where I get to have the freedom to be independent and to be myself whenever, wherever.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Freedom When an Amazing Life Flys Away in the US

It was three summers ago and I had just flown from Kauai to Portland, OR to be with my boyfriend after months of being apart. Everything was finally looking up, after going through hardships during my travels on the islands. I was exactly where I wanted to be.

I remember how exciting it was to feel the cool, crisp NW air and to see Portland for the first time. The city was coming alive, people were buzzing on the streets, cafés were clamoring with business, I had made it.
My boyfriend and I had driven down to his family farm in Dallas, OR, a small town in a valley at the edge of the Coast Range Mountains. The farm is a hundred years old and sits on seventy acres of open land, filled with fruit trees and a rambling river. If anything, my time in Oregon was only getting better.

However, three days into my trip, I received a phone call from my Aunt Lorie whom never calls. A red flag went up as I answered. “Your grandma is in hospice…” My heart sank into my chest as I heard these words. I had spoken to my grandmother occasionally throughout the past year but, it wasn’t enough. She was the woman who raised me from toddler to adult, she was my hero. I should have been more present.

I was feeling all sorts of emotions, but mostly sadness and despair that I wasn’t a car ride away. In fact, I was on the opposite end of the country, at least an eight-hour flight from home. Feeling helpless and confused, I continued my day, beneath a cloud. I was awaiting answers to my prayers. I prayed to my mother, whom passed away when I was two. I sought advice on the situation, if I should continue my trip or fly home. The following morning my prayer was answered in the form of a Robin bird who landed in front of me in between two large oak trees. My mother’s name was Robin. In that moment I felt a sigh of relief that even through difficulty, things can still make sense.

A couple more days had passed with no improvements to my grandmother’s health. Yet, I decided to remain in Oregon. We had made our way to the coast which is my favorite place to be. Throughout the days I had been given small universal signs that everything was going to be okay. I felt a little more at ease.

Throughout my travels I had picked up a used book called, The Invitation. At the end of every chapter the author asks the reader to write short exercises. They are based on looking inwards. Like most books I read, I found that every time I flipped the page, it was more and more relevant to my current situation. This time, the exercise was to write down ‘what I need and what I need from others’. I jotted down the answers in my journal and put it away. The following day would be pivotal.
In the afternoon my boyfriend and I found ourselves in a state park situated on the central coast. We climbed a sand dune to check the surf. It was small but looked worthwhile, so we grabbed our boards and ran to the water. It was a beautiful, sunny day. No one was around. We had this place to ourselves. I caught some really fun little peeling waves. This was my perfect moment.

When I got out of my wetsuit and changed into dry clothes, I grabbed my journal and climbed up a sand dune that overlooked the vast, glistening Pacific. I was in my peaceful place. Because I hadn’t had time the previous day to finish my journal entry, I did so on the dune. When I finished writing I sent my needs and needs of others into the universe. “I need Bubee to know that my brothers and I will be okay without her.” “I need Bubee to know that she is free to leave her body and to find her freedom.” I felt so relieved and uplifted from partaking in this exercise.

When I got back to the car I checked my phone; a missed call from my aunt. Before I listened to the message, I knew what I’d hear. And when I officially heard the words, tears fell from my eyes, but they were mostly tears of joy. I never thought I’d feel that way about my grandmothers passing. But, I couldn’t deny the sequence of events that occurred. I knew deep in my heart that someone was watching over us. She had passed when I was doing what I love most; surfing and traveling. And in that realization I too found my freedom.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Interesting Strangers in transit through the USA

I used to dread traveling alone. I mean lets’ face it, sitting alone at an airport waiting for a flight, exhausted, trying to avoid talking to strangers you simply do not have the energy to communicate with is no one’s favorite pastime. At least not mine. I used to find it awkward, like all the other passengers were staring at me, judging me because I did not have a group of friends or family around me. Sometimes I was judging myself too, wondering what on earth was I doing, spending my time at yet another airport in the middle of nowhere, going to a city I had never been to before, only to wander around all by myself, since clearly I did not know anyone there. My family and friends, whom I gladly would have welcomed with me on my adventures but who unfortunately were not very keen on traveling with me, kept asking why I was going where I was going, with who, and every time I replied “alone”, they looked at me like I had gone nuts. Why would you travel somewhere you’ve never been to and know nothing about, completely alone, for no apparent reason? Yes, there were times when I myself questioned my sanity.

