Excited to Reach the Red Line

October 25th, 2016

Travel Writing AwardUnited States

A safe itinerary to exciting success in Nigeria
He possessed an intrepid physique, radiant cheeks, hair still remain dark, and a gritty skin. He wore a hat strolling around the backyard, and a tattered blue army overcoat when it was cold, and sometimes top-boots. He walks round the house and an earsplitting yell was heard from the backyard, before he could be rushed to the hospital, he gave up the ghost.

What a pity! There is no one death cannot eliminate as death claim the life of my father after being battled by the debilitating disease of cancer.
One morning after the corpse was interred; the family members sideline my mother from other important discussion concerning the properties of the deceased. She stood upon her gallery with arms akimbo, shedding tears, so unexpected and bewildering was the death of her husband. The next decision of the family member was that the children of the deceased would be taken care of by the family members but my mother disagreed.

Few days to that time, I was kidnapped by unknown abductors alongside my mother and my younger ones into the narrow strip of shade on the porch of the long, low house; the hot sunlight was beating in on the brown old boards as an unpleasant odour filled the atmosphere, and a terrific sound was coming across the non-flowering cotton-field. The kidnappers were sent by the family member who wanted to confiscate the hard earned properties of the deceased from his immediate family.

Few minute to our execution by the kidnappers, a serene was heard within that abode alarmed by the Nigeria Police who were on duty when they notice some suspicious movement and sound in that environment. They thwarted the kidnappers from achieving their goal as they all fled away from being arrested and we were all unfettered from their captivity.

After two days of staying at the police station for security reasons, an officer lent my mother a piece of advice and that leads to our itinerary to Lagos state so that we can gain the freedom from our nemesis.

In the struggle of being totally independence, my mother seeks for employment opportunity for various months under the administration of the rickety Nigeria government before she later started with a petty trade. My mother also clamour that I should be independent by now as she inculcated that I must learn a vocation and must also provide and feed myself. This was initially difficult for me and I had persistent fight with her. I begin to hate her the more, my emotion begins to suffer depression, and my life now lacks the nutrient of joy and happiness. Drastically, I am becoming more irrelevant to the community as I use obsolete phone, I have accrued debt and I can’t avoid eating three meals a day because I have fallen into the abysmal of excruciating pestilence of poverty.

At a conference which I reluctantly attended transformed my life, I was inspired to take responsibility. Consequently, I searched for job in consensus to the inspiring testimonies heard at the conference that “before you can become successful, you would need to move out of your environment”. This emanates how I became a driver as I virtually travel and tour the whole Nigeria and Ghana while doing a job of a driver.

After about 15hours on road from Nigeria due to various barricades by the security personnel and also the vehicle engine problem which hiatus our journey. The red sunset and the blue-gray twilight had together flung a purple mist across the road that hid it from our view. We could no longer hear the wheezing and creaking of wheels but could still faintly hear the shrill, glad voices of the children in the passing vehicles. Finally, we reach Ghana and I got employed by the benevolent business woman called Miss Calister to whom I return the wallet she forgot in my bus some weeks ago.
I seated myself beside the table as I glance through the room, into which the evening shadows were creeping and deepening around my solitary figure, happy that I bounced back to a life of debt free, joy and happiness and I regain my freedom from the bumpy hands of poverty and sadness. This is the chronicle of my itinerary to success.

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Gulin china5 Places worth a visit in Guilin, China

Anyone who’s ever read a Chinese textbook can attest that these textbooks glorify Guilin. Not only that, politicians also sing praises to this city’s natural endowments and often entertain visiting dignitaries in this resort town. During my last visit to Guilin, I was adamant to find out in less than a week if Guilin and its surrounding areas do indeed live up to its reputation. Here are the top five sights I saw and love to reminisce about.

1. Reed flute cave

I spent a good hour here oohing and ahhing at the sight of the abundant stalactites and rock formations, which were illuminated by multi-colored lighting. This lighting enhanced the otherworldly atmosphere contained therein. It was like stumbling into a fairy’s den, another world you’ll normally associate with a fictional novel. The highlight was the laser light musical show at the end of the cave, which gave me chills. With the help of the guide, I could easily visualize animals, cities, and plants among the rock formations.

2. Fubo hill

This attraction made me withstand an intense cardio exercise as I climbed the steps leading up to the lookout point on top that showed a bird’s eye view of the city. You could see panoramic views of the Li River and the developing city’s natural beauty from high above.

3. Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces

Hours away from Guilin, I found myself gaping at the brilliant spectacle of the verdant green man-made terraces carved as far as the eye could see. I could tell from the wide expanse of the terraces that this is the culmination of the Zhuang people’s strenuous efforts and ingeniousness. I rode a cable car to get to the top where I could see just how high and extensive the work done must have been to transform the vast region into layer upon layer of rice terraces. It was a picturesque sight to behold and I could imagine how its beauty changes into golden hues for autumn, crisp white in winter and bright green for summer to keep onlookers wanting to come back again.

4. The Long Hair Village

The moment I stumbled upon the Long Hair Village, the Guinness world book record holder for the “world’s longest hair village”, I was intrigued. I was bewildered that such a place even exists! I discovered with my own eyes that the village is beautiful with its rustic charm and truly, its residents does indeed live up to their village name. The Yao ethnic women who reside there were the embodiment of brunette Rapunzels. They dress in unique and colorful traditional clothing and performed by singing and dancing. It was amusing to watch as they invited male guests to participate in a mock wedding ceremony as done in their village. You may ask: how do they keep their hair jet-black even when they’re old and wrinkled? They do so by washing their hair with fermented rice water! Nature truly works wonders.

5. Li River cruise

As featured on the 20 yuan note, you can see the lush landscape looking reminiscent of Ha Long Bay at every twist and turn on this relaxing cruise. I saw fishermen, some with tourists, on their bamboo rafts sailing through the calm water. After a few hours, the cruise stops at Yangshuo, a small town where you can easily find food or bargain with small shops selling pearl, jade, Chinese paintings and more.

After being left breathless by these five stand-out sights, I was rest assured that Guilin and its surrounding areas are indeed worth a visit and are definitely worthy of its accolades.

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

colombiaLiving Life to its fullest in England

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted a poem by Pablo Neruda entitled “You start dying slowly.” It resonated with me, and expressed the way that I was feeling 3 years ago, before my life took a detour from its original trajectory. There are not many things in this world that I am afraid of, but dying without fully experiencing life is one of my greatest fears.

“You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking every day on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine.”

Freedom and fulfillment of dreams are central to the North American ideal, but many of us don’t feel free. Instead, we feel enslaved to our jobs and our lifestyles like we are just part of the rat race, mechanically putting one foot in front of the other. It wasn’t long ago that I felt trapped in my life, like I was living in auto-pilot, moving through each day without anything special and feeling unsatisfied. I was in my fifth year as a junior high/middle-school science teacher in my hometown, and although I loved my job and my students, I felt stuck. Everyone else seemed to be moving forward, finding love, settling down, and having families. Yet here I was, doing the “same old things”; I was not content to “settle”. But what could I do?

“You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job,
[…] If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream […]
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.”

I have always had a love of traveling, since my first plane rides and car trips across Canada as a toddler to visit family. I was very fortunate to have the experience of doing a semester abroad in university, and it lit the fire to try life in another country. When I finished university, I dreamed of teaching overseas. The more unsatisfied I felt with my life, the more my desire to teach abroad increased. I made the decision to move overseas, and after being denied a leave of absence, I resigned from my position, packed up my life and my house, and moved to England. By moving abroad, I was forcing myself to meet new people, try new things and change my routines. There were many new things to experience and different customs to learn to try to fit into my new surroundings.

” You start dying slowly
If you do not travel,
If you do not listen to the sounds of life
If you do not appreciate your life […]
If you avoid to feel passion.”

I struggled when I first moved, and found that I still wasn’t as happy as I had hoped to be. I was forced to figure out my passions. I always knew that traveling was a passion of mine, but I was very fortunate to meet a group of diverse women who helped me rediscover another passion of mine, dance. One of my favourite things when I am visiting a different region, or country, is to learn about their food and about their culture, in particular, the way that music influences people and their outlooks on life. This was especially evident when I took my next leap to Colombia. One of the most diverse countries in South America, there are so many different cultures all blended into one, and it makes for an amazing and lively blend of music and movement. Nothing can make you happier than some cool Colombian beats!

Since traveling is my passion, I felt the most alive when I was able to get out of London and travel throughout Europe. I tried to figure out a way that I could experience that presence in my day to day life. One advantage of such a large city, is that it made exploring close to home quite easy. There are so many different parks, markets and sites to see, that most weekends, I would make an effort to immerse myself in my environment.

It actually took living in Colombia, in a city that lacked parks, for me to realize how important nature is to feeling free and satisfied with life. For those that may not have the ability to travel far from home, going to the local park, the mountains or the ocean is another great way to free yourselves from the stresses and confines of daily life. What I discovered from moving around the world, is that to feel free, you don’t have to go far. By paying attention to your surroundings, and surrounding yourself with nature, you too can feel free.

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

thailand-scheduleThere Is No Crammed Schedule in Thailand

Erin and I took a giant leap of adventure when we sold all our belongings in the USA and booked a one way ticket to Bangkok, Thailand. No itinerary. No plans. It was time to shake life up and discover more of ourselves. We were all too familiar with the 9-5 grind and were ready for something completely different. It does not take long on the backpacking trail to learn a few things about self and about life.

It is difficult to make and keep travel plans out in this world experiencing pure freedom. Where the wind blows and you follow along with the stranger met last night. A few buckets and a few beers and next thing you know we were on our way from Bangkok to Surat Thani with a brand new friend Dave, who happened to be approaching 60 years old, but knew a thing or two about travel.

We sat on the floor near the KFC in the brightly lit open air train station. Where the locals chipper away with their Thai accents and the smell of all sorts of food fill the air. Quite a strange aroma of fried chicken and Pad Thai, especially for the just arrived tourists we were. After two hours on the very hard train station floor I thought to myself, “I haven’t heard an announcement for our train and it is past departure time.” I walk up to the ticket window with Dave and learn the train was gone. We missed it!

Now that was a hard pill to swallow at that time. Missed the train, “Oh no,” we thought, “what are we going to do now!?” At the ticket counter, the lady next to me says, “That’s traveling. Just let it go. You’ll get there fine.” My worrying mind was wound so tight from the life I left behind that I could not comprehend the ease with which she said let it go. No other choice but to buy another ticket and sit next to the ladies chomping on their bags of rice and hang out longer.

We caught the next train and arrived at our destination just fine. The first step in unwinding that anxious little brain was to acknowledge that while on travel things do not always go as planned. Take a deep breath and carry on.

Dave learned that lesson as well when he stepped in the ocean off balance and messed up his knee in Koh Samui three days later. It ended his trip completely and he had to fly back to San Francisco. Bummer to lose Dave but another sign that you must go with flow, appreciate the opportunity at hand, and do not take for granted the wonder of the wide open world.

Erin and I ended up on the island of Koh Phangan a few days after losing Dave and we arrived the same day as the Half Moon jungle party. Let’s see what this party island is all about!

A buzz of energy was in the air as we arrived to the hostel. “Free shots!” proclaimed the staff. Body paint, alcohol, and good times got us started. We caught a tuk-tuk and hung on tight up the winding jungle road to our destination. Twelve of us on one ride had me hanging teetering on the side as the driver moved seamlessly through town and up toward a night to remember.

Dropped off in the jungle I begin to see the bright lights and hear the sound of the electronic music. Now here is a scene we were familiar with back home. Witnessing the grand stage production with a DJ booth and the amazing colors streaming out from the LED visual panel above the booth we found our place for the evening. Wandering around near the brightly lit tree in the middle of the dance floor it was possible to sit, reflect on the journey thus far, and smile from within. This is why we came across the world, to find our true freedom away from the hustle and grind back home and meet all these amazing souls from many different walks of life. Take the journey in stride and realize that there is no schedule here, only great memories to be made and life to be lived.

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

kenyaCertain Freedom On The Edge in Kenya

I had travelled very little in life, almost all of it within the geographical borders of New York State and most of that between the rounded mountains of the Catskills, the tumble of the Adirondacks, and the rocky Eastern shores of Lake Ontario. The world is a comfortable, dependable, predictable place when it amounts to roughly 150 miles by 150 miles. It also becomes routine, dull, and even a little oppressive. Still and all, it was MY world and what I knew.

You might think that such a small, intimate world would be accustomed to many of those born and raised there taking their leave, escaping into the wider world all around. To be sure, that occurred, enough to not be unusual, but not enough to be common. So, when the opportunity to leave New York and live in Kenya presented itself, pursuing that opportunity became a rich source of unsolicited advice, unsought opinion, and even outright discouragement.

I had wanted to explore the wider world beyond Upstate New York for some time, but did not have a good idea of how to do so. No one in my family or group of friends had travelled much, if at all. One uncle who had travelled extensively had done so by making a career with US Air Force. Joining “the Service” did not appeal to me, much to my uncle’s and father’s dismay. But, in a tangential twist of reasoning, the concept of esprit de corps Dad continually espoused bloomed into the idea of serving in the US Peace Corps.

You can imagine the usual paperwork, interviews, and bureaucratic back-and-forth that took place over the course of six months. Eventually, I was assigned to be a high school teacher in Western Kenya; specifically, the tiny hamlet of Kipsoen clinging 1,000 meters atop the escarpment, above the floor of the Great Rift Valley. The edge of the world.

Everything I had been sure – and assured – of: the world I knew and the person I was certain of, quickly melted away under the equatorial sun of the African plains.

The landscape: Isak Dinesen describes it as, “the views were immensely wide — everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility.” (Out of Africa, 1937). The culture and the people: time and interactions had an easy, open, welcoming quality. Telling time was upended: What was 7:00AM on a clock in New York, was read as “sah moja” (the first hour, or 1:00AM) in KiSwahili, the national language of Kenya. The attitude toward Life: “Hakuna Matata” (there are no problems), as Pumbaa and Timon sang in Disney’s The Lion King, is an actual truth in traditional Kenyan thinking. In short, travelling halfway around the world took me worlds away from what I’d learned and from where I’d come.

Going all that distance and in the melting away, the removal, of all the fixtures and accoutrements of growing up in my old world, there was space for new outlooks, attitudes, and growth. It wasn’t a smooth, quick, easy, nor always a conscious process. Among some of the oldest peoples on the planet, on the oldest continent, I found a new start.

That is where I found my freedom.

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

munichWalking on the Winter Streets in Munich, Germany

Bavaria in the winter is a different proposition from Bavaria in the summer. Perhaps if one skies, a winter in Bavaria might seem like heaven with mountain slopes. I emphatically don’t ski. Nor do I like beer. Thus Munich would seem like an odd choice.

I stayed in Munich for three months with my aunt. Four years ago she moved here for work, and found a comfortable apartment with an extra bedroom. Every member of my extended family has, at least once, come here to stay with her and take short trips elsewhere in Europe once the jet lag has worn off. I’m the last one to make the journey.

As for myself, this is not particularly a vacation. More like a figure-out-what-the-hell-I’m-doing-with-my-life sabbatical of frustration from what I’m used to in Colorado. Also a somewhat desperate bid to step up my photography with inspiration from new places.

It’s early on a Sunday, and despite the temperatures and the fact that the winter sun hasn’t managed to filter much through a blanket of cloud cover, we layer up in warm gear, pulling on knit hats over our bed-messy hair to go for a walk, camera as ever glued to my side.

It’s cold in Munich on a winter morning, and often the wind makes it colder. The apartment is located on a Fahrradstrasse, meaning “bicycle street.” One has to watch out for the bikes more than the cars. The canal we cross is lined with tall trees that are still incongruously sheathed in thick green ivy leaves. The tops of the trees are bare twigs, but no one seems to have told the ivy that it’s cold.

We crunch our way down narrow sidewalks covered in gravel, the German answer to ice-melt. The apartment buildings each have small yards for the ground-floor flats, and most balconies sport what will be greenery in a few months. Some even have tiny pines or spruce, which are decked out festively with Christmas lights during the holidays. Yet despite their similarities, none are quite the same. All have stucco exteriors, but in a surprising range of pastels. Each has its own architecture, some with decorative paintings or small inset statues.

There’s a bakery for every neighborhood, and an apoteke (pharmacy) on practically every street in Munich. The grocery store is never more than a couple of blocks’ walk. On any weekend morning you’ll find a queue outside the bakery, husbands whose wives sent them out on breakfast duty. It’s a different way of life than I’m used to, but I’ve grown to enjoy it.

It takes less than fifteen minutes of walking from the Fahrradstrasse to get to Nymphenburg Palace. The massive white exterior is impressive, but we pass by the huge staircase entrance and enter the gates that lead to the grounds. There are many paths to choose from, criss-crossing the wooded estate. Bird calls ring out unexpectedly, from the tiny blue tits to blackbirds, crows, and geese. Pillared bridges span the canals that divert water from the river to feed several fountains, still now for the winter.

Few people are out this early, so we have the quiet woods mostly to ourselves. As we crunch along, the church bells begin to toll, right on time.

It strikes me as a uniquely European experience to meander on forested paths, yet still hear perfectly tuned church bells sing out from the street that is in fact not too far away. We stop at one of our favorite trees which exudes an air of quiet wisdom, a huge and gnarled beech with bark like elephant skin, and listening to the church bells there feels as sacred as any experience I can remember having.

My time in Munich turned out to be not what I was expecting. But it was precisely what I needed. It was culture and nature all mixed up together; a new frame of reference and an opportunity to see a new way ahead. I knew that I wouldn’t be the same after this time spent traveling, and that is true. Photography became real for me, far more than a hobby. More importantly, I became bigger in Munich, with a wider world-view and deeper determination to live in a meaningful way.

Photo Credit: Dawn Myscofski

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Backpack & Bushes In Munich: The Freedom In Wandering

There I was, wandering the suburban streets of Munich with a poor sense of direction and the absence of mobile technology. That afternoon, I had stepped off of an airplane that had departed from the island of Majorca in the south of Spain. Majorca was warm, tropical, and evoked the inner island-ista in me and, therefore, I was sporting my thinnest tank top and beachy footwear. Although the time of year was early August, the weather in Münich resembled the brisk end of autumn.

Needless to say, I was cold, lost, and the sun was setting. I was on the hunt for the flat belonging to my Couchsurfing hosts, without a way of contacting them. All of the surrounding buildings were residential and very quiet. Any passerby was fair game when it came to directional questions, but I only crossed paths with two in my many hours of searching. The first person was Turkish and I, unfortunately, did not speak his language. I showed him my hand-written address and he pointed onward down the street; I kept walking.

This is the point where I should have broken down and cried. There was not one car or taxi to flag and deliver me to my destination. I was far from the nearest train station and low on cash. Instead of crying, however, I stayed calm. I had my backpack; everything I needed was on my person so spending a night in the bushes… was totally doable!

In that backpack I had multiple layers of clothing, a change of shoes, and probably something edible. My backpack was there for me. My backpack gave me the freedom to make a mistake like this and helped me recognize my privilege in possessing the items necessary for basic comforts. This realization showed me that once basic needs are met, less is more in travel.

The freer we want to become, the more we must leave behind. Before I could be a self-titled traveler, I had to look this realization square in the eyes because leaving behind the things that maintain comfort in order to travel is uncomfortable. I did not like getting dirty and staying dirty. I wanted my full size shampoo bottle. I needed silence and complete darkness in order to sleep through the night.

For me, it was a little grey backpack that challenged me to decide what was to be left behind in order to see what true freedom feels like. If it was travel that I wanted, I had to bridge the void between lux and living. I had to become okay with getting dirty, losing sleep, being uncomfortable for the sake of seeing the world with authenticity. When living life as a traveler, what is essential is what we choose to travel with us. The size of my backpack has taught me to choose wisely and intuitively.

This very backpack encourages me to not only open the door of my closet to get it out but doors all over the world. It has been there to support me through the wonderful and harried times of my adventures. My backpack was there for me when I hunted for my hostel on the winding streets of Barcelona. She has sat beside me and heard countless tales from strangers who have transformed into friends. And she has been there for the myriad of travel-mishaps that have left me questioning if I will be sleeping in the bushes for the evening.

The end of my Munich mishap goes like this: Lost in a dark courtyard, I spotted a man climbing his porch steps about to unlock his front door. Across the green space, I shouted for help as politely and nonthreatening as possible. He stopped and turned around seemingly jolly and ready to help. Thank God! I showed him the address and, in broken German-English, he described that I was on the side of the street with even-numbered addresses and I needed to be in the courtyard across the street with odd-numbered addresses. I was saved from a foliage-filled slumber!

Because everything I needed was on my back, a night in the shrubs was not only a possibility but also something I was prepared to experience. Of course, I know that I am more than my backpack and, even without it, I would have survived, but I have learned that living with less is actually living with enough. By setting off on an adventure with minimal essentials, I have been allowed to become myself again. Even though I found the flat in Munich that night, my backpack has given me the freedom and contentment in knowing that there really is not much I need to pack to have a proper adventure.

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

Democracy, Freedom and Independence in Bratislava, Slovakia.

It is a holiday commemorating the 1945 uprising against Nazi occupation today. Devinska Nova Ves (DNV) is a large village about 16 km north of Bratislava. Its wide main street is lined with old houses, there is an enormous Volkswagen factory and a few tower blocks – nothing special really. But back in 2012 it came to the attention of the world’s press, even Reuters. It was all about a bridge.

DNV is on the Morava River- the border between Slovakia and Austria. In Cold War times this was a heavily militarized zone of barbed-wire fences and constant patrols by border guards. Many people died trying to run through the wire here. Inside the one km exclusion zone you could have been shot on sight. If they had tried swimming they would have had to deal with serious currents on both the Danube and Morava rivers. In 2012 a bridge was completed over the river at DNV to join the formerly impenetrable frontier. The Bratislava Regional Assembly set up a Facebook vote to name this historically significant link between the old communist block and Western Europe. The Regional Governor, Pavol Freso, affirmed that they would probably go with the people’s wishes. That is until the “Chuck Norris Bridge” polled more than 10 times as many votes as the Regional Assembly’s proposal, or indeed any other suggestions. Now Reuters started to take an interest. Chuck Norris was always a source of jokes concerning macho invincibility in Slovakia (Chuck Norris can delete the recycling bin…), but hardly a feasible choice for naming a bridge (no-one walks over Chuck Norris was later mentioned by the Assembly). But you can cross this historic bridge today. The floodplains beneath will be a Site of Special Scientific Interest, teeming with rare flora and fauna.

About two km South of DNV lies the village of Devin, where today there is a festival. If you bus out of Bratislava you may well sit next to a knight, complete with chain mail, sword and helmet on his mobile phone.

Devin Castle, first recorded in 864, lies atop a cliff overlooking the Danube. In the thirteenth century it was the frontier post of the Hungarian Empire. It featured on a coin and a note of the former currency in Cold War times – an important national symbol. Now it lies in ruins (thank Napoleon for that). At the castle are “medieval” tents with costumed people sitting around cooking over fires in iron pots. It has an authentic feel. All the men have long hair and one is undressing to his boxer shorts to put on his chain mail vest, boots, helmet and jacket.

We walk up to the ruins, where my four-year-old daughter, Mollie, is delighted to shout “bottom” down the 55 metre well and enjoy its echo. From up here you can see the Danube curving round to the Morava.

Terraced vineyards sweep down from Dacha’s (small wooden summer villas) on the mountain-top. One huge, elegant residence dominates all of these. I was told that this belongs to the Russian mafia. Down at the river you can throw a stone over into Austria which is why so many tried their luck here. If it wasn’t running through the militarized zone and barbed wire then trying to swim, it was (homemade) hang-gliders from the hilltops. Down by the confluence a serious ceremony is taking place. Over 400 people died between 1945 and 1989 attempting this: nearly one a month for 44 years from one small village on the Austrian border. Each name listed on the sculpture and explained in four languages. It read (verbatim):
“The Iron Curtain used to stand here. It cannot be pulled away. It can only be cracked. Four Hundred people sacrificed their life while fighting for their rights. Human beings, free and unrestricted do not forget that freedom of thinking, acting and dreaming is a value that is not only worth living but also bringing sacrifices.”

Judging by their ages, the attendees here could well have been the brothers or sisters, even parents of those desperado’s who died for freedom and independence. So there you have it: freedom and independence in one rather confusing package. Foul-mouthed four-year-olds, uprisings against Nazi occupation, modern ex-Iron Curtain members of the EEC co-existing with today’s Russian mafia, medieval knights, would-be escapees of communism and Chuck Norris. The Bratislava Regional Assembly, in their infinite wisdom actually rejected the 12,599 votes for the “Chuck Norris Bridge” in favour of the “Freedom Cycling Bridge” (457 votes), which is now its official name. However, thanks to Reuters, it is even today easily findable on Google under its more democratic name. If my daughter were able to understand this, I am absolutely sure that she would say, “But that’s bottom democracy, freedom and independence!”

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

Forging my Inquisitive Name in Egypt

Standing in a shop in Cairo, I spelled out my name for the clerk, both in English and in Arabic. Should it end with an eliph or a taa marbuta? We went back and forth, settling on aliph, the first letter of the alphabet, and I handed over a not insignificant amount of Egyptian pounds.

I was in Egypt for six weeks studying Arabic and Middle Eastern politics, as part of one of my many minors. But really, I was there because the summer before I had stayed home in Massachusetts, working retail. I had watched as friends flooded facebook with photos from all over Egypt. I wanted to learn about the region, but I also wanted to go on an adventure, having conversations and experiences that would never happen back home. My parents had agreed, on the grounds that university staff would accompany us. My boyfriend would be waiting when I got back, in spite of how nervous I had been to even ask that question.

Six weeks seemed like a long time, but once I was abroad, it it didn’t take long for us both to chafe under the situation. He felt like I was always too busy, and was suspicious of the new friends I was making, especially the male ones. I felt like every call was either a fight or a one-sided conversation, keeping me from flash cards, late-night dessert treks, and new friends. I had started spending time with young women who proudly called themselves feminists and stretched my previous definition of the word. I started wondering why I had ever found the necklace he gave me, emblazoned with the word “princess,” to be sweet.

A couple of days after spelling out my name in the shop, a small velvet envelope arrived. I took off the old necklace, something I hadn’t done since he gave it to me, and excitedly placed my new one around my neck. Instead of someone else’s ill-fitting pet name, I was wearing my own. More than that, my Arabic name necklace was an outward sign of my accomplishments: the hundreds of hours learning Arabic, the nerve-wracking solo cab ride, the ever-present street harassment, and the wonder of Naguib Mahfouz’s books. I was working harder academically than I ever had in my life, not to mention constantly learning from everyone I met. This country had indelibly changed me, and it all sat there at my collarbone, in elegant, silver, Arabic script.

Back home, I wore my new necklace proudly. That did not go unnoticed.

There were questions and tears. It seems the symbolism of the two pieces of jewelry wasn’t lost on anyone. It didn’t help that I hid his necklace from myself out of sadness and couldn’t find it again until years later, well after our relationship was dead and buried. But it wouldn’t have mattered; I had changed.

My time in Egypt brought so much to my life: feminism, a love of the Middle East, dear friends, and a knowledge that not only can I do things that seem big and scary, but I thrive on them. I’ll never be certain why we broke up, but I know I couldn’t have become the person I am now while remaining his girlfriend. I needed years to myself, without any guilt or judgment about my travels and personal politics, two of my strongest and most intertwined traits. I needed room to grow, to see where the world would take me if I didn’t need anyone else and no one else needed me. I needed to be a woman of my own making, not someone else’s vision of me, not an asterisked version of myself that was only acceptable with caveats and conditions. I needed to be able to pick up and go, over and over again, and not be seen as disloyal for doing so.

One day, the necklace slipped off at a friend’s backyard barbecue, never to be seen again. I miss it like I miss so much about Egypt, from koshery and nutty actions movies to hijabi fashion and Al Azhar Park. But I take comfort in the fact that I don’t need the necklace like I once did. By the time I lost the necklace, it had served its purpose. I was out of that relationship and had travelled to many countries, but most importantly, I had been brave enough to choose myself, and the life I wanted to lead. I knew my choices were not dalliances but a path. I had chosen a life driven by adventure and ideals, one where my brain and my bravado are my most prized possessions. Someday, there may be another man who wants to rename me and keep me close by his side. I’d like to see him try.

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A safe itinerary to exciting success in Nigeria
He possessed an intrepid physique, radiant cheeks, hair still remain dark, and a gritty skin. He wore a hat strolling around the backyard, and a tattered blue army overcoat when it was cold, and sometimes top-boots. He walks round the house and an earsplitting yell was heard from the backyard, before he could be rushed to the hospital, he gave up the ghost.

What a pity! There is no one death cannot eliminate as death claim the life of my father after being battled by the debilitating disease of cancer.
One morning after the corpse was interred; the family members sideline my mother from other important discussion concerning the properties of the deceased. She stood upon her gallery with arms akimbo, shedding tears, so unexpected and bewildering was the death of her husband. The next decision of the family member was that the children of the deceased would be taken care of by the family members but my mother disagreed.

Few days to that time, I was kidnapped by unknown abductors alongside my mother and my younger ones into the narrow strip of shade on the porch of the long, low house; the hot sunlight was beating in on the brown old boards as an unpleasant odour filled the atmosphere, and a terrific sound was coming across the non-flowering cotton-field. The kidnappers were sent by the family member who wanted to confiscate the hard earned properties of the deceased from his immediate family.

Few minute to our execution by the kidnappers, a serene was heard within that abode alarmed by the Nigeria Police who were on duty when they notice some suspicious movement and sound in that environment. They thwarted the kidnappers from achieving their goal as they all fled away from being arrested and we were all unfettered from their captivity.

After two days of staying at the police station for security reasons, an officer lent my mother a piece of advice and that leads to our itinerary to Lagos state so that we can gain the freedom from our nemesis.

In the struggle of being totally independence, my mother seeks for employment opportunity for various months under the administration of the rickety Nigeria government before she later started with a petty trade. My mother also clamour that I should be independent by now as she inculcated that I must learn a vocation and must also provide and feed myself. This was initially difficult for me and I had persistent fight with her. I begin to hate her the more, my emotion begins to suffer depression, and my life now lacks the nutrient of joy and happiness. Drastically, I am becoming more irrelevant to the community as I use obsolete phone, I have accrued debt and I can’t avoid eating three meals a day because I have fallen into the abysmal of excruciating pestilence of poverty.

At a conference which I reluctantly attended transformed my life, I was inspired to take responsibility. Consequently, I searched for job in consensus to the inspiring testimonies heard at the conference that “before you can become successful, you would need to move out of your environment”. This emanates how I became a driver as I virtually travel and tour the whole Nigeria and Ghana while doing a job of a driver.

After about 15hours on road from Nigeria due to various barricades by the security personnel and also the vehicle engine problem which hiatus our journey. The red sunset and the blue-gray twilight had together flung a purple mist across the road that hid it from our view. We could no longer hear the wheezing and creaking of wheels but could still faintly hear the shrill, glad voices of the children in the passing vehicles. Finally, we reach Ghana and I got employed by the benevolent business woman called Miss Calister to whom I return the wallet she forgot in my bus some weeks ago.
I seated myself beside the table as I glance through the room, into which the evening shadows were creeping and deepening around my solitary figure, happy that I bounced back to a life of debt free, joy and happiness and I regain my freedom from the bumpy hands of poverty and sadness. This is the chronicle of my itinerary to success.

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Gulin china5 Places worth a visit in Guilin, China

Anyone who’s ever read a Chinese textbook can attest that these textbooks glorify Guilin. Not only that, politicians also sing praises to this city’s natural endowments and often entertain visiting dignitaries in this resort town. During my last visit to Guilin, I was adamant to find out in less than a week if Guilin and its surrounding areas do indeed live up to its reputation. Here are the top five sights I saw and love to reminisce about.

1. Reed flute cave

I spent a good hour here oohing and ahhing at the sight of the abundant stalactites and rock formations, which were illuminated by multi-colored lighting. This lighting enhanced the otherworldly atmosphere contained therein. It was like stumbling into a fairy’s den, another world you’ll normally associate with a fictional novel. The highlight was the laser light musical show at the end of the cave, which gave me chills. With the help of the guide, I could easily visualize animals, cities, and plants among the rock formations.

2. Fubo hill

This attraction made me withstand an intense cardio exercise as I climbed the steps leading up to the lookout point on top that showed a bird’s eye view of the city. You could see panoramic views of the Li River and the developing city’s natural beauty from high above.

3. Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces

Hours away from Guilin, I found myself gaping at the brilliant spectacle of the verdant green man-made terraces carved as far as the eye could see. I could tell from the wide expanse of the terraces that this is the culmination of the Zhuang people’s strenuous efforts and ingeniousness. I rode a cable car to get to the top where I could see just how high and extensive the work done must have been to transform the vast region into layer upon layer of rice terraces. It was a picturesque sight to behold and I could imagine how its beauty changes into golden hues for autumn, crisp white in winter and bright green for summer to keep onlookers wanting to come back again.

4. The Long Hair Village

The moment I stumbled upon the Long Hair Village, the Guinness world book record holder for the “world’s longest hair village”, I was intrigued. I was bewildered that such a place even exists! I discovered with my own eyes that the village is beautiful with its rustic charm and truly, its residents does indeed live up to their village name. The Yao ethnic women who reside there were the embodiment of brunette Rapunzels. They dress in unique and colorful traditional clothing and performed by singing and dancing. It was amusing to watch as they invited male guests to participate in a mock wedding ceremony as done in their village. You may ask: how do they keep their hair jet-black even when they’re old and wrinkled? They do so by washing their hair with fermented rice water! Nature truly works wonders.

5. Li River cruise

As featured on the 20 yuan note, you can see the lush landscape looking reminiscent of Ha Long Bay at every twist and turn on this relaxing cruise. I saw fishermen, some with tourists, on their bamboo rafts sailing through the calm water. After a few hours, the cruise stops at Yangshuo, a small town where you can easily find food or bargain with small shops selling pearl, jade, Chinese paintings and more.

After being left breathless by these five stand-out sights, I was rest assured that Guilin and its surrounding areas are indeed worth a visit and are definitely worthy of its accolades.

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colombiaLiving Life to its fullest in England

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted a poem by Pablo Neruda entitled “You start dying slowly.” It resonated with me, and expressed the way that I was feeling 3 years ago, before my life took a detour from its original trajectory. There are not many things in this world that I am afraid of, but dying without fully experiencing life is one of my greatest fears.

“You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking every day on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine.”

Freedom and fulfillment of dreams are central to the North American ideal, but many of us don’t feel free. Instead, we feel enslaved to our jobs and our lifestyles like we are just part of the rat race, mechanically putting one foot in front of the other. It wasn’t long ago that I felt trapped in my life, like I was living in auto-pilot, moving through each day without anything special and feeling unsatisfied. I was in my fifth year as a junior high/middle-school science teacher in my hometown, and although I loved my job and my students, I felt stuck. Everyone else seemed to be moving forward, finding love, settling down, and having families. Yet here I was, doing the “same old things”; I was not content to “settle”. But what could I do?

“You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job,
[…] If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream […]
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.”

I have always had a love of traveling, since my first plane rides and car trips across Canada as a toddler to visit family. I was very fortunate to have the experience of doing a semester abroad in university, and it lit the fire to try life in another country. When I finished university, I dreamed of teaching overseas. The more unsatisfied I felt with my life, the more my desire to teach abroad increased. I made the decision to move overseas, and after being denied a leave of absence, I resigned from my position, packed up my life and my house, and moved to England. By moving abroad, I was forcing myself to meet new people, try new things and change my routines. There were many new things to experience and different customs to learn to try to fit into my new surroundings.

” You start dying slowly
If you do not travel,
If you do not listen to the sounds of life
If you do not appreciate your life […]
If you avoid to feel passion.”

I struggled when I first moved, and found that I still wasn’t as happy as I had hoped to be. I was forced to figure out my passions. I always knew that traveling was a passion of mine, but I was very fortunate to meet a group of diverse women who helped me rediscover another passion of mine, dance. One of my favourite things when I am visiting a different region, or country, is to learn about their food and about their culture, in particular, the way that music influences people and their outlooks on life. This was especially evident when I took my next leap to Colombia. One of the most diverse countries in South America, there are so many different cultures all blended into one, and it makes for an amazing and lively blend of music and movement. Nothing can make you happier than some cool Colombian beats!

Since traveling is my passion, I felt the most alive when I was able to get out of London and travel throughout Europe. I tried to figure out a way that I could experience that presence in my day to day life. One advantage of such a large city, is that it made exploring close to home quite easy. There are so many different parks, markets and sites to see, that most weekends, I would make an effort to immerse myself in my environment.

It actually took living in Colombia, in a city that lacked parks, for me to realize how important nature is to feeling free and satisfied with life. For those that may not have the ability to travel far from home, going to the local park, the mountains or the ocean is another great way to free yourselves from the stresses and confines of daily life. What I discovered from moving around the world, is that to feel free, you don’t have to go far. By paying attention to your surroundings, and surrounding yourself with nature, you too can feel free.

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thailand-scheduleThere Is No Crammed Schedule in Thailand

Erin and I took a giant leap of adventure when we sold all our belongings in the USA and booked a one way ticket to Bangkok, Thailand. No itinerary. No plans. It was time to shake life up and discover more of ourselves. We were all too familiar with the 9-5 grind and were ready for something completely different. It does not take long on the backpacking trail to learn a few things about self and about life.

It is difficult to make and keep travel plans out in this world experiencing pure freedom. Where the wind blows and you follow along with the stranger met last night. A few buckets and a few beers and next thing you know we were on our way from Bangkok to Surat Thani with a brand new friend Dave, who happened to be approaching 60 years old, but knew a thing or two about travel.

We sat on the floor near the KFC in the brightly lit open air train station. Where the locals chipper away with their Thai accents and the smell of all sorts of food fill the air. Quite a strange aroma of fried chicken and Pad Thai, especially for the just arrived tourists we were. After two hours on the very hard train station floor I thought to myself, “I haven’t heard an announcement for our train and it is past departure time.” I walk up to the ticket window with Dave and learn the train was gone. We missed it!

Now that was a hard pill to swallow at that time. Missed the train, “Oh no,” we thought, “what are we going to do now!?” At the ticket counter, the lady next to me says, “That’s traveling. Just let it go. You’ll get there fine.” My worrying mind was wound so tight from the life I left behind that I could not comprehend the ease with which she said let it go. No other choice but to buy another ticket and sit next to the ladies chomping on their bags of rice and hang out longer.

We caught the next train and arrived at our destination just fine. The first step in unwinding that anxious little brain was to acknowledge that while on travel things do not always go as planned. Take a deep breath and carry on.

Dave learned that lesson as well when he stepped in the ocean off balance and messed up his knee in Koh Samui three days later. It ended his trip completely and he had to fly back to San Francisco. Bummer to lose Dave but another sign that you must go with flow, appreciate the opportunity at hand, and do not take for granted the wonder of the wide open world.

Erin and I ended up on the island of Koh Phangan a few days after losing Dave and we arrived the same day as the Half Moon jungle party. Let’s see what this party island is all about!

A buzz of energy was in the air as we arrived to the hostel. “Free shots!” proclaimed the staff. Body paint, alcohol, and good times got us started. We caught a tuk-tuk and hung on tight up the winding jungle road to our destination. Twelve of us on one ride had me hanging teetering on the side as the driver moved seamlessly through town and up toward a night to remember.

Dropped off in the jungle I begin to see the bright lights and hear the sound of the electronic music. Now here is a scene we were familiar with back home. Witnessing the grand stage production with a DJ booth and the amazing colors streaming out from the LED visual panel above the booth we found our place for the evening. Wandering around near the brightly lit tree in the middle of the dance floor it was possible to sit, reflect on the journey thus far, and smile from within. This is why we came across the world, to find our true freedom away from the hustle and grind back home and meet all these amazing souls from many different walks of life. Take the journey in stride and realize that there is no schedule here, only great memories to be made and life to be lived.

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kenyaCertain Freedom On The Edge in Kenya

I had travelled very little in life, almost all of it within the geographical borders of New York State and most of that between the rounded mountains of the Catskills, the tumble of the Adirondacks, and the rocky Eastern shores of Lake Ontario. The world is a comfortable, dependable, predictable place when it amounts to roughly 150 miles by 150 miles. It also becomes routine, dull, and even a little oppressive. Still and all, it was MY world and what I knew.

You might think that such a small, intimate world would be accustomed to many of those born and raised there taking their leave, escaping into the wider world all around. To be sure, that occurred, enough to not be unusual, but not enough to be common. So, when the opportunity to leave New York and live in Kenya presented itself, pursuing that opportunity became a rich source of unsolicited advice, unsought opinion, and even outright discouragement.

I had wanted to explore the wider world beyond Upstate New York for some time, but did not have a good idea of how to do so. No one in my family or group of friends had travelled much, if at all. One uncle who had travelled extensively had done so by making a career with US Air Force. Joining “the Service” did not appeal to me, much to my uncle’s and father’s dismay. But, in a tangential twist of reasoning, the concept of esprit de corps Dad continually espoused bloomed into the idea of serving in the US Peace Corps.

You can imagine the usual paperwork, interviews, and bureaucratic back-and-forth that took place over the course of six months. Eventually, I was assigned to be a high school teacher in Western Kenya; specifically, the tiny hamlet of Kipsoen clinging 1,000 meters atop the escarpment, above the floor of the Great Rift Valley. The edge of the world.

Everything I had been sure – and assured – of: the world I knew and the person I was certain of, quickly melted away under the equatorial sun of the African plains.

The landscape: Isak Dinesen describes it as, “the views were immensely wide — everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility.” (Out of Africa, 1937). The culture and the people: time and interactions had an easy, open, welcoming quality. Telling time was upended: What was 7:00AM on a clock in New York, was read as “sah moja” (the first hour, or 1:00AM) in KiSwahili, the national language of Kenya. The attitude toward Life: “Hakuna Matata” (there are no problems), as Pumbaa and Timon sang in Disney’s The Lion King, is an actual truth in traditional Kenyan thinking. In short, travelling halfway around the world took me worlds away from what I’d learned and from where I’d come.

Going all that distance and in the melting away, the removal, of all the fixtures and accoutrements of growing up in my old world, there was space for new outlooks, attitudes, and growth. It wasn’t a smooth, quick, easy, nor always a conscious process. Among some of the oldest peoples on the planet, on the oldest continent, I found a new start.

That is where I found my freedom.

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munichWalking on the Winter Streets in Munich, Germany

Bavaria in the winter is a different proposition from Bavaria in the summer. Perhaps if one skies, a winter in Bavaria might seem like heaven with mountain slopes. I emphatically don’t ski. Nor do I like beer. Thus Munich would seem like an odd choice.

I stayed in Munich for three months with my aunt. Four years ago she moved here for work, and found a comfortable apartment with an extra bedroom. Every member of my extended family has, at least once, come here to stay with her and take short trips elsewhere in Europe once the jet lag has worn off. I’m the last one to make the journey.

As for myself, this is not particularly a vacation. More like a figure-out-what-the-hell-I’m-doing-with-my-life sabbatical of frustration from what I’m used to in Colorado. Also a somewhat desperate bid to step up my photography with inspiration from new places.

It’s early on a Sunday, and despite the temperatures and the fact that the winter sun hasn’t managed to filter much through a blanket of cloud cover, we layer up in warm gear, pulling on knit hats over our bed-messy hair to go for a walk, camera as ever glued to my side.

It’s cold in Munich on a winter morning, and often the wind makes it colder. The apartment is located on a Fahrradstrasse, meaning “bicycle street.” One has to watch out for the bikes more than the cars. The canal we cross is lined with tall trees that are still incongruously sheathed in thick green ivy leaves. The tops of the trees are bare twigs, but no one seems to have told the ivy that it’s cold.

We crunch our way down narrow sidewalks covered in gravel, the German answer to ice-melt. The apartment buildings each have small yards for the ground-floor flats, and most balconies sport what will be greenery in a few months. Some even have tiny pines or spruce, which are decked out festively with Christmas lights during the holidays. Yet despite their similarities, none are quite the same. All have stucco exteriors, but in a surprising range of pastels. Each has its own architecture, some with decorative paintings or small inset statues.

There’s a bakery for every neighborhood, and an apoteke (pharmacy) on practically every street in Munich. The grocery store is never more than a couple of blocks’ walk. On any weekend morning you’ll find a queue outside the bakery, husbands whose wives sent them out on breakfast duty. It’s a different way of life than I’m used to, but I’ve grown to enjoy it.

It takes less than fifteen minutes of walking from the Fahrradstrasse to get to Nymphenburg Palace. The massive white exterior is impressive, but we pass by the huge staircase entrance and enter the gates that lead to the grounds. There are many paths to choose from, criss-crossing the wooded estate. Bird calls ring out unexpectedly, from the tiny blue tits to blackbirds, crows, and geese. Pillared bridges span the canals that divert water from the river to feed several fountains, still now for the winter.

Few people are out this early, so we have the quiet woods mostly to ourselves. As we crunch along, the church bells begin to toll, right on time.

It strikes me as a uniquely European experience to meander on forested paths, yet still hear perfectly tuned church bells sing out from the street that is in fact not too far away. We stop at one of our favorite trees which exudes an air of quiet wisdom, a huge and gnarled beech with bark like elephant skin, and listening to the church bells there feels as sacred as any experience I can remember having.

My time in Munich turned out to be not what I was expecting. But it was precisely what I needed. It was culture and nature all mixed up together; a new frame of reference and an opportunity to see a new way ahead. I knew that I wouldn’t be the same after this time spent traveling, and that is true. Photography became real for me, far more than a hobby. More importantly, I became bigger in Munich, with a wider world-view and deeper determination to live in a meaningful way.

Photo Credit: Dawn Myscofski

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Backpack & Bushes In Munich: The Freedom In Wandering

There I was, wandering the suburban streets of Munich with a poor sense of direction and the absence of mobile technology. That afternoon, I had stepped off of an airplane that had departed from the island of Majorca in the south of Spain. Majorca was warm, tropical, and evoked the inner island-ista in me and, therefore, I was sporting my thinnest tank top and beachy footwear. Although the time of year was early August, the weather in Münich resembled the brisk end of autumn.

Needless to say, I was cold, lost, and the sun was setting. I was on the hunt for the flat belonging to my Couchsurfing hosts, without a way of contacting them. All of the surrounding buildings were residential and very quiet. Any passerby was fair game when it came to directional questions, but I only crossed paths with two in my many hours of searching. The first person was Turkish and I, unfortunately, did not speak his language. I showed him my hand-written address and he pointed onward down the street; I kept walking.

This is the point where I should have broken down and cried. There was not one car or taxi to flag and deliver me to my destination. I was far from the nearest train station and low on cash. Instead of crying, however, I stayed calm. I had my backpack; everything I needed was on my person so spending a night in the bushes… was totally doable!

In that backpack I had multiple layers of clothing, a change of shoes, and probably something edible. My backpack was there for me. My backpack gave me the freedom to make a mistake like this and helped me recognize my privilege in possessing the items necessary for basic comforts. This realization showed me that once basic needs are met, less is more in travel.

The freer we want to become, the more we must leave behind. Before I could be a self-titled traveler, I had to look this realization square in the eyes because leaving behind the things that maintain comfort in order to travel is uncomfortable. I did not like getting dirty and staying dirty. I wanted my full size shampoo bottle. I needed silence and complete darkness in order to sleep through the night.

For me, it was a little grey backpack that challenged me to decide what was to be left behind in order to see what true freedom feels like. If it was travel that I wanted, I had to bridge the void between lux and living. I had to become okay with getting dirty, losing sleep, being uncomfortable for the sake of seeing the world with authenticity. When living life as a traveler, what is essential is what we choose to travel with us. The size of my backpack has taught me to choose wisely and intuitively.

This very backpack encourages me to not only open the door of my closet to get it out but doors all over the world. It has been there to support me through the wonderful and harried times of my adventures. My backpack was there for me when I hunted for my hostel on the winding streets of Barcelona. She has sat beside me and heard countless tales from strangers who have transformed into friends. And she has been there for the myriad of travel-mishaps that have left me questioning if I will be sleeping in the bushes for the evening.

The end of my Munich mishap goes like this: Lost in a dark courtyard, I spotted a man climbing his porch steps about to unlock his front door. Across the green space, I shouted for help as politely and nonthreatening as possible. He stopped and turned around seemingly jolly and ready to help. Thank God! I showed him the address and, in broken German-English, he described that I was on the side of the street with even-numbered addresses and I needed to be in the courtyard across the street with odd-numbered addresses. I was saved from a foliage-filled slumber!

Because everything I needed was on my back, a night in the shrubs was not only a possibility but also something I was prepared to experience. Of course, I know that I am more than my backpack and, even without it, I would have survived, but I have learned that living with less is actually living with enough. By setting off on an adventure with minimal essentials, I have been allowed to become myself again. Even though I found the flat in Munich that night, my backpack has given me the freedom and contentment in knowing that there really is not much I need to pack to have a proper adventure.

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Democracy, Freedom and Independence in Bratislava, Slovakia.

It is a holiday commemorating the 1945 uprising against Nazi occupation today. Devinska Nova Ves (DNV) is a large village about 16 km north of Bratislava. Its wide main street is lined with old houses, there is an enormous Volkswagen factory and a few tower blocks – nothing special really. But back in 2012 it came to the attention of the world’s press, even Reuters. It was all about a bridge.

DNV is on the Morava River- the border between Slovakia and Austria. In Cold War times this was a heavily militarized zone of barbed-wire fences and constant patrols by border guards. Many people died trying to run through the wire here. Inside the one km exclusion zone you could have been shot on sight. If they had tried swimming they would have had to deal with serious currents on both the Danube and Morava rivers. In 2012 a bridge was completed over the river at DNV to join the formerly impenetrable frontier. The Bratislava Regional Assembly set up a Facebook vote to name this historically significant link between the old communist block and Western Europe. The Regional Governor, Pavol Freso, affirmed that they would probably go with the people’s wishes. That is until the “Chuck Norris Bridge” polled more than 10 times as many votes as the Regional Assembly’s proposal, or indeed any other suggestions. Now Reuters started to take an interest. Chuck Norris was always a source of jokes concerning macho invincibility in Slovakia (Chuck Norris can delete the recycling bin…), but hardly a feasible choice for naming a bridge (no-one walks over Chuck Norris was later mentioned by the Assembly). But you can cross this historic bridge today. The floodplains beneath will be a Site of Special Scientific Interest, teeming with rare flora and fauna.

About two km South of DNV lies the village of Devin, where today there is a festival. If you bus out of Bratislava you may well sit next to a knight, complete with chain mail, sword and helmet on his mobile phone.

Devin Castle, first recorded in 864, lies atop a cliff overlooking the Danube. In the thirteenth century it was the frontier post of the Hungarian Empire. It featured on a coin and a note of the former currency in Cold War times – an important national symbol. Now it lies in ruins (thank Napoleon for that). At the castle are “medieval” tents with costumed people sitting around cooking over fires in iron pots. It has an authentic feel. All the men have long hair and one is undressing to his boxer shorts to put on his chain mail vest, boots, helmet and jacket.

We walk up to the ruins, where my four-year-old daughter, Mollie, is delighted to shout “bottom” down the 55 metre well and enjoy its echo. From up here you can see the Danube curving round to the Morava.

Terraced vineyards sweep down from Dacha’s (small wooden summer villas) on the mountain-top. One huge, elegant residence dominates all of these. I was told that this belongs to the Russian mafia. Down at the river you can throw a stone over into Austria which is why so many tried their luck here. If it wasn’t running through the militarized zone and barbed wire then trying to swim, it was (homemade) hang-gliders from the hilltops. Down by the confluence a serious ceremony is taking place. Over 400 people died between 1945 and 1989 attempting this: nearly one a month for 44 years from one small village on the Austrian border. Each name listed on the sculpture and explained in four languages. It read (verbatim):
“The Iron Curtain used to stand here. It cannot be pulled away. It can only be cracked. Four Hundred people sacrificed their life while fighting for their rights. Human beings, free and unrestricted do not forget that freedom of thinking, acting and dreaming is a value that is not only worth living but also bringing sacrifices.”

Judging by their ages, the attendees here could well have been the brothers or sisters, even parents of those desperado’s who died for freedom and independence. So there you have it: freedom and independence in one rather confusing package. Foul-mouthed four-year-olds, uprisings against Nazi occupation, modern ex-Iron Curtain members of the EEC co-existing with today’s Russian mafia, medieval knights, would-be escapees of communism and Chuck Norris. The Bratislava Regional Assembly, in their infinite wisdom actually rejected the 12,599 votes for the “Chuck Norris Bridge” in favour of the “Freedom Cycling Bridge” (457 votes), which is now its official name. However, thanks to Reuters, it is even today easily findable on Google under its more democratic name. If my daughter were able to understand this, I am absolutely sure that she would say, “But that’s bottom democracy, freedom and independence!”

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Forging my Inquisitive Name in Egypt

Standing in a shop in Cairo, I spelled out my name for the clerk, both in English and in Arabic. Should it end with an eliph or a taa marbuta? We went back and forth, settling on aliph, the first letter of the alphabet, and I handed over a not insignificant amount of Egyptian pounds.

I was in Egypt for six weeks studying Arabic and Middle Eastern politics, as part of one of my many minors. But really, I was there because the summer before I had stayed home in Massachusetts, working retail. I had watched as friends flooded facebook with photos from all over Egypt. I wanted to learn about the region, but I also wanted to go on an adventure, having conversations and experiences that would never happen back home. My parents had agreed, on the grounds that university staff would accompany us. My boyfriend would be waiting when I got back, in spite of how nervous I had been to even ask that question.

Six weeks seemed like a long time, but once I was abroad, it it didn’t take long for us both to chafe under the situation. He felt like I was always too busy, and was suspicious of the new friends I was making, especially the male ones. I felt like every call was either a fight or a one-sided conversation, keeping me from flash cards, late-night dessert treks, and new friends. I had started spending time with young women who proudly called themselves feminists and stretched my previous definition of the word. I started wondering why I had ever found the necklace he gave me, emblazoned with the word “princess,” to be sweet.

A couple of days after spelling out my name in the shop, a small velvet envelope arrived. I took off the old necklace, something I hadn’t done since he gave it to me, and excitedly placed my new one around my neck. Instead of someone else’s ill-fitting pet name, I was wearing my own. More than that, my Arabic name necklace was an outward sign of my accomplishments: the hundreds of hours learning Arabic, the nerve-wracking solo cab ride, the ever-present street harassment, and the wonder of Naguib Mahfouz’s books. I was working harder academically than I ever had in my life, not to mention constantly learning from everyone I met. This country had indelibly changed me, and it all sat there at my collarbone, in elegant, silver, Arabic script.

Back home, I wore my new necklace proudly. That did not go unnoticed.

There were questions and tears. It seems the symbolism of the two pieces of jewelry wasn’t lost on anyone. It didn’t help that I hid his necklace from myself out of sadness and couldn’t find it again until years later, well after our relationship was dead and buried. But it wouldn’t have mattered; I had changed.

My time in Egypt brought so much to my life: feminism, a love of the Middle East, dear friends, and a knowledge that not only can I do things that seem big and scary, but I thrive on them. I’ll never be certain why we broke up, but I know I couldn’t have become the person I am now while remaining his girlfriend. I needed years to myself, without any guilt or judgment about my travels and personal politics, two of my strongest and most intertwined traits. I needed room to grow, to see where the world would take me if I didn’t need anyone else and no one else needed me. I needed to be a woman of my own making, not someone else’s vision of me, not an asterisked version of myself that was only acceptable with caveats and conditions. I needed to be able to pick up and go, over and over again, and not be seen as disloyal for doing so.

One day, the necklace slipped off at a friend’s backyard barbecue, never to be seen again. I miss it like I miss so much about Egypt, from koshery and nutty actions movies to hijabi fashion and Al Azhar Park. But I take comfort in the fact that I don’t need the necklace like I once did. By the time I lost the necklace, it had served its purpose. I was out of that relationship and had travelled to many countries, but most importantly, I had been brave enough to choose myself, and the life I wanted to lead. I knew my choices were not dalliances but a path. I had chosen a life driven by adventure and ideals, one where my brain and my bravado are my most prized possessions. Someday, there may be another man who wants to rename me and keep me close by his side. I’d like to see him try.

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A safe itinerary to exciting success in Nigeria
He possessed an intrepid physique, radiant cheeks, hair still remain dark, and a gritty skin. He wore a hat strolling around the backyard, and a tattered blue army overcoat when it was cold, and sometimes top-boots. He walks round the house and an earsplitting yell was heard from the backyard, before he could be rushed to the hospital, he gave up the ghost.

What a pity! There is no one death cannot eliminate as death claim the life of my father after being battled by the debilitating disease of cancer.
One morning after the corpse was interred; the family members sideline my mother from other important discussion concerning the properties of the deceased. She stood upon her gallery with arms akimbo, shedding tears, so unexpected and bewildering was the death of her husband. The next decision of the family member was that the children of the deceased would be taken care of by the family members but my mother disagreed.

Few days to that time, I was kidnapped by unknown abductors alongside my mother and my younger ones into the narrow strip of shade on the porch of the long, low house; the hot sunlight was beating in on the brown old boards as an unpleasant odour filled the atmosphere, and a terrific sound was coming across the non-flowering cotton-field. The kidnappers were sent by the family member who wanted to confiscate the hard earned properties of the deceased from his immediate family.

Few minute to our execution by the kidnappers, a serene was heard within that abode alarmed by the Nigeria Police who were on duty when they notice some suspicious movement and sound in that environment. They thwarted the kidnappers from achieving their goal as they all fled away from being arrested and we were all unfettered from their captivity.

After two days of staying at the police station for security reasons, an officer lent my mother a piece of advice and that leads to our itinerary to Lagos state so that we can gain the freedom from our nemesis.

In the struggle of being totally independence, my mother seeks for employment opportunity for various months under the administration of the rickety Nigeria government before she later started with a petty trade. My mother also clamour that I should be independent by now as she inculcated that I must learn a vocation and must also provide and feed myself. This was initially difficult for me and I had persistent fight with her. I begin to hate her the more, my emotion begins to suffer depression, and my life now lacks the nutrient of joy and happiness. Drastically, I am becoming more irrelevant to the community as I use obsolete phone, I have accrued debt and I can’t avoid eating three meals a day because I have fallen into the abysmal of excruciating pestilence of poverty.

At a conference which I reluctantly attended transformed my life, I was inspired to take responsibility. Consequently, I searched for job in consensus to the inspiring testimonies heard at the conference that “before you can become successful, you would need to move out of your environment”. This emanates how I became a driver as I virtually travel and tour the whole Nigeria and Ghana while doing a job of a driver.

After about 15hours on road from Nigeria due to various barricades by the security personnel and also the vehicle engine problem which hiatus our journey. The red sunset and the blue-gray twilight had together flung a purple mist across the road that hid it from our view. We could no longer hear the wheezing and creaking of wheels but could still faintly hear the shrill, glad voices of the children in the passing vehicles. Finally, we reach Ghana and I got employed by the benevolent business woman called Miss Calister to whom I return the wallet she forgot in my bus some weeks ago.
I seated myself beside the table as I glance through the room, into which the evening shadows were creeping and deepening around my solitary figure, happy that I bounced back to a life of debt free, joy and happiness and I regain my freedom from the bumpy hands of poverty and sadness. This is the chronicle of my itinerary to success.

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Gulin china5 Places worth a visit in Guilin, China

Anyone who’s ever read a Chinese textbook can attest that these textbooks glorify Guilin. Not only that, politicians also sing praises to this city’s natural endowments and often entertain visiting dignitaries in this resort town. During my last visit to Guilin, I was adamant to find out in less than a week if Guilin and its surrounding areas do indeed live up to its reputation. Here are the top five sights I saw and love to reminisce about.

1. Reed flute cave

I spent a good hour here oohing and ahhing at the sight of the abundant stalactites and rock formations, which were illuminated by multi-colored lighting. This lighting enhanced the otherworldly atmosphere contained therein. It was like stumbling into a fairy’s den, another world you’ll normally associate with a fictional novel. The highlight was the laser light musical show at the end of the cave, which gave me chills. With the help of the guide, I could easily visualize animals, cities, and plants among the rock formations.

2. Fubo hill

This attraction made me withstand an intense cardio exercise as I climbed the steps leading up to the lookout point on top that showed a bird’s eye view of the city. You could see panoramic views of the Li River and the developing city’s natural beauty from high above.

3. Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces

Hours away from Guilin, I found myself gaping at the brilliant spectacle of the verdant green man-made terraces carved as far as the eye could see. I could tell from the wide expanse of the terraces that this is the culmination of the Zhuang people’s strenuous efforts and ingeniousness. I rode a cable car to get to the top where I could see just how high and extensive the work done must have been to transform the vast region into layer upon layer of rice terraces. It was a picturesque sight to behold and I could imagine how its beauty changes into golden hues for autumn, crisp white in winter and bright green for summer to keep onlookers wanting to come back again.

4. The Long Hair Village

The moment I stumbled upon the Long Hair Village, the Guinness world book record holder for the “world’s longest hair village”, I was intrigued. I was bewildered that such a place even exists! I discovered with my own eyes that the village is beautiful with its rustic charm and truly, its residents does indeed live up to their village name. The Yao ethnic women who reside there were the embodiment of brunette Rapunzels. They dress in unique and colorful traditional clothing and performed by singing and dancing. It was amusing to watch as they invited male guests to participate in a mock wedding ceremony as done in their village. You may ask: how do they keep their hair jet-black even when they’re old and wrinkled? They do so by washing their hair with fermented rice water! Nature truly works wonders.

5. Li River cruise

As featured on the 20 yuan note, you can see the lush landscape looking reminiscent of Ha Long Bay at every twist and turn on this relaxing cruise. I saw fishermen, some with tourists, on their bamboo rafts sailing through the calm water. After a few hours, the cruise stops at Yangshuo, a small town where you can easily find food or bargain with small shops selling pearl, jade, Chinese paintings and more.

After being left breathless by these five stand-out sights, I was rest assured that Guilin and its surrounding areas are indeed worth a visit and are definitely worthy of its accolades.

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colombiaLiving Life to its fullest in England

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted a poem by Pablo Neruda entitled “You start dying slowly.” It resonated with me, and expressed the way that I was feeling 3 years ago, before my life took a detour from its original trajectory. There are not many things in this world that I am afraid of, but dying without fully experiencing life is one of my greatest fears.

“You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking every day on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine.”

Freedom and fulfillment of dreams are central to the North American ideal, but many of us don’t feel free. Instead, we feel enslaved to our jobs and our lifestyles like we are just part of the rat race, mechanically putting one foot in front of the other. It wasn’t long ago that I felt trapped in my life, like I was living in auto-pilot, moving through each day without anything special and feeling unsatisfied. I was in my fifth year as a junior high/middle-school science teacher in my hometown, and although I loved my job and my students, I felt stuck. Everyone else seemed to be moving forward, finding love, settling down, and having families. Yet here I was, doing the “same old things”; I was not content to “settle”. But what could I do?

“You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job,
[…] If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream […]
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.”

I have always had a love of traveling, since my first plane rides and car trips across Canada as a toddler to visit family. I was very fortunate to have the experience of doing a semester abroad in university, and it lit the fire to try life in another country. When I finished university, I dreamed of teaching overseas. The more unsatisfied I felt with my life, the more my desire to teach abroad increased. I made the decision to move overseas, and after being denied a leave of absence, I resigned from my position, packed up my life and my house, and moved to England. By moving abroad, I was forcing myself to meet new people, try new things and change my routines. There were many new things to experience and different customs to learn to try to fit into my new surroundings.

” You start dying slowly
If you do not travel,
If you do not listen to the sounds of life
If you do not appreciate your life […]
If you avoid to feel passion.”

I struggled when I first moved, and found that I still wasn’t as happy as I had hoped to be. I was forced to figure out my passions. I always knew that traveling was a passion of mine, but I was very fortunate to meet a group of diverse women who helped me rediscover another passion of mine, dance. One of my favourite things when I am visiting a different region, or country, is to learn about their food and about their culture, in particular, the way that music influences people and their outlooks on life. This was especially evident when I took my next leap to Colombia. One of the most diverse countries in South America, there are so many different cultures all blended into one, and it makes for an amazing and lively blend of music and movement. Nothing can make you happier than some cool Colombian beats!

Since traveling is my passion, I felt the most alive when I was able to get out of London and travel throughout Europe. I tried to figure out a way that I could experience that presence in my day to day life. One advantage of such a large city, is that it made exploring close to home quite easy. There are so many different parks, markets and sites to see, that most weekends, I would make an effort to immerse myself in my environment.

It actually took living in Colombia, in a city that lacked parks, for me to realize how important nature is to feeling free and satisfied with life. For those that may not have the ability to travel far from home, going to the local park, the mountains or the ocean is another great way to free yourselves from the stresses and confines of daily life. What I discovered from moving around the world, is that to feel free, you don’t have to go far. By paying attention to your surroundings, and surrounding yourself with nature, you too can feel free.

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thailand-scheduleThere Is No Crammed Schedule in Thailand

Erin and I took a giant leap of adventure when we sold all our belongings in the USA and booked a one way ticket to Bangkok, Thailand. No itinerary. No plans. It was time to shake life up and discover more of ourselves. We were all too familiar with the 9-5 grind and were ready for something completely different. It does not take long on the backpacking trail to learn a few things about self and about life.

It is difficult to make and keep travel plans out in this world experiencing pure freedom. Where the wind blows and you follow along with the stranger met last night. A few buckets and a few beers and next thing you know we were on our way from Bangkok to Surat Thani with a brand new friend Dave, who happened to be approaching 60 years old, but knew a thing or two about travel.

We sat on the floor near the KFC in the brightly lit open air train station. Where the locals chipper away with their Thai accents and the smell of all sorts of food fill the air. Quite a strange aroma of fried chicken and Pad Thai, especially for the just arrived tourists we were. After two hours on the very hard train station floor I thought to myself, “I haven’t heard an announcement for our train and it is past departure time.” I walk up to the ticket window with Dave and learn the train was gone. We missed it!

Now that was a hard pill to swallow at that time. Missed the train, “Oh no,” we thought, “what are we going to do now!?” At the ticket counter, the lady next to me says, “That’s traveling. Just let it go. You’ll get there fine.” My worrying mind was wound so tight from the life I left behind that I could not comprehend the ease with which she said let it go. No other choice but to buy another ticket and sit next to the ladies chomping on their bags of rice and hang out longer.

We caught the next train and arrived at our destination just fine. The first step in unwinding that anxious little brain was to acknowledge that while on travel things do not always go as planned. Take a deep breath and carry on.

Dave learned that lesson as well when he stepped in the ocean off balance and messed up his knee in Koh Samui three days later. It ended his trip completely and he had to fly back to San Francisco. Bummer to lose Dave but another sign that you must go with flow, appreciate the opportunity at hand, and do not take for granted the wonder of the wide open world.

Erin and I ended up on the island of Koh Phangan a few days after losing Dave and we arrived the same day as the Half Moon jungle party. Let’s see what this party island is all about!

A buzz of energy was in the air as we arrived to the hostel. “Free shots!” proclaimed the staff. Body paint, alcohol, and good times got us started. We caught a tuk-tuk and hung on tight up the winding jungle road to our destination. Twelve of us on one ride had me hanging teetering on the side as the driver moved seamlessly through town and up toward a night to remember.

Dropped off in the jungle I begin to see the bright lights and hear the sound of the electronic music. Now here is a scene we were familiar with back home. Witnessing the grand stage production with a DJ booth and the amazing colors streaming out from the LED visual panel above the booth we found our place for the evening. Wandering around near the brightly lit tree in the middle of the dance floor it was possible to sit, reflect on the journey thus far, and smile from within. This is why we came across the world, to find our true freedom away from the hustle and grind back home and meet all these amazing souls from many different walks of life. Take the journey in stride and realize that there is no schedule here, only great memories to be made and life to be lived.

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kenyaCertain Freedom On The Edge in Kenya

I had travelled very little in life, almost all of it within the geographical borders of New York State and most of that between the rounded mountains of the Catskills, the tumble of the Adirondacks, and the rocky Eastern shores of Lake Ontario. The world is a comfortable, dependable, predictable place when it amounts to roughly 150 miles by 150 miles. It also becomes routine, dull, and even a little oppressive. Still and all, it was MY world and what I knew.

You might think that such a small, intimate world would be accustomed to many of those born and raised there taking their leave, escaping into the wider world all around. To be sure, that occurred, enough to not be unusual, but not enough to be common. So, when the opportunity to leave New York and live in Kenya presented itself, pursuing that opportunity became a rich source of unsolicited advice, unsought opinion, and even outright discouragement.

I had wanted to explore the wider world beyond Upstate New York for some time, but did not have a good idea of how to do so. No one in my family or group of friends had travelled much, if at all. One uncle who had travelled extensively had done so by making a career with US Air Force. Joining “the Service” did not appeal to me, much to my uncle’s and father’s dismay. But, in a tangential twist of reasoning, the concept of esprit de corps Dad continually espoused bloomed into the idea of serving in the US Peace Corps.

You can imagine the usual paperwork, interviews, and bureaucratic back-and-forth that took place over the course of six months. Eventually, I was assigned to be a high school teacher in Western Kenya; specifically, the tiny hamlet of Kipsoen clinging 1,000 meters atop the escarpment, above the floor of the Great Rift Valley. The edge of the world.

Everything I had been sure – and assured – of: the world I knew and the person I was certain of, quickly melted away under the equatorial sun of the African plains.

The landscape: Isak Dinesen describes it as, “the views were immensely wide — everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility.” (Out of Africa, 1937). The culture and the people: time and interactions had an easy, open, welcoming quality. Telling time was upended: What was 7:00AM on a clock in New York, was read as “sah moja” (the first hour, or 1:00AM) in KiSwahili, the national language of Kenya. The attitude toward Life: “Hakuna Matata” (there are no problems), as Pumbaa and Timon sang in Disney’s The Lion King, is an actual truth in traditional Kenyan thinking. In short, travelling halfway around the world took me worlds away from what I’d learned and from where I’d come.

Going all that distance and in the melting away, the removal, of all the fixtures and accoutrements of growing up in my old world, there was space for new outlooks, attitudes, and growth. It wasn’t a smooth, quick, easy, nor always a conscious process. Among some of the oldest peoples on the planet, on the oldest continent, I found a new start.

That is where I found my freedom.

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munichWalking on the Winter Streets in Munich, Germany

Bavaria in the winter is a different proposition from Bavaria in the summer. Perhaps if one skies, a winter in Bavaria might seem like heaven with mountain slopes. I emphatically don’t ski. Nor do I like beer. Thus Munich would seem like an odd choice.

I stayed in Munich for three months with my aunt. Four years ago she moved here for work, and found a comfortable apartment with an extra bedroom. Every member of my extended family has, at least once, come here to stay with her and take short trips elsewhere in Europe once the jet lag has worn off. I’m the last one to make the journey.

As for myself, this is not particularly a vacation. More like a figure-out-what-the-hell-I’m-doing-with-my-life sabbatical of frustration from what I’m used to in Colorado. Also a somewhat desperate bid to step up my photography with inspiration from new places.

It’s early on a Sunday, and despite the temperatures and the fact that the winter sun hasn’t managed to filter much through a blanket of cloud cover, we layer up in warm gear, pulling on knit hats over our bed-messy hair to go for a walk, camera as ever glued to my side.

It’s cold in Munich on a winter morning, and often the wind makes it colder. The apartment is located on a Fahrradstrasse, meaning “bicycle street.” One has to watch out for the bikes more than the cars. The canal we cross is lined with tall trees that are still incongruously sheathed in thick green ivy leaves. The tops of the trees are bare twigs, but no one seems to have told the ivy that it’s cold.

We crunch our way down narrow sidewalks covered in gravel, the German answer to ice-melt. The apartment buildings each have small yards for the ground-floor flats, and most balconies sport what will be greenery in a few months. Some even have tiny pines or spruce, which are decked out festively with Christmas lights during the holidays. Yet despite their similarities, none are quite the same. All have stucco exteriors, but in a surprising range of pastels. Each has its own architecture, some with decorative paintings or small inset statues.

There’s a bakery for every neighborhood, and an apoteke (pharmacy) on practically every street in Munich. The grocery store is never more than a couple of blocks’ walk. On any weekend morning you’ll find a queue outside the bakery, husbands whose wives sent them out on breakfast duty. It’s a different way of life than I’m used to, but I’ve grown to enjoy it.

It takes less than fifteen minutes of walking from the Fahrradstrasse to get to Nymphenburg Palace. The massive white exterior is impressive, but we pass by the huge staircase entrance and enter the gates that lead to the grounds. There are many paths to choose from, criss-crossing the wooded estate. Bird calls ring out unexpectedly, from the tiny blue tits to blackbirds, crows, and geese. Pillared bridges span the canals that divert water from the river to feed several fountains, still now for the winter.

Few people are out this early, so we have the quiet woods mostly to ourselves. As we crunch along, the church bells begin to toll, right on time.

It strikes me as a uniquely European experience to meander on forested paths, yet still hear perfectly tuned church bells sing out from the street that is in fact not too far away. We stop at one of our favorite trees which exudes an air of quiet wisdom, a huge and gnarled beech with bark like elephant skin, and listening to the church bells there feels as sacred as any experience I can remember having.

My time in Munich turned out to be not what I was expecting. But it was precisely what I needed. It was culture and nature all mixed up together; a new frame of reference and an opportunity to see a new way ahead. I knew that I wouldn’t be the same after this time spent traveling, and that is true. Photography became real for me, far more than a hobby. More importantly, I became bigger in Munich, with a wider world-view and deeper determination to live in a meaningful way.

Photo Credit: Dawn Myscofski

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Backpack & Bushes In Munich: The Freedom In Wandering

There I was, wandering the suburban streets of Munich with a poor sense of direction and the absence of mobile technology. That afternoon, I had stepped off of an airplane that had departed from the island of Majorca in the south of Spain. Majorca was warm, tropical, and evoked the inner island-ista in me and, therefore, I was sporting my thinnest tank top and beachy footwear. Although the time of year was early August, the weather in Münich resembled the brisk end of autumn.

Needless to say, I was cold, lost, and the sun was setting. I was on the hunt for the flat belonging to my Couchsurfing hosts, without a way of contacting them. All of the surrounding buildings were residential and very quiet. Any passerby was fair game when it came to directional questions, but I only crossed paths with two in my many hours of searching. The first person was Turkish and I, unfortunately, did not speak his language. I showed him my hand-written address and he pointed onward down the street; I kept walking.

This is the point where I should have broken down and cried. There was not one car or taxi to flag and deliver me to my destination. I was far from the nearest train station and low on cash. Instead of crying, however, I stayed calm. I had my backpack; everything I needed was on my person so spending a night in the bushes… was totally doable!

In that backpack I had multiple layers of clothing, a change of shoes, and probably something edible. My backpack was there for me. My backpack gave me the freedom to make a mistake like this and helped me recognize my privilege in possessing the items necessary for basic comforts. This realization showed me that once basic needs are met, less is more in travel.

The freer we want to become, the more we must leave behind. Before I could be a self-titled traveler, I had to look this realization square in the eyes because leaving behind the things that maintain comfort in order to travel is uncomfortable. I did not like getting dirty and staying dirty. I wanted my full size shampoo bottle. I needed silence and complete darkness in order to sleep through the night.

For me, it was a little grey backpack that challenged me to decide what was to be left behind in order to see what true freedom feels like. If it was travel that I wanted, I had to bridge the void between lux and living. I had to become okay with getting dirty, losing sleep, being uncomfortable for the sake of seeing the world with authenticity. When living life as a traveler, what is essential is what we choose to travel with us. The size of my backpack has taught me to choose wisely and intuitively.

This very backpack encourages me to not only open the door of my closet to get it out but doors all over the world. It has been there to support me through the wonderful and harried times of my adventures. My backpack was there for me when I hunted for my hostel on the winding streets of Barcelona. She has sat beside me and heard countless tales from strangers who have transformed into friends. And she has been there for the myriad of travel-mishaps that have left me questioning if I will be sleeping in the bushes for the evening.

The end of my Munich mishap goes like this: Lost in a dark courtyard, I spotted a man climbing his porch steps about to unlock his front door. Across the green space, I shouted for help as politely and nonthreatening as possible. He stopped and turned around seemingly jolly and ready to help. Thank God! I showed him the address and, in broken German-English, he described that I was on the side of the street with even-numbered addresses and I needed to be in the courtyard across the street with odd-numbered addresses. I was saved from a foliage-filled slumber!

Because everything I needed was on my back, a night in the shrubs was not only a possibility but also something I was prepared to experience. Of course, I know that I am more than my backpack and, even without it, I would have survived, but I have learned that living with less is actually living with enough. By setting off on an adventure with minimal essentials, I have been allowed to become myself again. Even though I found the flat in Munich that night, my backpack has given me the freedom and contentment in knowing that there really is not much I need to pack to have a proper adventure.

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Democracy, Freedom and Independence in Bratislava, Slovakia.

It is a holiday commemorating the 1945 uprising against Nazi occupation today. Devinska Nova Ves (DNV) is a large village about 16 km north of Bratislava. Its wide main street is lined with old houses, there is an enormous Volkswagen factory and a few tower blocks – nothing special really. But back in 2012 it came to the attention of the world’s press, even Reuters. It was all about a bridge.

DNV is on the Morava River- the border between Slovakia and Austria. In Cold War times this was a heavily militarized zone of barbed-wire fences and constant patrols by border guards. Many people died trying to run through the wire here. Inside the one km exclusion zone you could have been shot on sight. If they had tried swimming they would have had to deal with serious currents on both the Danube and Morava rivers. In 2012 a bridge was completed over the river at DNV to join the formerly impenetrable frontier. The Bratislava Regional Assembly set up a Facebook vote to name this historically significant link between the old communist block and Western Europe. The Regional Governor, Pavol Freso, affirmed that they would probably go with the people’s wishes. That is until the “Chuck Norris Bridge” polled more than 10 times as many votes as the Regional Assembly’s proposal, or indeed any other suggestions. Now Reuters started to take an interest. Chuck Norris was always a source of jokes concerning macho invincibility in Slovakia (Chuck Norris can delete the recycling bin…), but hardly a feasible choice for naming a bridge (no-one walks over Chuck Norris was later mentioned by the Assembly). But you can cross this historic bridge today. The floodplains beneath will be a Site of Special Scientific Interest, teeming with rare flora and fauna.

About two km South of DNV lies the village of Devin, where today there is a festival. If you bus out of Bratislava you may well sit next to a knight, complete with chain mail, sword and helmet on his mobile phone.

Devin Castle, first recorded in 864, lies atop a cliff overlooking the Danube. In the thirteenth century it was the frontier post of the Hungarian Empire. It featured on a coin and a note of the former currency in Cold War times – an important national symbol. Now it lies in ruins (thank Napoleon for that). At the castle are “medieval” tents with costumed people sitting around cooking over fires in iron pots. It has an authentic feel. All the men have long hair and one is undressing to his boxer shorts to put on his chain mail vest, boots, helmet and jacket.

We walk up to the ruins, where my four-year-old daughter, Mollie, is delighted to shout “bottom” down the 55 metre well and enjoy its echo. From up here you can see the Danube curving round to the Morava.

Terraced vineyards sweep down from Dacha’s (small wooden summer villas) on the mountain-top. One huge, elegant residence dominates all of these. I was told that this belongs to the Russian mafia. Down at the river you can throw a stone over into Austria which is why so many tried their luck here. If it wasn’t running through the militarized zone and barbed wire then trying to swim, it was (homemade) hang-gliders from the hilltops. Down by the confluence a serious ceremony is taking place. Over 400 people died between 1945 and 1989 attempting this: nearly one a month for 44 years from one small village on the Austrian border. Each name listed on the sculpture and explained in four languages. It read (verbatim):
“The Iron Curtain used to stand here. It cannot be pulled away. It can only be cracked. Four Hundred people sacrificed their life while fighting for their rights. Human beings, free and unrestricted do not forget that freedom of thinking, acting and dreaming is a value that is not only worth living but also bringing sacrifices.”

Judging by their ages, the attendees here could well have been the brothers or sisters, even parents of those desperado’s who died for freedom and independence. So there you have it: freedom and independence in one rather confusing package. Foul-mouthed four-year-olds, uprisings against Nazi occupation, modern ex-Iron Curtain members of the EEC co-existing with today’s Russian mafia, medieval knights, would-be escapees of communism and Chuck Norris. The Bratislava Regional Assembly, in their infinite wisdom actually rejected the 12,599 votes for the “Chuck Norris Bridge” in favour of the “Freedom Cycling Bridge” (457 votes), which is now its official name. However, thanks to Reuters, it is even today easily findable on Google under its more democratic name. If my daughter were able to understand this, I am absolutely sure that she would say, “But that’s bottom democracy, freedom and independence!”

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Forging my Inquisitive Name in Egypt

Standing in a shop in Cairo, I spelled out my name for the clerk, both in English and in Arabic. Should it end with an eliph or a taa marbuta? We went back and forth, settling on aliph, the first letter of the alphabet, and I handed over a not insignificant amount of Egyptian pounds.

I was in Egypt for six weeks studying Arabic and Middle Eastern politics, as part of one of my many minors. But really, I was there because the summer before I had stayed home in Massachusetts, working retail. I had watched as friends flooded facebook with photos from all over Egypt. I wanted to learn about the region, but I also wanted to go on an adventure, having conversations and experiences that would never happen back home. My parents had agreed, on the grounds that university staff would accompany us. My boyfriend would be waiting when I got back, in spite of how nervous I had been to even ask that question.

Six weeks seemed like a long time, but once I was abroad, it it didn’t take long for us both to chafe under the situation. He felt like I was always too busy, and was suspicious of the new friends I was making, especially the male ones. I felt like every call was either a fight or a one-sided conversation, keeping me from flash cards, late-night dessert treks, and new friends. I had started spending time with young women who proudly called themselves feminists and stretched my previous definition of the word. I started wondering why I had ever found the necklace he gave me, emblazoned with the word “princess,” to be sweet.

A couple of days after spelling out my name in the shop, a small velvet envelope arrived. I took off the old necklace, something I hadn’t done since he gave it to me, and excitedly placed my new one around my neck. Instead of someone else’s ill-fitting pet name, I was wearing my own. More than that, my Arabic name necklace was an outward sign of my accomplishments: the hundreds of hours learning Arabic, the nerve-wracking solo cab ride, the ever-present street harassment, and the wonder of Naguib Mahfouz’s books. I was working harder academically than I ever had in my life, not to mention constantly learning from everyone I met. This country had indelibly changed me, and it all sat there at my collarbone, in elegant, silver, Arabic script.

Back home, I wore my new necklace proudly. That did not go unnoticed.

There were questions and tears. It seems the symbolism of the two pieces of jewelry wasn’t lost on anyone. It didn’t help that I hid his necklace from myself out of sadness and couldn’t find it again until years later, well after our relationship was dead and buried. But it wouldn’t have mattered; I had changed.

My time in Egypt brought so much to my life: feminism, a love of the Middle East, dear friends, and a knowledge that not only can I do things that seem big and scary, but I thrive on them. I’ll never be certain why we broke up, but I know I couldn’t have become the person I am now while remaining his girlfriend. I needed years to myself, without any guilt or judgment about my travels and personal politics, two of my strongest and most intertwined traits. I needed room to grow, to see where the world would take me if I didn’t need anyone else and no one else needed me. I needed to be a woman of my own making, not someone else’s vision of me, not an asterisked version of myself that was only acceptable with caveats and conditions. I needed to be able to pick up and go, over and over again, and not be seen as disloyal for doing so.

One day, the necklace slipped off at a friend’s backyard barbecue, never to be seen again. I miss it like I miss so much about Egypt, from koshery and nutty actions movies to hijabi fashion and Al Azhar Park. But I take comfort in the fact that I don’t need the necklace like I once did. By the time I lost the necklace, it had served its purpose. I was out of that relationship and had travelled to many countries, but most importantly, I had been brave enough to choose myself, and the life I wanted to lead. I knew my choices were not dalliances but a path. I had chosen a life driven by adventure and ideals, one where my brain and my bravado are my most prized possessions. Someday, there may be another man who wants to rename me and keep me close by his side. I’d like to see him try.

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A safe itinerary to exciting success in Nigeria
He possessed an intrepid physique, radiant cheeks, hair still remain dark, and a gritty skin. He wore a hat strolling around the backyard, and a tattered blue army overcoat when it was cold, and sometimes top-boots. He walks round the house and an earsplitting yell was heard from the backyard, before he could be rushed to the hospital, he gave up the ghost.

What a pity! There is no one death cannot eliminate as death claim the life of my father after being battled by the debilitating disease of cancer.
One morning after the corpse was interred; the family members sideline my mother from other important discussion concerning the properties of the deceased. She stood upon her gallery with arms akimbo, shedding tears, so unexpected and bewildering was the death of her husband. The next decision of the family member was that the children of the deceased would be taken care of by the family members but my mother disagreed.

Few days to that time, I was kidnapped by unknown abductors alongside my mother and my younger ones into the narrow strip of shade on the porch of the long, low house; the hot sunlight was beating in on the brown old boards as an unpleasant odour filled the atmosphere, and a terrific sound was coming across the non-flowering cotton-field. The kidnappers were sent by the family member who wanted to confiscate the hard earned properties of the deceased from his immediate family.

Few minute to our execution by the kidnappers, a serene was heard within that abode alarmed by the Nigeria Police who were on duty when they notice some suspicious movement and sound in that environment. They thwarted the kidnappers from achieving their goal as they all fled away from being arrested and we were all unfettered from their captivity.

After two days of staying at the police station for security reasons, an officer lent my mother a piece of advice and that leads to our itinerary to Lagos state so that we can gain the freedom from our nemesis.

In the struggle of being totally independence, my mother seeks for employment opportunity for various months under the administration of the rickety Nigeria government before she later started with a petty trade. My mother also clamour that I should be independent by now as she inculcated that I must learn a vocation and must also provide and feed myself. This was initially difficult for me and I had persistent fight with her. I begin to hate her the more, my emotion begins to suffer depression, and my life now lacks the nutrient of joy and happiness. Drastically, I am becoming more irrelevant to the community as I use obsolete phone, I have accrued debt and I can’t avoid eating three meals a day because I have fallen into the abysmal of excruciating pestilence of poverty.

At a conference which I reluctantly attended transformed my life, I was inspired to take responsibility. Consequently, I searched for job in consensus to the inspiring testimonies heard at the conference that “before you can become successful, you would need to move out of your environment”. This emanates how I became a driver as I virtually travel and tour the whole Nigeria and Ghana while doing a job of a driver.