But there is a flipside to wandering around in a strange city all by yourself. It’s refreshing. Fascinating. Freeing. Empowering even. Watching the waves on the beach of Wilmington, admiring wonderful art and beautiful old buildings in Boston or sipping morning coffee at Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Thinking back, I don’t remember being lonely. I don’t remember feeling awkward or out of place. No, thinking back just makes me smile. What I remember is the warm wind and the salty smell of the ocean; the music, and the laughter; the smell of the coffee, the orchestra playing and how much I loved that little pink house with a porch full of colorful flowers. The interesting conversation with that silly old grandpa at the diner, or that kind stranger letting me crash on his couch when things went wrong in El Paso and I had nowhere to spend the night. I remember that time I randomly stumbled into a dive bar to see a band somewhere in Wisconsin, and ended up spending the next week hanging out with them, selling merchandise at a festival and sipping margaritas by the pool, having the time of my life. I remember all those fascinating, devastating and heart-warming life stories of strangers I met in passing, and all those moments I would not change for the world. And most of all I remember feeling stronger, more confident. I remember feeling free. All of a sudden none of those expectations, none of those horrifying tiny boxes people around me have always tried to fit me in did not matter anymore. On that plane or that strange city, surrounded by strangers, I was finally able to just be me. To be free.

The biggest realization traveling alone has given me, is that I can do this. I will get through and I will survive, whatever it is life throws at me. I will never be what other people expect me to be, so I might as well just follow my heart and do what I feel is right. The world is a magnificent, interesting and beautiful place, and I intend to see as much of it as I possibly can. Even if it means I’m seeing it alone.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Just Chasing a Photograph in the USA

I used to be a jet-setting executive who had the world at her feet. Nowadays, I travel because my three daughters live in different cities around the world: Seattle (next, San Francisco), Calgary, and Manila (London before, Melbourne next). Recently, my career-oriented middle daughter Claudine needed help. For the fifth time after I retired, I flew to Canada to take care of three young ones.

“We can go to Yoho and Kootenay in B.C., our chance to complete the quad parks named the World Heritage Site of the Canadian Rockies,” I convinced my husband, Bill. On the third weekend, I squeezed in a visit to the new Glacier Skywalk on the Columbia Icefields between Banff and Jasper, the two in Alberta we had visited earlier.

The only downside was driving the same section of the Trans-Canada Highway six more times. Sure enough, on the road to Yoho, I dozed off. Bill missed my chatter, nudging me, “Hey, sleepyhead, I bought you some Cheetos!” In a jiffy, the bag of my favorite cheesy crunchies was gone. I should have been upset he spoiled my beauty nap. Instead, I thanked him.

Between mouthfuls, I caught a glimpse of a scene that would haunt me. A lone red car seemed to rise on the road, driving straight into an enormous glacier-draped mountain. It vanished in a second. “I want that photograph!” whispered my heart. Staying glued to the windshield, soon a second chance came. Alas, the car was black, and the road was flat.

Photos of lovely sights around Yoho did not get my mind off that scene: Marble Canyon, Painted Pots, Sinclair Canyon, and Radium’s Hot Springs and bighorn sheep around town. The following Saturday, I was back with a vengeance. It didn’t take long and another such scene appeared. The mountain was even more majestic. But the car, being white, disappeared into the mist. Again, there was no road rise. I cried, “Can we just stage something?” Bill had one word, “Patience!”

Other photo-ops were on the road. An enormous yellow truck blazoned against the grays. White clouds cavorted with ice-lined pointed peaks. A multi-colored train ruffled through the Rockies’ skirts. Cute, curvy twin bridges punctuated the highway humdrum. Once in a while, a red-roofed cabin enlivened the greens. Around Kootenay, there was more: the Spiral Train, Emerald Lake, Natural Bridge, and the towns of Field and Golden. Still, I wanted that photo.

On the third weekend, the weather was itself, taking a sudden nasty turn. We proceeded and stayed at Banff for the night, hoping it would clear the next day. It didn’t. I have been through Philippine storms, but snow takes me right inside a freezer. But I had to go. It was my last chance.