After about 15hours on road from Nigeria due to various barricades by the security personnel and also the vehicle engine problem which hiatus our journey. The red sunset and the blue-gray twilight had together flung a purple mist across the road that hid it from our view. We could no longer hear the wheezing and creaking of wheels but could still faintly hear the shrill, glad voices of the children in the passing vehicles. Finally, we reach Ghana and I got employed by the benevolent business woman called Miss Calister to whom I return the wallet she forgot in my bus some weeks ago.
I seated myself beside the table as I glance through the room, into which the evening shadows were creeping and deepening around my solitary figure, happy that I bounced back to a life of debt free, joy and happiness and I regain my freedom from the bumpy hands of poverty and sadness. This is the chronicle of my itinerary to success.

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Gulin china5 Places worth a visit in Guilin, China

Anyone who’s ever read a Chinese textbook can attest that these textbooks glorify Guilin. Not only that, politicians also sing praises to this city’s natural endowments and often entertain visiting dignitaries in this resort town. During my last visit to Guilin, I was adamant to find out in less than a week if Guilin and its surrounding areas do indeed live up to its reputation. Here are the top five sights I saw and love to reminisce about.

1. Reed flute cave

I spent a good hour here oohing and ahhing at the sight of the abundant stalactites and rock formations, which were illuminated by multi-colored lighting. This lighting enhanced the otherworldly atmosphere contained therein. It was like stumbling into a fairy’s den, another world you’ll normally associate with a fictional novel. The highlight was the laser light musical show at the end of the cave, which gave me chills. With the help of the guide, I could easily visualize animals, cities, and plants among the rock formations.

2. Fubo hill

This attraction made me withstand an intense cardio exercise as I climbed the steps leading up to the lookout point on top that showed a bird’s eye view of the city. You could see panoramic views of the Li River and the developing city’s natural beauty from high above.

3. Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces

Hours away from Guilin, I found myself gaping at the brilliant spectacle of the verdant green man-made terraces carved as far as the eye could see. I could tell from the wide expanse of the terraces that this is the culmination of the Zhuang people’s strenuous efforts and ingeniousness. I rode a cable car to get to the top where I could see just how high and extensive the work done must have been to transform the vast region into layer upon layer of rice terraces. It was a picturesque sight to behold and I could imagine how its beauty changes into golden hues for autumn, crisp white in winter and bright green for summer to keep onlookers wanting to come back again.

4. The Long Hair Village

The moment I stumbled upon the Long Hair Village, the Guinness world book record holder for the “world’s longest hair village”, I was intrigued. I was bewildered that such a place even exists! I discovered with my own eyes that the village is beautiful with its rustic charm and truly, its residents does indeed live up to their village name. The Yao ethnic women who reside there were the embodiment of brunette Rapunzels. They dress in unique and colorful traditional clothing and performed by singing and dancing. It was amusing to watch as they invited male guests to participate in a mock wedding ceremony as done in their village. You may ask: how do they keep their hair jet-black even when they’re old and wrinkled? They do so by washing their hair with fermented rice water! Nature truly works wonders.

5. Li River cruise

As featured on the 20 yuan note, you can see the lush landscape looking reminiscent of Ha Long Bay at every twist and turn on this relaxing cruise. I saw fishermen, some with tourists, on their bamboo rafts sailing through the calm water. After a few hours, the cruise stops at Yangshuo, a small town where you can easily find food or bargain with small shops selling pearl, jade, Chinese paintings and more.

After being left breathless by these five stand-out sights, I was rest assured that Guilin and its surrounding areas are indeed worth a visit and are definitely worthy of its accolades.

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colombiaLiving Life to its fullest in England

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted a poem by Pablo Neruda entitled “You start dying slowly.” It resonated with me, and expressed the way that I was feeling 3 years ago, before my life took a detour from its original trajectory. There are not many things in this world that I am afraid of, but dying without fully experiencing life is one of my greatest fears.

“You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking every day on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine.”

Freedom and fulfillment of dreams are central to the North American ideal, but many of us don’t feel free. Instead, we feel enslaved to our jobs and our lifestyles like we are just part of the rat race, mechanically putting one foot in front of the other. It wasn’t long ago that I felt trapped in my life, like I was living in auto-pilot, moving through each day without anything special and feeling unsatisfied. I was in my fifth year as a junior high/middle-school science teacher in my hometown, and although I loved my job and my students, I felt stuck. Everyone else seemed to be moving forward, finding love, settling down, and having families. Yet here I was, doing the “same old things”; I was not content to “settle”. But what could I do?

“You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job,
[…] If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream […]
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.”

I have always had a love of traveling, since my first plane rides and car trips across Canada as a toddler to visit family. I was very fortunate to have the experience of doing a semester abroad in university, and it lit the fire to try life in another country. When I finished university, I dreamed of teaching overseas. The more unsatisfied I felt with my life, the more my desire to teach abroad increased. I made the decision to move overseas, and after being denied a leave of absence, I resigned from my position, packed up my life and my house, and moved to England. By moving abroad, I was forcing myself to meet new people, try new things and change my routines. There were many new things to experience and different customs to learn to try to fit into my new surroundings.

” You start dying slowly
If you do not travel,
If you do not listen to the sounds of life
If you do not appreciate your life […]
If you avoid to feel passion.”

I struggled when I first moved, and found that I still wasn’t as happy as I had hoped to be. I was forced to figure out my passions. I always knew that traveling was a passion of mine, but I was very fortunate to meet a group of diverse women who helped me rediscover another passion of mine, dance. One of my favourite things when I am visiting a different region, or country, is to learn about their food and about their culture, in particular, the way that music influences people and their outlooks on life. This was especially evident when I took my next leap to Colombia. One of the most diverse countries in South America, there are so many different cultures all blended into one, and it makes for an amazing and lively blend of music and movement. Nothing can make you happier than some cool Colombian beats!

Since traveling is my passion, I felt the most alive when I was able to get out of London and travel throughout Europe. I tried to figure out a way that I could experience that presence in my day to day life. One advantage of such a large city, is that it made exploring close to home quite easy. There are so many different parks, markets and sites to see, that most weekends, I would make an effort to immerse myself in my environment.

It actually took living in Colombia, in a city that lacked parks, for me to realize how important nature is to feeling free and satisfied with life. For those that may not have the ability to travel far from home, going to the local park, the mountains or the ocean is another great way to free yourselves from the stresses and confines of daily life. What I discovered from moving around the world, is that to feel free, you don’t have to go far. By paying attention to your surroundings, and surrounding yourself with nature, you too can feel free.

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thailand-scheduleThere Is No Crammed Schedule in Thailand

Erin and I took a giant leap of adventure when we sold all our belongings in the USA and booked a one way ticket to Bangkok, Thailand. No itinerary. No plans. It was time to shake life up and discover more of ourselves. We were all too familiar with the 9-5 grind and were ready for something completely different. It does not take long on the backpacking trail to learn a few things about self and about life.

It is difficult to make and keep travel plans out in this world experiencing pure freedom. Where the wind blows and you follow along with the stranger met last night. A few buckets and a few beers and next thing you know we were on our way from Bangkok to Surat Thani with a brand new friend Dave, who happened to be approaching 60 years old, but knew a thing or two about travel.

We sat on the floor near the KFC in the brightly lit open air train station. Where the locals chipper away with their Thai accents and the smell of all sorts of food fill the air. Quite a strange aroma of fried chicken and Pad Thai, especially for the just arrived tourists we were. After two hours on the very hard train station floor I thought to myself, “I haven’t heard an announcement for our train and it is past departure time.” I walk up to the ticket window with Dave and learn the train was gone. We missed it!

Now that was a hard pill to swallow at that time. Missed the train, “Oh no,” we thought, “what are we going to do now!?” At the ticket counter, the lady next to me says, “That’s traveling. Just let it go. You’ll get there fine.” My worrying mind was wound so tight from the life I left behind that I could not comprehend the ease with which she said let it go. No other choice but to buy another ticket and sit next to the ladies chomping on their bags of rice and hang out longer.

We caught the next train and arrived at our destination just fine. The first step in unwinding that anxious little brain was to acknowledge that while on travel things do not always go as planned. Take a deep breath and carry on.

Dave learned that lesson as well when he stepped in the ocean off balance and messed up his knee in Koh Samui three days later. It ended his trip completely and he had to fly back to San Francisco. Bummer to lose Dave but another sign that you must go with flow, appreciate the opportunity at hand, and do not take for granted the wonder of the wide open world.

Erin and I ended up on the island of Koh Phangan a few days after losing Dave and we arrived the same day as the Half Moon jungle party. Let’s see what this party island is all about!

A buzz of energy was in the air as we arrived to the hostel. “Free shots!” proclaimed the staff. Body paint, alcohol, and good times got us started. We caught a tuk-tuk and hung on tight up the winding jungle road to our destination. Twelve of us on one ride had me hanging teetering on the side as the driver moved seamlessly through town and up toward a night to remember.

Dropped off in the jungle I begin to see the bright lights and hear the sound of the electronic music. Now here is a scene we were familiar with back home. Witnessing the grand stage production with a DJ booth and the amazing colors streaming out from the LED visual panel above the booth we found our place for the evening. Wandering around near the brightly lit tree in the middle of the dance floor it was possible to sit, reflect on the journey thus far, and smile from within. This is why we came across the world, to find our true freedom away from the hustle and grind back home and meet all these amazing souls from many different walks of life. Take the journey in stride and realize that there is no schedule here, only great memories to be made and life to be lived.

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kenyaCertain Freedom On The Edge in Kenya

I had travelled very little in life, almost all of it within the geographical borders of New York State and most of that between the rounded mountains of the Catskills, the tumble of the Adirondacks, and the rocky Eastern shores of Lake Ontario. The world is a comfortable, dependable, predictable place when it amounts to roughly 150 miles by 150 miles. It also becomes routine, dull, and even a little oppressive. Still and all, it was MY world and what I knew.

You might think that such a small, intimate world would be accustomed to many of those born and raised there taking their leave, escaping into the wider world all around. To be sure, that occurred, enough to not be unusual, but not enough to be common. So, when the opportunity to leave New York and live in Kenya presented itself, pursuing that opportunity became a rich source of unsolicited advice, unsought opinion, and even outright discouragement.

I had wanted to explore the wider world beyond Upstate New York for some time, but did not have a good idea of how to do so. No one in my family or group of friends had travelled much, if at all. One uncle who had travelled extensively had done so by making a career with US Air Force. Joining “the Service” did not appeal to me, much to my uncle’s and father’s dismay. But, in a tangential twist of reasoning, the concept of esprit de corps Dad continually espoused bloomed into the idea of serving in the US Peace Corps.

You can imagine the usual paperwork, interviews, and bureaucratic back-and-forth that took place over the course of six months. Eventually, I was assigned to be a high school teacher in Western Kenya; specifically, the tiny hamlet of Kipsoen clinging 1,000 meters atop the escarpment, above the floor of the Great Rift Valley. The edge of the world.

Everything I had been sure – and assured – of: the world I knew and the person I was certain of, quickly melted away under the equatorial sun of the African plains.

The landscape: Isak Dinesen describes it as, “the views were immensely wide — everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility.” (Out of Africa, 1937). The culture and the people: time and interactions had an easy, open, welcoming quality. Telling time was upended: What was 7:00AM on a clock in New York, was read as “sah moja” (the first hour, or 1:00AM) in KiSwahili, the national language of Kenya. The attitude toward Life: “Hakuna Matata” (there are no problems), as Pumbaa and Timon sang in Disney’s The Lion King, is an actual truth in traditional Kenyan thinking. In short, travelling halfway around the world took me worlds away from what I’d learned and from where I’d come.

Going all that distance and in the melting away, the removal, of all the fixtures and accoutrements of growing up in my old world, there was space for new outlooks, attitudes, and growth. It wasn’t a smooth, quick, easy, nor always a conscious process. Among some of the oldest peoples on the planet, on the oldest continent, I found a new start.

That is where I found my freedom.

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munichWalking on the Winter Streets in Munich, Germany

Bavaria in the winter is a different proposition from Bavaria in the summer. Perhaps if one skies, a winter in Bavaria might seem like heaven with mountain slopes. I emphatically don’t ski. Nor do I like beer. Thus Munich would seem like an odd choice.

I stayed in Munich for three months with my aunt. Four years ago she moved here for work, and found a comfortable apartment with an extra bedroom. Every member of my extended family has, at least once, come here to stay with her and take short trips elsewhere in Europe once the jet lag has worn off. I’m the last one to make the journey.

As for myself, this is not particularly a vacation. More like a figure-out-what-the-hell-I’m-doing-with-my-life sabbatical of frustration from what I’m used to in Colorado. Also a somewhat desperate bid to step up my photography with inspiration from new places.

It’s early on a Sunday, and despite the temperatures and the fact that the winter sun hasn’t managed to filter much through a blanket of cloud cover, we layer up in warm gear, pulling on knit hats over our bed-messy hair to go for a walk, camera as ever glued to my side.

It’s cold in Munich on a winter morning, and often the wind makes it colder. The apartment is located on a Fahrradstrasse, meaning “bicycle street.” One has to watch out for the bikes more than the cars. The canal we cross is lined with tall trees that are still incongruously sheathed in thick green ivy leaves. The tops of the trees are bare twigs, but no one seems to have told the ivy that it’s cold.

We crunch our way down narrow sidewalks covered in gravel, the German answer to ice-melt. The apartment buildings each have small yards for the ground-floor flats, and most balconies sport what will be greenery in a few months. Some even have tiny pines or spruce, which are decked out festively with Christmas lights during the holidays. Yet despite their similarities, none are quite the same. All have stucco exteriors, but in a surprising range of pastels. Each has its own architecture, some with decorative paintings or small inset statues.

There’s a bakery for every neighborhood, and an apoteke (pharmacy) on practically every street in Munich. The grocery store is never more than a couple of blocks’ walk. On any weekend morning you’ll find a queue outside the bakery, husbands whose wives sent them out on breakfast duty. It’s a different way of life than I’m used to, but I’ve grown to enjoy it.

It takes less than fifteen minutes of walking from the Fahrradstrasse to get to Nymphenburg Palace. The massive white exterior is impressive, but we pass by the huge staircase entrance and enter the gates that lead to the grounds. There are many paths to choose from, criss-crossing the wooded estate. Bird calls ring out unexpectedly, from the tiny blue tits to blackbirds, crows, and geese. Pillared bridges span the canals that divert water from the river to feed several fountains, still now for the winter.

Few people are out this early, so we have the quiet woods mostly to ourselves. As we crunch along, the church bells begin to toll, right on time.

It strikes me as a uniquely European experience to meander on forested paths, yet still hear perfectly tuned church bells sing out from the street that is in fact not too far away. We stop at one of our favorite trees which exudes an air of quiet wisdom, a huge and gnarled beech with bark like elephant skin, and listening to the church bells there feels as sacred as any experience I can remember having.

My time in Munich turned out to be not what I was expecting. But it was precisely what I needed. It was culture and nature all mixed up together; a new frame of reference and an opportunity to see a new way ahead. I knew that I wouldn’t be the same after this time spent traveling, and that is true. Photography became real for me, far more than a hobby. More importantly, I became bigger in Munich, with a wider world-view and deeper determination to live in a meaningful way.

Photo Credit: Dawn Myscofski

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Backpack & Bushes In Munich: The Freedom In Wandering

There I was, wandering the suburban streets of Munich with a poor sense of direction and the absence of mobile technology. That afternoon, I had stepped off of an airplane that had departed from the island of Majorca in the south of Spain. Majorca was warm, tropical, and evoked the inner island-ista in me and, therefore, I was sporting my thinnest tank top and beachy footwear. Although the time of year was early August, the weather in Münich resembled the brisk end of autumn.

Needless to say, I was cold, lost, and the sun was setting. I was on the hunt for the flat belonging to my Couchsurfing hosts, without a way of contacting them. All of the surrounding buildings were residential and very quiet. Any passerby was fair game when it came to directional questions, but I only crossed paths with two in my many hours of searching. The first person was Turkish and I, unfortunately, did not speak his language. I showed him my hand-written address and he pointed onward down the street; I kept walking.

This is the point where I should have broken down and cried. There was not one car or taxi to flag and deliver me to my destination. I was far from the nearest train station and low on cash. Instead of crying, however, I stayed calm. I had my backpack; everything I needed was on my person so spending a night in the bushes… was totally doable!

In that backpack I had multiple layers of clothing, a change of shoes, and probably something edible. My backpack was there for me. My backpack gave me the freedom to make a mistake like this and helped me recognize my privilege in possessing the items necessary for basic comforts. This realization showed me that once basic needs are met, less is more in travel.

The freer we want to become, the more we must leave behind. Before I could be a self-titled traveler, I had to look this realization square in the eyes because leaving behind the things that maintain comfort in order to travel is uncomfortable. I did not like getting dirty and staying dirty. I wanted my full size shampoo bottle. I needed silence and complete darkness in order to sleep through the night.

For me, it was a little grey backpack that challenged me to decide what was to be left behind in order to see what true freedom feels like. If it was travel that I wanted, I had to bridge the void between lux and living. I had to become okay with getting dirty, losing sleep, being uncomfortable for the sake of seeing the world with authenticity. When living life as a traveler, what is essential is what we choose to travel with us. The size of my backpack has taught me to choose wisely and intuitively.

This very backpack encourages me to not only open the door of my closet to get it out but doors all over the world. It has been there to support me through the wonderful and harried times of my adventures. My backpack was there for me when I hunted for my hostel on the winding streets of Barcelona. She has sat beside me and heard countless tales from strangers who have transformed into friends. And she has been there for the myriad of travel-mishaps that have left me questioning if I will be sleeping in the bushes for the evening.

The end of my Munich mishap goes like this: Lost in a dark courtyard, I spotted a man climbing his porch steps about to unlock his front door. Across the green space, I shouted for help as politely and nonthreatening as possible. He stopped and turned around seemingly jolly and ready to help. Thank God! I showed him the address and, in broken German-English, he described that I was on the side of the street with even-numbered addresses and I needed to be in the courtyard across the street with odd-numbered addresses. I was saved from a foliage-filled slumber!

Because everything I needed was on my back, a night in the shrubs was not only a possibility but also something I was prepared to experience. Of course, I know that I am more than my backpack and, even without it, I would have survived, but I have learned that living with less is actually living with enough. By setting off on an adventure with minimal essentials, I have been allowed to become myself again. Even though I found the flat in Munich that night, my backpack has given me the freedom and contentment in knowing that there really is not much I need to pack to have a proper adventure.

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Democracy, Freedom and Independence in Bratislava, Slovakia.

It is a holiday commemorating the 1945 uprising against Nazi occupation today. Devinska Nova Ves (DNV) is a large village about 16 km north of Bratislava. Its wide main street is lined with old houses, there is an enormous Volkswagen factory and a few tower blocks – nothing special really. But back in 2012 it came to the attention of the world’s press, even Reuters. It was all about a bridge.

DNV is on the Morava River- the border between Slovakia and Austria. In Cold War times this was a heavily militarized zone of barbed-wire fences and constant patrols by border guards. Many people died trying to run through the wire here. Inside the one km exclusion zone you could have been shot on sight. If they had tried swimming they would have had to deal with serious currents on both the Danube and Morava rivers. In 2012 a bridge was completed over the river at DNV to join the formerly impenetrable frontier. The Bratislava Regional Assembly set up a Facebook vote to name this historically significant link between the old communist block and Western Europe. The Regional Governor, Pavol Freso, affirmed that they would probably go with the people’s wishes. That is until the “Chuck Norris Bridge” polled more than 10 times as many votes as the Regional Assembly’s proposal, or indeed any other suggestions. Now Reuters started to take an interest. Chuck Norris was always a source of jokes concerning macho invincibility in Slovakia (Chuck Norris can delete the recycling bin…), but hardly a feasible choice for naming a bridge (no-one walks over Chuck Norris was later mentioned by the Assembly). But you can cross this historic bridge today. The floodplains beneath will be a Site of Special Scientific Interest, teeming with rare flora and fauna.

About two km South of DNV lies the village of Devin, where today there is a festival. If you bus out of Bratislava you may well sit next to a knight, complete with chain mail, sword and helmet on his mobile phone.

Devin Castle, first recorded in 864, lies atop a cliff overlooking the Danube. In the thirteenth century it was the frontier post of the Hungarian Empire. It featured on a coin and a note of the former currency in Cold War times – an important national symbol. Now it lies in ruins (thank Napoleon for that). At the castle are “medieval” tents with costumed people sitting around cooking over fires in iron pots. It has an authentic feel. All the men have long hair and one is undressing to his boxer shorts to put on his chain mail vest, boots, helmet and jacket.

We walk up to the ruins, where my four-year-old daughter, Mollie, is delighted to shout “bottom” down the 55 metre well and enjoy its echo. From up here you can see the Danube curving round to the Morava.

Terraced vineyards sweep down from Dacha’s (small wooden summer villas) on the mountain-top. One huge, elegant residence dominates all of these. I was told that this belongs to the Russian mafia. Down at the river you can throw a stone over into Austria which is why so many tried their luck here. If it wasn’t running through the militarized zone and barbed wire then trying to swim, it was (homemade) hang-gliders from the hilltops. Down by the confluence a serious ceremony is taking place. Over 400 people died between 1945 and 1989 attempting this: nearly one a month for 44 years from one small village on the Austrian border. Each name listed on the sculpture and explained in four languages. It read (verbatim):
“The Iron Curtain used to stand here. It cannot be pulled away. It can only be cracked. Four Hundred people sacrificed their life while fighting for their rights. Human beings, free and unrestricted do not forget that freedom of thinking, acting and dreaming is a value that is not only worth living but also bringing sacrifices.”

Judging by their ages, the attendees here could well have been the brothers or sisters, even parents of those desperado’s who died for freedom and independence. So there you have it: freedom and independence in one rather confusing package. Foul-mouthed four-year-olds, uprisings against Nazi occupation, modern ex-Iron Curtain members of the EEC co-existing with today’s Russian mafia, medieval knights, would-be escapees of communism and Chuck Norris. The Bratislava Regional Assembly, in their infinite wisdom actually rejected the 12,599 votes for the “Chuck Norris Bridge” in favour of the “Freedom Cycling Bridge” (457 votes), which is now its official name. However, thanks to Reuters, it is even today easily findable on Google under its more democratic name. If my daughter were able to understand this, I am absolutely sure that she would say, “But that’s bottom democracy, freedom and independence!”

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Forging my Inquisitive Name in Egypt

Standing in a shop in Cairo, I spelled out my name for the clerk, both in English and in Arabic. Should it end with an eliph or a taa marbuta? We went back and forth, settling on aliph, the first letter of the alphabet, and I handed over a not insignificant amount of Egyptian pounds.

I was in Egypt for six weeks studying Arabic and Middle Eastern politics, as part of one of my many minors. But really, I was there because the summer before I had stayed home in Massachusetts, working retail. I had watched as friends flooded facebook with photos from all over Egypt. I wanted to learn about the region, but I also wanted to go on an adventure, having conversations and experiences that would never happen back home. My parents had agreed, on the grounds that university staff would accompany us. My boyfriend would be waiting when I got back, in spite of how nervous I had been to even ask that question.

Six weeks seemed like a long time, but once I was abroad, it it didn’t take long for us both to chafe under the situation. He felt like I was always too busy, and was suspicious of the new friends I was making, especially the male ones. I felt like every call was either a fight or a one-sided conversation, keeping me from flash cards, late-night dessert treks, and new friends. I had started spending time with young women who proudly called themselves feminists and stretched my previous definition of the word. I started wondering why I had ever found the necklace he gave me, emblazoned with the word “princess,” to be sweet.

A couple of days after spelling out my name in the shop, a small velvet envelope arrived. I took off the old necklace, something I hadn’t done since he gave it to me, and excitedly placed my new one around my neck. Instead of someone else’s ill-fitting pet name, I was wearing my own. More than that, my Arabic name necklace was an outward sign of my accomplishments: the hundreds of hours learning Arabic, the nerve-wracking solo cab ride, the ever-present street harassment, and the wonder of Naguib Mahfouz’s books. I was working harder academically than I ever had in my life, not to mention constantly learning from everyone I met. This country had indelibly changed me, and it all sat there at my collarbone, in elegant, silver, Arabic script.

Back home, I wore my new necklace proudly. That did not go unnoticed.

There were questions and tears. It seems the symbolism of the two pieces of jewelry wasn’t lost on anyone. It didn’t help that I hid his necklace from myself out of sadness and couldn’t find it again until years later, well after our relationship was dead and buried. But it wouldn’t have mattered; I had changed.

My time in Egypt brought so much to my life: feminism, a love of the Middle East, dear friends, and a knowledge that not only can I do things that seem big and scary, but I thrive on them. I’ll never be certain why we broke up, but I know I couldn’t have become the person I am now while remaining his girlfriend. I needed years to myself, without any guilt or judgment about my travels and personal politics, two of my strongest and most intertwined traits. I needed room to grow, to see where the world would take me if I didn’t need anyone else and no one else needed me. I needed to be a woman of my own making, not someone else’s vision of me, not an asterisked version of myself that was only acceptable with caveats and conditions. I needed to be able to pick up and go, over and over again, and not be seen as disloyal for doing so.

One day, the necklace slipped off at a friend’s backyard barbecue, never to be seen again. I miss it like I miss so much about Egypt, from koshery and nutty actions movies to hijabi fashion and Al Azhar Park. But I take comfort in the fact that I don’t need the necklace like I once did. By the time I lost the necklace, it had served its purpose. I was out of that relationship and had travelled to many countries, but most importantly, I had been brave enough to choose myself, and the life I wanted to lead. I knew my choices were not dalliances but a path. I had chosen a life driven by adventure and ideals, one where my brain and my bravado are my most prized possessions. Someday, there may be another man who wants to rename me and keep me close by his side. I’d like to see him try.

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A safe itinerary to exciting success in Nigeria
He possessed an intrepid physique, radiant cheeks, hair still remain dark, and a gritty skin. He wore a hat strolling around the backyard, and a tattered blue army overcoat when it was cold, and sometimes top-boots. He walks round the house and an earsplitting yell was heard from the backyard, before he could be rushed to the hospital, he gave up the ghost.

What a pity! There is no one death cannot eliminate as death claim the life of my father after being battled by the debilitating disease of cancer.
One morning after the corpse was interred; the family members sideline my mother from other important discussion concerning the properties of the deceased. She stood upon her gallery with arms akimbo, shedding tears, so unexpected and bewildering was the death of her husband. The next decision of the family member was that the children of the deceased would be taken care of by the family members but my mother disagreed.

Few days to that time, I was kidnapped by unknown abductors alongside my mother and my younger ones into the narrow strip of shade on the porch of the long, low house; the hot sunlight was beating in on the brown old boards as an unpleasant odour filled the atmosphere, and a terrific sound was coming across the non-flowering cotton-field. The kidnappers were sent by the family member who wanted to confiscate the hard earned properties of the deceased from his immediate family.

Few minute to our execution by the kidnappers, a serene was heard within that abode alarmed by the Nigeria Police who were on duty when they notice some suspicious movement and sound in that environment. They thwarted the kidnappers from achieving their goal as they all fled away from being arrested and we were all unfettered from their captivity.

After two days of staying at the police station for security reasons, an officer lent my mother a piece of advice and that leads to our itinerary to Lagos state so that we can gain the freedom from our nemesis.

In the struggle of being totally independence, my mother seeks for employment opportunity for various months under the administration of the rickety Nigeria government before she later started with a petty trade. My mother also clamour that I should be independent by now as she inculcated that I must learn a vocation and must also provide and feed myself. This was initially difficult for me and I had persistent fight with her. I begin to hate her the more, my emotion begins to suffer depression, and my life now lacks the nutrient of joy and happiness. Drastically, I am becoming more irrelevant to the community as I use obsolete phone, I have accrued debt and I can’t avoid eating three meals a day because I have fallen into the abysmal of excruciating pestilence of poverty.

At a conference which I reluctantly attended transformed my life, I was inspired to take responsibility. Consequently, I searched for job in consensus to the inspiring testimonies heard at the conference that “before you can become successful, you would need to move out of your environment”. This emanates how I became a driver as I virtually travel and tour the whole Nigeria and Ghana while doing a job of a driver.

After about 15hours on road from Nigeria due to various barricades by the security personnel and also the vehicle engine problem which hiatus our journey. The red sunset and the blue-gray twilight had together flung a purple mist across the road that hid it from our view. We could no longer hear the wheezing and creaking of wheels but could still faintly hear the shrill, glad voices of the children in the passing vehicles. Finally, we reach Ghana and I got employed by the benevolent business woman called Miss Calister to whom I return the wallet she forgot in my bus some weeks ago.
I seated myself beside the table as I glance through the room, into which the evening shadows were creeping and deepening around my solitary figure, happy that I bounced back to a life of debt free, joy and happiness and I regain my freedom from the bumpy hands of poverty and sadness. This is the chronicle of my itinerary to success.

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Gulin china5 Places worth a visit in Guilin, China

Anyone who’s ever read a Chinese textbook can attest that these textbooks glorify Guilin. Not only that, politicians also sing praises to this city’s natural endowments and often entertain visiting dignitaries in this resort town. During my last visit to Guilin, I was adamant to find out in less than a week if Guilin and its surrounding areas do indeed live up to its reputation. Here are the top five sights I saw and love to reminisce about.

1. Reed flute cave

I spent a good hour here oohing and ahhing at the sight of the abundant stalactites and rock formations, which were illuminated by multi-colored lighting. This lighting enhanced the otherworldly atmosphere contained therein. It was like stumbling into a fairy’s den, another world you’ll normally associate with a fictional novel. The highlight was the laser light musical show at the end of the cave, which gave me chills. With the help of the guide, I could easily visualize animals, cities, and plants among the rock formations.

2. Fubo hill

This attraction made me withstand an intense cardio exercise as I climbed the steps leading up to the lookout point on top that showed a bird’s eye view of the city. You could see panoramic views of the Li River and the developing city’s natural beauty from high above.

3. Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces

Hours away from Guilin, I found myself gaping at the brilliant spectacle of the verdant green man-made terraces carved as far as the eye could see. I could tell from the wide expanse of the terraces that this is the culmination of the Zhuang people’s strenuous efforts and ingeniousness. I rode a cable car to get to the top where I could see just how high and extensive the work done must have been to transform the vast region into layer upon layer of rice terraces. It was a picturesque sight to behold and I could imagine how its beauty changes into golden hues for autumn, crisp white in winter and bright green for summer to keep onlookers wanting to come back again.

4. The Long Hair Village

The moment I stumbled upon the Long Hair Village, the Guinness world book record holder for the “world’s longest hair village”, I was intrigued. I was bewildered that such a place even exists! I discovered with my own eyes that the village is beautiful with its rustic charm and truly, its residents does indeed live up to their village name. The Yao ethnic women who reside there were the embodiment of brunette Rapunzels. They dress in unique and colorful traditional clothing and performed by singing and dancing. It was amusing to watch as they invited male guests to participate in a mock wedding ceremony as done in their village. You may ask: how do they keep their hair jet-black even when they’re old and wrinkled? They do so by washing their hair with fermented rice water! Nature truly works wonders.

5. Li River cruise

As featured on the 20 yuan note, you can see the lush landscape looking reminiscent of Ha Long Bay at every twist and turn on this relaxing cruise. I saw fishermen, some with tourists, on their bamboo rafts sailing through the calm water. After a few hours, the cruise stops at Yangshuo, a small town where you can easily find food or bargain with small shops selling pearl, jade, Chinese paintings and more.

After being left breathless by these five stand-out sights, I was rest assured that Guilin and its surrounding areas are indeed worth a visit and are definitely worthy of its accolades.

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colombiaLiving Life to its fullest in England

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted a poem by Pablo Neruda entitled “You start dying slowly.” It resonated with me, and expressed the way that I was feeling 3 years ago, before my life took a detour from its original trajectory. There are not many things in this world that I am afraid of, but dying without fully experiencing life is one of my greatest fears.

“You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking every day on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine.”

Freedom and fulfillment of dreams are central to the North American ideal, but many of us don’t feel free. Instead, we feel enslaved to our jobs and our lifestyles like we are just part of the rat race, mechanically putting one foot in front of the other. It wasn’t long ago that I felt trapped in my life, like I was living in auto-pilot, moving through each day without anything special and feeling unsatisfied. I was in my fifth year as a junior high/middle-school science teacher in my hometown, and although I loved my job and my students, I felt stuck. Everyone else seemed to be moving forward, finding love, settling down, and having families. Yet here I was, doing the “same old things”; I was not content to “settle”. But what could I do?

“You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job,
[…] If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream […]
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.”

I have always had a love of traveling, since my first plane rides and car trips across Canada as a toddler to visit family. I was very fortunate to have the experience of doing a semester abroad in university, and it lit the fire to try life in another country. When I finished university, I dreamed of teaching overseas. The more unsatisfied I felt with my life, the more my desire to teach abroad increased. I made the decision to move overseas, and after being denied a leave of absence, I resigned from my position, packed up my life and my house, and moved to England. By moving abroad, I was forcing myself to meet new people, try new things and change my routines. There were many new things to experience and different customs to learn to try to fit into my new surroundings.

” You start dying slowly
If you do not travel,
If you do not listen to the sounds of life
If you do not appreciate your life […]
If you avoid to feel passion.”

I struggled when I first moved, and found that I still wasn’t as happy as I had hoped to be. I was forced to figure out my passions. I always knew that traveling was a passion of mine, but I was very fortunate to meet a group of diverse women who helped me rediscover another passion of mine, dance. One of my favourite things when I am visiting a different region, or country, is to learn about their food and about their culture, in particular, the way that music influences people and their outlooks on life. This was especially evident when I took my next leap to Colombia. One of the most diverse countries in South America, there are so many different cultures all blended into one, and it makes for an amazing and lively blend of music and movement. Nothing can make you happier than some cool Colombian beats!

Since traveling is my passion, I felt the most alive when I was able to get out of London and travel throughout Europe. I tried to figure out a way that I could experience that presence in my day to day life. One advantage of such a large city, is that it made exploring close to home quite easy. There are so many different parks, markets and sites to see, that most weekends, I would make an effort to immerse myself in my environment.

It actually took living in Colombia, in a city that lacked parks, for me to realize how important nature is to feeling free and satisfied with life. For those that may not have the ability to travel far from home, going to the local park, the mountains or the ocean is another great way to free yourselves from the stresses and confines of daily life. What I discovered from moving around the world, is that to feel free, you don’t have to go far. By paying attention to your surroundings, and surrounding yourself with nature, you too can feel free.

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thailand-scheduleThere Is No Crammed Schedule in Thailand

Erin and I took a giant leap of adventure when we sold all our belongings in the USA and booked a one way ticket to Bangkok, Thailand. No itinerary. No plans. It was time to shake life up and discover more of ourselves. We were all too familiar with the 9-5 grind and were ready for something completely different. It does not take long on the backpacking trail to learn a few things about self and about life.

It is difficult to make and keep travel plans out in this world experiencing pure freedom. Where the wind blows and you follow along with the stranger met last night. A few buckets and a few beers and next thing you know we were on our way from Bangkok to Surat Thani with a brand new friend Dave, who happened to be approaching 60 years old, but knew a thing or two about travel.

We sat on the floor near the KFC in the brightly lit open air train station. Where the locals chipper away with their Thai accents and the smell of all sorts of food fill the air. Quite a strange aroma of fried chicken and Pad Thai, especially for the just arrived tourists we were. After two hours on the very hard train station floor I thought to myself, “I haven’t heard an announcement for our train and it is past departure time.” I walk up to the ticket window with Dave and learn the train was gone. We missed it!

Now that was a hard pill to swallow at that time. Missed the train, “Oh no,” we thought, “what are we going to do now!?” At the ticket counter, the lady next to me says, “That’s traveling. Just let it go. You’ll get there fine.” My worrying mind was wound so tight from the life I left behind that I could not comprehend the ease with which she said let it go. No other choice but to buy another ticket and sit next to the ladies chomping on their bags of rice and hang out longer.

We caught the next train and arrived at our destination just fine. The first step in unwinding that anxious little brain was to acknowledge that while on travel things do not always go as planned. Take a deep breath and carry on.

Dave learned that lesson as well when he stepped in the ocean off balance and messed up his knee in Koh Samui three days later. It ended his trip completely and he had to fly back to San Francisco. Bummer to lose Dave but another sign that you must go with flow, appreciate the opportunity at hand, and do not take for granted the wonder of the wide open world.

Erin and I ended up on the island of Koh Phangan a few days after losing Dave and we arrived the same day as the Half Moon jungle party. Let’s see what this party island is all about!

A buzz of energy was in the air as we arrived to the hostel. “Free shots!” proclaimed the staff. Body paint, alcohol, and good times got us started. We caught a tuk-tuk and hung on tight up the winding jungle road to our destination. Twelve of us on one ride had me hanging teetering on the side as the driver moved seamlessly through town and up toward a night to remember.

Dropped off in the jungle I begin to see the bright lights and hear the sound of the electronic music. Now here is a scene we were familiar with back home. Witnessing the grand stage production with a DJ booth and the amazing colors streaming out from the LED visual panel above the booth we found our place for the evening. Wandering around near the brightly lit tree in the middle of the dance floor it was possible to sit, reflect on the journey thus far, and smile from within. This is why we came across the world, to find our true freedom away from the hustle and grind back home and meet all these amazing souls from many different walks of life. Take the journey in stride and realize that there is no schedule here, only great memories to be made and life to be lived.

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kenyaCertain Freedom On The Edge in Kenya

I had travelled very little in life, almost all of it within the geographical borders of New York State and most of that between the rounded mountains of the Catskills, the tumble of the Adirondacks, and the rocky Eastern shores of Lake Ontario. The world is a comfortable, dependable, predictable place when it amounts to roughly 150 miles by 150 miles. It also becomes routine, dull, and even a little oppressive. Still and all, it was MY world and what I knew.

You might think that such a small, intimate world would be accustomed to many of those born and raised there taking their leave, escaping into the wider world all around. To be sure, that occurred, enough to not be unusual, but not enough to be common. So, when the opportunity to leave New York and live in Kenya presented itself, pursuing that opportunity became a rich source of unsolicited advice, unsought opinion, and even outright discouragement.

I had wanted to explore the wider world beyond Upstate New York for some time, but did not have a good idea of how to do so. No one in my family or group of friends had travelled much, if at all. One uncle who had travelled extensively had done so by making a career with US Air Force. Joining “the Service” did not appeal to me, much to my uncle’s and father’s dismay. But, in a tangential twist of reasoning, the concept of esprit de corps Dad continually espoused bloomed into the idea of serving in the US Peace Corps.

You can imagine the usual paperwork, interviews, and bureaucratic back-and-forth that took place over the course of six months. Eventually, I was assigned to be a high school teacher in Western Kenya; specifically, the tiny hamlet of Kipsoen clinging 1,000 meters atop the escarpment, above the floor of the Great Rift Valley. The edge of the world.

Everything I had been sure – and assured – of: the world I knew and the person I was certain of, quickly melted away under the equatorial sun of the African plains.

The landscape: Isak Dinesen describes it as, “the views were immensely wide — everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility.” (Out of Africa, 1937). The culture and the people: time and interactions had an easy, open, welcoming quality. Telling time was upended: What was 7:00AM on a clock in New York, was read as “sah moja” (the first hour, or 1:00AM) in KiSwahili, the national language of Kenya. The attitude toward Life: “Hakuna Matata” (there are no problems), as Pumbaa and Timon sang in Disney’s The Lion King, is an actual truth in traditional Kenyan thinking. In short, travelling halfway around the world took me worlds away from what I’d learned and from where I’d come.

Going all that distance and in the melting away, the removal, of all the fixtures and accoutrements of growing up in my old world, there was space for new outlooks, attitudes, and growth. It wasn’t a smooth, quick, easy, nor always a conscious process. Among some of the oldest peoples on the planet, on the oldest continent, I found a new start.

That is where I found my freedom.

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munichWalking on the Winter Streets in Munich, Germany

Bavaria in the winter is a different proposition from Bavaria in the summer. Perhaps if one skies, a winter in Bavaria might seem like heaven with mountain slopes. I emphatically don’t ski. Nor do I like beer. Thus Munich would seem like an odd choice.

I stayed in Munich for three months with my aunt. Four years ago she moved here for work, and found a comfortable apartment with an extra bedroom. Every member of my extended family has, at least once, come here to stay with her and take short trips elsewhere in Europe once the jet lag has worn off. I’m the last one to make the journey.

As for myself, this is not particularly a vacation. More like a figure-out-what-the-hell-I’m-doing-with-my-life sabbatical of frustration from what I’m used to in Colorado. Also a somewhat desperate bid to step up my photography with inspiration from new places.

It’s early on a Sunday, and despite the temperatures and the fact that the winter sun hasn’t managed to filter much through a blanket of cloud cover, we layer up in warm gear, pulling on knit hats over our bed-messy hair to go for a walk, camera as ever glued to my side.

It’s cold in Munich on a winter morning, and often the wind makes it colder. The apartment is located on a Fahrradstrasse, meaning “bicycle street.” One has to watch out for the bikes more than the cars. The canal we cross is lined with tall trees that are still incongruously sheathed in thick green ivy leaves. The tops of the trees are bare twigs, but no one seems to have told the ivy that it’s cold.

We crunch our way down narrow sidewalks covered in gravel, the German answer to ice-melt. The apartment buildings each have small yards for the ground-floor flats, and most balconies sport what will be greenery in a few months. Some even have tiny pines or spruce, which are decked out festively with Christmas lights during the holidays. Yet despite their similarities, none are quite the same. All have stucco exteriors, but in a surprising range of pastels. Each has its own architecture, some with decorative paintings or small inset statues.

There’s a bakery for every neighborhood, and an apoteke (pharmacy) on practically every street in Munich. The grocery store is never more than a couple of blocks’ walk. On any weekend morning you’ll find a queue outside the bakery, husbands whose wives sent them out on breakfast duty. It’s a different way of life than I’m used to, but I’ve grown to enjoy it.

It takes less than fifteen minutes of walking from the Fahrradstrasse to get to Nymphenburg Palace. The massive white exterior is impressive, but we pass by the huge staircase entrance and enter the gates that lead to the grounds. There are many paths to choose from, criss-crossing the wooded estate. Bird calls ring out unexpectedly, from the tiny blue tits to blackbirds, crows, and geese. Pillared bridges span the canals that divert water from the river to feed several fountains, still now for the winter.

Few people are out this early, so we have the quiet woods mostly to ourselves. As we crunch along, the church bells begin to toll, right on time.

It strikes me as a uniquely European experience to meander on forested paths, yet still hear perfectly tuned church bells sing out from the street that is in fact not too far away. We stop at one of our favorite trees which exudes an air of quiet wisdom, a huge and gnarled beech with bark like elephant skin, and listening to the church bells there feels as sacred as any experience I can remember having.

My time in Munich turned out to be not what I was expecting. But it was precisely what I needed. It was culture and nature all mixed up together; a new frame of reference and an opportunity to see a new way ahead. I knew that I wouldn’t be the same after this time spent traveling, and that is true. Photography became real for me, far more than a hobby. More importantly, I became bigger in Munich, with a wider world-view and deeper determination to live in a meaningful way.

Photo Credit: Dawn Myscofski

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Backpack & Bushes In Munich: The Freedom In Wandering

There I was, wandering the suburban streets of Munich with a poor sense of direction and the absence of mobile technology. That afternoon, I had stepped off of an airplane that had departed from the island of Majorca in the south of Spain. Majorca was warm, tropical, and evoked the inner island-ista in me and, therefore, I was sporting my thinnest tank top and beachy footwear. Although the time of year was early August, the weather in Münich resembled the brisk end of autumn.

Needless to say, I was cold, lost, and the sun was setting. I was on the hunt for the flat belonging to my Couchsurfing hosts, without a way of contacting them. All of the surrounding buildings were residential and very quiet. Any passerby was fair game when it came to directional questions, but I only crossed paths with two in my many hours of searching. The first person was Turkish and I, unfortunately, did not speak his language. I showed him my hand-written address and he pointed onward down the street; I kept walking.

This is the point where I should have broken down and cried. There was not one car or taxi to flag and deliver me to my destination. I was far from the nearest train station and low on cash. Instead of crying, however, I stayed calm. I had my backpack; everything I needed was on my person so spending a night in the bushes… was totally doable!

In that backpack I had multiple layers of clothing, a change of shoes, and probably something edible. My backpack was there for me. My backpack gave me the freedom to make a mistake like this and helped me recognize my privilege in possessing the items necessary for basic comforts. This realization showed me that once basic needs are met, less is more in travel.

The freer we want to become, the more we must leave behind. Before I could be a self-titled traveler, I had to look this realization square in the eyes because leaving behind the things that maintain comfort in order to travel is uncomfortable. I did not like getting dirty and staying dirty. I wanted my full size shampoo bottle. I needed silence and complete darkness in order to sleep through the night.

For me, it was a little grey backpack that challenged me to decide what was to be left behind in order to see what true freedom feels like. If it was travel that I wanted, I had to bridge the void between lux and living. I had to become okay with getting dirty, losing sleep, being uncomfortable for the sake of seeing the world with authenticity. When living life as a traveler, what is essential is what we choose to travel with us. The size of my backpack has taught me to choose wisely and intuitively.

This very backpack encourages me to not only open the door of my closet to get it out but doors all over the world. It has been there to support me through the wonderful and harried times of my adventures. My backpack was there for me when I hunted for my hostel on the winding streets of Barcelona. She has sat beside me and heard countless tales from strangers who have transformed into friends. And she has been there for the myriad of travel-mishaps that have left me questioning if I will be sleeping in the bushes for the evening.

The end of my Munich mishap goes like this: Lost in a dark courtyard, I spotted a man climbing his porch steps about to unlock his front door. Across the green space, I shouted for help as politely and nonthreatening as possible. He stopped and turned around seemingly jolly and ready to help. Thank God! I showed him the address and, in broken German-English, he described that I was on the side of the street with even-numbered addresses and I needed to be in the courtyard across the street with odd-numbered addresses. I was saved from a foliage-filled slumber!

Because everything I needed was on my back, a night in the shrubs was not only a possibility but also something I was prepared to experience. Of course, I know that I am more than my backpack and, even without it, I would have survived, but I have learned that living with less is actually living with enough. By setting off on an adventure with minimal essentials, I have been allowed to become myself again. Even though I found the flat in Munich that night, my backpack has given me the freedom and contentment in knowing that there really is not much I need to pack to have a proper adventure.

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Democracy, Freedom and Independence in Bratislava, Slovakia.

It is a holiday commemorating the 1945 uprising against Nazi occupation today. Devinska Nova Ves (DNV) is a large village about 16 km north of Bratislava. Its wide main street is lined with old houses, there is an enormous Volkswagen factory and a few tower blocks – nothing special really. But back in 2012 it came to the attention of the world’s press, even Reuters. It was all about a bridge.

DNV is on the Morava River- the border between Slovakia and Austria. In Cold War times this was a heavily militarized zone of barbed-wire fences and constant patrols by border guards. Many people died trying to run through the wire here. Inside the one km exclusion zone you could have been shot on sight. If they had tried swimming they would have had to deal with serious currents on both the Danube and Morava rivers. In 2012 a bridge was completed over the river at DNV to join the formerly impenetrable frontier. The Bratislava Regional Assembly set up a Facebook vote to name this historically significant link between the old communist block and Western Europe. The Regional Governor, Pavol Freso, affirmed that they would probably go with the people’s wishes. That is until the “Chuck Norris Bridge” polled more than 10 times as many votes as the Regional Assembly’s proposal, or indeed any other suggestions. Now Reuters started to take an interest. Chuck Norris was always a source of jokes concerning macho invincibility in Slovakia (Chuck Norris can delete the recycling bin…), but hardly a feasible choice for naming a bridge (no-one walks over Chuck Norris was later mentioned by the Assembly). But you can cross this historic bridge today. The floodplains beneath will be a Site of Special Scientific Interest, teeming with rare flora and fauna.

About two km South of DNV lies the village of Devin, where today there is a festival. If you bus out of Bratislava you may well sit next to a knight, complete with chain mail, sword and helmet on his mobile phone.

Devin Castle, first recorded in 864, lies atop a cliff overlooking the Danube. In the thirteenth century it was the frontier post of the Hungarian Empire. It featured on a coin and a note of the former currency in Cold War times – an important national symbol. Now it lies in ruins (thank Napoleon for that). At the castle are “medieval” tents with costumed people sitting around cooking over fires in iron pots. It has an authentic feel. All the men have long hair and one is undressing to his boxer shorts to put on his chain mail vest, boots, helmet and jacket.

We walk up to the ruins, where my four-year-old daughter, Mollie, is delighted to shout “bottom” down the 55 metre well and enjoy its echo. From up here you can see the Danube curving round to the Morava.

Terraced vineyards sweep down from Dacha’s (small wooden summer villas) on the mountain-top. One huge, elegant residence dominates all of these. I was told that this belongs to the Russian mafia. Down at the river you can throw a stone over into Austria which is why so many tried their luck here. If it wasn’t running through the militarized zone and barbed wire then trying to swim, it was (homemade) hang-gliders from the hilltops. Down by the confluence a serious ceremony is taking place. Over 400 people died between 1945 and 1989 attempting this: nearly one a month for 44 years from one small village on the Austrian border. Each name listed on the sculpture and explained in four languages. It read (verbatim):
“The Iron Curtain used to stand here. It cannot be pulled away. It can only be cracked. Four Hundred people sacrificed their life while fighting for their rights. Human beings, free and unrestricted do not forget that freedom of thinking, acting and dreaming is a value that is not only worth living but also bringing sacrifices.”

Judging by their ages, the attendees here could well have been the brothers or sisters, even parents of those desperado’s who died for freedom and independence. So there you have it: freedom and independence in one rather confusing package. Foul-mouthed four-year-olds, uprisings against Nazi occupation, modern ex-Iron Curtain members of the EEC co-existing with today’s Russian mafia, medieval knights, would-be escapees of communism and Chuck Norris. The Bratislava Regional Assembly, in their infinite wisdom actually rejected the 12,599 votes for the “Chuck Norris Bridge” in favour of the “Freedom Cycling Bridge” (457 votes), which is now its official name. However, thanks to Reuters, it is even today easily findable on Google under its more democratic name. If my daughter were able to understand this, I am absolutely sure that she would say, “But that’s bottom democracy, freedom and independence!”

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Forging my Inquisitive Name in Egypt

Standing in a shop in Cairo, I spelled out my name for the clerk, both in English and in Arabic. Should it end with an eliph or a taa marbuta? We went back and forth, settling on aliph, the first letter of the alphabet, and I handed over a not insignificant amount of Egyptian pounds.

I was in Egypt for six weeks studying Arabic and Middle Eastern politics, as part of one of my many minors. But really, I was there because the summer before I had stayed home in Massachusetts, working retail. I had watched as friends flooded facebook with photos from all over Egypt. I wanted to learn about the region, but I also wanted to go on an adventure, having conversations and experiences that would never happen back home. My parents had agreed, on the grounds that university staff would accompany us. My boyfriend would be waiting when I got back, in spite of how nervous I had been to even ask that question.

Six weeks seemed like a long time, but once I was abroad, it it didn’t take long for us both to chafe under the situation. He felt like I was always too busy, and was suspicious of the new friends I was making, especially the male ones. I felt like every call was either a fight or a one-sided conversation, keeping me from flash cards, late-night dessert treks, and new friends. I had started spending time with young women who proudly called themselves feminists and stretched my previous definition of the word. I started wondering why I had ever found the necklace he gave me, emblazoned with the word “princess,” to be sweet.

A couple of days after spelling out my name in the shop, a small velvet envelope arrived. I took off the old necklace, something I hadn’t done since he gave it to me, and excitedly placed my new one around my neck. Instead of someone else’s ill-fitting pet name, I was wearing my own. More than that, my Arabic name necklace was an outward sign of my accomplishments: the hundreds of hours learning Arabic, the nerve-wracking solo cab ride, the ever-present street harassment, and the wonder of Naguib Mahfouz’s books. I was working harder academically than I ever had in my life, not to mention constantly learning from everyone I met. This country had indelibly changed me, and it all sat there at my collarbone, in elegant, silver, Arabic script.

Back home, I wore my new necklace proudly. That did not go unnoticed.

There were questions and tears. It seems the symbolism of the two pieces of jewelry wasn’t lost on anyone. It didn’t help that I hid his necklace from myself out of sadness and couldn’t find it again until years later, well after our relationship was dead and buried. But it wouldn’t have mattered; I had changed.

My time in Egypt brought so much to my life: feminism, a love of the Middle East, dear friends, and a knowledge that not only can I do things that seem big and scary, but I thrive on them. I’ll never be certain why we broke up, but I know I couldn’t have become the person I am now while remaining his girlfriend. I needed years to myself, without any guilt or judgment about my travels and personal politics, two of my strongest and most intertwined traits. I needed room to grow, to see where the world would take me if I didn’t need anyone else and no one else needed me. I needed to be a woman of my own making, not someone else’s vision of me, not an asterisked version of myself that was only acceptable with caveats and conditions. I needed to be able to pick up and go, over and over again, and not be seen as disloyal for doing so.

One day, the necklace slipped off at a friend’s backyard barbecue, never to be seen again. I miss it like I miss so much about Egypt, from koshery and nutty actions movies to hijabi fashion and Al Azhar Park. But I take comfort in the fact that I don’t need the necklace like I once did. By the time I lost the necklace, it had served its purpose. I was out of that relationship and had travelled to many countries, but most importantly, I had been brave enough to choose myself, and the life I wanted to lead. I knew my choices were not dalliances but a path. I had chosen a life driven by adventure and ideals, one where my brain and my bravado are my most prized possessions. Someday, there may be another man who wants to rename me and keep me close by his side. I’d like to see him try.

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A safe itinerary to exciting success in Nigeria
He possessed an intrepid physique, radiant cheeks, hair still remain dark, and a gritty skin. He wore a hat strolling around the backyard, and a tattered blue army overcoat when it was cold, and sometimes top-boots. He walks round the house and an earsplitting yell was heard from the backyard, before he could be rushed to the hospital, he gave up the ghost.

What a pity! There is no one death cannot eliminate as death claim the life of my father after being battled by the debilitating disease of cancer.
One morning after the corpse was interred; the family members sideline my mother from other important discussion concerning the properties of the deceased. She stood upon her gallery with arms akimbo, shedding tears, so unexpected and bewildering was the death of her husband. The next decision of the family member was that the children of the deceased would be taken care of by the family members but my mother disagreed.

Few days to that time, I was kidnapped by unknown abductors alongside my mother and my younger ones into the narrow strip of shade on the porch of the long, low house; the hot sunlight was beating in on the brown old boards as an unpleasant odour filled the atmosphere, and a terrific sound was coming across the non-flowering cotton-field. The kidnappers were sent by the family member who wanted to confiscate the hard earned properties of the deceased from his immediate family.

Few minute to our execution by the kidnappers, a serene was heard within that abode alarmed by the Nigeria Police who were on duty when they notice some suspicious movement and sound in that environment. They thwarted the kidnappers from achieving their goal as they all fled away from being arrested and we were all unfettered from their captivity.

After two days of staying at the police station for security reasons, an officer lent my mother a piece of advice and that leads to our itinerary to Lagos state so that we can gain the freedom from our nemesis.

In the struggle of being totally independence, my mother seeks for employment opportunity for various months under the administration of the rickety Nigeria government before she later started with a petty trade. My mother also clamour that I should be independent by now as she inculcated that I must learn a vocation and must also provide and feed myself. This was initially difficult for me and I had persistent fight with her. I begin to hate her the more, my emotion begins to suffer depression, and my life now lacks the nutrient of joy and happiness. Drastically, I am becoming more irrelevant to the community as I use obsolete phone, I have accrued debt and I can’t avoid eating three meals a day because I have fallen into the abysmal of excruciating pestilence of poverty.

At a conference which I reluctantly attended transformed my life, I was inspired to take responsibility. Consequently, I searched for job in consensus to the inspiring testimonies heard at the conference that “before you can become successful, you would need to move out of your environment”. This emanates how I became a driver as I virtually travel and tour the whole Nigeria and Ghana while doing a job of a driver.

After about 15hours on road from Nigeria due to various barricades by the security personnel and also the vehicle engine problem which hiatus our journey. The red sunset and the blue-gray twilight had together flung a purple mist across the road that hid it from our view. We could no longer hear the wheezing and creaking of wheels but could still faintly hear the shrill, glad voices of the children in the passing vehicles. Finally, we reach Ghana and I got employed by the benevolent business woman called Miss Calister to whom I return the wallet she forgot in my bus some weeks ago.
I seated myself beside the table as I glance through the room, into which the evening shadows were creeping and deepening around my solitary figure, happy that I bounced back to a life of debt free, joy and happiness and I regain my freedom from the bumpy hands of poverty and sadness. This is the chronicle of my itinerary to success.

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Gulin china5 Places worth a visit in Guilin, China

Anyone who’s ever read a Chinese textbook can attest that these textbooks glorify Guilin. Not only that, politicians also sing praises to this city’s natural endowments and often entertain visiting dignitaries in this resort town. During my last visit to Guilin, I was adamant to find out in less than a week if Guilin and its surrounding areas do indeed live up to its reputation. Here are the top five sights I saw and love to reminisce about.

1. Reed flute cave

I spent a good hour here oohing and ahhing at the sight of the abundant stalactites and rock formations, which were illuminated by multi-colored lighting. This lighting enhanced the otherworldly atmosphere contained therein. It was like stumbling into a fairy’s den, another world you’ll normally associate with a fictional novel. The highlight was the laser light musical show at the end of the cave, which gave me chills. With the help of the guide, I could easily visualize animals, cities, and plants among the rock formations.

2. Fubo hill

This attraction made me withstand an intense cardio exercise as I climbed the steps leading up to the lookout point on top that showed a bird’s eye view of the city. You could see panoramic views of the Li River and the developing city’s natural beauty from high above.

3. Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces

Hours away from Guilin, I found myself gaping at the brilliant spectacle of the verdant green man-made terraces carved as far as the eye could see. I could tell from the wide expanse of the terraces that this is the culmination of the Zhuang people’s strenuous efforts and ingeniousness. I rode a cable car to get to the top where I could see just how high and extensive the work done must have been to transform the vast region into layer upon layer of rice terraces. It was a picturesque sight to behold and I could imagine how its beauty changes into golden hues for autumn, crisp white in winter and bright green for summer to keep onlookers wanting to come back again.

4. The Long Hair Village

The moment I stumbled upon the Long Hair Village, the Guinness world book record holder for the “world’s longest hair village”, I was intrigued. I was bewildered that such a place even exists! I discovered with my own eyes that the village is beautiful with its rustic charm and truly, its residents does indeed live up to their village name. The Yao ethnic women who reside there were the embodiment of brunette Rapunzels. They dress in unique and colorful traditional clothing and performed by singing and dancing. It was amusing to watch as they invited male guests to participate in a mock wedding ceremony as done in their village. You may ask: how do they keep their hair jet-black even when they’re old and wrinkled? They do so by washing their hair with fermented rice water! Nature truly works wonders.

5. Li River cruise

As featured on the 20 yuan note, you can see the lush landscape looking reminiscent of Ha Long Bay at every twist and turn on this relaxing cruise. I saw fishermen, some with tourists, on their bamboo rafts sailing through the calm water. After a few hours, the cruise stops at Yangshuo, a small town where you can easily find food or bargain with small shops selling pearl, jade, Chinese paintings and more.

After being left breathless by these five stand-out sights, I was rest assured that Guilin and its surrounding areas are indeed worth a visit and are definitely worthy of its accolades.

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colombiaLiving Life to its fullest in England

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted a poem by Pablo Neruda entitled “You start dying slowly.” It resonated with me, and expressed the way that I was feeling 3 years ago, before my life took a detour from its original trajectory. There are not many things in this world that I am afraid of, but dying without fully experiencing life is one of my greatest fears.

“You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking every day on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine.”

Freedom and fulfillment of dreams are central to the North American ideal, but many of us don’t feel free. Instead, we feel enslaved to our jobs and our lifestyles like we are just part of the rat race, mechanically putting one foot in front of the other. It wasn’t long ago that I felt trapped in my life, like I was living in auto-pilot, moving through each day without anything special and feeling unsatisfied. I was in my fifth year as a junior high/middle-school science teacher in my hometown, and although I loved my job and my students, I felt stuck. Everyone else seemed to be moving forward, finding love, settling down, and having families. Yet here I was, doing the “same old things”; I was not content to “settle”. But what could I do?

“You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job,
[…] If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream […]
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.”

I have always had a love of traveling, since my first plane rides and car trips across Canada as a toddler to visit family. I was very fortunate to have the experience of doing a semester abroad in university, and it lit the fire to try life in another country. When I finished university, I dreamed of teaching overseas. The more unsatisfied I felt with my life, the more my desire to teach abroad increased. I made the decision to move overseas, and after being denied a leave of absence, I resigned from my position, packed up my life and my house, and moved to England. By moving abroad, I was forcing myself to meet new people, try new things and change my routines. There were many new things to experience and different customs to learn to try to fit into my new surroundings.

” You start dying slowly
If you do not travel,
If you do not listen to the sounds of life
If you do not appreciate your life […]
If you avoid to feel passion.”

I struggled when I first moved, and found that I still wasn’t as happy as I had hoped to be. I was forced to figure out my passions. I always knew that traveling was a passion of mine, but I was very fortunate to meet a group of diverse women who helped me rediscover another passion of mine, dance. One of my favourite things when I am visiting a different region, or country, is to learn about their food and about their culture, in particular, the way that music influences people and their outlooks on life. This was especially evident when I took my next leap to Colombia. One of the most diverse countries in South America, there are so many different cultures all blended into one, and it makes for an amazing and lively blend of music and movement. Nothing can make you happier than some cool Colombian beats!

Since traveling is my passion, I felt the most alive when I was able to get out of London and travel throughout Europe. I tried to figure out a way that I could experience that presence in my day to day life. One advantage of such a large city, is that it made exploring close to home quite easy. There are so many different parks, markets and sites to see, that most weekends, I would make an effort to immerse myself in my environment.

It actually took living in Colombia, in a city that lacked parks, for me to realize how important nature is to feeling free and satisfied with life. For those that may not have the ability to travel far from home, going to the local park, the mountains or the ocean is another great way to free yourselves from the stresses and confines of daily life. What I discovered from moving around the world, is that to feel free, you don’t have to go far. By paying attention to your surroundings, and surrounding yourself with nature, you too can feel free.

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thailand-scheduleThere Is No Crammed Schedule in Thailand

Erin and I took a giant leap of adventure when we sold all our belongings in the USA and booked a one way ticket to Bangkok, Thailand. No itinerary. No plans. It was time to shake life up and discover more of ourselves. We were all too familiar with the 9-5 grind and were ready for something completely different. It does not take long on the backpacking trail to learn a few things about self and about life.

It is difficult to make and keep travel plans out in this world experiencing pure freedom. Where the wind blows and you follow along with the stranger met last night. A few buckets and a few beers and next thing you know we were on our way from Bangkok to Surat Thani with a brand new friend Dave, who happened to be approaching 60 years old, but knew a thing or two about travel.

We sat on the floor near the KFC in the brightly lit open air train station. Where the locals chipper away with their Thai accents and the smell of all sorts of food fill the air. Quite a strange aroma of fried chicken and Pad Thai, especially for the just arrived tourists we were. After two hours on the very hard train station floor I thought to myself, “I haven’t heard an announcement for our train and it is past departure time.” I walk up to the ticket window with Dave and learn the train was gone. We missed it!

Now that was a hard pill to swallow at that time. Missed the train, “Oh no,” we thought, “what are we going to do now!?” At the ticket counter, the lady next to me says, “That’s traveling. Just let it go. You’ll get there fine.” My worrying mind was wound so tight from the life I left behind that I could not comprehend the ease with which she said let it go. No other choice but to buy another ticket and sit next to the ladies chomping on their bags of rice and hang out longer.

We caught the next train and arrived at our destination just fine. The first step in unwinding that anxious little brain was to acknowledge that while on travel things do not always go as planned. Take a deep breath and carry on.

Dave learned that lesson as well when he stepped in the ocean off balance and messed up his knee in Koh Samui three days later. It ended his trip completely and he had to fly back to San Francisco. Bummer to lose Dave but another sign that you must go with flow, appreciate the opportunity at hand, and do not take for granted the wonder of the wide open world.

Erin and I ended up on the island of Koh Phangan a few days after losing Dave and we arrived the same day as the Half Moon jungle party. Let’s see what this party island is all about!

A buzz of energy was in the air as we arrived to the hostel. “Free shots!” proclaimed the staff. Body paint, alcohol, and good times got us started. We caught a tuk-tuk and hung on tight up the winding jungle road to our destination. Twelve of us on one ride had me hanging teetering on the side as the driver moved seamlessly through town and up toward a night to remember.

Dropped off in the jungle I begin to see the bright lights and hear the sound of the electronic music. Now here is a scene we were familiar with back home. Witnessing the grand stage production with a DJ booth and the amazing colors streaming out from the LED visual panel above the booth we found our place for the evening. Wandering around near the brightly lit tree in the middle of the dance floor it was possible to sit, reflect on the journey thus far, and smile from within. This is why we came across the world, to find our true freedom away from the hustle and grind back home and meet all these amazing souls from many different walks of life. Take the journey in stride and realize that there is no schedule here, only great memories to be made and life to be lived.

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kenyaCertain Freedom On The Edge in Kenya

I had travelled very little in life, almost all of it within the geographical borders of New York State and most of that between the rounded mountains of the Catskills, the tumble of the Adirondacks, and the rocky Eastern shores of Lake Ontario. The world is a comfortable, dependable, predictable place when it amounts to roughly 150 miles by 150 miles. It also becomes routine, dull, and even a little oppressive. Still and all, it was MY world and what I knew.

You might think that such a small, intimate world would be accustomed to many of those born and raised there taking their leave, escaping into the wider world all around. To be sure, that occurred, enough to not be unusual, but not enough to be common. So, when the opportunity to leave New York and live in Kenya presented itself, pursuing that opportunity became a rich source of unsolicited advice, unsought opinion, and even outright discouragement.

I had wanted to explore the wider world beyond Upstate New York for some time, but did not have a good idea of how to do so. No one in my family or group of friends had travelled much, if at all. One uncle who had travelled extensively had done so by making a career with US Air Force. Joining “the Service” did not appeal to me, much to my uncle’s and father’s dismay. But, in a tangential twist of reasoning, the concept of esprit de corps Dad continually espoused bloomed into the idea of serving in the US Peace Corps.

You can imagine the usual paperwork, interviews, and bureaucratic back-and-forth that took place over the course of six months. Eventually, I was assigned to be a high school teacher in Western Kenya; specifically, the tiny hamlet of Kipsoen clinging 1,000 meters atop the escarpment, above the floor of the Great Rift Valley. The edge of the world.

Everything I had been sure – and assured – of: the world I knew and the person I was certain of, quickly melted away under the equatorial sun of the African plains.

The landscape: Isak Dinesen describes it as, “the views were immensely wide — everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility.” (Out of Africa, 1937). The culture and the people: time and interactions had an easy, open, welcoming quality. Telling time was upended: What was 7:00AM on a clock in New York, was read as “sah moja” (the first hour, or 1:00AM) in KiSwahili, the national language of Kenya. The attitude toward Life: “Hakuna Matata” (there are no problems), as Pumbaa and Timon sang in Disney’s The Lion King, is an actual truth in traditional Kenyan thinking. In short, travelling halfway around the world took me worlds away from what I’d learned and from where I’d come.

Going all that distance and in the melting away, the removal, of all the fixtures and accoutrements of growing up in my old world, there was space for new outlooks, attitudes, and growth. It wasn’t a smooth, quick, easy, nor always a conscious process. Among some of the oldest peoples on the planet, on the oldest continent, I found a new start.

That is where I found my freedom.

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munichWalking on the Winter Streets in Munich, Germany

Bavaria in the winter is a different proposition from Bavaria in the summer. Perhaps if one skies, a winter in Bavaria might seem like heaven with mountain slopes. I emphatically don’t ski. Nor do I like beer. Thus Munich would seem like an odd choice.

I stayed in Munich for three months with my aunt. Four years ago she moved here for work, and found a comfortable apartment with an extra bedroom. Every member of my extended family has, at least once, come here to stay with her and take short trips elsewhere in Europe once the jet lag has worn off. I’m the last one to make the journey.

As for myself, this is not particularly a vacation. More like a figure-out-what-the-hell-I’m-doing-with-my-life sabbatical of frustration from what I’m used to in Colorado. Also a somewhat desperate bid to step up my photography with inspiration from new places.

It’s early on a Sunday, and despite the temperatures and the fact that the winter sun hasn’t managed to filter much through a blanket of cloud cover, we layer up in warm gear, pulling on knit hats over our bed-messy hair to go for a walk, camera as ever glued to my side.

It’s cold in Munich on a winter morning, and often the wind makes it colder. The apartment is located on a Fahrradstrasse, meaning “bicycle street.” One has to watch out for the bikes more than the cars. The canal we cross is lined with tall trees that are still incongruously sheathed in thick green ivy leaves. The tops of the trees are bare twigs, but no one seems to have told the ivy that it’s cold.

We crunch our way down narrow sidewalks covered in gravel, the German answer to ice-melt. The apartment buildings each have small yards for the ground-floor flats, and most balconies sport what will be greenery in a few months. Some even have tiny pines or spruce, which are decked out festively with Christmas lights during the holidays. Yet despite their similarities, none are quite the same. All have stucco exteriors, but in a surprising range of pastels. Each has its own architecture, some with decorative paintings or small inset statues.

There’s a bakery for every neighborhood, and an apoteke (pharmacy) on practically every street in Munich. The grocery store is never more than a couple of blocks’ walk. On any weekend morning you’ll find a queue outside the bakery, husbands whose wives sent them out on breakfast duty. It’s a different way of life than I’m used to, but I’ve grown to enjoy it.

It takes less than fifteen minutes of walking from the Fahrradstrasse to get to Nymphenburg Palace. The massive white exterior is impressive, but we pass by the huge staircase entrance and enter the gates that lead to the grounds. There are many paths to choose from, criss-crossing the wooded estate. Bird calls ring out unexpectedly, from the tiny blue tits to blackbirds, crows, and geese. Pillared bridges span the canals that divert water from the river to feed several fountains, still now for the winter.

Few people are out this early, so we have the quiet woods mostly to ourselves. As we crunch along, the church bells begin to toll, right on time.

It strikes me as a uniquely European experience to meander on forested paths, yet still hear perfectly tuned church bells sing out from the street that is in fact not too far away. We stop at one of our favorite trees which exudes an air of quiet wisdom, a huge and gnarled beech with bark like elephant skin, and listening to the church bells there feels as sacred as any experience I can remember having.

My time in Munich turned out to be not what I was expecting. But it was precisely what I needed. It was culture and nature all mixed up together; a new frame of reference and an opportunity to see a new way ahead. I knew that I wouldn’t be the same after this time spent traveling, and that is true. Photography became real for me, far more than a hobby. More importantly, I became bigger in Munich, with a wider world-view and deeper determination to live in a meaningful way.

Photo Credit: Dawn Myscofski

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Backpack & Bushes In Munich: The Freedom In Wandering

There I was, wandering the suburban streets of Munich with a poor sense of direction and the absence of mobile technology. That afternoon, I had stepped off of an airplane that had departed from the island of Majorca in the south of Spain. Majorca was warm, tropical, and evoked the inner island-ista in me and, therefore, I was sporting my thinnest tank top and beachy footwear. Although the time of year was early August, the weather in Münich resembled the brisk end of autumn.

Needless to say, I was cold, lost, and the sun was setting. I was on the hunt for the flat belonging to my Couchsurfing hosts, without a way of contacting them. All of the surrounding buildings were residential and very quiet. Any passerby was fair game when it came to directional questions, but I only crossed paths with two in my many hours of searching. The first person was Turkish and I, unfortunately, did not speak his language. I showed him my hand-written address and he pointed onward down the street; I kept walking.

This is the point where I should have broken down and cried. There was not one car or taxi to flag and deliver me to my destination. I was far from the nearest train station and low on cash. Instead of crying, however, I stayed calm. I had my backpack; everything I needed was on my person so spending a night in the bushes… was totally doable!

In that backpack I had multiple layers of clothing, a change of shoes, and probably something edible. My backpack was there for me. My backpack gave me the freedom to make a mistake like this and helped me recognize my privilege in possessing the items necessary for basic comforts. This realization showed me that once basic needs are met, less is more in travel.

The freer we want to become, the more we must leave behind. Before I could be a self-titled traveler, I had to look this realization square in the eyes because leaving behind the things that maintain comfort in order to travel is uncomfortable. I did not like getting dirty and staying dirty. I wanted my full size shampoo bottle. I needed silence and complete darkness in order to sleep through the night.

For me, it was a little grey backpack that challenged me to decide what was to be left behind in order to see what true freedom feels like. If it was travel that I wanted, I had to bridge the void between lux and living. I had to become okay with getting dirty, losing sleep, being uncomfortable for the sake of seeing the world with authenticity. When living life as a traveler, what is essential is what we choose to travel with us. The size of my backpack has taught me to choose wisely and intuitively.

This very backpack encourages me to not only open the door of my closet to get it out but doors all over the world. It has been there to support me through the wonderful and harried times of my adventures. My backpack was there for me when I hunted for my hostel on the winding streets of Barcelona. She has sat beside me and heard countless tales from strangers who have transformed into friends. And she has been there for the myriad of travel-mishaps that have left me questioning if I will be sleeping in the bushes for the evening.

The end of my Munich mishap goes like this: Lost in a dark courtyard, I spotted a man climbing his porch steps about to unlock his front door. Across the green space, I shouted for help as politely and nonthreatening as possible. He stopped and turned around seemingly jolly and ready to help. Thank God! I showed him the address and, in broken German-English, he described that I was on the side of the street with even-numbered addresses and I needed to be in the courtyard across the street with odd-numbered addresses. I was saved from a foliage-filled slumber!

Because everything I needed was on my back, a night in the shrubs was not only a possibility but also something I was prepared to experience. Of course, I know that I am more than my backpack and, even without it, I would have survived, but I have learned that living with less is actually living with enough. By setting off on an adventure with minimal essentials, I have been allowed to become myself again. Even though I found the flat in Munich that night, my backpack has given me the freedom and contentment in knowing that there really is not much I need to pack to have a proper adventure.

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Democracy, Freedom and Independence in Bratislava, Slovakia.

It is a holiday commemorating the 1945 uprising against Nazi occupation today. Devinska Nova Ves (DNV) is a large village about 16 km north of Bratislava. Its wide main street is lined with old houses, there is an enormous Volkswagen factory and a few tower blocks – nothing special really. But back in 2012 it came to the attention of the world’s press, even Reuters. It was all about a bridge.

DNV is on the Morava River- the border between Slovakia and Austria. In Cold War times this was a heavily militarized zone of barbed-wire fences and constant patrols by border guards. Many people died trying to run through the wire here. Inside the one km exclusion zone you could have been shot on sight. If they had tried swimming they would have had to deal with serious currents on both the Danube and Morava rivers. In 2012 a bridge was completed over the river at DNV to join the formerly impenetrable frontier. The Bratislava Regional Assembly set up a Facebook vote to name this historically significant link between the old communist block and Western Europe. The Regional Governor, Pavol Freso, affirmed that they would probably go with the people’s wishes. That is until the “Chuck Norris Bridge” polled more than 10 times as many votes as the Regional Assembly’s proposal, or indeed any other suggestions. Now Reuters started to take an interest. Chuck Norris was always a source of jokes concerning macho invincibility in Slovakia (Chuck Norris can delete the recycling bin…), but hardly a feasible choice for naming a bridge (no-one walks over Chuck Norris was later mentioned by the Assembly). But you can cross this historic bridge today. The floodplains beneath will be a Site of Special Scientific Interest, teeming with rare flora and fauna.

About two km South of DNV lies the village of Devin, where today there is a festival. If you bus out of Bratislava you may well sit next to a knight, complete with chain mail, sword and helmet on his mobile phone.

Devin Castle, first recorded in 864, lies atop a cliff overlooking the Danube. In the thirteenth century it was the frontier post of the Hungarian Empire. It featured on a coin and a note of the former currency in Cold War times – an important national symbol. Now it lies in ruins (thank Napoleon for that). At the castle are “medieval” tents with costumed people sitting around cooking over fires in iron pots. It has an authentic feel. All the men have long hair and one is undressing to his boxer shorts to put on his chain mail vest, boots, helmet and jacket.

We walk up to the ruins, where my four-year-old daughter, Mollie, is delighted to shout “bottom” down the 55 metre well and enjoy its echo. From up here you can see the Danube curving round to the Morava.

Terraced vineyards sweep down from Dacha’s (small wooden summer villas) on the mountain-top. One huge, elegant residence dominates all of these. I was told that this belongs to the Russian mafia. Down at the river you can throw a stone over into Austria which is why so many tried their luck here. If it wasn’t running through the militarized zone and barbed wire then trying to swim, it was (homemade) hang-gliders from the hilltops. Down by the confluence a serious ceremony is taking place. Over 400 people died between 1945 and 1989 attempting this: nearly one a month for 44 years from one small village on the Austrian border. Each name listed on the sculpture and explained in four languages. It read (verbatim):
“The Iron Curtain used to stand here. It cannot be pulled away. It can only be cracked. Four Hundred people sacrificed their life while fighting for their rights. Human beings, free and unrestricted do not forget that freedom of thinking, acting and dreaming is a value that is not only worth living but also bringing sacrifices.”

Judging by their ages, the attendees here could well have been the brothers or sisters, even parents of those desperado’s who died for freedom and independence. So there you have it: freedom and independence in one rather confusing package. Foul-mouthed four-year-olds, uprisings against Nazi occupation, modern ex-Iron Curtain members of the EEC co-existing with today’s Russian mafia, medieval knights, would-be escapees of communism and Chuck Norris. The Bratislava Regional Assembly, in their infinite wisdom actually rejected the 12,599 votes for the “Chuck Norris Bridge” in favour of the “Freedom Cycling Bridge” (457 votes), which is now its official name. However, thanks to Reuters, it is even today easily findable on Google under its more democratic name. If my daughter were able to understand this, I am absolutely sure that she would say, “But that’s bottom democracy, freedom and independence!”

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Forging my Inquisitive Name in Egypt

Standing in a shop in Cairo, I spelled out my name for the clerk, both in English and in Arabic. Should it end with an eliph or a taa marbuta? We went back and forth, settling on aliph, the first letter of the alphabet, and I handed over a not insignificant amount of Egyptian pounds.

I was in Egypt for six weeks studying Arabic and Middle Eastern politics, as part of one of my many minors. But really, I was there because the summer before I had stayed home in Massachusetts, working retail. I had watched as friends flooded facebook with photos from all over Egypt. I wanted to learn about the region, but I also wanted to go on an adventure, having conversations and experiences that would never happen back home. My parents had agreed, on the grounds that university staff would accompany us. My boyfriend would be waiting when I got back, in spite of how nervous I had been to even ask that question.

Six weeks seemed like a long time, but once I was abroad, it it didn’t take long for us both to chafe under the situation. He felt like I was always too busy, and was suspicious of the new friends I was making, especially the male ones. I felt like every call was either a fight or a one-sided conversation, keeping me from flash cards, late-night dessert treks, and new friends. I had started spending time with young women who proudly called themselves feminists and stretched my previous definition of the word. I started wondering why I had ever found the necklace he gave me, emblazoned with the word “princess,” to be sweet.

A couple of days after spelling out my name in the shop, a small velvet envelope arrived. I took off the old necklace, something I hadn’t done since he gave it to me, and excitedly placed my new one around my neck. Instead of someone else’s ill-fitting pet name, I was wearing my own. More than that, my Arabic name necklace was an outward sign of my accomplishments: the hundreds of hours learning Arabic, the nerve-wracking solo cab ride, the ever-present street harassment, and the wonder of Naguib Mahfouz’s books. I was working harder academically than I ever had in my life, not to mention constantly learning from everyone I met. This country had indelibly changed me, and it all sat there at my collarbone, in elegant, silver, Arabic script.

Back home, I wore my new necklace proudly. That did not go unnoticed.

There were questions and tears. It seems the symbolism of the two pieces of jewelry wasn’t lost on anyone. It didn’t help that I hid his necklace from myself out of sadness and couldn’t find it again until years later, well after our relationship was dead and buried. But it wouldn’t have mattered; I had changed.

My time in Egypt brought so much to my life: feminism, a love of the Middle East, dear friends, and a knowledge that not only can I do things that seem big and scary, but I thrive on them. I’ll never be certain why we broke up, but I know I couldn’t have become the person I am now while remaining his girlfriend. I needed years to myself, without any guilt or judgment about my travels and personal politics, two of my strongest and most intertwined traits. I needed room to grow, to see where the world would take me if I didn’t need anyone else and no one else needed me. I needed to be a woman of my own making, not someone else’s vision of me, not an asterisked version of myself that was only acceptable with caveats and conditions. I needed to be able to pick up and go, over and over again, and not be seen as disloyal for doing so.

One day, the necklace slipped off at a friend’s backyard barbecue, never to be seen again. I miss it like I miss so much about Egypt, from koshery and nutty actions movies to hijabi fashion and Al Azhar Park. But I take comfort in the fact that I don’t need the necklace like I once did. By the time I lost the necklace, it had served its purpose. I was out of that relationship and had travelled to many countries, but most importantly, I had been brave enough to choose myself, and the life I wanted to lead. I knew my choices were not dalliances but a path. I had chosen a life driven by adventure and ideals, one where my brain and my bravado are my most prized possessions. Someday, there may be another man who wants to rename me and keep me close by his side. I’d like to see him try.

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A safe itinerary to exciting success in Nigeria
He possessed an intrepid physique, radiant cheeks, hair still remain dark, and a gritty skin. He wore a hat strolling around the backyard, and a tattered blue army overcoat when it was cold, and sometimes top-boots. He walks round the house and an earsplitting yell was heard from the backyard, before he could be rushed to the hospital, he gave up the ghost.

What a pity! There is no one death cannot eliminate as death claim the life of my father after being battled by the debilitating disease of cancer.
One morning after the corpse was interred; the family members sideline my mother from other important discussion concerning the properties of the deceased. She stood upon her gallery with arms akimbo, shedding tears, so unexpected and bewildering was the death of her husband. The next decision of the family member was that the children of the deceased would be taken care of by the family members but my mother disagreed.

Few days to that time, I was kidnapped by unknown abductors alongside my mother and my younger ones into the narrow strip of shade on the porch of the long, low house; the hot sunlight was beating in on the brown old boards as an unpleasant odour filled the atmosphere, and a terrific sound was coming across the non-flowering cotton-field. The kidnappers were sent by the family member who wanted to confiscate the hard earned properties of the deceased from his immediate family.

Few minute to our execution by the kidnappers, a serene was heard within that abode alarmed by the Nigeria Police who were on duty when they notice some suspicious movement and sound in that environment. They thwarted the kidnappers from achieving their goal as they all fled away from being arrested and we were all unfettered from their captivity.

After two days of staying at the police station for security reasons, an officer lent my mother a piece of advice and that leads to our itinerary to Lagos state so that we can gain the freedom from our nemesis.

In the struggle of being totally independence, my mother seeks for employment opportunity for various months under the administration of the rickety Nigeria government before she later started with a petty trade. My mother also clamour that I should be independent by now as she inculcated that I must learn a vocation and must also provide and feed myself. This was initially difficult for me and I had persistent fight with her. I begin to hate her the more, my emotion begins to suffer depression, and my life now lacks the nutrient of joy and happiness. Drastically, I am becoming more irrelevant to the community as I use obsolete phone, I have accrued debt and I can’t avoid eating three meals a day because I have fallen into the abysmal of excruciating pestilence of poverty.

At a conference which I reluctantly attended transformed my life, I was inspired to take responsibility. Consequently, I searched for job in consensus to the inspiring testimonies heard at the conference that “before you can become successful, you would need to move out of your environment”. This emanates how I became a driver as I virtually travel and tour the whole Nigeria and Ghana while doing a job of a driver.

After about 15hours on road from Nigeria due to various barricades by the security personnel and also the vehicle engine problem which hiatus our journey. The red sunset and the blue-gray twilight had together flung a purple mist across the road that hid it from our view. We could no longer hear the wheezing and creaking of wheels but could still faintly hear the shrill, glad voices of the children in the passing vehicles. Finally, we reach Ghana and I got employed by the benevolent business woman called Miss Calister to whom I return the wallet she forgot in my bus some weeks ago.
I seated myself beside the table as I glance through the room, into which the evening shadows were creeping and deepening around my solitary figure, happy that I bounced back to a life of debt free, joy and happiness and I regain my freedom from the bumpy hands of poverty and sadness. This is the chronicle of my itinerary to success.

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Gulin china5 Places worth a visit in Guilin, China

Anyone who’s ever read a Chinese textbook can attest that these textbooks glorify Guilin. Not only that, politicians also sing praises to this city’s natural endowments and often entertain visiting dignitaries in this resort town. During my last visit to Guilin, I was adamant to find out in less than a week if Guilin and its surrounding areas do indeed live up to its reputation. Here are the top five sights I saw and love to reminisce about.

1. Reed flute cave

I spent a good hour here oohing and ahhing at the sight of the abundant stalactites and rock formations, which were illuminated by multi-colored lighting. This lighting enhanced the otherworldly atmosphere contained therein. It was like stumbling into a fairy’s den, another world you’ll normally associate with a fictional novel. The highlight was the laser light musical show at the end of the cave, which gave me chills. With the help of the guide, I could easily visualize animals, cities, and plants among the rock formations.

2. Fubo hill

This attraction made me withstand an intense cardio exercise as I climbed the steps leading up to the lookout point on top that showed a bird’s eye view of the city. You could see panoramic views of the Li River and the developing city’s natural beauty from high above.

3. Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces

Hours away from Guilin, I found myself gaping at the brilliant spectacle of the verdant green man-made terraces carved as far as the eye could see. I could tell from the wide expanse of the terraces that this is the culmination of the Zhuang people’s strenuous efforts and ingeniousness. I rode a cable car to get to the top where I could see just how high and extensive the work done must have been to transform the vast region into layer upon layer of rice terraces. It was a picturesque sight to behold and I could imagine how its beauty changes into golden hues for autumn, crisp white in winter and bright green for summer to keep onlookers wanting to come back again.

4. The Long Hair Village

The moment I stumbled upon the Long Hair Village, the Guinness world book record holder for the “world’s longest hair village”, I was intrigued. I was bewildered that such a place even exists! I discovered with my own eyes that the village is beautiful with its rustic charm and truly, its residents does indeed live up to their village name. The Yao ethnic women who reside there were the embodiment of brunette Rapunzels. They dress in unique and colorful traditional clothing and performed by singing and dancing. It was amusing to watch as they invited male guests to participate in a mock wedding ceremony as done in their village. You may ask: how do they keep their hair jet-black even when they’re old and wrinkled? They do so by washing their hair with fermented rice water! Nature truly works wonders.