I started feeling hopeless, but a smile returned to my face when, at more than 6,000 feet high, frosty evergreen began to grace both sides of the road. I asked Bill to stop and stepped out. Wet fluffy things instantly brushed against my face. I “smelled” chestnuts roasting nearby. From inside the car, Bill took my photo of Christmas in June! Still, I longed for another photo.

At the Skywalk, it wasn’t a panorama of glistening glaciers but gray and gloom that greeted us. Making the best of a bad situation, I noticed that my outfit had come together: the red beanie I just bought at the Gift Shop and the red gloves, red scarf and black winter jacket Claudine lent me. Bill took off his gloves to freely fiddle with the Nikon and the slippery platform turned into MY catwalk. “Hurry up! My fingers are already frozen!” interrupted my trance. But by then, I had precious photos of a glamorous fashion model at 67. Still, it was THAT scene I wanted.

On the way home, I was nervous. Bill’s words rang loud in my ears, “It’s now or never.” And, just like that, it came. The car wasn’t red and low-lying clouds partly hid the mountain. But the road had a slight rise, creating the magical effect I saw the first time. All the way home, a contest of who can give the best caption for the photo produced: “Into the Clouds”, “Into the Unknown”, and “Beyond the Ordinary.”

The grandkids hugged me tight as Claudine asked, “Is photography a new career?” I explained that the job I love most is that of a traveling Grandnanny. It doesn’t matter how many times I go back to a place. It’s the people that count. It doesn’t matter if I drive the same old familiar highway. Something else will catch my fancy. I am free to be with whomever I want, drive to wherever I please, and listen to whatever my heart whispers, even if it’s just chasing a photograph.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

Free-falling to Freedom in Brazil

2010 was not my year; free-falling since 2009 from successful Customer Service Manager, rising rapidly through the ranks to redundant job seeker, an anonymous face caught up in the tsunami of unemployment as Australia was hit by the Global Economic Crisis. At the same time I went from being married, in love and planning a much dreamed of family, to separated and fighting in vein to save my marriage as my husband set up a cozy new life with his secret lover. Spiralling further and further downwards towards rock bottom, alone, jobless, heartbroken and without spousal support, I finally crash landed; in bankruptcy.

Well, the good thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only way is up!
I had a dream; to salvage the last shred of my life plan, stop the free-falling and move to Brazil!

Sure it would not be as a family unit and I would no longer be cocooned in the secure embrace of the upper middle class lifestyle my in-laws had offered, but the challenge gave me renewed purpose and hope. Still longing for a baby, I discovered that even singles can be eligible to adopt in Brazil, this became my beacon of hope, the driving force to follow my dreams and never give up, no matter what challenges lay ahead.

Simply affording the airfare seemed impossible, a pipe dream, but where there is a will there is a way and by selling almost all my worldly goods on eBay I did it. With enough spare funds to survive on a shoestring for around 12 weeks, it was make or break to find a job in that time.

With a mix of excitement and fear, armed only with a basic knowledge of Portuguese, a passion for Brazilian music and a few Capoeira moves up my sleeve, I flew off into the unknown.

My heart pulled me towards the state of Bahia, and after three bus trips totalling about 35 hours, I made it to Salvador early on a January morning in 2011.  I found a room in the heart of historic, sometimes dangerous and above all picturesque, Pelourinho for around USD$13 a night and there I began to live my dream.

My life story was a tapestry of hopes and dreams interwoven thread by thread with heartache and loss; thankfully I have a strong, independent core which worked like a flint to the sparks of freedom and adventure that came as each new stitch was sewn, thus fuelling the fire to survive here that burns deep inside me to this day.

I trod along the ancient cobbled streets, moving to the beat of drums, drinking in the sight of beautiful coloured buildings, and visiting the statue of Zumbi dos Palmares (an important figure in Capoeira) to sing to him and ask for guidance.

New found freedom combined with faith in my decision felled any remaining fear, my soul felt like it had come home. Against the odds I found a job with only days to go before my funds ran out, that dogged determination had paid it’s dividends. Sure, I was as poor as a church mouse, earning minimum wage of around USD$300 a month, but I was on my way!