5. Li River cruise

As featured on the 20 yuan note, you can see the lush landscape looking reminiscent of Ha Long Bay at every twist and turn on this relaxing cruise. I saw fishermen, some with tourists, on their bamboo rafts sailing through the calm water. After a few hours, the cruise stops at Yangshuo, a small town where you can easily find food or bargain with small shops selling pearl, jade, Chinese paintings and more.

After being left breathless by these five stand-out sights, I was rest assured that Guilin and its surrounding areas are indeed worth a visit and are definitely worthy of its accolades.

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colombiaLiving Life to its fullest in England

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted a poem by Pablo Neruda entitled “You start dying slowly.” It resonated with me, and expressed the way that I was feeling 3 years ago, before my life took a detour from its original trajectory. There are not many things in this world that I am afraid of, but dying without fully experiencing life is one of my greatest fears.

“You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking every day on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine.”

Freedom and fulfillment of dreams are central to the North American ideal, but many of us don’t feel free. Instead, we feel enslaved to our jobs and our lifestyles like we are just part of the rat race, mechanically putting one foot in front of the other. It wasn’t long ago that I felt trapped in my life, like I was living in auto-pilot, moving through each day without anything special and feeling unsatisfied. I was in my fifth year as a junior high/middle-school science teacher in my hometown, and although I loved my job and my students, I felt stuck. Everyone else seemed to be moving forward, finding love, settling down, and having families. Yet here I was, doing the “same old things”; I was not content to “settle”. But what could I do?

“You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job,
[…] If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream […]
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.”

I have always had a love of traveling, since my first plane rides and car trips across Canada as a toddler to visit family. I was very fortunate to have the experience of doing a semester abroad in university, and it lit the fire to try life in another country. When I finished university, I dreamed of teaching overseas. The more unsatisfied I felt with my life, the more my desire to teach abroad increased. I made the decision to move overseas, and after being denied a leave of absence, I resigned from my position, packed up my life and my house, and moved to England. By moving abroad, I was forcing myself to meet new people, try new things and change my routines. There were many new things to experience and different customs to learn to try to fit into my new surroundings.

” You start dying slowly
If you do not travel,
If you do not listen to the sounds of life
If you do not appreciate your life […]
If you avoid to feel passion.”

I struggled when I first moved, and found that I still wasn’t as happy as I had hoped to be. I was forced to figure out my passions. I always knew that traveling was a passion of mine, but I was very fortunate to meet a group of diverse women who helped me rediscover another passion of mine, dance. One of my favourite things when I am visiting a different region, or country, is to learn about their food and about their culture, in particular, the way that music influences people and their outlooks on life. This was especially evident when I took my next leap to Colombia. One of the most diverse countries in South America, there are so many different cultures all blended into one, and it makes for an amazing and lively blend of music and movement. Nothing can make you happier than some cool Colombian beats!

Since traveling is my passion, I felt the most alive when I was able to get out of London and travel throughout Europe. I tried to figure out a way that I could experience that presence in my day to day life. One advantage of such a large city, is that it made exploring close to home quite easy. There are so many different parks, markets and sites to see, that most weekends, I would make an effort to immerse myself in my environment.

It actually took living in Colombia, in a city that lacked parks, for me to realize how important nature is to feeling free and satisfied with life. For those that may not have the ability to travel far from home, going to the local park, the mountains or the ocean is another great way to free yourselves from the stresses and confines of daily life. What I discovered from moving around the world, is that to feel free, you don’t have to go far. By paying attention to your surroundings, and surrounding yourself with nature, you too can feel free.

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thailand-scheduleThere Is No Crammed Schedule in Thailand

Erin and I took a giant leap of adventure when we sold all our belongings in the USA and booked a one way ticket to Bangkok, Thailand. No itinerary. No plans. It was time to shake life up and discover more of ourselves. We were all too familiar with the 9-5 grind and were ready for something completely different. It does not take long on the backpacking trail to learn a few things about self and about life.

It is difficult to make and keep travel plans out in this world experiencing pure freedom. Where the wind blows and you follow along with the stranger met last night. A few buckets and a few beers and next thing you know we were on our way from Bangkok to Surat Thani with a brand new friend Dave, who happened to be approaching 60 years old, but knew a thing or two about travel.

We sat on the floor near the KFC in the brightly lit open air train station. Where the locals chipper away with their Thai accents and the smell of all sorts of food fill the air. Quite a strange aroma of fried chicken and Pad Thai, especially for the just arrived tourists we were. After two hours on the very hard train station floor I thought to myself, “I haven’t heard an announcement for our train and it is past departure time.” I walk up to the ticket window with Dave and learn the train was gone. We missed it!

Now that was a hard pill to swallow at that time. Missed the train, “Oh no,” we thought, “what are we going to do now!?” At the ticket counter, the lady next to me says, “That’s traveling. Just let it go. You’ll get there fine.” My worrying mind was wound so tight from the life I left behind that I could not comprehend the ease with which she said let it go. No other choice but to buy another ticket and sit next to the ladies chomping on their bags of rice and hang out longer.

We caught the next train and arrived at our destination just fine. The first step in unwinding that anxious little brain was to acknowledge that while on travel things do not always go as planned. Take a deep breath and carry on.

Dave learned that lesson as well when he stepped in the ocean off balance and messed up his knee in Koh Samui three days later. It ended his trip completely and he had to fly back to San Francisco. Bummer to lose Dave but another sign that you must go with flow, appreciate the opportunity at hand, and do not take for granted the wonder of the wide open world.

Erin and I ended up on the island of Koh Phangan a few days after losing Dave and we arrived the same day as the Half Moon jungle party. Let’s see what this party island is all about!

A buzz of energy was in the air as we arrived to the hostel. “Free shots!” proclaimed the staff. Body paint, alcohol, and good times got us started. We caught a tuk-tuk and hung on tight up the winding jungle road to our destination. Twelve of us on one ride had me hanging teetering on the side as the driver moved seamlessly through town and up toward a night to remember.

Dropped off in the jungle I begin to see the bright lights and hear the sound of the electronic music. Now here is a scene we were familiar with back home. Witnessing the grand stage production with a DJ booth and the amazing colors streaming out from the LED visual panel above the booth we found our place for the evening. Wandering around near the brightly lit tree in the middle of the dance floor it was possible to sit, reflect on the journey thus far, and smile from within. This is why we came across the world, to find our true freedom away from the hustle and grind back home and meet all these amazing souls from many different walks of life. Take the journey in stride and realize that there is no schedule here, only great memories to be made and life to be lived.

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kenyaCertain Freedom On The Edge in Kenya

I had travelled very little in life, almost all of it within the geographical borders of New York State and most of that between the rounded mountains of the Catskills, the tumble of the Adirondacks, and the rocky Eastern shores of Lake Ontario. The world is a comfortable, dependable, predictable place when it amounts to roughly 150 miles by 150 miles. It also becomes routine, dull, and even a little oppressive. Still and all, it was MY world and what I knew.

You might think that such a small, intimate world would be accustomed to many of those born and raised there taking their leave, escaping into the wider world all around. To be sure, that occurred, enough to not be unusual, but not enough to be common. So, when the opportunity to leave New York and live in Kenya presented itself, pursuing that opportunity became a rich source of unsolicited advice, unsought opinion, and even outright discouragement.

I had wanted to explore the wider world beyond Upstate New York for some time, but did not have a good idea of how to do so. No one in my family or group of friends had travelled much, if at all. One uncle who had travelled extensively had done so by making a career with US Air Force. Joining “the Service” did not appeal to me, much to my uncle’s and father’s dismay. But, in a tangential twist of reasoning, the concept of esprit de corps Dad continually espoused bloomed into the idea of serving in the US Peace Corps.

You can imagine the usual paperwork, interviews, and bureaucratic back-and-forth that took place over the course of six months. Eventually, I was assigned to be a high school teacher in Western Kenya; specifically, the tiny hamlet of Kipsoen clinging 1,000 meters atop the escarpment, above the floor of the Great Rift Valley. The edge of the world.

Everything I had been sure – and assured – of: the world I knew and the person I was certain of, quickly melted away under the equatorial sun of the African plains.

The landscape: Isak Dinesen describes it as, “the views were immensely wide — everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility.” (Out of Africa, 1937). The culture and the people: time and interactions had an easy, open, welcoming quality. Telling time was upended: What was 7:00AM on a clock in New York, was read as “sah moja” (the first hour, or 1:00AM) in KiSwahili, the national language of Kenya. The attitude toward Life: “Hakuna Matata” (there are no problems), as Pumbaa and Timon sang in Disney’s The Lion King, is an actual truth in traditional Kenyan thinking. In short, travelling halfway around the world took me worlds away from what I’d learned and from where I’d come.

Going all that distance and in the melting away, the removal, of all the fixtures and accoutrements of growing up in my old world, there was space for new outlooks, attitudes, and growth. It wasn’t a smooth, quick, easy, nor always a conscious process. Among some of the oldest peoples on the planet, on the oldest continent, I found a new start.

That is where I found my freedom.

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munichWalking on the Winter Streets in Munich, Germany

Bavaria in the winter is a different proposition from Bavaria in the summer. Perhaps if one skies, a winter in Bavaria might seem like heaven with mountain slopes. I emphatically don’t ski. Nor do I like beer. Thus Munich would seem like an odd choice.

I stayed in Munich for three months with my aunt. Four years ago she moved here for work, and found a comfortable apartment with an extra bedroom. Every member of my extended family has, at least once, come here to stay with her and take short trips elsewhere in Europe once the jet lag has worn off. I’m the last one to make the journey.

As for myself, this is not particularly a vacation. More like a figure-out-what-the-hell-I’m-doing-with-my-life sabbatical of frustration from what I’m used to in Colorado. Also a somewhat desperate bid to step up my photography with inspiration from new places.

It’s early on a Sunday, and despite the temperatures and the fact that the winter sun hasn’t managed to filter much through a blanket of cloud cover, we layer up in warm gear, pulling on knit hats over our bed-messy hair to go for a walk, camera as ever glued to my side.

It’s cold in Munich on a winter morning, and often the wind makes it colder. The apartment is located on a Fahrradstrasse, meaning “bicycle street.” One has to watch out for the bikes more than the cars. The canal we cross is lined with tall trees that are still incongruously sheathed in thick green ivy leaves. The tops of the trees are bare twigs, but no one seems to have told the ivy that it’s cold.

We crunch our way down narrow sidewalks covered in gravel, the German answer to ice-melt. The apartment buildings each have small yards for the ground-floor flats, and most balconies sport what will be greenery in a few months. Some even have tiny pines or spruce, which are decked out festively with Christmas lights during the holidays. Yet despite their similarities, none are quite the same. All have stucco exteriors, but in a surprising range of pastels. Each has its own architecture, some with decorative paintings or small inset statues.

There’s a bakery for every neighborhood, and an apoteke (pharmacy) on practically every street in Munich. The grocery store is never more than a couple of blocks’ walk. On any weekend morning you’ll find a queue outside the bakery, husbands whose wives sent them out on breakfast duty. It’s a different way of life than I’m used to, but I’ve grown to enjoy it.

It takes less than fifteen minutes of walking from the Fahrradstrasse to get to Nymphenburg Palace. The massive white exterior is impressive, but we pass by the huge staircase entrance and enter the gates that lead to the grounds. There are many paths to choose from, criss-crossing the wooded estate. Bird calls ring out unexpectedly, from the tiny blue tits to blackbirds, crows, and geese. Pillared bridges span the canals that divert water from the river to feed several fountains, still now for the winter.

Few people are out this early, so we have the quiet woods mostly to ourselves. As we crunch along, the church bells begin to toll, right on time.

It strikes me as a uniquely European experience to meander on forested paths, yet still hear perfectly tuned church bells sing out from the street that is in fact not too far away. We stop at one of our favorite trees which exudes an air of quiet wisdom, a huge and gnarled beech with bark like elephant skin, and listening to the church bells there feels as sacred as any experience I can remember having.

My time in Munich turned out to be not what I was expecting. But it was precisely what I needed. It was culture and nature all mixed up together; a new frame of reference and an opportunity to see a new way ahead. I knew that I wouldn’t be the same after this time spent traveling, and that is true. Photography became real for me, far more than a hobby. More importantly, I became bigger in Munich, with a wider world-view and deeper determination to live in a meaningful way.

Photo Credit: Dawn Myscofski

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Backpack & Bushes In Munich: The Freedom In Wandering

There I was, wandering the suburban streets of Munich with a poor sense of direction and the absence of mobile technology. That afternoon, I had stepped off of an airplane that had departed from the island of Majorca in the south of Spain. Majorca was warm, tropical, and evoked the inner island-ista in me and, therefore, I was sporting my thinnest tank top and beachy footwear. Although the time of year was early August, the weather in Münich resembled the brisk end of autumn.

Needless to say, I was cold, lost, and the sun was setting. I was on the hunt for the flat belonging to my Couchsurfing hosts, without a way of contacting them. All of the surrounding buildings were residential and very quiet. Any passerby was fair game when it came to directional questions, but I only crossed paths with two in my many hours of searching. The first person was Turkish and I, unfortunately, did not speak his language. I showed him my hand-written address and he pointed onward down the street; I kept walking.

This is the point where I should have broken down and cried. There was not one car or taxi to flag and deliver me to my destination. I was far from the nearest train station and low on cash. Instead of crying, however, I stayed calm. I had my backpack; everything I needed was on my person so spending a night in the bushes… was totally doable!

In that backpack I had multiple layers of clothing, a change of shoes, and probably something edible. My backpack was there for me. My backpack gave me the freedom to make a mistake like this and helped me recognize my privilege in possessing the items necessary for basic comforts. This realization showed me that once basic needs are met, less is more in travel.

The freer we want to become, the more we must leave behind. Before I could be a self-titled traveler, I had to look this realization square in the eyes because leaving behind the things that maintain comfort in order to travel is uncomfortable. I did not like getting dirty and staying dirty. I wanted my full size shampoo bottle. I needed silence and complete darkness in order to sleep through the night.

For me, it was a little grey backpack that challenged me to decide what was to be left behind in order to see what true freedom feels like. If it was travel that I wanted, I had to bridge the void between lux and living. I had to become okay with getting dirty, losing sleep, being uncomfortable for the sake of seeing the world with authenticity. When living life as a traveler, what is essential is what we choose to travel with us. The size of my backpack has taught me to choose wisely and intuitively.

This very backpack encourages me to not only open the door of my closet to get it out but doors all over the world. It has been there to support me through the wonderful and harried times of my adventures. My backpack was there for me when I hunted for my hostel on the winding streets of Barcelona. She has sat beside me and heard countless tales from strangers who have transformed into friends. And she has been there for the myriad of travel-mishaps that have left me questioning if I will be sleeping in the bushes for the evening.

The end of my Munich mishap goes like this: Lost in a dark courtyard, I spotted a man climbing his porch steps about to unlock his front door. Across the green space, I shouted for help as politely and nonthreatening as possible. He stopped and turned around seemingly jolly and ready to help. Thank God! I showed him the address and, in broken German-English, he described that I was on the side of the street with even-numbered addresses and I needed to be in the courtyard across the street with odd-numbered addresses. I was saved from a foliage-filled slumber!

Because everything I needed was on my back, a night in the shrubs was not only a possibility but also something I was prepared to experience. Of course, I know that I am more than my backpack and, even without it, I would have survived, but I have learned that living with less is actually living with enough. By setting off on an adventure with minimal essentials, I have been allowed to become myself again. Even though I found the flat in Munich that night, my backpack has given me the freedom and contentment in knowing that there really is not much I need to pack to have a proper adventure.

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Democracy, Freedom and Independence in Bratislava, Slovakia.

It is a holiday commemorating the 1945 uprising against Nazi occupation today. Devinska Nova Ves (DNV) is a large village about 16 km north of Bratislava. Its wide main street is lined with old houses, there is an enormous Volkswagen factory and a few tower blocks – nothing special really. But back in 2012 it came to the attention of the world’s press, even Reuters. It was all about a bridge.

DNV is on the Morava River- the border between Slovakia and Austria. In Cold War times this was a heavily militarized zone of barbed-wire fences and constant patrols by border guards. Many people died trying to run through the wire here. Inside the one km exclusion zone you could have been shot on sight. If they had tried swimming they would have had to deal with serious currents on both the Danube and Morava rivers. In 2012 a bridge was completed over the river at DNV to join the formerly impenetrable frontier. The Bratislava Regional Assembly set up a Facebook vote to name this historically significant link between the old communist block and Western Europe. The Regional Governor, Pavol Freso, affirmed that they would probably go with the people’s wishes. That is until the “Chuck Norris Bridge” polled more than 10 times as many votes as the Regional Assembly’s proposal, or indeed any other suggestions. Now Reuters started to take an interest. Chuck Norris was always a source of jokes concerning macho invincibility in Slovakia (Chuck Norris can delete the recycling bin…), but hardly a feasible choice for naming a bridge (no-one walks over Chuck Norris was later mentioned by the Assembly). But you can cross this historic bridge today. The floodplains beneath will be a Site of Special Scientific Interest, teeming with rare flora and fauna.

About two km South of DNV lies the village of Devin, where today there is a festival. If you bus out of Bratislava you may well sit next to a knight, complete with chain mail, sword and helmet on his mobile phone.

Devin Castle, first recorded in 864, lies atop a cliff overlooking the Danube. In the thirteenth century it was the frontier post of the Hungarian Empire. It featured on a coin and a note of the former currency in Cold War times – an important national symbol. Now it lies in ruins (thank Napoleon for that). At the castle are “medieval” tents with costumed people sitting around cooking over fires in iron pots. It has an authentic feel. All the men have long hair and one is undressing to his boxer shorts to put on his chain mail vest, boots, helmet and jacket.

We walk up to the ruins, where my four-year-old daughter, Mollie, is delighted to shout “bottom” down the 55 metre well and enjoy its echo. From up here you can see the Danube curving round to the Morava.

Terraced vineyards sweep down from Dacha’s (small wooden summer villas) on the mountain-top. One huge, elegant residence dominates all of these. I was told that this belongs to the Russian mafia. Down at the river you can throw a stone over into Austria which is why so many tried their luck here. If it wasn’t running through the militarized zone and barbed wire then trying to swim, it was (homemade) hang-gliders from the hilltops. Down by the confluence a serious ceremony is taking place. Over 400 people died between 1945 and 1989 attempting this: nearly one a month for 44 years from one small village on the Austrian border. Each name listed on the sculpture and explained in four languages. It read (verbatim):
“The Iron Curtain used to stand here. It cannot be pulled away. It can only be cracked. Four Hundred people sacrificed their life while fighting for their rights. Human beings, free and unrestricted do not forget that freedom of thinking, acting and dreaming is a value that is not only worth living but also bringing sacrifices.”

Judging by their ages, the attendees here could well have been the brothers or sisters, even parents of those desperado’s who died for freedom and independence. So there you have it: freedom and independence in one rather confusing package. Foul-mouthed four-year-olds, uprisings against Nazi occupation, modern ex-Iron Curtain members of the EEC co-existing with today’s Russian mafia, medieval knights, would-be escapees of communism and Chuck Norris. The Bratislava Regional Assembly, in their infinite wisdom actually rejected the 12,599 votes for the “Chuck Norris Bridge” in favour of the “Freedom Cycling Bridge” (457 votes), which is now its official name. However, thanks to Reuters, it is even today easily findable on Google under its more democratic name. If my daughter were able to understand this, I am absolutely sure that she would say, “But that’s bottom democracy, freedom and independence!”

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Forging my Inquisitive Name in Egypt

Standing in a shop in Cairo, I spelled out my name for the clerk, both in English and in Arabic. Should it end with an eliph or a taa marbuta? We went back and forth, settling on aliph, the first letter of the alphabet, and I handed over a not insignificant amount of Egyptian pounds.

I was in Egypt for six weeks studying Arabic and Middle Eastern politics, as part of one of my many minors. But really, I was there because the summer before I had stayed home in Massachusetts, working retail. I had watched as friends flooded facebook with photos from all over Egypt. I wanted to learn about the region, but I also wanted to go on an adventure, having conversations and experiences that would never happen back home. My parents had agreed, on the grounds that university staff would accompany us. My boyfriend would be waiting when I got back, in spite of how nervous I had been to even ask that question.

Six weeks seemed like a long time, but once I was abroad, it it didn’t take long for us both to chafe under the situation. He felt like I was always too busy, and was suspicious of the new friends I was making, especially the male ones. I felt like every call was either a fight or a one-sided conversation, keeping me from flash cards, late-night dessert treks, and new friends. I had started spending time with young women who proudly called themselves feminists and stretched my previous definition of the word. I started wondering why I had ever found the necklace he gave me, emblazoned with the word “princess,” to be sweet.

A couple of days after spelling out my name in the shop, a small velvet envelope arrived. I took off the old necklace, something I hadn’t done since he gave it to me, and excitedly placed my new one around my neck. Instead of someone else’s ill-fitting pet name, I was wearing my own. More than that, my Arabic name necklace was an outward sign of my accomplishments: the hundreds of hours learning Arabic, the nerve-wracking solo cab ride, the ever-present street harassment, and the wonder of Naguib Mahfouz’s books. I was working harder academically than I ever had in my life, not to mention constantly learning from everyone I met. This country had indelibly changed me, and it all sat there at my collarbone, in elegant, silver, Arabic script.

Back home, I wore my new necklace proudly. That did not go unnoticed.

There were questions and tears. It seems the symbolism of the two pieces of jewelry wasn’t lost on anyone. It didn’t help that I hid his necklace from myself out of sadness and couldn’t find it again until years later, well after our relationship was dead and buried. But it wouldn’t have mattered; I had changed.

My time in Egypt brought so much to my life: feminism, a love of the Middle East, dear friends, and a knowledge that not only can I do things that seem big and scary, but I thrive on them. I’ll never be certain why we broke up, but I know I couldn’t have become the person I am now while remaining his girlfriend. I needed years to myself, without any guilt or judgment about my travels and personal politics, two of my strongest and most intertwined traits. I needed room to grow, to see where the world would take me if I didn’t need anyone else and no one else needed me. I needed to be a woman of my own making, not someone else’s vision of me, not an asterisked version of myself that was only acceptable with caveats and conditions. I needed to be able to pick up and go, over and over again, and not be seen as disloyal for doing so.

One day, the necklace slipped off at a friend’s backyard barbecue, never to be seen again. I miss it like I miss so much about Egypt, from koshery and nutty actions movies to hijabi fashion and Al Azhar Park. But I take comfort in the fact that I don’t need the necklace like I once did. By the time I lost the necklace, it had served its purpose. I was out of that relationship and had travelled to many countries, but most importantly, I had been brave enough to choose myself, and the life I wanted to lead. I knew my choices were not dalliances but a path. I had chosen a life driven by adventure and ideals, one where my brain and my bravado are my most prized possessions. Someday, there may be another man who wants to rename me and keep me close by his side. I’d like to see him try.

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A safe itinerary to exciting success in Nigeria
He possessed an intrepid physique, radiant cheeks, hair still remain dark, and a gritty skin. He wore a hat strolling around the backyard, and a tattered blue army overcoat when it was cold, and sometimes top-boots. He walks round the house and an earsplitting yell was heard from the backyard, before he could be rushed to the hospital, he gave up the ghost.

What a pity! There is no one death cannot eliminate as death claim the life of my father after being battled by the debilitating disease of cancer.
One morning after the corpse was interred; the family members sideline my mother from other important discussion concerning the properties of the deceased. She stood upon her gallery with arms akimbo, shedding tears, so unexpected and bewildering was the death of her husband. The next decision of the family member was that the children of the deceased would be taken care of by the family members but my mother disagreed.

Few days to that time, I was kidnapped by unknown abductors alongside my mother and my younger ones into the narrow strip of shade on the porch of the long, low house; the hot sunlight was beating in on the brown old boards as an unpleasant odour filled the atmosphere, and a terrific sound was coming across the non-flowering cotton-field. The kidnappers were sent by the family member who wanted to confiscate the hard earned properties of the deceased from his immediate family.

Few minute to our execution by the kidnappers, a serene was heard within that abode alarmed by the Nigeria Police who were on duty when they notice some suspicious movement and sound in that environment. They thwarted the kidnappers from achieving their goal as they all fled away from being arrested and we were all unfettered from their captivity.

After two days of staying at the police station for security reasons, an officer lent my mother a piece of advice and that leads to our itinerary to Lagos state so that we can gain the freedom from our nemesis.

In the struggle of being totally independence, my mother seeks for employment opportunity for various months under the administration of the rickety Nigeria government before she later started with a petty trade. My mother also clamour that I should be independent by now as she inculcated that I must learn a vocation and must also provide and feed myself. This was initially difficult for me and I had persistent fight with her. I begin to hate her the more, my emotion begins to suffer depression, and my life now lacks the nutrient of joy and happiness. Drastically, I am becoming more irrelevant to the community as I use obsolete phone, I have accrued debt and I can’t avoid eating three meals a day because I have fallen into the abysmal of excruciating pestilence of poverty.

At a conference which I reluctantly attended transformed my life, I was inspired to take responsibility. Consequently, I searched for job in consensus to the inspiring testimonies heard at the conference that “before you can become successful, you would need to move out of your environment”. This emanates how I became a driver as I virtually travel and tour the whole Nigeria and Ghana while doing a job of a driver.

After about 15hours on road from Nigeria due to various barricades by the security personnel and also the vehicle engine problem which hiatus our journey. The red sunset and the blue-gray twilight had together flung a purple mist across the road that hid it from our view. We could no longer hear the wheezing and creaking of wheels but could still faintly hear the shrill, glad voices of the children in the passing vehicles. Finally, we reach Ghana and I got employed by the benevolent business woman called Miss Calister to whom I return the wallet she forgot in my bus some weeks ago.
I seated myself beside the table as I glance through the room, into which the evening shadows were creeping and deepening around my solitary figure, happy that I bounced back to a life of debt free, joy and happiness and I regain my freedom from the bumpy hands of poverty and sadness. This is the chronicle of my itinerary to success.

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Gulin china5 Places worth a visit in Guilin, China

Anyone who’s ever read a Chinese textbook can attest that these textbooks glorify Guilin. Not only that, politicians also sing praises to this city’s natural endowments and often entertain visiting dignitaries in this resort town. During my last visit to Guilin, I was adamant to find out in less than a week if Guilin and its surrounding areas do indeed live up to its reputation. Here are the top five sights I saw and love to reminisce about.

1. Reed flute cave

I spent a good hour here oohing and ahhing at the sight of the abundant stalactites and rock formations, which were illuminated by multi-colored lighting. This lighting enhanced the otherworldly atmosphere contained therein. It was like stumbling into a fairy’s den, another world you’ll normally associate with a fictional novel. The highlight was the laser light musical show at the end of the cave, which gave me chills. With the help of the guide, I could easily visualize animals, cities, and plants among the rock formations.

2. Fubo hill

This attraction made me withstand an intense cardio exercise as I climbed the steps leading up to the lookout point on top that showed a bird’s eye view of the city. You could see panoramic views of the Li River and the developing city’s natural beauty from high above.

3. Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces

Hours away from Guilin, I found myself gaping at the brilliant spectacle of the verdant green man-made terraces carved as far as the eye could see. I could tell from the wide expanse of the terraces that this is the culmination of the Zhuang people’s strenuous efforts and ingeniousness. I rode a cable car to get to the top where I could see just how high and extensive the work done must have been to transform the vast region into layer upon layer of rice terraces. It was a picturesque sight to behold and I could imagine how its beauty changes into golden hues for autumn, crisp white in winter and bright green for summer to keep onlookers wanting to come back again.

4. The Long Hair Village

The moment I stumbled upon the Long Hair Village, the Guinness world book record holder for the “world’s longest hair village”, I was intrigued. I was bewildered that such a place even exists! I discovered with my own eyes that the village is beautiful with its rustic charm and truly, its residents does indeed live up to their village name. The Yao ethnic women who reside there were the embodiment of brunette Rapunzels. They dress in unique and colorful traditional clothing and performed by singing and dancing. It was amusing to watch as they invited male guests to participate in a mock wedding ceremony as done in their village. You may ask: how do they keep their hair jet-black even when they’re old and wrinkled? They do so by washing their hair with fermented rice water! Nature truly works wonders.

5. Li River cruise

As featured on the 20 yuan note, you can see the lush landscape looking reminiscent of Ha Long Bay at every twist and turn on this relaxing cruise. I saw fishermen, some with tourists, on their bamboo rafts sailing through the calm water. After a few hours, the cruise stops at Yangshuo, a small town where you can easily find food or bargain with small shops selling pearl, jade, Chinese paintings and more.

After being left breathless by these five stand-out sights, I was rest assured that Guilin and its surrounding areas are indeed worth a visit and are definitely worthy of its accolades.

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colombiaLiving Life to its fullest in England

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted a poem by Pablo Neruda entitled “You start dying slowly.” It resonated with me, and expressed the way that I was feeling 3 years ago, before my life took a detour from its original trajectory. There are not many things in this world that I am afraid of, but dying without fully experiencing life is one of my greatest fears.

“You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking every day on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine.”

Freedom and fulfillment of dreams are central to the North American ideal, but many of us don’t feel free. Instead, we feel enslaved to our jobs and our lifestyles like we are just part of the rat race, mechanically putting one foot in front of the other. It wasn’t long ago that I felt trapped in my life, like I was living in auto-pilot, moving through each day without anything special and feeling unsatisfied. I was in my fifth year as a junior high/middle-school science teacher in my hometown, and although I loved my job and my students, I felt stuck. Everyone else seemed to be moving forward, finding love, settling down, and having families. Yet here I was, doing the “same old things”; I was not content to “settle”. But what could I do?

“You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job,
[…] If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream […]
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.”

I have always had a love of traveling, since my first plane rides and car trips across Canada as a toddler to visit family. I was very fortunate to have the experience of doing a semester abroad in university, and it lit the fire to try life in another country. When I finished university, I dreamed of teaching overseas. The more unsatisfied I felt with my life, the more my desire to teach abroad increased. I made the decision to move overseas, and after being denied a leave of absence, I resigned from my position, packed up my life and my house, and moved to England. By moving abroad, I was forcing myself to meet new people, try new things and change my routines. There were many new things to experience and different customs to learn to try to fit into my new surroundings.

” You start dying slowly
If you do not travel,
If you do not listen to the sounds of life
If you do not appreciate your life […]
If you avoid to feel passion.”

I struggled when I first moved, and found that I still wasn’t as happy as I had hoped to be. I was forced to figure out my passions. I always knew that traveling was a passion of mine, but I was very fortunate to meet a group of diverse women who helped me rediscover another passion of mine, dance. One of my favourite things when I am visiting a different region, or country, is to learn about their food and about their culture, in particular, the way that music influences people and their outlooks on life. This was especially evident when I took my next leap to Colombia. One of the most diverse countries in South America, there are so many different cultures all blended into one, and it makes for an amazing and lively blend of music and movement. Nothing can make you happier than some cool Colombian beats!

Since traveling is my passion, I felt the most alive when I was able to get out of London and travel throughout Europe. I tried to figure out a way that I could experience that presence in my day to day life. One advantage of such a large city, is that it made exploring close to home quite easy. There are so many different parks, markets and sites to see, that most weekends, I would make an effort to immerse myself in my environment.

It actually took living in Colombia, in a city that lacked parks, for me to realize how important nature is to feeling free and satisfied with life. For those that may not have the ability to travel far from home, going to the local park, the mountains or the ocean is another great way to free yourselves from the stresses and confines of daily life. What I discovered from moving around the world, is that to feel free, you don’t have to go far. By paying attention to your surroundings, and surrounding yourself with nature, you too can feel free.

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thailand-scheduleThere Is No Crammed Schedule in Thailand

Erin and I took a giant leap of adventure when we sold all our belongings in the USA and booked a one way ticket to Bangkok, Thailand. No itinerary. No plans. It was time to shake life up and discover more of ourselves. We were all too familiar with the 9-5 grind and were ready for something completely different. It does not take long on the backpacking trail to learn a few things about self and about life.

It is difficult to make and keep travel plans out in this world experiencing pure freedom. Where the wind blows and you follow along with the stranger met last night. A few buckets and a few beers and next thing you know we were on our way from Bangkok to Surat Thani with a brand new friend Dave, who happened to be approaching 60 years old, but knew a thing or two about travel.

We sat on the floor near the KFC in the brightly lit open air train station. Where the locals chipper away with their Thai accents and the smell of all sorts of food fill the air. Quite a strange aroma of fried chicken and Pad Thai, especially for the just arrived tourists we were. After two hours on the very hard train station floor I thought to myself, “I haven’t heard an announcement for our train and it is past departure time.” I walk up to the ticket window with Dave and learn the train was gone. We missed it!

Now that was a hard pill to swallow at that time. Missed the train, “Oh no,” we thought, “what are we going to do now!?” At the ticket counter, the lady next to me says, “That’s traveling. Just let it go. You’ll get there fine.” My worrying mind was wound so tight from the life I left behind that I could not comprehend the ease with which she said let it go. No other choice but to buy another ticket and sit next to the ladies chomping on their bags of rice and hang out longer.

We caught the next train and arrived at our destination just fine. The first step in unwinding that anxious little brain was to acknowledge that while on travel things do not always go as planned. Take a deep breath and carry on.

Dave learned that lesson as well when he stepped in the ocean off balance and messed up his knee in Koh Samui three days later. It ended his trip completely and he had to fly back to San Francisco. Bummer to lose Dave but another sign that you must go with flow, appreciate the opportunity at hand, and do not take for granted the wonder of the wide open world.

Erin and I ended up on the island of Koh Phangan a few days after losing Dave and we arrived the same day as the Half Moon jungle party. Let’s see what this party island is all about!

A buzz of energy was in the air as we arrived to the hostel. “Free shots!” proclaimed the staff. Body paint, alcohol, and good times got us started. We caught a tuk-tuk and hung on tight up the winding jungle road to our destination. Twelve of us on one ride had me hanging teetering on the side as the driver moved seamlessly through town and up toward a night to remember.

Dropped off in the jungle I begin to see the bright lights and hear the sound of the electronic music. Now here is a scene we were familiar with back home. Witnessing the grand stage production with a DJ booth and the amazing colors streaming out from the LED visual panel above the booth we found our place for the evening. Wandering around near the brightly lit tree in the middle of the dance floor it was possible to sit, reflect on the journey thus far, and smile from within. This is why we came across the world, to find our true freedom away from the hustle and grind back home and meet all these amazing souls from many different walks of life. Take the journey in stride and realize that there is no schedule here, only great memories to be made and life to be lived.

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kenyaCertain Freedom On The Edge in Kenya

I had travelled very little in life, almost all of it within the geographical borders of New York State and most of that between the rounded mountains of the Catskills, the tumble of the Adirondacks, and the rocky Eastern shores of Lake Ontario. The world is a comfortable, dependable, predictable place when it amounts to roughly 150 miles by 150 miles. It also becomes routine, dull, and even a little oppressive. Still and all, it was MY world and what I knew.

You might think that such a small, intimate world would be accustomed to many of those born and raised there taking their leave, escaping into the wider world all around. To be sure, that occurred, enough to not be unusual, but not enough to be common. So, when the opportunity to leave New York and live in Kenya presented itself, pursuing that opportunity became a rich source of unsolicited advice, unsought opinion, and even outright discouragement.

I had wanted to explore the wider world beyond Upstate New York for some time, but did not have a good idea of how to do so. No one in my family or group of friends had travelled much, if at all. One uncle who had travelled extensively had done so by making a career with US Air Force. Joining “the Service” did not appeal to me, much to my uncle’s and father’s dismay. But, in a tangential twist of reasoning, the concept of esprit de corps Dad continually espoused bloomed into the idea of serving in the US Peace Corps.

You can imagine the usual paperwork, interviews, and bureaucratic back-and-forth that took place over the course of six months. Eventually, I was assigned to be a high school teacher in Western Kenya; specifically, the tiny hamlet of Kipsoen clinging 1,000 meters atop the escarpment, above the floor of the Great Rift Valley. The edge of the world.

Everything I had been sure – and assured – of: the world I knew and the person I was certain of, quickly melted away under the equatorial sun of the African plains.

The landscape: Isak Dinesen describes it as, “the views were immensely wide — everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility.” (Out of Africa, 1937). The culture and the people: time and interactions had an easy, open, welcoming quality. Telling time was upended: What was 7:00AM on a clock in New York, was read as “sah moja” (the first hour, or 1:00AM) in KiSwahili, the national language of Kenya. The attitude toward Life: “Hakuna Matata” (there are no problems), as Pumbaa and Timon sang in Disney’s The Lion King, is an actual truth in traditional Kenyan thinking. In short, travelling halfway around the world took me worlds away from what I’d learned and from where I’d come.

Going all that distance and in the melting away, the removal, of all the fixtures and accoutrements of growing up in my old world, there was space for new outlooks, attitudes, and growth. It wasn’t a smooth, quick, easy, nor always a conscious process. Among some of the oldest peoples on the planet, on the oldest continent, I found a new start.

That is where I found my freedom.

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munichWalking on the Winter Streets in Munich, Germany

Bavaria in the winter is a different proposition from Bavaria in the summer. Perhaps if one skies, a winter in Bavaria might seem like heaven with mountain slopes. I emphatically don’t ski. Nor do I like beer. Thus Munich would seem like an odd choice.

I stayed in Munich for three months with my aunt. Four years ago she moved here for work, and found a comfortable apartment with an extra bedroom. Every member of my extended family has, at least once, come here to stay with her and take short trips elsewhere in Europe once the jet lag has worn off. I’m the last one to make the journey.

As for myself, this is not particularly a vacation. More like a figure-out-what-the-hell-I’m-doing-with-my-life sabbatical of frustration from what I’m used to in Colorado. Also a somewhat desperate bid to step up my photography with inspiration from new places.

It’s early on a Sunday, and despite the temperatures and the fact that the winter sun hasn’t managed to filter much through a blanket of cloud cover, we layer up in warm gear, pulling on knit hats over our bed-messy hair to go for a walk, camera as ever glued to my side.

It’s cold in Munich on a winter morning, and often the wind makes it colder. The apartment is located on a Fahrradstrasse, meaning “bicycle street.” One has to watch out for the bikes more than the cars. The canal we cross is lined with tall trees that are still incongruously sheathed in thick green ivy leaves. The tops of the trees are bare twigs, but no one seems to have told the ivy that it’s cold.

We crunch our way down narrow sidewalks covered in gravel, the German answer to ice-melt. The apartment buildings each have small yards for the ground-floor flats, and most balconies sport what will be greenery in a few months. Some even have tiny pines or spruce, which are decked out festively with Christmas lights during the holidays. Yet despite their similarities, none are quite the same. All have stucco exteriors, but in a surprising range of pastels. Each has its own architecture, some with decorative paintings or small inset statues.

There’s a bakery for every neighborhood, and an apoteke (pharmacy) on practically every street in Munich. The grocery store is never more than a couple of blocks’ walk. On any weekend morning you’ll find a queue outside the bakery, husbands whose wives sent them out on breakfast duty. It’s a different way of life than I’m used to, but I’ve grown to enjoy it.

It takes less than fifteen minutes of walking from the Fahrradstrasse to get to Nymphenburg Palace. The massive white exterior is impressive, but we pass by the huge staircase entrance and enter the gates that lead to the grounds. There are many paths to choose from, criss-crossing the wooded estate. Bird calls ring out unexpectedly, from the tiny blue tits to blackbirds, crows, and geese. Pillared bridges span the canals that divert water from the river to feed several fountains, still now for the winter.

Few people are out this early, so we have the quiet woods mostly to ourselves. As we crunch along, the church bells begin to toll, right on time.

It strikes me as a uniquely European experience to meander on forested paths, yet still hear perfectly tuned church bells sing out from the street that is in fact not too far away. We stop at one of our favorite trees which exudes an air of quiet wisdom, a huge and gnarled beech with bark like elephant skin, and listening to the church bells there feels as sacred as any experience I can remember having.

My time in Munich turned out to be not what I was expecting. But it was precisely what I needed. It was culture and nature all mixed up together; a new frame of reference and an opportunity to see a new way ahead. I knew that I wouldn’t be the same after this time spent traveling, and that is true. Photography became real for me, far more than a hobby. More importantly, I became bigger in Munich, with a wider world-view and deeper determination to live in a meaningful way.

Photo Credit: Dawn Myscofski

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Backpack & Bushes In Munich: The Freedom In Wandering

There I was, wandering the suburban streets of Munich with a poor sense of direction and the absence of mobile technology. That afternoon, I had stepped off of an airplane that had departed from the island of Majorca in the south of Spain. Majorca was warm, tropical, and evoked the inner island-ista in me and, therefore, I was sporting my thinnest tank top and beachy footwear. Although the time of year was early August, the weather in Münich resembled the brisk end of autumn.

Needless to say, I was cold, lost, and the sun was setting. I was on the hunt for the flat belonging to my Couchsurfing hosts, without a way of contacting them. All of the surrounding buildings were residential and very quiet. Any passerby was fair game when it came to directional questions, but I only crossed paths with two in my many hours of searching. The first person was Turkish and I, unfortunately, did not speak his language. I showed him my hand-written address and he pointed onward down the street; I kept walking.

This is the point where I should have broken down and cried. There was not one car or taxi to flag and deliver me to my destination. I was far from the nearest train station and low on cash. Instead of crying, however, I stayed calm. I had my backpack; everything I needed was on my person so spending a night in the bushes… was totally doable!

In that backpack I had multiple layers of clothing, a change of shoes, and probably something edible. My backpack was there for me. My backpack gave me the freedom to make a mistake like this and helped me recognize my privilege in possessing the items necessary for basic comforts. This realization showed me that once basic needs are met, less is more in travel.

The freer we want to become, the more we must leave behind. Before I could be a self-titled traveler, I had to look this realization square in the eyes because leaving behind the things that maintain comfort in order to travel is uncomfortable. I did not like getting dirty and staying dirty. I wanted my full size shampoo bottle. I needed silence and complete darkness in order to sleep through the night.

For me, it was a little grey backpack that challenged me to decide what was to be left behind in order to see what true freedom feels like. If it was travel that I wanted, I had to bridge the void between lux and living. I had to become okay with getting dirty, losing sleep, being uncomfortable for the sake of seeing the world with authenticity. When living life as a traveler, what is essential is what we choose to travel with us. The size of my backpack has taught me to choose wisely and intuitively.

This very backpack encourages me to not only open the door of my closet to get it out but doors all over the world. It has been there to support me through the wonderful and harried times of my adventures. My backpack was there for me when I hunted for my hostel on the winding streets of Barcelona. She has sat beside me and heard countless tales from strangers who have transformed into friends. And she has been there for the myriad of travel-mishaps that have left me questioning if I will be sleeping in the bushes for the evening.

The end of my Munich mishap goes like this: Lost in a dark courtyard, I spotted a man climbing his porch steps about to unlock his front door. Across the green space, I shouted for help as politely and nonthreatening as possible. He stopped and turned around seemingly jolly and ready to help. Thank God! I showed him the address and, in broken German-English, he described that I was on the side of the street with even-numbered addresses and I needed to be in the courtyard across the street with odd-numbered addresses. I was saved from a foliage-filled slumber!

Because everything I needed was on my back, a night in the shrubs was not only a possibility but also something I was prepared to experience. Of course, I know that I am more than my backpack and, even without it, I would have survived, but I have learned that living with less is actually living with enough. By setting off on an adventure with minimal essentials, I have been allowed to become myself again. Even though I found the flat in Munich that night, my backpack has given me the freedom and contentment in knowing that there really is not much I need to pack to have a proper adventure.

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Democracy, Freedom and Independence in Bratislava, Slovakia.

It is a holiday commemorating the 1945 uprising against Nazi occupation today. Devinska Nova Ves (DNV) is a large village about 16 km north of Bratislava. Its wide main street is lined with old houses, there is an enormous Volkswagen factory and a few tower blocks – nothing special really. But back in 2012 it came to the attention of the world’s press, even Reuters. It was all about a bridge.

DNV is on the Morava River- the border between Slovakia and Austria. In Cold War times this was a heavily militarized zone of barbed-wire fences and constant patrols by border guards. Many people died trying to run through the wire here. Inside the one km exclusion zone you could have been shot on sight. If they had tried swimming they would have had to deal with serious currents on both the Danube and Morava rivers. In 2012 a bridge was completed over the river at DNV to join the formerly impenetrable frontier. The Bratislava Regional Assembly set up a Facebook vote to name this historically significant link between the old communist block and Western Europe. The Regional Governor, Pavol Freso, affirmed that they would probably go with the people’s wishes. That is until the “Chuck Norris Bridge” polled more than 10 times as many votes as the Regional Assembly’s proposal, or indeed any other suggestions. Now Reuters started to take an interest. Chuck Norris was always a source of jokes concerning macho invincibility in Slovakia (Chuck Norris can delete the recycling bin…), but hardly a feasible choice for naming a bridge (no-one walks over Chuck Norris was later mentioned by the Assembly). But you can cross this historic bridge today. The floodplains beneath will be a Site of Special Scientific Interest, teeming with rare flora and fauna.

About two km South of DNV lies the village of Devin, where today there is a festival. If you bus out of Bratislava you may well sit next to a knight, complete with chain mail, sword and helmet on his mobile phone.

Devin Castle, first recorded in 864, lies atop a cliff overlooking the Danube. In the thirteenth century it was the frontier post of the Hungarian Empire. It featured on a coin and a note of the former currency in Cold War times – an important national symbol. Now it lies in ruins (thank Napoleon for that). At the castle are “medieval” tents with costumed people sitting around cooking over fires in iron pots. It has an authentic feel. All the men have long hair and one is undressing to his boxer shorts to put on his chain mail vest, boots, helmet and jacket.

We walk up to the ruins, where my four-year-old daughter, Mollie, is delighted to shout “bottom” down the 55 metre well and enjoy its echo. From up here you can see the Danube curving round to the Morava.

Terraced vineyards sweep down from Dacha’s (small wooden summer villas) on the mountain-top. One huge, elegant residence dominates all of these. I was told that this belongs to the Russian mafia. Down at the river you can throw a stone over into Austria which is why so many tried their luck here. If it wasn’t running through the militarized zone and barbed wire then trying to swim, it was (homemade) hang-gliders from the hilltops. Down by the confluence a serious ceremony is taking place. Over 400 people died between 1945 and 1989 attempting this: nearly one a month for 44 years from one small village on the Austrian border. Each name listed on the sculpture and explained in four languages. It read (verbatim):
“The Iron Curtain used to stand here. It cannot be pulled away. It can only be cracked. Four Hundred people sacrificed their life while fighting for their rights. Human beings, free and unrestricted do not forget that freedom of thinking, acting and dreaming is a value that is not only worth living but also bringing sacrifices.”

Judging by their ages, the attendees here could well have been the brothers or sisters, even parents of those desperado’s who died for freedom and independence. So there you have it: freedom and independence in one rather confusing package. Foul-mouthed four-year-olds, uprisings against Nazi occupation, modern ex-Iron Curtain members of the EEC co-existing with today’s Russian mafia, medieval knights, would-be escapees of communism and Chuck Norris. The Bratislava Regional Assembly, in their infinite wisdom actually rejected the 12,599 votes for the “Chuck Norris Bridge” in favour of the “Freedom Cycling Bridge” (457 votes), which is now its official name. However, thanks to Reuters, it is even today easily findable on Google under its more democratic name. If my daughter were able to understand this, I am absolutely sure that she would say, “But that’s bottom democracy, freedom and independence!”

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Forging my Inquisitive Name in Egypt

Standing in a shop in Cairo, I spelled out my name for the clerk, both in English and in Arabic. Should it end with an eliph or a taa marbuta? We went back and forth, settling on aliph, the first letter of the alphabet, and I handed over a not insignificant amount of Egyptian pounds.

I was in Egypt for six weeks studying Arabic and Middle Eastern politics, as part of one of my many minors. But really, I was there because the summer before I had stayed home in Massachusetts, working retail. I had watched as friends flooded facebook with photos from all over Egypt. I wanted to learn about the region, but I also wanted to go on an adventure, having conversations and experiences that would never happen back home. My parents had agreed, on the grounds that university staff would accompany us. My boyfriend would be waiting when I got back, in spite of how nervous I had been to even ask that question.

Six weeks seemed like a long time, but once I was abroad, it it didn’t take long for us both to chafe under the situation. He felt like I was always too busy, and was suspicious of the new friends I was making, especially the male ones. I felt like every call was either a fight or a one-sided conversation, keeping me from flash cards, late-night dessert treks, and new friends. I had started spending time with young women who proudly called themselves feminists and stretched my previous definition of the word. I started wondering why I had ever found the necklace he gave me, emblazoned with the word “princess,” to be sweet.

A couple of days after spelling out my name in the shop, a small velvet envelope arrived. I took off the old necklace, something I hadn’t done since he gave it to me, and excitedly placed my new one around my neck. Instead of someone else’s ill-fitting pet name, I was wearing my own. More than that, my Arabic name necklace was an outward sign of my accomplishments: the hundreds of hours learning Arabic, the nerve-wracking solo cab ride, the ever-present street harassment, and the wonder of Naguib Mahfouz’s books. I was working harder academically than I ever had in my life, not to mention constantly learning from everyone I met. This country had indelibly changed me, and it all sat there at my collarbone, in elegant, silver, Arabic script.

Back home, I wore my new necklace proudly. That did not go unnoticed.

There were questions and tears. It seems the symbolism of the two pieces of jewelry wasn’t lost on anyone. It didn’t help that I hid his necklace from myself out of sadness and couldn’t find it again until years later, well after our relationship was dead and buried. But it wouldn’t have mattered; I had changed.

My time in Egypt brought so much to my life: feminism, a love of the Middle East, dear friends, and a knowledge that not only can I do things that seem big and scary, but I thrive on them. I’ll never be certain why we broke up, but I know I couldn’t have become the person I am now while remaining his girlfriend. I needed years to myself, without any guilt or judgment about my travels and personal politics, two of my strongest and most intertwined traits. I needed room to grow, to see where the world would take me if I didn’t need anyone else and no one else needed me. I needed to be a woman of my own making, not someone else’s vision of me, not an asterisked version of myself that was only acceptable with caveats and conditions. I needed to be able to pick up and go, over and over again, and not be seen as disloyal for doing so.

One day, the necklace slipped off at a friend’s backyard barbecue, never to be seen again. I miss it like I miss so much about Egypt, from koshery and nutty actions movies to hijabi fashion and Al Azhar Park. But I take comfort in the fact that I don’t need the necklace like I once did. By the time I lost the necklace, it had served its purpose. I was out of that relationship and had travelled to many countries, but most importantly, I had been brave enough to choose myself, and the life I wanted to lead. I knew my choices were not dalliances but a path. I had chosen a life driven by adventure and ideals, one where my brain and my bravado are my most prized possessions. Someday, there may be another man who wants to rename me and keep me close by his side. I’d like to see him try.

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A safe itinerary to exciting success in Nigeria
He possessed an intrepid physique, radiant cheeks, hair still remain dark, and a gritty skin. He wore a hat strolling around the backyard, and a tattered blue army overcoat when it was cold, and sometimes top-boots. He walks round the house and an earsplitting yell was heard from the backyard, before he could be rushed to the hospital, he gave up the ghost.

What a pity! There is no one death cannot eliminate as death claim the life of my father after being battled by the debilitating disease of cancer.
One morning after the corpse was interred; the family members sideline my mother from other important discussion concerning the properties of the deceased. She stood upon her gallery with arms akimbo, shedding tears, so unexpected and bewildering was the death of her husband. The next decision of the family member was that the children of the deceased would be taken care of by the family members but my mother disagreed.

Few days to that time, I was kidnapped by unknown abductors alongside my mother and my younger ones into the narrow strip of shade on the porch of the long, low house; the hot sunlight was beating in on the brown old boards as an unpleasant odour filled the atmosphere, and a terrific sound was coming across the non-flowering cotton-field. The kidnappers were sent by the family member who wanted to confiscate the hard earned properties of the deceased from his immediate family.

Few minute to our execution by the kidnappers, a serene was heard within that abode alarmed by the Nigeria Police who were on duty when they notice some suspicious movement and sound in that environment. They thwarted the kidnappers from achieving their goal as they all fled away from being arrested and we were all unfettered from their captivity.

After two days of staying at the police station for security reasons, an officer lent my mother a piece of advice and that leads to our itinerary to Lagos state so that we can gain the freedom from our nemesis.

In the struggle of being totally independence, my mother seeks for employment opportunity for various months under the administration of the rickety Nigeria government before she later started with a petty trade. My mother also clamour that I should be independent by now as she inculcated that I must learn a vocation and must also provide and feed myself. This was initially difficult for me and I had persistent fight with her. I begin to hate her the more, my emotion begins to suffer depression, and my life now lacks the nutrient of joy and happiness. Drastically, I am becoming more irrelevant to the community as I use obsolete phone, I have accrued debt and I can’t avoid eating three meals a day because I have fallen into the abysmal of excruciating pestilence of poverty.

At a conference which I reluctantly attended transformed my life, I was inspired to take responsibility. Consequently, I searched for job in consensus to the inspiring testimonies heard at the conference that “before you can become successful, you would need to move out of your environment”. This emanates how I became a driver as I virtually travel and tour the whole Nigeria and Ghana while doing a job of a driver.

After about 15hours on road from Nigeria due to various barricades by the security personnel and also the vehicle engine problem which hiatus our journey. The red sunset and the blue-gray twilight had together flung a purple mist across the road that hid it from our view. We could no longer hear the wheezing and creaking of wheels but could still faintly hear the shrill, glad voices of the children in the passing vehicles. Finally, we reach Ghana and I got employed by the benevolent business woman called Miss Calister to whom I return the wallet she forgot in my bus some weeks ago.
I seated myself beside the table as I glance through the room, into which the evening shadows were creeping and deepening around my solitary figure, happy that I bounced back to a life of debt free, joy and happiness and I regain my freedom from the bumpy hands of poverty and sadness. This is the chronicle of my itinerary to success.

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Gulin china5 Places worth a visit in Guilin, China

Anyone who’s ever read a Chinese textbook can attest that these textbooks glorify Guilin. Not only that, politicians also sing praises to this city’s natural endowments and often entertain visiting dignitaries in this resort town. During my last visit to Guilin, I was adamant to find out in less than a week if Guilin and its surrounding areas do indeed live up to its reputation. Here are the top five sights I saw and love to reminisce about.

1. Reed flute cave

I spent a good hour here oohing and ahhing at the sight of the abundant stalactites and rock formations, which were illuminated by multi-colored lighting. This lighting enhanced the otherworldly atmosphere contained therein. It was like stumbling into a fairy’s den, another world you’ll normally associate with a fictional novel. The highlight was the laser light musical show at the end of the cave, which gave me chills. With the help of the guide, I could easily visualize animals, cities, and plants among the rock formations.

2. Fubo hill

This attraction made me withstand an intense cardio exercise as I climbed the steps leading up to the lookout point on top that showed a bird’s eye view of the city. You could see panoramic views of the Li River and the developing city’s natural beauty from high above.

3. Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces

Hours away from Guilin, I found myself gaping at the brilliant spectacle of the verdant green man-made terraces carved as far as the eye could see. I could tell from the wide expanse of the terraces that this is the culmination of the Zhuang people’s strenuous efforts and ingeniousness. I rode a cable car to get to the top where I could see just how high and extensive the work done must have been to transform the vast region into layer upon layer of rice terraces. It was a picturesque sight to behold and I could imagine how its beauty changes into golden hues for autumn, crisp white in winter and bright green for summer to keep onlookers wanting to come back again.

4. The Long Hair Village

The moment I stumbled upon the Long Hair Village, the Guinness world book record holder for the “world’s longest hair village”, I was intrigued. I was bewildered that such a place even exists! I discovered with my own eyes that the village is beautiful with its rustic charm and truly, its residents does indeed live up to their village name. The Yao ethnic women who reside there were the embodiment of brunette Rapunzels. They dress in unique and colorful traditional clothing and performed by singing and dancing. It was amusing to watch as they invited male guests to participate in a mock wedding ceremony as done in their village. You may ask: how do they keep their hair jet-black even when they’re old and wrinkled? They do so by washing their hair with fermented rice water! Nature truly works wonders.

5. Li River cruise

As featured on the 20 yuan note, you can see the lush landscape looking reminiscent of Ha Long Bay at every twist and turn on this relaxing cruise. I saw fishermen, some with tourists, on their bamboo rafts sailing through the calm water. After a few hours, the cruise stops at Yangshuo, a small town where you can easily find food or bargain with small shops selling pearl, jade, Chinese paintings and more.

After being left breathless by these five stand-out sights, I was rest assured that Guilin and its surrounding areas are indeed worth a visit and are definitely worthy of its accolades.

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colombiaLiving Life to its fullest in England

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted a poem by Pablo Neruda entitled “You start dying slowly.” It resonated with me, and expressed the way that I was feeling 3 years ago, before my life took a detour from its original trajectory. There are not many things in this world that I am afraid of, but dying without fully experiencing life is one of my greatest fears.

“You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking every day on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine.”

Freedom and fulfillment of dreams are central to the North American ideal, but many of us don’t feel free. Instead, we feel enslaved to our jobs and our lifestyles like we are just part of the rat race, mechanically putting one foot in front of the other. It wasn’t long ago that I felt trapped in my life, like I was living in auto-pilot, moving through each day without anything special and feeling unsatisfied. I was in my fifth year as a junior high/middle-school science teacher in my hometown, and although I loved my job and my students, I felt stuck. Everyone else seemed to be moving forward, finding love, settling down, and having families. Yet here I was, doing the “same old things”; I was not content to “settle”. But what could I do?

“You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job,
[…] If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream […]
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.”

I have always had a love of traveling, since my first plane rides and car trips across Canada as a toddler to visit family. I was very fortunate to have the experience of doing a semester abroad in university, and it lit the fire to try life in another country. When I finished university, I dreamed of teaching overseas. The more unsatisfied I felt with my life, the more my desire to teach abroad increased. I made the decision to move overseas, and after being denied a leave of absence, I resigned from my position, packed up my life and my house, and moved to England. By moving abroad, I was forcing myself to meet new people, try new things and change my routines. There were many new things to experience and different customs to learn to try to fit into my new surroundings.

” You start dying slowly
If you do not travel,
If you do not listen to the sounds of life
If you do not appreciate your life […]
If you avoid to feel passion.”

I struggled when I first moved, and found that I still wasn’t as happy as I had hoped to be. I was forced to figure out my passions. I always knew that traveling was a passion of mine, but I was very fortunate to meet a group of diverse women who helped me rediscover another passion of mine, dance. One of my favourite things when I am visiting a different region, or country, is to learn about their food and about their culture, in particular, the way that music influences people and their outlooks on life. This was especially evident when I took my next leap to Colombia. One of the most diverse countries in South America, there are so many different cultures all blended into one, and it makes for an amazing and lively blend of music and movement. Nothing can make you happier than some cool Colombian beats!

Since traveling is my passion, I felt the most alive when I was able to get out of London and travel throughout Europe. I tried to figure out a way that I could experience that presence in my day to day life. One advantage of such a large city, is that it made exploring close to home quite easy. There are so many different parks, markets and sites to see, that most weekends, I would make an effort to immerse myself in my environment.

It actually took living in Colombia, in a city that lacked parks, for me to realize how important nature is to feeling free and satisfied with life. For those that may not have the ability to travel far from home, going to the local park, the mountains or the ocean is another great way to free yourselves from the stresses and confines of daily life. What I discovered from moving around the world, is that to feel free, you don’t have to go far. By paying attention to your surroundings, and surrounding yourself with nature, you too can feel free.

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thailand-scheduleThere Is No Crammed Schedule in Thailand

Erin and I took a giant leap of adventure when we sold all our belongings in the USA and booked a one way ticket to Bangkok, Thailand. No itinerary. No plans. It was time to shake life up and discover more of ourselves. We were all too familiar with the 9-5 grind and were ready for something completely different. It does not take long on the backpacking trail to learn a few things about self and about life.

It is difficult to make and keep travel plans out in this world experiencing pure freedom. Where the wind blows and you follow along with the stranger met last night. A few buckets and a few beers and next thing you know we were on our way from Bangkok to Surat Thani with a brand new friend Dave, who happened to be approaching 60 years old, but knew a thing or two about travel.

We sat on the floor near the KFC in the brightly lit open air train station. Where the locals chipper away with their Thai accents and the smell of all sorts of food fill the air. Quite a strange aroma of fried chicken and Pad Thai, especially for the just arrived tourists we were. After two hours on the very hard train station floor I thought to myself, “I haven’t heard an announcement for our train and it is past departure time.” I walk up to the ticket window with Dave and learn the train was gone. We missed it!

Now that was a hard pill to swallow at that time. Missed the train, “Oh no,” we thought, “what are we going to do now!?” At the ticket counter, the lady next to me says, “That’s traveling. Just let it go. You’ll get there fine.” My worrying mind was wound so tight from the life I left behind that I could not comprehend the ease with which she said let it go. No other choice but to buy another ticket and sit next to the ladies chomping on their bags of rice and hang out longer.

We caught the next train and arrived at our destination just fine. The first step in unwinding that anxious little brain was to acknowledge that while on travel things do not always go as planned. Take a deep breath and carry on.

Dave learned that lesson as well when he stepped in the ocean off balance and messed up his knee in Koh Samui three days later. It ended his trip completely and he had to fly back to San Francisco. Bummer to lose Dave but another sign that you must go with flow, appreciate the opportunity at hand, and do not take for granted the wonder of the wide open world.

Erin and I ended up on the island of Koh Phangan a few days after losing Dave and we arrived the same day as the Half Moon jungle party. Let’s see what this party island is all about!

A buzz of energy was in the air as we arrived to the hostel. “Free shots!” proclaimed the staff. Body paint, alcohol, and good times got us started. We caught a tuk-tuk and hung on tight up the winding jungle road to our destination. Twelve of us on one ride had me hanging teetering on the side as the driver moved seamlessly through town and up toward a night to remember.

Dropped off in the jungle I begin to see the bright lights and hear the sound of the electronic music. Now here is a scene we were familiar with back home. Witnessing the grand stage production with a DJ booth and the amazing colors streaming out from the LED visual panel above the booth we found our place for the evening. Wandering around near the brightly lit tree in the middle of the dance floor it was possible to sit, reflect on the journey thus far, and smile from within. This is why we came across the world, to find our true freedom away from the hustle and grind back home and meet all these amazing souls from many different walks of life. Take the journey in stride and realize that there is no schedule here, only great memories to be made and life to be lived.

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kenyaCertain Freedom On The Edge in Kenya

I had travelled very little in life, almost all of it within the geographical borders of New York State and most of that between the rounded mountains of the Catskills, the tumble of the Adirondacks, and the rocky Eastern shores of Lake Ontario. The world is a comfortable, dependable, predictable place when it amounts to roughly 150 miles by 150 miles. It also becomes routine, dull, and even a little oppressive. Still and all, it was MY world and what I knew.

You might think that such a small, intimate world would be accustomed to many of those born and raised there taking their leave, escaping into the wider world all around. To be sure, that occurred, enough to not be unusual, but not enough to be common. So, when the opportunity to leave New York and live in Kenya presented itself, pursuing that opportunity became a rich source of unsolicited advice, unsought opinion, and even outright discouragement.

I had wanted to explore the wider world beyond Upstate New York for some time, but did not have a good idea of how to do so. No one in my family or group of friends had travelled much, if at all. One uncle who had travelled extensively had done so by making a career with US Air Force. Joining “the Service” did not appeal to me, much to my uncle’s and father’s dismay. But, in a tangential twist of reasoning, the concept of esprit de corps Dad continually espoused bloomed into the idea of serving in the US Peace Corps.

You can imagine the usual paperwork, interviews, and bureaucratic back-and-forth that took place over the course of six months. Eventually, I was assigned to be a high school teacher in Western Kenya; specifically, the tiny hamlet of Kipsoen clinging 1,000 meters atop the escarpment, above the floor of the Great Rift Valley. The edge of the world.

Everything I had been sure – and assured – of: the world I knew and the person I was certain of, quickly melted away under the equatorial sun of the African plains.

The landscape: Isak Dinesen describes it as, “the views were immensely wide — everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility.” (Out of Africa, 1937). The culture and the people: time and interactions had an easy, open, welcoming quality. Telling time was upended: What was 7:00AM on a clock in New York, was read as “sah moja” (the first hour, or 1:00AM) in KiSwahili, the national language of Kenya. The attitude toward Life: “Hakuna Matata” (there are no problems), as Pumbaa and Timon sang in Disney’s The Lion King, is an actual truth in traditional Kenyan thinking. In short, travelling halfway around the world took me worlds away from what I’d learned and from where I’d come.

Going all that distance and in the melting away, the removal, of all the fixtures and accoutrements of growing up in my old world, there was space for new outlooks, attitudes, and growth. It wasn’t a smooth, quick, easy, nor always a conscious process. Among some of the oldest peoples on the planet, on the oldest continent, I found a new start.

That is where I found my freedom.

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munichWalking on the Winter Streets in Munich, Germany

Bavaria in the winter is a different proposition from Bavaria in the summer. Perhaps if one skies, a winter in Bavaria might seem like heaven with mountain slopes. I emphatically don’t ski. Nor do I like beer. Thus Munich would seem like an odd choice.

I stayed in Munich for three months with my aunt. Four years ago she moved here for work, and found a comfortable apartment with an extra bedroom. Every member of my extended family has, at least once, come here to stay with her and take short trips elsewhere in Europe once the jet lag has worn off. I’m the last one to make the journey.

As for myself, this is not particularly a vacation. More like a figure-out-what-the-hell-I’m-doing-with-my-life sabbatical of frustration from what I’m used to in Colorado. Also a somewhat desperate bid to step up my photography with inspiration from new places.

It’s early on a Sunday, and despite the temperatures and the fact that the winter sun hasn’t managed to filter much through a blanket of cloud cover, we layer up in warm gear, pulling on knit hats over our bed-messy hair to go for a walk, camera as ever glued to my side.

It’s cold in Munich on a winter morning, and often the wind makes it colder. The apartment is located on a Fahrradstrasse, meaning “bicycle street.” One has to watch out for the bikes more than the cars. The canal we cross is lined with tall trees that are still incongruously sheathed in thick green ivy leaves. The tops of the trees are bare twigs, but no one seems to have told the ivy that it’s cold.

We crunch our way down narrow sidewalks covered in gravel, the German answer to ice-melt. The apartment buildings each have small yards for the ground-floor flats, and most balconies sport what will be greenery in a few months. Some even have tiny pines or spruce, which are decked out festively with Christmas lights during the holidays. Yet despite their similarities, none are quite the same. All have stucco exteriors, but in a surprising range of pastels. Each has its own architecture, some with decorative paintings or small inset statues.

There’s a bakery for every neighborhood, and an apoteke (pharmacy) on practically every street in Munich. The grocery store is never more than a couple of blocks’ walk. On any weekend morning you’ll find a queue outside the bakery, husbands whose wives sent them out on breakfast duty. It’s a different way of life than I’m used to, but I’ve grown to enjoy it.

It takes less than fifteen minutes of walking from the Fahrradstrasse to get to Nymphenburg Palace. The massive white exterior is impressive, but we pass by the huge staircase entrance and enter the gates that lead to the grounds. There are many paths to choose from, criss-crossing the wooded estate. Bird calls ring out unexpectedly, from the tiny blue tits to blackbirds, crows, and geese. Pillared bridges span the canals that divert water from the river to feed several fountains, still now for the winter.

Few people are out this early, so we have the quiet woods mostly to ourselves. As we crunch along, the church bells begin to toll, right on time.

It strikes me as a uniquely European experience to meander on forested paths, yet still hear perfectly tuned church bells sing out from the street that is in fact not too far away. We stop at one of our favorite trees which exudes an air of quiet wisdom, a huge and gnarled beech with bark like elephant skin, and listening to the church bells there feels as sacred as any experience I can remember having.

My time in Munich turned out to be not what I was expecting. But it was precisely what I needed. It was culture and nature all mixed up together; a new frame of reference and an opportunity to see a new way ahead. I knew that I wouldn’t be the same after this time spent traveling, and that is true. Photography became real for me, far more than a hobby. More importantly, I became bigger in Munich, with a wider world-view and deeper determination to live in a meaningful way.

Photo Credit: Dawn Myscofski

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Backpack & Bushes In Munich: The Freedom In Wandering

There I was, wandering the suburban streets of Munich with a poor sense of direction and the absence of mobile technology. That afternoon, I had stepped off of an airplane that had departed from the island of Majorca in the south of Spain. Majorca was warm, tropical, and evoked the inner island-ista in me and, therefore, I was sporting my thinnest tank top and beachy footwear. Although the time of year was early August, the weather in Münich resembled the brisk end of autumn.

Needless to say, I was cold, lost, and the sun was setting. I was on the hunt for the flat belonging to my Couchsurfing hosts, without a way of contacting them. All of the surrounding buildings were residential and very quiet. Any passerby was fair game when it came to directional questions, but I only crossed paths with two in my many hours of searching. The first person was Turkish and I, unfortunately, did not speak his language. I showed him my hand-written address and he pointed onward down the street; I kept walking.

This is the point where I should have broken down and cried. There was not one car or taxi to flag and deliver me to my destination. I was far from the nearest train station and low on cash. Instead of crying, however, I stayed calm. I had my backpack; everything I needed was on my person so spending a night in the bushes… was totally doable!

In that backpack I had multiple layers of clothing, a change of shoes, and probably something edible. My backpack was there for me. My backpack gave me the freedom to make a mistake like this and helped me recognize my privilege in possessing the items necessary for basic comforts. This realization showed me that once basic needs are met, less is more in travel.

The freer we want to become, the more we must leave behind. Before I could be a self-titled traveler, I had to look this realization square in the eyes because leaving behind the things that maintain comfort in order to travel is uncomfortable. I did not like getting dirty and staying dirty. I wanted my full size shampoo bottle. I needed silence and complete darkness in order to sleep through the night.

For me, it was a little grey backpack that challenged me to decide what was to be left behind in order to see what true freedom feels like. If it was travel that I wanted, I had to bridge the void between lux and living. I had to become okay with getting dirty, losing sleep, being uncomfortable for the sake of seeing the world with authenticity. When living life as a traveler, what is essential is what we choose to travel with us. The size of my backpack has taught me to choose wisely and intuitively.

This very backpack encourages me to not only open the door of my closet to get it out but doors all over the world. It has been there to support me through the wonderful and harried times of my adventures. My backpack was there for me when I hunted for my hostel on the winding streets of Barcelona. She has sat beside me and heard countless tales from strangers who have transformed into friends. And she has been there for the myriad of travel-mishaps that have left me questioning if I will be sleeping in the bushes for the evening.

The end of my Munich mishap goes like this: Lost in a dark courtyard, I spotted a man climbing his porch steps about to unlock his front door. Across the green space, I shouted for help as politely and nonthreatening as possible. He stopped and turned around seemingly jolly and ready to help. Thank God! I showed him the address and, in broken German-English, he described that I was on the side of the street with even-numbered addresses and I needed to be in the courtyard across the street with odd-numbered addresses. I was saved from a foliage-filled slumber!

Because everything I needed was on my back, a night in the shrubs was not only a possibility but also something I was prepared to experience. Of course, I know that I am more than my backpack and, even without it, I would have survived, but I have learned that living with less is actually living with enough. By setting off on an adventure with minimal essentials, I have been allowed to become myself again. Even though I found the flat in Munich that night, my backpack has given me the freedom and contentment in knowing that there really is not much I need to pack to have a proper adventure.

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Democracy, Freedom and Independence in Bratislava, Slovakia.

It is a holiday commemorating the 1945 uprising against Nazi occupation today. Devinska Nova Ves (DNV) is a large village about 16 km north of Bratislava. Its wide main street is lined with old houses, there is an enormous Volkswagen factory and a few tower blocks – nothing special really. But back in 2012 it came to the attention of the world’s press, even Reuters. It was all about a bridge.

DNV is on the Morava River- the border between Slovakia and Austria. In Cold War times this was a heavily militarized zone of barbed-wire fences and constant patrols by border guards. Many people died trying to run through the wire here. Inside the one km exclusion zone you could have been shot on sight. If they had tried swimming they would have had to deal with serious currents on both the Danube and Morava rivers. In 2012 a bridge was completed over the river at DNV to join the formerly impenetrable frontier. The Bratislava Regional Assembly set up a Facebook vote to name this historically significant link between the old communist block and Western Europe. The Regional Governor, Pavol Freso, affirmed that they would probably go with the people’s wishes. That is until the “Chuck Norris Bridge” polled more than 10 times as many votes as the Regional Assembly’s proposal, or indeed any other suggestions. Now Reuters started to take an interest. Chuck Norris was always a source of jokes concerning macho invincibility in Slovakia (Chuck Norris can delete the recycling bin…), but hardly a feasible choice for naming a bridge (no-one walks over Chuck Norris was later mentioned by the Assembly). But you can cross this historic bridge today. The floodplains beneath will be a Site of Special Scientific Interest, teeming with rare flora and fauna.

About two km South of DNV lies the village of Devin, where today there is a festival. If you bus out of Bratislava you may well sit next to a knight, complete with chain mail, sword and helmet on his mobile phone.

Devin Castle, first recorded in 864, lies atop a cliff overlooking the Danube. In the thirteenth century it was the frontier post of the Hungarian Empire. It featured on a coin and a note of the former currency in Cold War times – an important national symbol. Now it lies in ruins (thank Napoleon for that). At the castle are “medieval” tents with costumed people sitting around cooking over fires in iron pots. It has an authentic feel. All the men have long hair and one is undressing to his boxer shorts to put on his chain mail vest, boots, helmet and jacket.

We walk up to the ruins, where my four-year-old daughter, Mollie, is delighted to shout “bottom” down the 55 metre well and enjoy its echo. From up here you can see the Danube curving round to the Morava.

Terraced vineyards sweep down from Dacha’s (small wooden summer villas) on the mountain-top. One huge, elegant residence dominates all of these. I was told that this belongs to the Russian mafia. Down at the river you can throw a stone over into Austria which is why so many tried their luck here. If it wasn’t running through the militarized zone and barbed wire then trying to swim, it was (homemade) hang-gliders from the hilltops. Down by the confluence a serious ceremony is taking place. Over 400 people died between 1945 and 1989 attempting this: nearly one a month for 44 years from one small village on the Austrian border. Each name listed on the sculpture and explained in four languages. It read (verbatim):
“The Iron Curtain used to stand here. It cannot be pulled away. It can only be cracked. Four Hundred people sacrificed their life while fighting for their rights. Human beings, free and unrestricted do not forget that freedom of thinking, acting and dreaming is a value that is not only worth living but also bringing sacrifices.”

Judging by their ages, the attendees here could well have been the brothers or sisters, even parents of those desperado’s who died for freedom and independence. So there you have it: freedom and independence in one rather confusing package. Foul-mouthed four-year-olds, uprisings against Nazi occupation, modern ex-Iron Curtain members of the EEC co-existing with today’s Russian mafia, medieval knights, would-be escapees of communism and Chuck Norris. The Bratislava Regional Assembly, in their infinite wisdom actually rejected the 12,599 votes for the “Chuck Norris Bridge” in favour of the “Freedom Cycling Bridge” (457 votes), which is now its official name. However, thanks to Reuters, it is even today easily findable on Google under its more democratic name. If my daughter were able to understand this, I am absolutely sure that she would say, “But that’s bottom democracy, freedom and independence!”

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Forging my Inquisitive Name in Egypt

Standing in a shop in Cairo, I spelled out my name for the clerk, both in English and in Arabic. Should it end with an eliph or a taa marbuta? We went back and forth, settling on aliph, the first letter of the alphabet, and I handed over a not insignificant amount of Egyptian pounds.

I was in Egypt for six weeks studying Arabic and Middle Eastern politics, as part of one of my many minors. But really, I was there because the summer before I had stayed home in Massachusetts, working retail. I had watched as friends flooded facebook with photos from all over Egypt. I wanted to learn about the region, but I also wanted to go on an adventure, having conversations and experiences that would never happen back home. My parents had agreed, on the grounds that university staff would accompany us. My boyfriend would be waiting when I got back, in spite of how nervous I had been to even ask that question.

Six weeks seemed like a long time, but once I was abroad, it it didn’t take long for us both to chafe under the situation. He felt like I was always too busy, and was suspicious of the new friends I was making, especially the male ones. I felt like every call was either a fight or a one-sided conversation, keeping me from flash cards, late-night dessert treks, and new friends. I had started spending time with young women who proudly called themselves feminists and stretched my previous definition of the word. I started wondering why I had ever found the necklace he gave me, emblazoned with the word “princess,” to be sweet.

A couple of days after spelling out my name in the shop, a small velvet envelope arrived. I took off the old necklace, something I hadn’t done since he gave it to me, and excitedly placed my new one around my neck. Instead of someone else’s ill-fitting pet name, I was wearing my own. More than that, my Arabic name necklace was an outward sign of my accomplishments: the hundreds of hours learning Arabic, the nerve-wracking solo cab ride, the ever-present street harassment, and the wonder of Naguib Mahfouz’s books. I was working harder academically than I ever had in my life, not to mention constantly learning from everyone I met. This country had indelibly changed me, and it all sat there at my collarbone, in elegant, silver, Arabic script.

Back home, I wore my new necklace proudly. That did not go unnoticed.

There were questions and tears. It seems the symbolism of the two pieces of jewelry wasn’t lost on anyone. It didn’t help that I hid his necklace from myself out of sadness and couldn’t find it again until years later, well after our relationship was dead and buried. But it wouldn’t have mattered; I had changed.

My time in Egypt brought so much to my life: feminism, a love of the Middle East, dear friends, and a knowledge that not only can I do things that seem big and scary, but I thrive on them. I’ll never be certain why we broke up, but I know I couldn’t have become the person I am now while remaining his girlfriend. I needed years to myself, without any guilt or judgment about my travels and personal politics, two of my strongest and most intertwined traits. I needed room to grow, to see where the world would take me if I didn’t need anyone else and no one else needed me. I needed to be a woman of my own making, not someone else’s vision of me, not an asterisked version of myself that was only acceptable with caveats and conditions. I needed to be able to pick up and go, over and over again, and not be seen as disloyal for doing so.

One day, the necklace slipped off at a friend’s backyard barbecue, never to be seen again. I miss it like I miss so much about Egypt, from koshery and nutty actions movies to hijabi fashion and Al Azhar Park. But I take comfort in the fact that I don’t need the necklace like I once did. By the time I lost the necklace, it had served its purpose. I was out of that relationship and had travelled to many countries, but most importantly, I had been brave enough to choose myself, and the life I wanted to lead. I knew my choices were not dalliances but a path. I had chosen a life driven by adventure and ideals, one where my brain and my bravado are my most prized possessions. Someday, there may be another man who wants to rename me and keep me close by his side. I’d like to see him try.

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A safe itinerary to exciting success in Nigeria
He possessed an intrepid physique, radiant cheeks, hair still remain dark, and a gritty skin. He wore a hat strolling around the backyard, and a tattered blue army overcoat when it was cold, and sometimes top-boots. He walks round the house and an earsplitting yell was heard from the backyard, before he could be rushed to the hospital, he gave up the ghost.

What a pity! There is no one death cannot eliminate as death claim the life of my father after being battled by the debilitating disease of cancer.
One morning after the corpse was interred; the family members sideline my mother from other important discussion concerning the properties of the deceased. She stood upon her gallery with arms akimbo, shedding tears, so unexpected and bewildering was the death of her husband. The next decision of the family member was that the children of the deceased would be taken care of by the family members but my mother disagreed.

Few days to that time, I was kidnapped by unknown abductors alongside my mother and my younger ones into the narrow strip of shade on the porch of the long, low house; the hot sunlight was beating in on the brown old boards as an unpleasant odour filled the atmosphere, and a terrific sound was coming across the non-flowering cotton-field. The kidnappers were sent by the family member who wanted to confiscate the hard earned properties of the deceased from his immediate family.

Few minute to our execution by the kidnappers, a serene was heard within that abode alarmed by the Nigeria Police who were on duty when they notice some suspicious movement and sound in that environment. They thwarted the kidnappers from achieving their goal as they all fled away from being arrested and we were all unfettered from their captivity.

After two days of staying at the police station for security reasons, an officer lent my mother a piece of advice and that leads to our itinerary to Lagos state so that we can gain the freedom from our nemesis.

In the struggle of being totally independence, my mother seeks for employment opportunity for various months under the administration of the rickety Nigeria government before she later started with a petty trade. My mother also clamour that I should be independent by now as she inculcated that I must learn a vocation and must also provide and feed myself. This was initially difficult for me and I had persistent fight with her. I begin to hate her the more, my emotion begins to suffer depression, and my life now lacks the nutrient of joy and happiness. Drastically, I am becoming more irrelevant to the community as I use obsolete phone, I have accrued debt and I can’t avoid eating three meals a day because I have fallen into the abysmal of excruciating pestilence of poverty.

At a conference which I reluctantly attended transformed my life, I was inspired to take responsibility. Consequently, I searched for job in consensus to the inspiring testimonies heard at the conference that “before you can become successful, you would need to move out of your environment”. This emanates how I became a driver as I virtually travel and tour the whole Nigeria and Ghana while doing a job of a driver.

After about 15hours on road from Nigeria due to various barricades by the security personnel and also the vehicle engine problem which hiatus our journey. The red sunset and the blue-gray twilight had together flung a purple mist across the road that hid it from our view. We could no longer hear the wheezing and creaking of wheels but could still faintly hear the shrill, glad voices of the children in the passing vehicles. Finally, we reach Ghana and I got employed by the benevolent business woman called Miss Calister to whom I return the wallet she forgot in my bus some weeks ago.
I seated myself beside the table as I glance through the room, into which the evening shadows were creeping and deepening around my solitary figure, happy that I bounced back to a life of debt free, joy and happiness and I regain my freedom from the bumpy hands of poverty and sadness. This is the chronicle of my itinerary to success.

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Gulin china5 Places worth a visit in Guilin, China

Anyone who’s ever read a Chinese textbook can attest that these textbooks glorify Guilin. Not only that, politicians also sing praises to this city’s natural endowments and often entertain visiting dignitaries in this resort town. During my last visit to Guilin, I was adamant to find out in less than a week if Guilin and its surrounding areas do indeed live up to its reputation. Here are the top five sights I saw and love to reminisce about.

1. Reed flute cave

I spent a good hour here oohing and ahhing at the sight of the abundant stalactites and rock formations, which were illuminated by multi-colored lighting. This lighting enhanced the otherworldly atmosphere contained therein. It was like stumbling into a fairy’s den, another world you’ll normally associate with a fictional novel. The highlight was the laser light musical show at the end of the cave, which gave me chills. With the help of the guide, I could easily visualize animals, cities, and plants among the rock formations.

2. Fubo hill

This attraction made me withstand an intense cardio exercise as I climbed the steps leading up to the lookout point on top that showed a bird’s eye view of the city. You could see panoramic views of the Li River and the developing city’s natural beauty from high above.

3. Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces

Hours away from Guilin, I found myself gaping at the brilliant spectacle of the verdant green man-made terraces carved as far as the eye could see. I could tell from the wide expanse of the terraces that this is the culmination of the Zhuang people’s strenuous efforts and ingeniousness. I rode a cable car to get to the top where I could see just how high and extensive the work done must have been to transform the vast region into layer upon layer of rice terraces. It was a picturesque sight to behold and I could imagine how its beauty changes into golden hues for autumn, crisp white in winter and bright green for summer to keep onlookers wanting to come back again.

4. The Long Hair Village

The moment I stumbled upon the Long Hair Village, the Guinness world book record holder for the “world’s longest hair village”, I was intrigued. I was bewildered that such a place even exists! I discovered with my own eyes that the village is beautiful with its rustic charm and truly, its residents does indeed live up to their village name. The Yao ethnic women who reside there were the embodiment of brunette Rapunzels. They dress in unique and colorful traditional clothing and performed by singing and dancing. It was amusing to watch as they invited male guests to participate in a mock wedding ceremony as done in their village. You may ask: how do they keep their hair jet-black even when they’re old and wrinkled? They do so by washing their hair with fermented rice water! Nature truly works wonders.

5. Li River cruise

As featured on the 20 yuan note, you can see the lush landscape looking reminiscent of Ha Long Bay at every twist and turn on this relaxing cruise. I saw fishermen, some with tourists, on their bamboo rafts sailing through the calm water. After a few hours, the cruise stops at Yangshuo, a small town where you can easily find food or bargain with small shops selling pearl, jade, Chinese paintings and more.

After being left breathless by these five stand-out sights, I was rest assured that Guilin and its surrounding areas are indeed worth a visit and are definitely worthy of its accolades.

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colombiaLiving Life to its fullest in England

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted a poem by Pablo Neruda entitled “You start dying slowly.” It resonated with me, and expressed the way that I was feeling 3 years ago, before my life took a detour from its original trajectory. There are not many things in this world that I am afraid of, but dying without fully experiencing life is one of my greatest fears.

“You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking every day on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine.”

Freedom and fulfillment of dreams are central to the North American ideal, but many of us don’t feel free. Instead, we feel enslaved to our jobs and our lifestyles like we are just part of the rat race, mechanically putting one foot in front of the other. It wasn’t long ago that I felt trapped in my life, like I was living in auto-pilot, moving through each day without anything special and feeling unsatisfied. I was in my fifth year as a junior high/middle-school science teacher in my hometown, and although I loved my job and my students, I felt stuck. Everyone else seemed to be moving forward, finding love, settling down, and having families. Yet here I was, doing the “same old things”; I was not content to “settle”. But what could I do?

“You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job,
[…] If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream […]
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.”

I have always had a love of traveling, since my first plane rides and car trips across Canada as a toddler to visit family. I was very fortunate to have the experience of doing a semester abroad in university, and it lit the fire to try life in another country. When I finished university, I dreamed of teaching overseas. The more unsatisfied I felt with my life, the more my desire to teach abroad increased. I made the decision to move overseas, and after being denied a leave of absence, I resigned from my position, packed up my life and my house, and moved to England. By moving abroad, I was forcing myself to meet new people, try new things and change my routines. There were many new things to experience and different customs to learn to try to fit into my new surroundings.

” You start dying slowly
If you do not travel,
If you do not listen to the sounds of life
If you do not appreciate your life […]
If you avoid to feel passion.”