From there the path has not been paved with gold, I have followed the paupers trail strewn with rocks, stumbled many times, scraped my knees and lived on the proverbial smell of an oily rag, sometimes in areas not too many steps above the poverty line but I have continued on my journey; a relentless dream catcher.

The experiences have been worth the struggles; I have seen sights both beautiful and historic that I could never have imagined, undertaken voluntary work with some amazing musicians which lead me to promote local Brazilian music to the world, something that became my soul food in this new life, and to top things off I have met so many diverse and wonderful people.

Living without mod cons; cold water showers, no washing machine, no oven, no fridge, no car, no TV, sometimes even no bed, brings sharply into focus what truly matters in life and those material items don’t even make the list! I have often had next to nothing in Brazil, but my life has been richer. Richer in experiences, richer in culture, richer in friendships.

My advice to those reading is, if you are struggling there is hope! Fears can be conquered, lows turned into highs and if you feel like running away, then sprint towards your dreams. Freedom is through that door you see just ahead, you hold the key so put it in the lock and walk through to the life that you dream of for yourself! As for me, I’m now applying to be a citizen of my new homeland; watch this space.

NB: Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art.

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An Amazing Underwater paradise in Mexico

Grains of sand as soft and fine as powdery snow covered my toes as I tried to name all of the different shades of neon blue in the water. Turquoise, Aquamarine, Slate, Navy, Cerulean, Azure, Cornflower, Tiffany Blue. Sails on the yachts in front of me fluttered in the light sea breeze and the smell of coconut oil wafted by. Juice dripped down my fingers as I took a bite of the fresh cut pineapple. I was on the island paradise of Isla Mujeres in the Mexican Caribbean and I was in tears.

Down by the Belize border I burst into tears in Mahahual, swinging on a hammock suspended above the water. The sea was so clear that I could see the trumpet fish zig-zagging below me and even distinguish the individual grains in the rippled sand below. After that I cried at Santa Fe beach in Tulum, tears sliding down my face and into the fresh coconut I was drinking with a straw as I gazed up at the Mayan ruins on the cliff above.

A newly certified Dive Instructor, I’d been planning this move to the tropics for two years. I’d quit my job, gotten rid of my furniture, told my friends goodbye and made no promises to return. Now here I was in tropical paradise wondering if I could ask my Dad to stay in his spare room for a few months while I sorted my life out. Because my move to paradise was not going as planned.

The tourists around me were having a great time. They were on holiday, having adventures. I would come back to the hostel exhausted from a day walking in the blistering heat, hunting for a job and an apartment. Every day the tourists went swimming with whale sharks. Every day I followed false leads and faced new rejections.

Everything on the streets seemed strange. A man on a tricycle circled town with a loudspeaker blaring “…windows, refrigerators, doors, all you need, tables, chimneys, bathtubs, call me,” followed by a phone number. An eight year old boy leaned out of a truck window to wolf whistle at me. A woman tried to sell me a hand puppet shaped like a chicken.

“What is this place?” I called my Dad for advice. “I’m so tired, I don’t know if I can do this!”

“I have no doubt that you can make a life for yourself anywhere in the world,” my Dad said. “You’ve done it before.”

“I know I can make it here,” I said. “But I don’t know if I want to!”

“Give it another week.”

The next week I got a call from a dive shop offering me an instructor position. “It’s only confirmed for two months,” my new boss said, “but if it works out then you can stay through high season. The catch is that you’ll need to house-sit the apartment above the dive shop until we get the hurricane shutters installed. I hope that we can work this out.”

Needless to say, I took the job and the beachfront apartment. As soon as I was in the ocean I was in charge again; teaching people to breathe underwater, calming their fears about the equipment and the environment, introducing them to the reef ecosystem. I love taking people underwater for the first time, to see them experience the thrill of flying above the corals or encounter a creature that they didn’t even know existed. To see them face to face with a giant turtle, inside a tornado school of giant trevally, or hovering in place while manta rays do flips around them.

Life on land is still confusing, but I’m not crying anymore. I’m settling in to my new town and I’m enjoying the slow pace of life in the tropics. But underwater I have my freedom. The environment is so foreign that you can’t help bu