I struggled when I first moved, and found that I still wasn’t as happy as I had hoped to be. I was forced to figure out my passions. I always knew that traveling was a passion of mine, but I was very fortunate to meet a group of diverse women who helped me rediscover another passion of mine, dance. One of my favourite things when I am visiting a different region, or country, is to learn about their food and about their culture, in particular, the way that music influences people and their outlooks on life. This was especially evident when I took my next leap to Colombia. One of the most diverse countries in South America, there are so many different cultures all blended into one, and it makes for an amazing and lively blend of music and movement. Nothing can make you happier than some cool Colombian beats!

Since traveling is my passion, I felt the most alive when I was able to get out of London and travel throughout Europe. I tried to figure out a way that I could experience that presence in my day to day life. One advantage of such a large city, is that it made exploring close to home quite easy. There are so many different parks, markets and sites to see, that most weekends, I would make an effort to immerse myself in my environment.

It actually took living in Colombia, in a city that lacked parks, for me to realize how important nature is to feeling free and satisfied with life. For those that may not have the ability to travel far from home, going to the local park, the mountains or the ocean is another great way to free yourselves from the stresses and confines of daily life. What I discovered from moving around the world, is that to feel free, you don’t have to go far. By paying attention to your surroundings, and surrounding yourself with nature, you too can feel free.

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thailand-scheduleThere Is No Crammed Schedule in Thailand

Erin and I took a giant leap of adventure when we sold all our belongings in the USA and booked a one way ticket to Bangkok, Thailand. No itinerary. No plans. It was time to shake life up and discover more of ourselves. We were all too familiar with the 9-5 grind and were ready for something completely different. It does not take long on the backpacking trail to learn a few things about self and about life.

It is difficult to make and keep travel plans out in this world experiencing pure freedom. Where the wind blows and you follow along with the stranger met last night. A few buckets and a few beers and next thing you know we were on our way from Bangkok to Surat Thani with a brand new friend Dave, who happened to be approaching 60 years old, but knew a thing or two about travel.

We sat on the floor near the KFC in the brightly lit open air train station. Where the locals chipper away with their Thai accents and the smell of all sorts of food fill the air. Quite a strange aroma of fried chicken and Pad Thai, especially for the just arrived tourists we were. After two hours on the very hard train station floor I thought to myself, “I haven’t heard an announcement for our train and it is past departure time.” I walk up to the ticket window with Dave and learn the train was gone. We missed it!

Now that was a hard pill to swallow at that time. Missed the train, “Oh no,” we thought, “what are we going to do now!?” At the ticket counter, the lady next to me says, “That’s traveling. Just let it go. You’ll get there fine.” My worrying mind was wound so tight from the life I left behind that I could not comprehend the ease with which she said let it go. No other choice but to buy another ticket and sit next to the ladies chomping on their bags of rice and hang out longer.

We caught the next train and arrived at our destination just fine. The first step in unwinding that anxious little brain was to acknowledge that while on travel things do not always go as planned. Take a deep breath and carry on.

Dave learned that lesson as well when he stepped in the ocean off balance and messed up his knee in Koh Samui three days later. It ended his trip completely and he had to fly back to San Francisco. Bummer to lose Dave but another sign that you must go with flow, appreciate the opportunity at hand, and do not take for granted the wonder of the wide open world.

Erin and I ended up on the island of Koh Phangan a few days after losing Dave and we arrived the same day as the Half Moon jungle party. Let’s see what this party island is all about!

A buzz of energy was in the air as we arrived to the hostel. “Free shots!” proclaimed the staff. Body paint, alcohol, and good times got us started. We caught a tuk-tuk and hung on tight up the winding jungle road to our destination. Twelve of us on one ride had me hanging teetering on the side as the driver moved seamlessly through town and up toward a night to remember.

Dropped off in the jungle I begin to see the bright lights and hear the sound of the electronic music. Now here is a scene we were familiar with back home. Witnessing the grand stage production with a DJ booth and the amazing colors streaming out from the LED visual panel above the booth we found our place for the evening. Wandering around near the brightly lit tree in the middle of the dance floor it was possible to sit, reflect on the journey thus far, and smile from within. This is why we came across the world, to find our true freedom away from the hustle and grind back home and meet all these amazing souls from many different walks of life. Take the journey in stride and realize that there is no schedule here, only great memories to be made and life to be lived.

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kenyaCertain Freedom On The Edge in Kenya

I had travelled very little in life, almost all of it within the geographical borders of New York State and most of that between the rounded mountains of the Catskills, the tumble of the Adirondacks, and the rocky Eastern shores of Lake Ontario. The world is a comfortable, dependable, predictable place when it amounts to roughly 150 miles by 150 miles. It also becomes routine, dull, and even a little oppressive. Still and all, it was MY world and what I knew.

You might think that such a small, intimate world would be accustomed to many of those born and raised there taking their leave, escaping into the wider world all around. To be sure, that occurred, enough to not be unusual, but not enough to be common. So, when the opportunity to leave New York and live in Kenya presented itself, pursuing that opportunity became a rich source of unsolicited advice, unsought opinion, and even outright discouragement.

I had wanted to explore the wider world beyond Upstate New York for some time, but did not have a good idea of how to do so. No one in my family or group of friends had travelled much, if at all. One uncle who had travelled extensively had done so by making a career with US Air Force. Joining “the Service” did not appeal to me, much to my uncle’s and father’s dismay. But, in a tangential twist of reasoning, the concept of esprit de corps Dad continually espoused bloomed into the idea of serving in the US Peace Corps.

You can imagine the usual paperwork, interviews, and bureaucratic back-and-forth that took place over the course of six months. Eventually, I was assigned to be a high school teacher in Western Kenya; specifically, the tiny hamlet of Kipsoen clinging 1,000 meters atop the escarpment, above the floor of the Great Rift Valley. The edge of the world.

Everything I had been sure – and assured – of: the world I knew and the person I was certain of, quickly melted away under the equatorial sun of the African plains.

The landscape: Isak Dinesen describes it as, “the views were immensely wide — everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility.” (Out of Africa, 1937). The culture and the people: time and interactions had an easy, open, welcoming quality. Telling time was upended: What was 7:00AM on a clock in New York, was read as “sah moja” (the first hour, or 1:00AM) in KiSwahili, the national language of Kenya. The attitude toward Life: “Hakuna Matata” (there are no problems), as Pumbaa and Timon sang in Disney’s The Lion King, is an actual truth in traditional Kenyan thinking. In short, travelling halfway around the world took me worlds away from what I’d learned and from where I’d come.

Going all that distance and in the melting away, the removal, of all the fixtures and accoutrements of growing up in my old world, there was space for new outlooks, attitudes, and growth. It wasn’t a smooth, quick, easy, nor always a conscious process. Among some of the oldest peoples on the planet, on the oldest continent, I found a new start.

That is where I found my freedom.

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munichWalking on the Winter Streets in Munich, Germany

Bavaria in the winter is a different proposition from Bavaria in the summer. Perhaps if one skies, a winter in Bavaria might seem like heaven with mountain slopes. I emphatically don’t ski. Nor do I like beer. Thus Munich would seem like an odd choice.

I stayed in Munich for three months with my aunt. Four years ago she moved here for work, and found a comfortable apartment with an extra bedroom. Every member of my extended family has, at least once, come here to stay with her and take short trips elsewhere in Europe once the jet lag has worn off. I’m the last one to make the journey.

As for myself, this is not particularly a vacation. More like a figure-out-what-the-hell-I’m-doing-with-my-life sabbatical of frustration from what I’m used to in Colorado. Also a somewhat desperate bid to step up my photography with inspiration from new places.

It’s early on a Sunday, and despite the temperatures and the fact that the winter sun hasn’t managed to filter much through a blanket of cloud cover, we layer up in warm gear, pulling on knit hats over our bed-messy hair to go for a walk, camera as ever glued to my side.

It’s cold in Munich on a winter morning, and often the wind makes it colder. The apartment is located on a Fahrradstrasse, meaning “bicycle street.” One has to watch out for the bikes more than the cars. The canal we cross is lined with tall trees that are still incongruously sheathed in thick green ivy leaves. The tops of the trees are bare twigs, but no one seems to have told the ivy that it’s cold.

We crunch our way down narrow sidewalks covered in gravel, the German answer to ice-melt. The apartment buildings each have small yards for the ground-floor flats, and most balconies sport what will be greenery in a few months. Some even have tiny pines or spruce, which are decked out festively with Christmas lights during the holidays. Yet despite their similarities, none are quite the same. All have stucco exteriors, but in a surprising range of pastels. Each has its own architecture, some with decorative paintings or small inset statues.

There’s a bakery for every neighborhood, and an apoteke (pharmacy) on practically every street in Munich. The grocery store is never more than a couple of blocks’ walk. On any weekend morning you’ll find a queue outside the bakery, husbands whose wives sent them out on breakfast duty. It’s a different way of life than I’m used to, but I’ve grown to enjoy it.

It takes less than fifteen minutes of walking from the Fahrradstrasse to get to Nymphenburg Palace. The massive white exterior is impressive, but we pass by the huge staircase entrance and enter the gates that lead to the grounds. There are many paths to choose from, criss-crossing the wooded estate. Bird calls ring out unexpectedly, from the tiny blue tits to blackbirds, crows, and geese. Pillared bridges span the canals that divert water from the river to feed several fountains, still now for the winter.

Few people are out this early, so we have the quiet woods mostly to ourselves. As we crunch along, the church bells begin to toll, right on time.

It strikes me as a uniquely European experience to meander on forested paths, yet still hear perfectly tuned church bells sing out from the street that is in fact not too far away. We stop at one of our favorite trees which exudes an air of quiet wisdom, a huge and gnarled beech with bark like elephant skin, and listening to the church bells there feels as sacred as any experience I can remember having.

My time in Munich turned out to be not what I was expecting. But it was precisely what I needed. It was culture and nature all mixed up together; a new frame of reference and an opportunity to see a new way ahead. I knew that I wouldn’t be the same after this time spent traveling, and that is true. Photography became real for me, far more than a hobby. More importantly, I became bigger in Munich, with a wider world-view and deeper determination to live in a meaningful way.

Photo Credit: Dawn Myscofski

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Backpack & Bushes In Munich: The Freedom In Wandering

There I was, wandering the suburban streets of Munich with a poor sense of direction and the absence of mobile technology. That afternoon, I had stepped off of an airplane that had departed from the island of Majorca in the south of Spain. Majorca was warm, tropical, and evoked the inner island-ista in me and, therefore, I was sporting my thinnest tank top and beachy footwear. Although the time of year was early August, the weather in Münich resembled the brisk end of autumn.

Needless to say, I was cold, lost, and the sun was setting. I was on the hunt for the flat belonging to my Couchsurfing hosts, without a way of contacting them. All of the surrounding buildings were residential and very quiet. Any passerby was fair game when it came to directional questions, but I only crossed paths with two in my many hours of searching. The first person was Turkish and I, unfortunately, did not speak his language. I showed him my hand-written address and he pointed onward down the street; I kept walking.

This is the point where I should have broken down and cried. There was not one car or taxi to flag and deliver me to my destination. I was far from the nearest train station and low on cash. Instead of crying, however, I stayed calm. I had my backpack; everything I needed was on my person so spending a night in the bushes… was totally doable!

In that backpack I had multiple layers of clothing, a change of shoes, and probably something edible. My backpack was there for me. My backpack gave me the freedom to make a mistake like this and helped me recognize my privilege in possessing the items necessary for basic comforts. This realization showed me that once basic needs are met, less is more in travel.

The freer we want to become, the more we must leave behind. Before I could be a self-titled traveler, I had to look this realization square in the eyes because leaving behind the things that maintain comfort in order to travel is uncomfortable. I did not like getting dirty and staying dirty. I wanted my full size shampoo bottle. I needed silence and complete darkness in order to sleep through the night.

For me, it was a little grey backpack that challenged me to decide what was to be left behind in order to see what true freedom feels like. If it was travel that I wanted, I had to bridge the void between lux and living. I had to become okay with getting dirty, losing sleep, being uncomfortable for the sake of seeing the world with authenticity. When living life as a traveler, what is essential is what we choose to travel with us. The size of my backpack has taught me to choose wisely and intuitively.

This very backpack encourages me to not only open the door of my closet to get it out but doors all over the world. It has been there to support me through the wonderful and harried times of my adventures. My backpack was there for me when I hunted for my hostel on the winding streets of Barcelona. She has sat beside me and heard countless tales from strangers who have transformed into friends. And she has been there for the myriad of travel-mishaps that have left me questioning if I will be sleeping in the bushes for the evening.

The end of my Munich mishap goes like this: Lost in a dark courtyard, I spotted a man climbing his porch steps about to unlock his front door. Across the green space, I shouted for help as politely and nonthreatening as possible. He stopped and turned around seemingly jolly and ready to help. Thank God! I showed him the address and, in broken German-English, he described that I was on the side of the street with even-numbered addresses and I needed to be in the courtyard across the street with odd-numbered addresses. I was saved from a foliage-filled slumber!

Because everything I needed was on my back, a night in the shrubs was not only a possibility but also something I was prepared to experience. Of course, I know that I am more than my backpack and, even without it, I would have survived, but I have learned that living with less is actually living with enough. By setting off on an adventure with minimal essentials, I have been allowed to become myself again. Even though I found the flat in Munich that night, my backpack has given me the freedom and contentment in knowing that there really is not much I need to pack to have a proper adventure.

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Democracy, Freedom and Independence in Bratislava, Slovakia.

It is a holiday commemorating the 1945 uprising against Nazi occupation today. Devinska Nova Ves (DNV) is a large village about 16 km north of Bratislava. Its wide main street is lined with old houses, there is an enormous Volkswagen factory and a few tower blocks – nothing special really. But back in 2012 it came to the attention of the world’s press, even Reuters. It was all about a bridge.

DNV is on the Morava River- the border between Slovakia and Austria. In Cold War times this was a heavily militarized zone of barbed-wire fences and constant patrols by border guards. Many people died trying to run through the wire here. Inside the one km exclusion zone you could have been shot on sight. If they had tried swimming they would have had to deal with serious currents on both the Danube and Morava rivers. In 2012 a bridge was completed over the river at DNV to join the formerly impenetrable frontier. The Bratislava Regional Assembly set up a Facebook vote to name this historically significant link between the old communist block and Western Europe. The Regional Governor, Pavol Freso, affirmed that they would probably go with the people’s wishes. That is until the “Chuck Norris Bridge” polled more than 10 times as many votes as the Regional Assembly’s proposal, or indeed any other suggestions. Now Reuters started to take an interest. Chuck Norris was always a source of jokes concerning macho invincibility in Slovakia (Chuck Norris can delete the recycling bin…), but hardly a feasible choice for naming a bridge (no-one walks over Chuck Norris was later mentioned by the Assembly). But you can cross this historic bridge today. The floodplains beneath will be a Site of Special Scientific Interest, teeming with rare flora and fauna.

About two km South of DNV lies the village of Devin, where today there is a festival. If you bus out of Bratislava you may well sit next to a knight, complete with chain mail, sword and helmet on his mobile phone.

Devin Castle, first recorded in 864, lies atop a cliff overlooking the Danube. In the thirteenth century it was the frontier post of the Hungarian Empire. It featured on a coin and a note of the former currency in Cold War times – an important national symbol. Now it lies in ruins (thank Napoleon for that). At the castle are “medieval” tents with costumed people sitting around cooking over fires in iron pots. It has an authentic feel. All the men have long hair and one is undressing to his boxer shorts to put on his chain mail vest, boots, helmet and jacket.

We walk up to the ruins, where my four-year-old daughter, Mollie, is delighted to shout “bottom” down the 55 metre well and enjoy its echo. From up here you can see the Danube curving round to the Morava.

Terraced vineyards sweep down from Dacha’s (small wooden summer villas) on the mountain-top. One huge, elegant residence dominates all of these. I was told that this belongs to the Russian mafia. Down at the river you can throw a stone over into Austria which is why so many tried their luck here. If it wasn’t running through the militarized zone and barbed wire then trying to swim, it was (homemade) hang-gliders from the hilltops. Down by the confluence a serious ceremony is taking place. Over 400 people died between 1945 and 1989 attempting this: nearly one a month for 44 years from one small village on the Austrian border. Each name listed on the sculpture and explained in four languages. It read (verbatim):
“The Iron Curtain used to stand here. It cannot be pulled away. It can only be cracked. Four Hundred people sacrificed their life while fighting for their rights. Human beings, free and unrestricted do not forget that freedom of thinking, acting and dreaming is a value that is not only worth living but also bringing sacrifices.”

Judging by their ages, the attendees here could well have been the brothers or sisters, even parents of those desperado’s who died for freedom and independence. So there you have it: freedom and independence in one rather confusing package. Foul-mouthed four-year-olds, uprisings against Nazi occupation, modern ex-Iron Curtain members of the EEC co-existing with today’s Russian mafia, medieval knights, would-be escapees of communism and Chuck Norris. The Bratislava Regional Assembly, in their infinite wisdom actually rejected the 12,599 votes for the “Chuck Norris Bridge” in favour of the “Freedom Cycling Bridge” (457 votes), which is now its official name. However, thanks to Reuters, it is even today easily findable on Google under its more democratic name. If my daughter were able to understand this, I am absolutely sure that she would say, “But that’s bottom democracy, freedom and independence!”

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Forging my Inquisitive Name in Egypt

Standing in a shop in Cairo, I spelled out my name for the clerk, both in English and in Arabic. Should it end with an eliph or a taa marbuta? We went back and forth, settling on aliph, the first letter of the alphabet, and I handed over a not insignificant amount of Egyptian pounds.

I was in Egypt for six weeks studying Arabic and Middle Eastern politics, as part of one of my many minors. But really, I was there because the summer before I had stayed home in Massachusetts, working retail. I had watched as friends flooded facebook with photos from all over Egypt. I wanted to learn about the region, but I also wanted to go on an adventure, having conversations and experiences that would never happen back home. My parents had agreed, on the grounds that university staff would accompany us. My boyfriend would be waiting when I got back, in spite of how nervous I had been to even ask that question.

Six weeks seemed like a long time, but once I was abroad, it it didn’t take long for us both to chafe under the situation. He felt like I was always too busy, and was suspicious of the new friends I was making, especially the male ones. I felt like every call was either a fight or a one-sided conversation, keeping me from flash cards, late-night dessert treks, and new friends. I had started spending time with young women who proudly called themselves feminists and stretched my previous definition of the word. I started wondering why I had ever found the necklace he gave me, emblazoned with the word “princess,” to be sweet.

A couple of days after spelling out my name in the shop, a small velvet envelope arrived. I took off the old necklace, something I hadn’t done since he gave it to me, and excitedly placed my new one around my neck. Instead of someone else’s ill-fitting pet name, I was wearing my own. More than that, my Arabic name necklace was an outward sign of my accomplishments: the hundreds of hours learning Arabic, the nerve-wracking solo cab ride, the ever-present street harassment, and the wonder of Naguib Mahfouz’s books. I was working harder academically than I ever had in my life, not to mention constantly learning from everyone I met. This country had indelibly changed me, and it all sat there at my collarbone, in elegant, silver, Arabic script.

Back home, I wore my new necklace proudly. That did not go unnoticed.

There were questions and tears. It seems the symbolism of the two pieces of jewelry wasn’t lost on anyone. It didn’t help that I hid his necklace from myself out of sadness and couldn’t find it again until years later, well after our relationship was dead and buried. But it wouldn’t have mattered; I had changed.

My time in Egypt brought so much to my life: feminism, a love of the Middle East, dear friends, and a knowledge that not only can I do things that seem big and scary, but I thrive on them. I’ll never be certain why we broke up, but I know I couldn’t have become the person I am now while remaining his girlfriend. I needed years to myself, without any guilt or judgment about my travels and personal politics, two of my strongest and most intertwined traits. I needed room to grow, to see where the world would take me if I didn’t need anyone else and no one else needed me. I needed to be a woman of my own making, not someone else’s vision of me, not an asterisked version of myself that was only acceptable with caveats and conditions. I needed to be able to pick up and go, over and over again, and not be seen as disloyal for doing so.

One day, the necklace slipped off at a friend’s backyard barbecue, never to be seen again. I miss it like I miss so much about Egypt, from koshery and nutty actions movies to hijabi fashion and Al Azhar Park. But I take comfort in the fact that I don’t need the necklace like I once did. By the time I lost the necklace, it had served its purpose. I was out of that relationship and had travelled to many countries, but most importantly, I had been brave enough to choose myself, and the life I wanted to lead. I knew my choices were not dalliances but a path. I had chosen a life driven by adventure and ideals, one where my brain and my bravado are my most prized possessions. Someday, there may be another man who wants to rename me and keep me close by his side. I’d like to see him try.

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A safe itinerary to exciting success in Nigeria
He possessed an intrepid physique, radiant cheeks, hair still remain dark, and a gritty skin. He wore a hat strolling around the backyard, and a tattered blue army overcoat when it was cold, and sometimes top-boots. He walks round the house and an earsplitting yell was heard from the backyard, before he could be rushed to the hospital, he gave up the ghost.

What a pity! There is no one death cannot eliminate as death claim the life of my father after being battled by the debilitating disease of cancer.
One morning after the corpse was interred; the family members sideline my mother from other important discussion concerning the properties of the deceased. She stood upon her gallery with arms akimbo, shedding tears, so unexpected and bewildering was the death of her husband. The next decision of the family member was that the children of the deceased would be taken care of by the family members but my mother disagreed.

Few days to that time, I was kidnapped by unknown abductors alongside my mother and my younger ones into the narrow strip of shade on the porch of the long, low house; the hot sunlight was beating in on the brown old boards as an unpleasant odour filled the atmosphere, and a terrific sound was coming across the non-flowering cotton-field. The kidnappers were sent by the family member who wanted to confiscate the hard earned properties of the deceased from his immediate family.

Few minute to our execution by the kidnappers, a serene was heard within that abode alarmed by the Nigeria Police who were on duty when they notice some suspicious movement and sound in that environment. They thwarted the kidnappers from achieving their goal as they all fled away from being arrested and we were all unfettered from their captivity.

After two days of staying at the police station for security reasons, an officer lent my mother a piece of advice and that leads to our itinerary to Lagos state so that we can gain the freedom from our nemesis.

In the struggle of being totally independence, my mother seeks for employment opportunity for various months under the administration of the rickety Nigeria government before she later started with a petty trade. My mother also clamour that I should be independent by now as she inculcated that I must learn a vocation and must also provide and feed myself. This was initially difficult for me and I had persistent fight with her. I begin to hate her the more, my emotion begins to suffer depression, and my life now lacks the nutrient of joy and happiness. Drastically, I am becoming more irrelevant to the community as I use obsolete phone, I have accrued debt and I can’t avoid eating three meals a day because I have fallen into the abysmal of excruciating pestilence of poverty.

At a conference which I reluctantly attended transformed my life, I was inspired to take responsibility. Consequently, I searched for job in consensus to the inspiring testimonies heard at the conference that “before you can become successful, you would need to move out of your environment”. This emanates how I became a driver as I virtually travel and tour the whole Nigeria and Ghana while doing a job of a driver.

After about 15hours on road from Nigeria due to various barricades by the security personnel and also the vehicle engine problem which hiatus our journey. The red sunset and the blue-gray twilight had together flung a purple mist across the road that hid it from our view. We could no longer hear the wheezing and creaking of wheels but could still faintly hear the shrill, glad voices of the children in the passing vehicles. Finally, we reach Ghana and I got employed by the benevolent business woman called Miss Calister to whom I return the wallet she forgot in my bus some weeks ago.
I seated myself beside the table as I glance through the room, into which the evening shadows were creeping and deepening around my solitary figure, happy that I bounced back to a life of debt free, joy and happiness and I regain my freedom from the bumpy hands of poverty and sadness. This is the chronicle of my itinerary to success.

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Gulin china5 Places worth a visit in Guilin, China

Anyone who’s ever read a Chinese textbook can attest that these textbooks glorify Guilin. Not only that, politicians also sing praises to this city’s natural endowments and often entertain visiting dignitaries in this resort town. During my last visit to Guilin, I was adamant to find out in less than a week if Guilin and its surrounding areas do indeed live up to its reputation. Here are the top five sights I saw and love to reminisce about.

1. Reed flute cave

I spent a good hour here oohing and ahhing at the sight of the abundant stalactites and rock formations, which were illuminated by multi-colored lighting. This lighting enhanced the otherworldly atmosphere contained therein. It was like stumbling into a fairy’s den, another world you’ll normally associate with a fictional novel. The highlight was the laser light musical show at the end of the cave, which gave me chills. With the help of the guide, I could easily visualize animals, cities, and plants among the rock formations.

2. Fubo hill

This attraction made me withstand an intense cardio exercise as I climbed the steps leading up to the lookout point on top that showed a bird’s eye view of the city. You could see panoramic views of the Li River and the developing city’s natural beauty from high above.

3. Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces

Hours away from Guilin, I found myself gaping at the brilliant spectacle of the verdant green man-made terraces carved as far as the eye could see. I could tell from the wide expanse of the terraces that this is the culmination of the Zhuang people’s strenuous efforts and ingeniousness. I rode a cable car to get to the top where I could see just how high and extensive the work done must have been to transform the vast region into layer upon layer of rice terraces. It was a picturesque sight to behold and I could imagine how its beauty changes into golden hues for autumn, crisp white in winter and bright green for summer to keep onlookers wanting to come back again.

4. The Long Hair Village

The moment I stumbled upon the Long Hair Village, the Guinness world book record holder for the “world’s longest hair village”, I was intrigued. I was bewildered that such a place even exists! I discovered with my own eyes that the village is beautiful with its rustic charm and truly, its residents does indeed live up to their village name. The Yao ethnic women who reside there were the embodiment of brunette Rapunzels. They dress in unique and colorful traditional clothing and performed by singing and dancing. It was amusing to watch as they invited male guests to participate in a mock wedding ceremony as done in their village. You may ask: how do they keep their hair jet-black even when they’re old and wrinkled? They do so by washing their hair with fermented rice water! Nature truly works wonders.

5. Li River cruise

As featured on the 20 yuan note, you can see the lush landscape looking reminiscent of Ha Long Bay at every twist and turn on this relaxing cruise. I saw fishermen, some with tourists, on their bamboo rafts sailing through the calm water. After a few hours, the cruise stops at Yangshuo, a small town where you can easily find food or bargain with small shops selling pearl, jade, Chinese paintings and more.

After being left breathless by these five stand-out sights, I was rest assured that Guilin and its surrounding areas are indeed worth a visit and are definitely worthy of its accolades.

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colombiaLiving Life to its fullest in England

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted a poem by Pablo Neruda entitled “You start dying slowly.” It resonated with me, and expressed the way that I was feeling 3 years ago, before my life took a detour from its original trajectory. There are not many things in this world that I am afraid of, but dying without fully experiencing life is one of my greatest fears.

“You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking every day on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine.”

Freedom and fulfillment of dreams are central to the North American ideal, but many of us don’t feel free. Instead, we feel enslaved to our jobs and our lifestyles like we are just part of the rat race, mechanically putting one foot in front of the other. It wasn’t long ago that I felt trapped in my life, like I was living in auto-pilot, moving through each day without anything special and feeling unsatisfied. I was in my fifth year as a junior high/middle-school science teacher in my hometown, and although I loved my job and my students, I felt stuck. Everyone else seemed to be moving forward, finding love, settling down, and having families. Yet here I was, doing the “same old things”; I was not content to “settle”. But what could I do?

“You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job,
[…] If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream […]
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.”

I have always had a love of traveling, since my first plane rides and car trips across Canada as a toddler to visit family. I was very fortunate to have the experience of doing a semester abroad in university, and it lit the fire to try life in another country. When I finished university, I dreamed of teaching overseas. The more unsatisfied I felt with my life, the more my desire to teach abroad increased. I made the decision to move overseas, and after being denied a leave of absence, I resigned from my position, packed up my life and my house, and moved to England. By moving abroad, I was forcing myself to meet new people, try new things and change my routines. There were many new things to experience and different customs to learn to try to fit into my new surroundings.

” You start dying slowly
If you do not travel,
If you do not listen to the sounds of life
If you do not appreciate your life […]
If you avoid to feel passion.”

I struggled when I first moved, and found that I still wasn’t as happy as I had hoped to be. I was forced to figure out my passions. I always knew that traveling was a passion of mine, but I was very fortunate to meet a group of diverse women who helped me rediscover another passion of mine, dance. One of my favourite things when I am visiting a different region, or country, is to learn about their food and about their culture, in particular, the way that music influences people and their outlooks on life. This was especially evident when I took my next leap to Colombia. One of the most diverse countries in South America, there are so many different cultures all blended into one, and it makes for an amazing and lively blend of music and movement. Nothing can make you happier than some cool Colombian beats!

Since traveling is my passion, I felt the most alive when I was able to get out of London and travel throughout Europe. I tried to figure out a way that I could experience that presence in my day to day life. One advantage of such a large city, is that it made exploring close to home quite easy. There are so many different parks, markets and sites to see, that most weekends, I would make an effort to immerse myself in my environment.

It actually took living in Colombia, in a city that lacked parks, for me to realize how important nature is to feeling free and satisfied with life. For those that may not have the ability to travel far from home, going to the local park, the mountains or the ocean is another great way to free yourselves from the stresses and confines of daily life. What I discovered from moving around the world, is that to feel free, you don’t have to go far. By paying attention to your surroundings, and surrounding yourself with nature, you too can feel free.

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thailand-scheduleThere Is No Crammed Schedule in Thailand

Erin and I took a giant leap of adventure when we sold all our belongings in the USA and booked a one way ticket to Bangkok, Thailand. No itinerary. No plans. It was time to shake life up and discover more of ourselves. We were all too familiar with the 9-5 grind and were ready for something completely different. It does not take long on the backpacking trail to learn a few things about self and about life.

It is difficult to make and keep travel plans out in this world experiencing pure freedom. Where the wind blows and you follow along with the stranger met last night. A few buckets and a few beers and next thing you know we were on our way from Bangkok to Surat Thani with a brand new friend Dave, who happened to be approaching 60 years old, but knew a thing or two about travel.

We sat on the floor near the KFC in the brightly lit open air train station. Where the locals chipper away with their Thai accents and the smell of all sorts of food fill the air. Quite a strange aroma of fried chicken and Pad Thai, especially for the just arrived tourists we were. After two hours on the very hard train station floor I thought to myself, “I haven’t heard an announcement for our train and it is past departure time.” I walk up to the ticket window with Dave and learn the train was gone. We missed it!

Now that was a hard pill to swallow at that time. Missed the train, “Oh no,” we thought, “what are we going to do now!?” At the ticket counter, the lady next to me says, “That’s traveling. Just let it go. You’ll get there fine.” My worrying mind was wound so tight from the life I left behind that I could not comprehend the ease with which she said let it go. No other choice but to buy another ticket and sit next to the ladies chomping on their bags of rice and hang out longer.

We caught the next train and arrived at our destination just fine. The first step in unwinding that anxious little brain was to acknowledge that while on travel things do not always go as planned. Take a deep breath and carry on.

Dave learned that lesson as well when he stepped in the ocean off balance and messed up his knee in Koh Samui three days later. It ended his trip completely and he had to fly back to San Francisco. Bummer to lose Dave but another sign that you must go with flow, appreciate the opportunity at hand, and do not take for granted the wonder of the wide open world.

Erin and I ended up on the island of Koh Phangan a few days after losing Dave and we arrived the same day as the Half Moon jungle party. Let’s see what this party island is all about!

A buzz of energy was in the air as we arrived to the hostel. “Free shots!” proclaimed the staff. Body paint, alcohol, and good times got us started. We caught a tuk-tuk and hung on tight up the winding jungle road to our destination. Twelve of us on one ride had me hanging teetering on the side as the driver moved seamlessly through town and up toward a night to remember.

Dropped off in the jungle I begin to see the bright lights and hear the sound of the electronic music. Now here is a scene we were familiar with back home. Witnessing the grand stage production with a DJ booth and the amazing colors streaming out from the LED visual panel above the booth we found our place for the evening. Wandering around near the brightly lit tree in the middle of the dance floor it was possible to sit, reflect on the journey thus far, and smile from within. This is why we came across the world, to find our true freedom away from the hustle and grind back home and meet all these amazing souls from many different walks of life. Take the journey in stride and realize that there is no schedule here, only great memories to be made and life to be lived.

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kenyaCertain Freedom On The Edge in Kenya

I had travelled very little in life, almost all of it within the geographical borders of New York State and most of that between the rounded mountains of the Catskills, the tumble of the Adirondacks, and the rocky Eastern shores of Lake Ontario. The world is a comfortable, dependable, predictable place when it amounts to roughly 150 miles by 150 miles. It also becomes routine, dull, and even a little oppressive. Still and all, it was MY world and what I knew.

You might think that such a small, intimate world would be accustomed to many of those born and raised there taking their leave, escaping into the wider world all around. To be sure, that occurred, enough to not be unusual, but not enough to be common. So, when the opportunity to leave New York and live in Kenya presented itself, pursuing that opportunity became a rich source of unsolicited advice, unsought opinion, and even outright discouragement.

I had wanted to explore the wider world beyond Upstate New York for some time, but did not have a good idea of how to do so. No one in my family or group of friends had travelled much, if at all. One uncle who had travelled extensively had done so by making a career with US Air Force. Joining “the Service” did not appeal to me, much to my uncle’s and father’s dismay. But, in a tangential twist of reasoning, the concept of esprit de corps Dad continually espoused bloomed into the idea of serving in the US Peace Corps.

You can imagine the usual paperwork, interviews, and bureaucratic back-and-forth that took place over the course of six months. Eventually, I was assigned to be a high school teacher in Western Kenya; specifically, the tiny hamlet of Kipsoen clinging 1,000 meters atop the escarpment, above the floor of the Great Rift Valley. The edge of the world.

Everything I had been sure – and assured – of: the world I knew and the person I was certain of, quickly melted away under the equatorial sun of the African plains.

The landscape: Isak Dinesen describes it as, “the views were immensely wide — everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility.” (Out of Africa, 1937). The culture and the people: time and interactions had an easy, open, welcoming quality. Telling time was upended: What was 7:00AM on a clock in New York, was read as “sah moja” (the first hour, or 1:00AM) in KiSwahili, the national language of Kenya. The attitude toward Life: “Hakuna Matata” (there are no problems), as Pumbaa and Timon sang in Disney’s The Lion King, is an actual truth in traditional Kenyan thinking. In short, travelling halfway around the world took me worlds away from what I’d learned and from where I’d come.

Going all that distance and in the melting away, the removal, of all the fixtures and accoutrements of growing up in my old world, there was space for new outlooks, attitudes, and growth. It wasn’t a smooth, quick, easy, nor always a conscious process. Among some of the oldest peoples on the planet, on the oldest continent, I found a new start.

That is where I found my freedom.

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munichWalking on the Winter Streets in Munich, Germany

Bavaria in the winter is a different proposition from Bavaria in the summer. Perhaps if one skies, a winter in Bavaria might seem like heaven with mountain slopes. I emphatically don’t ski. Nor do I like beer. Thus Munich would seem like an odd choice.

I stayed in Munich for three months with my aunt. Four years ago she moved here for work, and found a comfortable apartment with an extra bedroom. Every member of my extended family has, at least once, come here to stay with her and take short trips elsewhere in Europe once the jet lag has worn off. I’m the last one to make the journey.

As for myself, this is not particularly a vacation. More like a figure-out-what-the-hell-I’m-doing-with-my-life sabbatical of frustration from what I’m used to in Colorado. Also a somewhat desperate bid to step up my photography with inspiration from new places.

It’s early on a Sunday, and despite the temperatures and the fact that the winter sun hasn’t managed to filter much through a blanket of cloud cover, we layer up in warm gear, pulling on knit hats over our bed-messy hair to go for a walk, camera as ever glued to my side.

It’s cold in Munich on a winter morning, and often the wind makes it colder. The apartment is located on a Fahrradstrasse, meaning “bicycle street.” One has to watch out for the bikes more than the cars. The canal we cross is lined with tall trees that are still incongruously sheathed in thick green ivy leaves. The tops of the trees are bare twigs, but no one seems to have told the ivy that it’s cold.

We crunch our way down narrow sidewalks covered in gravel, the German answer to ice-melt. The apartment buildings each have small yards for the ground-floor flats, and most balconies sport what will be greenery in a few months. Some even have tiny pines or spruce, which are decked out festively with Christmas lights during the holidays. Yet despite their similarities, none are quite the same. All have stucco exteriors, but in a surprising range of pastels. Each has its own architecture, some with decorative paintings or small inset statues.

There’s a bakery for every neighborhood, and an apoteke (pharmacy) on practically every street in Munich. The grocery store is never more than a couple of blocks’ walk. On any weekend morning you’ll find a queue outside the bakery, husbands whose wives sent them out on breakfast duty. It’s a different way of life than I’m used to, but I’ve grown to enjoy it.

It takes less than fifteen minutes of walking from the Fahrradstrasse to get to Nymphenburg Palace. The massive white exterior is impressive, but we pass by the huge staircase entrance and enter the gates that lead to the grounds. There are many paths to choose from, criss-crossing the wooded estate. Bird calls ring out unexpectedly, from the tiny blue tits to blackbirds, crows, and geese. Pillared bridges span the canals that divert water from the river to feed several fountains, still now for the winter.

Few people are out this early, so we have the quiet woods mostly to ourselves. As we crunch along, the church bells begin to toll, right on time.

It strikes me as a uniquely European experience to meander on forested paths, yet still hear perfectly tuned church bells sing out from the street that is in fact not too far away. We stop at one of our favorite trees which exudes an air of quiet wisdom, a huge and gnarled beech with bark like elephant skin, and listening to the church bells there feels as sacred as any experience I can remember having.

My time in Munich turned out to be not what I was expecting. But it was precisely what I needed. It was culture and nature all mixed up together; a new frame of reference and an opportunity to see a new way ahead. I knew that I wouldn’t be the same after this time spent traveling, and that is true. Photography became real for me, far more than a hobby. More importantly, I became bigger in Munich, with a wider world-view and deeper determination to live in a meaningful way.

Photo Credit: Dawn Myscofski

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Backpack & Bushes In Munich: The Freedom In Wandering

There I was, wandering the suburban streets of Munich with a poor sense of direction and the absence of mobile technology. That afternoon, I had stepped off of an airplane that had departed from the island of Majorca in the south of Spain. Majorca was warm, tropical, and evoked the inner island-ista in me and, therefore, I was sporting my thinnest tank top and beachy footwear. Although the time of year was early August, the weather in Münich resembled the brisk end of autumn.

Needless to say, I was cold, lost, and the sun was setting. I was on the hunt for the flat belonging to my Couchsurfing hosts, without a way of contacting them. All of the surrounding buildings were residential and very quiet. Any passerby was fair game when it came to directional questions, but I only crossed paths with two in my many hours of searching. The first person was Turkish and I, unfortunately, did not speak his language. I showed him my hand-written address and he pointed onward down the street; I kept walking.

This is the point where I should have broken down and cried. There was not one car or taxi to flag and deliver me to my destination. I was far from the nearest train station and low on cash. Instead of crying, however, I stayed calm. I had my backpack; everything I needed was on my person so spending a night in the bushes… was totally doable!

In that backpack I had multiple layers of clothing, a change of shoes, and probably something edible. My backpack was there for me. My backpack gave me the freedom to make a mistake like this and helped me recognize my privilege in possessing the items necessary for basic comforts. This realization showed me that once basic needs are met, less is more in travel.

The freer we want to become, the more we must leave behind. Before I could be a self-titled traveler, I had to look this realization square in the eyes because leaving behind the things that maintain comfort in order to travel is uncomfortable. I did not like getting dirty and staying dirty. I wanted my full size shampoo bottle. I needed silence and complete darkness in order to sleep through the night.

For me, it was a little grey backpack that challenged me to decide what was to be left behind in order to see what true freedom feels like. If it was travel that I wanted, I had to bridge the void between lux and living. I had to become okay with getting dirty, losing sleep, being uncomfortable for the sake of seeing the world with authenticity. When living life as a traveler, what is essential is what we choose to travel with us. The size of my backpack has taught me to choose wisely and intuitively.

This very backpack encourages me to not only open the door of my closet to get it out but doors all over the world. It has been there to support me through the wonderful and harried times of my adventures. My backpack was there for me when I hunted for my hostel on the winding streets of Barcelona. She has sat beside me and heard countless tales from strangers who have transformed into friends. And she has been there for the myriad of travel-mishaps that have left me questioning if I will be sleeping in the bushes for the evening.

The end of my Munich mishap goes like this: Lost in a dark courtyard, I spotted a man climbing his porch steps about to unlock his front door. Across the green space, I shouted for help as politely and nonthreatening as possible. He stopped and turned around seemingly jolly and ready to help. Thank God! I showed him the address and, in broken German-English, he described that I was on the side of the street with even-numbered addresses and I needed to be in the courtyard across the street with odd-numbered addresses. I was saved from a foliage-filled slumber!

Because everything I needed was on my back, a night in the shrubs was not only a possibility but also something I was prepared to experience. Of course, I know that I am more than my backpack and, even without it, I would have survived, but I have learned that living with less is actually living with enough. By setting off on an adventure with minimal essentials, I have been allowed to become myself again. Even though I found the flat in Munich that night, my backpack has given me the freedom and contentment in knowing that there really is not much I need to pack to have a proper adventure.

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Democracy, Freedom and Independence in Bratislava, Slovakia.

It is a holiday commemorating the 1945 uprising against Nazi occupation today. Devinska Nova Ves (DNV) is a large village about 16 km north of Bratislava. Its wide main street is lined with old houses, there is an enormous Volkswagen factory and a few tower blocks – nothing special really. But back in 2012 it came to the attention of the world’s press, even Reuters. It was all about a bridge.

DNV is on the Morava River- the border between Slovakia and Austria. In Cold War times this was a heavily militarized zone of barbed-wire fences and constant patrols by border guards. Many people died trying to run through the wire here. Inside the one km exclusion zone you could have been shot on sight. If they had tried swimming they would have had to deal with serious currents on both the Danube and Morava rivers. In 2012 a bridge was completed over the river at DNV to join the formerly impenetrable frontier. The Bratislava Regional Assembly set up a Facebook vote to name this historically significant link between the old communist block and Western Europe. The Regional Governor, Pavol Freso, affirmed that they would probably go with the people’s wishes. That is until the “Chuck Norris Bridge” polled more than 10 times as many votes as the Regional Assembly’s proposal, or indeed any other suggestions. Now Reuters started to take an interest. Chuck Norris was always a source of jokes concerning macho invincibility in Slovakia (Chuck Norris can delete the recycling bin…), but hardly a feasible choice for naming a bridge (no-one walks over Chuck Norris was later mentioned by the Assembly). But you can cross this historic bridge today. The floodplains beneath will be a Site of Special Scientific Interest, teeming with rare flora and fauna.

About two km South of DNV lies the village of Devin, where today there is a festival. If you bus out of Bratislava you may well sit next to a knight, complete with chain mail, sword and helmet on his mobile phone.

Devin Castle, first recorded in 864, lies atop a cliff overlooking the Danube. In the thirteenth century it was the frontier post of the Hungarian Empire. It featured on a coin and a note of the former currency in Cold War times – an important national symbol. Now it lies in ruins (thank Napoleon for that). At the castle are “medieval” tents with costumed people sitting around cooking over fires in iron pots. It has an authentic feel. All the men have long hair and one is undressing to his boxer shorts to put on his chain mail vest, boots, helmet and jacket.

We walk up to the ruins, where my four-year-old daughter, Mollie, is delighted to shout “bottom” down the 55 metre well and enjoy its echo. From up here you can see the Danube curving round to the Morava.

Terraced vineyards sweep down from Dacha’s (small wooden summer villas) on the mountain-top. One huge, elegant residence dominates all of these. I was told that this belongs to the Russian mafia. Down at the river you can throw a stone over into Austria which is why so many tried their luck here. If it wasn’t running through the militarized zone and barbed wire then trying to swim, it was (homemade) hang-gliders from the hilltops. Down by the confluence a serious ceremony is taking place. Over 400 people died between 1945 and 1989 attempting this: nearly one a month for 44 years from one small village on the Austrian border. Each name listed on the sculpture and explained in four languages. It read (verbatim):
“The Iron Curtain used to stand here. It cannot be pulled away. It can only be cracked. Four Hundred people sacrificed their life while fighting for their rights. Human beings, free and unrestricted do not forget that freedom of thinking, acting and dreaming is a value that is not only worth living but also bringing sacrifices.”

Judging by their ages, the attendees here could well have been the brothers or sisters, even parents of those desperado’s who died for freedom and independence. So there you have it: freedom and independence in one rather confusing package. Foul-mouthed four-year-olds, uprisings against Nazi occupation, modern ex-Iron Curtain members of the EEC co-existing with today’s Russian mafia, medieval knights, would-be escapees of communism and Chuck Norris. The Bratislava Regional Assembly, in their infinite wisdom actually rejected the 12,599 votes for the “Chuck Norris Bridge” in favour of the “Freedom Cycling Bridge” (457 votes), which is now its official name. However, thanks to Reuters, it is even today easily findable on Google under its more democratic name. If my daughter were able to understand this, I am absolutely sure that she would say, “But that’s bottom democracy, freedom and independence!”

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Forging my Inquisitive Name in Egypt

Standing in a shop in Cairo, I spelled out my name for the clerk, both in English and in Arabic. Should it end with an eliph or a taa marbuta? We went back and forth, settling on aliph, the first letter of the alphabet, and I handed over a not insignificant amount of Egyptian pounds.

I was in Egypt for six weeks studying Arabic and Middle Eastern politics, as part of one of my many minors. But really, I was there because the summer before I had stayed home in Massachusetts, working retail. I had watched as friends flooded facebook with photos from all over Egypt. I wanted to learn about the region, but I also wanted to go on an adventure, having conversations and experiences that would never happen back home. My parents had agreed, on the grounds that university staff would accompany us. My boyfriend would be waiting when I got back, in spite of how nervous I had been to even ask that question.

Six weeks seemed like a long time, but once I was abroad, it it didn’t take long for us both to chafe under the situation. He felt like I was always too busy, and was suspicious of the new friends I was making, especially the male ones. I felt like every call was either a fight or a one-sided conversation, keeping me from flash cards, late-night dessert treks, and new friends. I had started spending time with young women who proudly called themselves feminists and stretched my previous definition of the word. I started wondering why I had ever found the necklace he gave me, emblazoned with the word “princess,” to be sweet.

A couple of days after spelling out my name in the shop, a small velvet envelope arrived. I took off the old necklace, something I hadn’t done since he gave it to me, and excitedly placed my new one around my neck. Instead of someone else’s ill-fitting pet name, I was wearing my own. More than that, my Arabic name necklace was an outward sign of my accomplishments: the hundreds of hours learning Arabic, the nerve-wracking solo cab ride, the ever-present street harassment, and the wonder of Naguib Mahfouz’s books. I was working harder academically than I ever had in my life, not to mention constantly learning from everyone I met. This country had indelibly changed me, and it all sat there at my collarbone, in elegant, silver, Arabic script.

Back home, I wore my new necklace proudly. That did not go unnoticed.

There were questions and tears. It seems the symbolism of the two pieces of jewelry wasn’t lost on anyone. It didn’t help that I hid his necklace from myself out of sadness and couldn’t find it again until years later, well after our relationship was dead and buried. But it wouldn’t have mattered; I had changed.

My time in Egypt brought so much to my life: feminism, a love of the Middle East, dear friends, and a knowledge that not only can I do things that seem big and scary, but I thrive on them. I’ll never be certain why we broke up, but I know I couldn’t have become the person I am now while remaining his girlfriend. I needed years to myself, without any guilt or judgment about my travels and personal politics, two of my strongest and most intertwined traits. I needed room to grow, to see where the world would take me if I didn’t need anyone else and no one else needed me. I needed to be a woman of my own making, not someone else’s vision of me, not an asterisked version of myself that was only acceptable with caveats and conditions. I needed to be able to pick up and go, over and over again, and not be seen as disloyal for doing so.

One day, the necklace slipped off at a friend’s backyard barbecue, never to be seen again. I miss it like I miss so much about Egypt, from koshery and nutty actions movies to hijabi fashion and Al Azhar Park. But I take comfort in the fact that I don’t need the necklace like I once did. By the time I lost the necklace, it had served its purpose. I was out of that relationship and had travelled to many countries, but most importantly, I had been brave enough to choose myself, and the life I wanted to lead. I knew my choices were not dalliances but a path. I had chosen a life driven by adventure and ideals, one where my brain and my bravado are my most prized possessions. Someday, there may be another man who wants to rename me and keep me close by his side. I’d like to see him try.

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A safe itinerary to exciting success in Nigeria
He possessed an intrepid physique, radiant cheeks, hair still remain dark, and a gritty skin. He wore a hat strolling around the backyard, and a tattered blue army overcoat when it was cold, and sometimes top-boots. He walks round the house and an earsplitting yell was heard from the backyard, before he could be rushed to the hospital, he gave up the ghost.

What a pity! There is no one death cannot eliminate as death claim the life of my father after being battled by the debilitating disease of cancer.
One morning after the corpse was interred; the family members sideline my mother from other important discussion concerning the properties of the deceased. She stood upon her gallery with arms akimbo, shedding tears, so unexpected and bewildering was the death of her husband. The next decision of the family member was that the children of the deceased would be taken care of by the family members but my mother disagreed.

Few days to that time, I was kidnapped by unknown abductors alongside my mother and my younger ones into the narrow strip of shade on the porch of the long, low house; the hot sunlight was beating in on the brown old boards as an unpleasant odour filled the atmosphere, and a terrific sound was coming across the non-flowering cotton-field. The kidnappers were sent by the family member who wanted to confiscate the hard earned properties of the deceased from his immediate family.

Few minute to our execution by the kidnappers, a serene was heard within that abode alarmed by the Nigeria Police who were on duty when they notice some suspicious movement and sound in that environment. They thwarted the kidnappers from achieving their goal as they all fled away from being arrested and we were all unfettered from their captivity.

After two days of staying at the police station for security reasons, an officer lent my mother a piece of advice and that leads to our itinerary to Lagos state so that we can gain the freedom from our nemesis.

In the struggle of being totally independence, my mother seeks for employment opportunity for various months under the administration of the rickety Nigeria government before she later started with a petty trade. My mother also clamour that I should be independent by now as she inculcated that I must learn a vocation and must also provide and feed myself. This was initially difficult for me and I had persistent fight with her. I begin to hate her the more, my emotion begins to suffer depression, and my life now lacks the nutrient of joy and happiness. Drastically, I am becoming more irrelevant to the community as I use obsolete phone, I have accrued debt and I can’t avoid eating three meals a day because I have fallen into the abysmal of excruciating pestilence of poverty.

At a conference which I reluctantly attended transformed my life, I was inspired to take responsibility. Consequently, I searched for job in consensus to the inspiring testimonies heard at the conference that “before you can become successful, you would need to move out of your environment”. This emanates how I became a driver as I virtually travel and tour the whole Nigeria and Ghana while doing a job of a driver.

After about 15hours on road from Nigeria due to various barricades by the security personnel and also the vehicle engine problem which hiatus our journey. The red sunset and the blue-gray twilight had together flung a purple mist across the road that hid it from our view. We could no longer hear the wheezing and creaking of wheels but could still faintly hear the shrill, glad voices of the children in the passing vehicles. Finally, we reach Ghana and I got employed by the benevolent business woman called Miss Calister to whom I return the wallet she forgot in my bus some weeks ago.
I seated myself beside the table as I glance through the room, into which the evening shadows were creeping and deepening around my solitary figure, happy that I bounced back to a life of debt free, joy and happiness and I regain my freedom from the bumpy hands of poverty and sadness. This is the chronicle of my itinerary to success.

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Gulin china5 Places worth a visit in Guilin, China

Anyone who’s ever read a Chinese textbook can attest that these textbooks glorify Guilin. Not only that, politicians also sing praises to this city’s natural endowments and often entertain visiting dignitaries in this resort town. During my last visit to Guilin, I was adamant to find out in less than a week if Guilin and its surrounding areas do indeed live up to its reputation. Here are the top five sights I saw and love to reminisce about.

1. Reed flute cave

I spent a good hour here oohing and ahhing at the sight of the abundant stalactites and rock formations, which were illuminated by multi-colored lighting. This lighting enhanced the otherworldly atmosphere contained therein. It was like stumbling into a fairy’s den, another world you’ll normally associate with a fictional novel. The highlight was the laser light musical show at the end of the cave, which gave me chills. With the help of the guide, I could easily visualize animals, cities, and plants among the rock formations.

2. Fubo hill

This attraction made me withstand an intense cardio exercise as I climbed the steps leading up to the lookout point on top that showed a bird’s eye view of the city. You could see panoramic views of the Li River and the developing city’s natural beauty from high above.

3. Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces

Hours away from Guilin, I found myself gaping at the brilliant spectacle of the verdant green man-made terraces carved as far as the eye could see. I could tell from the wide expanse of the terraces that this is the culmination of the Zhuang people’s strenuous efforts and ingeniousness. I rode a cable car to get to the top where I could see just how high and extensive the work done must have been to transform the vast region into layer upon layer of rice terraces. It was a picturesque sight to behold and I could imagine how its beauty changes into golden hues for autumn, crisp white in winter and bright green for summer to keep onlookers wanting to come back again.

4. The Long Hair Village

The moment I stumbled upon the Long Hair Village, the Guinness world book record holder for the “world’s longest hair village”, I was intrigued. I was bewildered that such a place even exists! I discovered with my own eyes that the village is beautiful with its rustic charm and truly, its residents does indeed live up to their village name. The Yao ethnic women who reside there were the embodiment of brunette Rapunzels. They dress in unique and colorful traditional clothing and performed by singing and dancing. It was amusing to watch as they invited male guests to participate in a mock wedding ceremony as done in their village. You may ask: how do they keep their hair jet-black even when they’re old and wrinkled? They do so by washing their hair with fermented rice water! Nature truly works wonders.

5. Li River cruise

As featured on the 20 yuan note, you can see the lush landscape looking reminiscent of Ha Long Bay at every twist and turn on this relaxing cruise. I saw fishermen, some with tourists, on their bamboo rafts sailing through the calm water. After a few hours, the cruise stops at Yangshuo, a small town where you can easily find food or bargain with small shops selling pearl, jade, Chinese paintings and more.

After being left breathless by these five stand-out sights, I was rest assured that Guilin and its surrounding areas are indeed worth a visit and are definitely worthy of its accolades.

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colombiaLiving Life to its fullest in England

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted a poem by Pablo Neruda entitled “You start dying slowly.” It resonated with me, and expressed the way that I was feeling 3 years ago, before my life took a detour from its original trajectory. There are not many things in this world that I am afraid of, but dying without fully experiencing life is one of my greatest fears.

“You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking every day on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine.”

Freedom and fulfillment of dreams are central to the North American ideal, but many of us don’t feel free. Instead, we feel enslaved to our jobs and our lifestyles like we are just part of the rat race, mechanically putting one foot in front of the other. It wasn’t long ago that I felt trapped in my life, like I was living in auto-pilot, moving through each day without anything special and feeling unsatisfied. I was in my fifth year as a junior high/middle-school science teacher in my hometown, and although I loved my job and my students, I felt stuck. Everyone else seemed to be moving forward, finding love, settling down, and having families. Yet here I was, doing the “same old things”; I was not content to “settle”. But what could I do?

“You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job,
[…] If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream […]
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.”

I have always had a love of traveling, since my first plane rides and car trips across Canada as a toddler to visit family. I was very fortunate to have the experience of doing a semester abroad in university, and it lit the fire to try life in another country. When I finished university, I dreamed of teaching overseas. The more unsatisfied I felt with my life, the more my desire to teach abroad increased. I made the decision to move overseas, and after being denied a leave of absence, I resigned from my position, packed up my life and my house, and moved to England. By moving abroad, I was forcing myself to meet new people, try new things and change my routines. There were many new things to experience and different customs to learn to try to fit into my new surroundings.

” You start dying slowly
If you do not travel,
If you do not listen to the sounds of life
If you do not appreciate your life […]
If you avoid to feel passion.”

I struggled when I first moved, and found that I still wasn’t as happy as I had hoped to be. I was forced to figure out my passions. I always knew that traveling was a passion of mine, but I was very fortunate to meet a group of diverse women who helped me rediscover another passion of mine, dance. One of my favourite things when I am visiting a different region, or country, is to learn about their food and about their culture, in particular, the way that music influences people and their outlooks on life. This was especially evident when I took my next leap to Colombia. One of the most diverse countries in South America, there are so many different cultures all blended into one, and it makes for an amazing and lively blend of music and movement. Nothing can make you happier than some cool Colombian beats!

Since traveling is my passion, I felt the most alive when I was able to get out of London and travel throughout Europe. I tried to figure out a way that I could experience that presence in my day to day life. One advantage of such a large city, is that it made exploring close to home quite easy. There are so many different parks, markets and sites to see, that most weekends, I would make an effort to immerse myself in my environment.

It actually took living in Colombia, in a city that lacked parks, for me to realize how important nature is to feeling free and satisfied with life. For those that may not have the ability to travel far from home, going to the local park, the mountains or the ocean is another great way to free yourselves from the stresses and confines of daily life. What I discovered from moving around the world, is that to feel free, you don’t have to go far. By paying attention to your surroundings, and surrounding yourself with nature, you too can feel free.

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thailand-scheduleThere Is No Crammed Schedule in Thailand

Erin and I took a giant leap of adventure when we sold all our belongings in the USA and booked a one way ticket to Bangkok, Thailand. No itinerary. No plans. It was time to shake life up and discover more of ourselves. We were all too familiar with the 9-5 grind and were ready for something completely different. It does not take long on the backpacking trail to learn a few things about self and about life.

It is difficult to make and keep travel plans out in this world experiencing pure freedom. Where the wind blows and you follow along with the stranger met last night. A few buckets and a few beers and next thing you know we were on our way from Bangkok to Surat Thani with a brand new friend Dave, who happened to be approaching 60 years old, but knew a thing or two about travel.

We sat on the floor near the KFC in the brightly lit open air train station. Where the locals chipper away with their Thai accents and the smell of all sorts of food fill the air. Quite a strange aroma of fried chicken and Pad Thai, especially for the just arrived tourists we were. After two hours on the very hard train station floor I thought to myself, “I haven’t heard an announcement for our train and it is past departure time.” I walk up to the ticket window with Dave and learn the train was gone. We missed it!

Now that was a hard pill to swallow at that time. Missed the train, “Oh no,” we thought, “what are we going to do now!?” At the ticket counter, the lady next to me says, “That’s traveling. Just let it go. You’ll get there fine.” My worrying mind was wound so tight from the life I left behind that I could not comprehend the ease with which she said let it go. No other choice but to buy another ticket and sit next to the ladies chomping on their bags of rice and hang out longer.

We caught the next train and arrived at our destination just fine. The first step in unwinding that anxious little brain was to acknowledge that while on travel things do not always go as planned. Take a deep breath and carry on.

Dave learned that lesson as well when he stepped in the ocean off balance and messed up his knee in Koh Samui three days later. It ended his trip completely and he had to fly back to San Francisco. Bummer to lose Dave but another sign that you must go with flow, appreciate the opportunity at hand, and do not take for granted the wonder of the wide open world.

Erin and I ended up on the island of Koh Phangan a few days after losing Dave and we arrived the same day as the Half Moon jungle party. Let’s see what this party island is all about!

A buzz of energy was in the air as we arrived to the hostel. “Free shots!” proclaimed the staff. Body paint, alcohol, and good times got us started. We caught a tuk-tuk and hung on tight up the winding jungle road to our destination. Twelve of us on one ride had me hanging teetering on the side as the driver moved seamlessly through town and up toward a night to remember.

Dropped off in the jungle I begin to see the bright lights and hear the sound of the electronic music. Now here is a scene we were familiar with back home. Witnessing the grand stage production with a DJ booth and the amazing colors streaming out from the LED visual panel above the booth we found our place for the evening. Wandering around near the brightly lit tree in the middle of the dance floor it was possible to sit, reflect on the journey thus far, and smile from within. This is why we came across the world, to find our true freedom away from the hustle and grind back home and meet all these amazing souls from many different walks of life. Take the journey in stride and realize that there is no schedule here, only great memories to be made and life to be lived.

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kenyaCertain Freedom On The Edge in Kenya

I had travelled very little in life, almost all of it within the geographical borders of New York State and most of that between the rounded mountains of the Catskills, the tumble of the Adirondacks, and the rocky Eastern shores of Lake Ontario. The world is a comfortable, dependable, predictable place when it amounts to roughly 150 miles by 150 miles. It also becomes routine, dull, and even a little oppressive. Still and all, it was MY world and what I knew.

You might think that such a small, intimate world would be accustomed to many of those born and raised there taking their leave, escaping into the wider world all around. To be sure, that occurred, enough to not be unusual, but not enough to be common. So, when the opportunity to leave New York and live in Kenya presented itself, pursuing that opportunity became a rich source of unsolicited advice, unsought opinion, and even outright discouragement.

I had wanted to explore the wider world beyond Upstate New York for some time, but did not have a good idea of how to do so. No one in my family or group of friends had travelled much, if at all. One uncle who had travelled extensively had done so by making a career with US Air Force. Joining “the Service” did not appeal to me, much to my uncle’s and father’s dismay. But, in a tangential twist of reasoning, the concept of esprit de corps Dad continually espoused bloomed into the idea of serving in the US Peace Corps.

You can imagine the usual paperwork, interviews, and bureaucratic back-and-forth that took place over the course of six months. Eventually, I was assigned to be a high school teacher in Western Kenya; specifically, the tiny hamlet of Kipsoen clinging 1,000 meters atop the escarpment, above the floor of the Great Rift Valley. The edge of the world.

Everything I had been sure – and assured – of: the world I knew and the person I was certain of, quickly melted away under the equatorial sun of the African plains.

The landscape: Isak Dinesen describes it as, “the views were immensely wide — everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility.” (Out of Africa, 1937). The culture and the people: time and interactions had an easy, open, welcoming quality. Telling time was upended: What was 7:00AM on a clock in New York, was read as “sah moja” (the first hour, or 1:00AM) in KiSwahili, the national language of Kenya. The attitude toward Life: “Hakuna Matata” (there are no problems), as Pumbaa and Timon sang in Disney’s The Lion King, is an actual truth in traditional Kenyan thinking. In short, travelling halfway around the world took me worlds away from what I’d learned and from where I’d come.

Going all that distance and in the melting away, the removal, of all the fixtures and accoutrements of growing up in my old world, there was space for new outlooks, attitudes, and growth. It wasn’t a smooth, quick, easy, nor always a conscious process. Among some of the oldest peoples on the planet, on the oldest continent, I found a new start.

That is where I found my freedom.

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munichWalking on the Winter Streets in Munich, Germany

Bavaria in the winter is a different proposition from Bavaria in the summer. Perhaps if one skies, a winter in Bavaria might seem like heaven with mountain slopes. I emphatically don’t ski. Nor do I like beer. Thus Munich would seem like an odd choice.

I stayed in Munich for three months with my aunt. Four years ago she moved here for work, and found a comfortable apartment with an extra bedroom. Every member of my extended family has, at least once, come here to stay with her and take short trips elsewhere in Europe once the jet lag has worn off. I’m the last one to make the journey.

As for myself, this is not particularly a vacation. More like a figure-out-what-the-hell-I’m-doing-with-my-life sabbatical of frustration from what I’m used to in Colorado. Also a somewhat desperate bid to step up my photography with inspiration from new places.

It’s early on a Sunday, and despite the temperatures and the fact that the winter sun hasn’t managed to filter much through a blanket of cloud cover, we layer up in warm gear, pulling on knit hats over our bed-messy hair to go for a walk, camera as ever glued to my side.

It’s cold in Munich on a winter morning, and often the wind makes it colder. The apartment is located on a Fahrradstrasse, meaning “bicycle street.” One has to watch out for the bikes more than the cars. The canal we cross is lined with tall trees that are still incongruously sheathed in thick green ivy leaves. The tops of the trees are bare twigs, but no one seems to have told the ivy that it’s cold.

We crunch our way down narrow sidewalks covered in gravel, the German answer to ice-melt. The apartment buildings each have small yards for the ground-floor flats, and most balconies sport what will be greenery in a few months. Some even have tiny pines or spruce, which are decked out festively with Christmas lights during the holidays. Yet despite their similarities, none are quite the same. All have stucco exteriors, but in a surprising range of pastels. Each has its own architecture, some with decorative paintings or small inset statues.

There’s a bakery for every neighborhood, and an apoteke (pharmacy) on practically every street in Munich. The grocery store is never more than a couple of blocks’ walk. On any weekend morning you’ll find a queue outside the bakery, husbands whose wives sent them out on breakfast duty. It’s a different way of life than I’m used to, but I’ve grown to enjoy it.

It takes less than fifteen minutes of walking from the Fahrradstrasse to get to Nymphenburg Palace. The massive white exterior is impressive, but we pass by the huge staircase entrance and enter the gates that lead to the grounds. There are many paths to choose from, criss-crossing the wooded estate. Bird calls ring out unexpectedly, from the tiny blue tits to blackbirds, crows, and geese. Pillared bridges span the canals that divert water from the river to feed several fountains, still now for the winter.

Few people are out this early, so we have the quiet woods mostly to ourselves. As we crunch along, the church bells begin to toll, right on time.

It strikes me as a uniquely European experience to meander on forested paths, yet still hear perfectly tuned church bells sing out from the street that is in fact not too far away. We stop at one of our favorite trees which exudes an air of quiet wisdom, a huge and gnarled beech with bark like elephant skin, and listening to the church bells there feels as sacred as any experience I can remember having.

My time in Munich turned out to be not what I was expecting. But it was precisely what I needed. It was culture and nature all mixed up together; a new frame of reference and an opportunity to see a new way ahead. I knew that I wouldn’t be the same after this time spent traveling, and that is true. Photography became real for me, far more than a hobby. More importantly, I became bigger in Munich, with a wider world-view and deeper determination to live in a meaningful way.

Photo Credit: Dawn Myscofski

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Backpack & Bushes In Munich: The Freedom In Wandering

There I was, wandering the suburban streets of Munich with a poor sense of direction and the absence of mobile technology. That afternoon, I had stepped off of an airplane that had departed from the island of Majorca in the south of Spain. Majorca was warm, tropical, and evoked the inner island-ista in me and, therefore, I was sporting my thinnest tank top and beachy footwear. Although the time of year was early August, the weather in Münich resembled the brisk end of autumn.

Needless to say, I was cold, lost, and the sun was setting. I was on the hunt for the flat belonging to my Couchsurfing hosts, without a way of contacting them. All of the surrounding buildings were residential and very quiet. Any passerby was fair game when it came to directional questions, but I only crossed paths with two in my many hours of searching. The first person was Turkish and I, unfortunately, did not speak his language. I showed him my hand-written address and he pointed onward down the street; I kept walking.

This is the point where I should have broken down and cried. There was not one car or taxi to flag and deliver me to my destination. I was far from the nearest train station and low on cash. Instead of crying, however, I stayed calm. I had my backpack; everything I needed was on my person so spending a night in the bushes… was totally doable!

In that backpack I had multiple layers of clothing, a change of shoes, and probably something edible. My backpack was there for me. My backpack gave me the freedom to make a mistake like this and helped me recognize my privilege in possessing the items necessary for basic comforts. This realization showed me that once basic needs are met, less is more in travel.

The freer we want to become, the more we must leave behind. Before I could be a self-titled traveler, I had to look this realization square in the eyes because leaving behind the things that maintain comfort in order to travel is uncomfortable. I did not like getting dirty and staying dirty. I wanted my full size shampoo bottle. I needed silence and complete darkness in order to sleep through the night.

For me, it was a little grey backpack that challenged me to decide what was to be left behind in order to see what true freedom feels like. If it was travel that I wanted, I had to bridge the void between lux and living. I had to become okay with getting dirty, losing sleep, being uncomfortable for the sake of seeing the world with authenticity. When living life as a traveler, what is essential is what we choose to travel with us. The size of my backpack has taught me to choose wisely and intuitively.

This very backpack encourages me to not only open the door of my closet to get it out but doors all over the world. It has been there to support me through the wonderful and harried times of my adventures. My backpack was there for me when I hunted for my hostel on the winding streets of Barcelona. She has sat beside me and heard countless tales from strangers who have transformed into friends. And she has been there for the myriad of travel-mishaps that have left me questioning if I will be sleeping in the bushes for the evening.

The end of my Munich mishap goes like this: Lost in a dark courtyard, I spotted a man climbing his porch steps about to unlock his front door. Across the green space, I shouted for help as politely and nonthreatening as possible. He stopped and turned around seemingly jolly and ready to help. Thank God! I showed him the address and, in broken German-English, he described that I was on the side of the street with even-numbered addresses and I needed to be in the courtyard across the street with odd-numbered addresses. I was saved from a foliage-filled slumber!

Because everything I needed was on my back, a night in the shrubs was not only a possibility but also something I was prepared to experience. Of course, I know that I am more than my backpack and, even without it, I would have survived, but I have learned that living with less is actually living with enough. By setting off on an adventure with minimal essentials, I have been allowed to become myself again. Even though I found the flat in Munich that night, my backpack has given me the freedom and contentment in knowing that there really is not much I need to pack to have a proper adventure.

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Democracy, Freedom and Independence in Bratislava, Slovakia.

It is a holiday commemorating the 1945 uprising against Nazi occupation today. Devinska Nova Ves (DNV) is a large village about 16 km north of Bratislava. Its wide main street is lined with old houses, there is an enormous Volkswagen factory and a few tower blocks – nothing special really. But back in 2012 it came to the attention of the world’s press, even Reuters. It was all about a bridge.

DNV is on the Morava River- the border between Slovakia and Austria. In Cold War times this was a heavily militarized zone of barbed-wire fences and constant patrols by border guards. Many people died trying to run through the wire here. Inside the one km exclusion zone you could have been shot on sight. If they had tried swimming they would have had to deal with serious currents on both the Danube and Morava rivers. In 2012 a bridge was completed over the river at DNV to join the formerly impenetrable frontier. The Bratislava Regional Assembly set up a Facebook vote to name this historically significant link between the old communist block and Western Europe. The Regional Governor, Pavol Freso, affirmed that they would probably go with the people’s wishes. That is until the “Chuck Norris Bridge” polled more than 10 times as many votes as the Regional Assembly’s proposal, or indeed any other suggestions. Now Reuters started to take an interest. Chuck Norris was always a source of jokes concerning macho invincibility in Slovakia (Chuck Norris can delete the recycling bin…), but hardly a feasible choice for naming a bridge (no-one walks over Chuck Norris was later mentioned by the Assembly). But you can cross this historic bridge today. The floodplains beneath will be a Site of Special Scientific Interest, teeming with rare flora and fauna.

About two km South of DNV lies the village of Devin, where today there is a festival. If you bus out of Bratislava you may well sit next to a knight, complete with chain mail, sword and helmet on his mobile phone.

Devin Castle, first recorded in 864, lies atop a cliff overlooking the Danube. In the thirteenth century it was the frontier post of the Hungarian Empire. It featured on a coin and a note of the former currency in Cold War times – an important national symbol. Now it lies in ruins (thank Napoleon for that). At the castle are “medieval” tents with costumed people sitting around cooking over fires in iron pots. It has an authentic feel. All the men have long hair and one is undressing to his boxer shorts to put on his chain mail vest, boots, helmet and jacket.

We walk up to the ruins, where my four-year-old daughter, Mollie, is delighted to shout “bottom” down the 55 metre well and enjoy its echo. From up here you can see the Danube curving round to the Morava.

Terraced vineyards sweep down from Dacha’s (small wooden summer villas) on the mountain-top. One huge, elegant residence dominates all of these. I was told that this belongs to the Russian mafia. Down at the river you can throw a stone over into Austria which is why so many tried their luck here. If it wasn’t running through the militarized zone and barbed wire then trying to swim, it was (homemade) hang-gliders from the hilltops. Down by the confluence a serious ceremony is taking place. Over 400 people died between 1945 and 1989 attempting this: nearly one a month for 44 years from one small village on the Austrian border. Each name listed on the sculpture and explained in four languages. It read (verbatim):
“The Iron Curtain used to stand here. It cannot be pulled away. It can only be cracked. Four Hundred people sacrificed their life while fighting for their rights. Human beings, free and unrestricted do not forget that freedom of thinking, acting and dreaming is a value that is not only worth living but also bringing sacrifices.”

Judging by their ages, the attendees here could well have been the brothers or sisters, even parents of those desperado’s who died for freedom and independence. So there you have it: freedom and independence in one rather confusing package. Foul-mouthed four-year-olds, uprisings against Nazi occupation, modern ex-Iron Curtain members of the EEC co-existing with today’s Russian mafia, medieval knights, would-be escapees of communism and Chuck Norris. The Bratislava Regional Assembly, in their infinite wisdom actually rejected the 12,599 votes for the “Chuck Norris Bridge” in favour of the “Freedom Cycling Bridge” (457 votes), which is now its official name. However, thanks to Reuters, it is even today easily findable on Google under its more democratic name. If my daughter were able to understand this, I am absolutely sure that she would say, “But that’s bottom democracy, freedom and independence!”

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Forging my Inquisitive Name in Egypt

Standing in a shop in Cairo, I spelled out my name for the clerk, both in English and in Arabic. Should it end with an eliph or a taa marbuta? We went back and forth, settling on aliph, the first letter of the alphabet, and I handed over a not insignificant amount of Egyptian pounds.

I was in Egypt for six weeks studying Arabic and Middle Eastern politics, as part of one of my many minors. But really, I was there because the summer before I had stayed home in Massachusetts, working retail. I had watched as friends flooded facebook with photos from all over Egypt. I wanted to learn about the region, but I also wanted to go on an adventure, having conversations and experiences that would never happen back home. My parents had agreed, on the grounds that university staff would accompany us. My boyfriend would be waiting when I got back, in spite of how nervous I had been to even ask that question.

Six weeks seemed like a long time, but once I was abroad, it it didn’t take long for us both to chafe under the situation. He felt like I was always too busy, and was suspicious of the new friends I was making, especially the male ones. I felt like every call was either a fight or a one-sided conversation, keeping me from flash cards, late-night dessert treks, and new friends. I had started spending time with young women who proudly called themselves feminists and stretched my previous definition of the word. I started wondering why I had ever found the necklace he gave me, emblazoned with the word “princess,” to be sweet.

A couple of days after spelling out my name in the shop, a small velvet envelope arrived. I took off the old necklace, something I hadn’t done since he gave it to me, and excitedly placed my new one around my neck. Instead of someone else’s ill-fitting pet name, I was wearing my own. More than that, my Arabic name necklace was an outward sign of my accomplishments: the hundreds of hours learning Arabic, the nerve-wracking solo cab ride, the ever-present street harassment, and the wonder of Naguib Mahfouz’s books. I was working harder academically than I ever had in my life, not to mention constantly learning from everyone I met. This country had indelibly changed me, and it all sat there at my collarbone, in elegant, silver, Arabic script.

Back home, I wore my new necklace proudly. That did not go unnoticed.

There were questions and tears. It seems the symbolism of the two pieces of jewelry wasn’t lost on anyone. It didn’t help that I hid his necklace from myself out of sadness and couldn’t find it again until years later, well after our relationship was dead and buried. But it wouldn’t have mattered; I had changed.

My time in Egypt brought so much to my life: feminism, a love of the Middle East, dear friends, and a knowledge that not only can I do things that seem big and scary, but I thrive on them. I’ll never be certain why we broke up, but I know I couldn’t have become the person I am now while remaining his girlfriend. I needed years to myself, without any guilt or judgment about my travels and personal politics, two of my strongest and most intertwined traits. I needed room to grow, to see where the world would take me if I didn’t need anyone else and no one else needed me. I needed to be a woman of my own making, not someone else’s vision of me, not an asterisked version of myself that was only acceptable with caveats and conditions. I needed to be able to pick up and go, over and over again, and not be seen as disloyal for doing so.

One day, the necklace slipped off at a friend’s backyard barbecue, never to be seen again. I miss it like I miss so much about Egypt, from koshery and nutty actions movies to hijabi fashion and Al Azhar Park. But I take comfort in the fact that I don’t need the necklace like I once did. By the time I lost the necklace, it had served its purpose. I was out of that relationship and had travelled to many countries, but most importantly, I had been brave enough to choose myself, and the life I wanted to lead. I knew my choices were not dalliances but a path. I had chosen a life driven by adventure and ideals, one where my brain and my bravado are my most prized possessions. Someday, there may be another man who wants to rename me and keep me close by his side. I’d like to see him try.

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A safe itinerary to exciting success in Nigeria
He possessed an intrepid physique, radiant cheeks, hair still remain dark, and a gritty skin. He wore a hat strolling around the backyard, and a tattered blue army overcoat when it was cold, and sometimes top-boots. He walks round the house and an earsplitting yell was heard from the backyard, before he could be rushed to the hospital, he gave up the ghost.

What a pity! There is no one death cannot eliminate as death claim the life of my father after being battled by the debilitating disease of cancer.
One morning after the corpse was interred; the family members sideline my mother from other important discussion concerning the properties of the deceased. She stood upon her gallery with arms akimbo, shedding tears, so unexpected and bewildering was the death of her husband. The next decision of the family member was that the children of the deceased would be taken care of by the family members but my mother disagreed.

Few days to that time, I was kidnapped by unknown abductors alongside my mother and my younger ones into the narrow strip of shade on the porch of the long, low house; the hot sunlight was beating in on the brown old boards as an unpleasant odour filled the atmosphere, and a terrific sound was coming across the non-flowering cotton-field. The kidnappers were sent by the family member who wanted to confiscate the hard earned properties of the deceased from his immediate family.

Few minute to our execution by the kidnappers, a serene was heard within that abode alarmed by the Nigeria Police who were on duty when they notice some suspicious movement and sound in that environment. They thwarted the kidnappers from achieving their goal as they all fled away from being arrested and we were all unfettered from their captivity.

After two days of staying at the police station for security reasons, an officer lent my mother a piece of advice and that leads to our itinerary to Lagos state so that we can gain the freedom from our nemesis.

In the struggle of being totally independence, my mother seeks for employment opportunity for various months under the administration of the rickety Nigeria government before she later started with a petty trade. My mother also clamour that I should be independent by now as she inculcated that I must learn a vocation and must also provide and feed myself. This was initially difficult for me and I had persistent fight with her. I begin to hate her the more, my emotion begins to suffer depression, and my life now lacks the nutrient of joy and happiness. Drastically, I am becoming more irrelevant to the community as I use obsolete phone, I have accrued debt and I can’t avoid eating three meals a day because I have fallen into the abysmal of excruciating pestilence of poverty.

At a conference which I reluctantly attended transformed my life, I was inspired to take responsibility. Consequently, I searched for job in consensus to the inspiring testimonies heard at the conference that “before you can become successful, you would need to move out of your environment”. This emanates how I became a driver as I virtually travel and tour the whole Nigeria and Ghana while doing a job of a driver.

After about 15hours on road from Nigeria due to various barricades by the security personnel and also the vehicle engine problem which hiatus our journey. The red sunset and the blue-gray twilight had together flung a purple mist across the road that hid it from our view. We could no longer hear the wheezing and creaking of wheels but could still faintly hear the shrill, glad voices of the children in the passing vehicles. Finally, we reach Ghana and I got employed by the benevolent business woman called Miss Calister to whom I return the wallet she forgot in my bus some weeks ago.
I seated myself beside the table as I glance through the room, into which the evening shadows were creeping and deepening around my solitary figure, happy that I bounced back to a life of debt free, joy and happiness and I regain my freedom from the bumpy hands of poverty and sadness. This is the chronicle of my itinerary to success.

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Gulin china5 Places worth a visit in Guilin, China

Anyone who’s ever read a Chinese textbook can attest that these textbooks glorify Guilin. Not only that, politicians also sing praises to this city’s natural endowments and often entertain visiting dignitaries in this resort town. During my last visit to Guilin, I was adamant to find out in less than a week if Guilin and its surrounding areas do indeed live up to its reputation. Here are the top five sights I saw and love to reminisce about.

1. Reed flute cave

I spent a good hour here oohing and ahhing at the sight of the abundant stalactites and rock formations, which were illuminated by multi-colored lighting. This lighting enhanced the otherworldly atmosphere contained therein. It was like stumbling into a fairy’s den, another world you’ll normally associate with a fictional novel. The highlight was the laser light musical show at the end of the cave, which gave me chills. With the help of the guide, I could easily visualize animals, cities, and plants among the rock formations.

2. Fubo hill

This attraction made me withstand an intense cardio exercise as I climbed the steps leading up to the lookout point on top that showed a bird’s eye view of the city. You could see panoramic views of the Li River and the developing city’s natural beauty from high above.

3. Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces

Hours away from Guilin, I found myself gaping at the brilliant spectacle of the verdant green man-made terraces carved as far as the eye could see. I could tell from the wide expanse of the terraces that this is the culmination of the Zhuang people’s strenuous efforts and ingeniousness. I rode a cable car to get to the top where I could see just how high and extensive the work done must have been to transform the vast region into layer upon layer of rice terraces. It was a picturesque sight to behold and I could imagine how its beauty changes into golden hues for autumn, crisp white in winter and bright green for summer to keep onlookers wanting to come back again.

4. The Long Hair Village

The moment I stumbled upon the Long Hair Village, the Guinness world book record holder for the “world’s longest hair village”, I was intrigued. I was bewildered that such a place even exists! I discovered with my own eyes that the village is beautiful with its rustic charm and truly, its residents does indeed live up to their village name. The Yao ethnic women who reside there were the embodiment of brunette Rapunzels. They dress in unique and colorful traditional clothing and performed by singing and dancing. It was amusing to watch as they invited male guests to participate in a mock wedding ceremony as done in their village. You may ask: how do they keep their hair jet-black even when they’re old and wrinkled? They do so by washing their hair with fermented rice water! Nature truly works wonders.

5. Li River cruise

As featured on the 20 yuan note, you can see the lush landscape looking reminiscent of Ha Long Bay at every twist and turn on this relaxing cruise. I saw fishermen, some with tourists, on their bamboo rafts sailing through the calm water. After a few hours, the cruise stops at Yangshuo, a small town where you can easily find food or bargain with small shops selling pearl, jade, Chinese paintings and more.

After being left breathless by these five stand-out sights, I was rest assured that Guilin and its surrounding areas are indeed worth a visit and are definitely worthy of its accolades.

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colombiaLiving Life to its fullest in England

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted a poem by Pablo Neruda entitled “You start dying slowly.” It resonated with me, and expressed the way that I was feeling 3 years ago, before my life took a detour from its original trajectory. There are not many things in this world that I am afraid of, but dying without fully experiencing life is one of my greatest fears.

“You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking every day on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine.”

Freedom and fulfillment of dreams are central to the North American ideal, but many of us don’t feel free. Instead, we feel enslaved to our jobs and our lifestyles like we are just part of the rat race, mechanically putting one foot in front of the other. It wasn’t long ago that I felt trapped in my life, like I was living in auto-pilot, moving through each day without anything special and feeling unsatisfied. I was in my fifth year as a junior high/middle-school science teacher in my hometown, and although I loved my job and my students, I felt stuck. Everyone else seemed to be moving forward, finding love, settling down, and having families. Yet here I was, doing the “same old things”; I was not content to “settle”. But what could I do?

“You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job,
[…] If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream […]
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.”

I have always had a love of traveling, since my first plane rides and car trips across Canada as a toddler to visit family. I was very fortunate to have the experience of doing a semester abroad in university, and it lit the fire to try life in another country. When I finished university, I dreamed of teaching overseas. The more unsatisfied I felt with my life, the more my desire to teach abroad increased. I made the decision to move overseas, and after being denied a leave of absence, I resigned from my position, packed up my life and my house, and moved to England. By moving abroad, I was forcing myself to meet new people, try new things and change my routines. There were many new things to experience and different customs to learn to try to fit into my new surroundings.

” You start dying slowly
If you do not travel,
If you do not listen to the sounds of life
If you do not appreciate your life […]
If you avoid to feel passion.”

I struggled when I first moved, and found that I still wasn’t as happy as I had hoped to be. I was forced to figure out my passions. I always knew that traveling was a passion of mine, but I was very fortunate to meet a group of diverse women who helped me rediscover another passion of mine, dance. One of my favourite things when I am visiting a different region, or country, is to learn about their food and about their culture, in particular, the way that music influences people and their outlooks on life. This was especially evident when I took my next leap to Colombia. One of the most diverse countries in South America, there are so many different cultures all blended into one, and it makes for an amazing and lively blend of music and movement. Nothing can make you happier than some cool Colombian beats!

Since traveling is my passion, I felt the most alive when I was able to get out of London and travel throughout Europe. I tried to figure out a way that I could experience that presence in my day to day life. One advantage of such a large city, is that it made exploring close to home quite easy. There are so many different parks, markets and sites to see, that most weekends, I would make an effort to immerse myself in my environment.

It actually took living in Colombia, in a city that lacked parks, for me to realize how important nature is to feeling free and satisfied with life. For those that may not have the ability to travel far from home, going to the local park, the mountains or the ocean is another great way to free yourselves from the stresses and confines of daily life. What I discovered from moving around the world, is that to feel free, you don’t have to go far. By paying attention to your surroundings, and surrounding yourself with nature, you too can feel free.

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

thailand-scheduleThere Is No Crammed Schedule in Thailand

Erin and I took a giant leap of adventure when we sold all our belongings in the USA and booked a one way ticket to Bangkok, Thailand. No itinerary. No plans. It was time to shake life up and discover more of ourselves. We were all too familiar with the 9-5 grind and were ready for something completely different. It does not take long on the backpacking trail to learn a few things about self and about life.

It is difficult to make and keep travel plans out in this world experiencing pure freedom. Where the wind blows and you follow along with the stranger met last night. A few buckets and a few beers and next thing you know we were on our way from Bangkok to Surat Thani with a brand new friend Dave, who happened to be approaching 60 years old, but knew a thing or two about travel.

We sat on the floor near the KFC in the brightly lit open air train station. Where the locals chipper away with their Thai accents and the smell of all sorts of food fill the air. Quite a strange aroma of fried chicken and Pad Thai, especially for the just arrived tourists we were. After two hours on the very hard train station floor I thought to myself, “I haven’t heard an announcement for our train and it is past departure time.” I walk up to the ticket window with Dave and learn the train was gone. We missed it!

Now that was a hard pill to swallow at that time. Missed the train, “Oh no,” we thought, “what are we going to do now!?” At the ticket counter, the lady next to me says, “That’s traveling. Just let it go. You’ll get there fine.” My worrying mind was wound so tight from the life I left behind that I could not comprehend the ease with which she said let it go. No other choice but to buy another ticket and sit next to the ladies chomping on their bags of rice and hang out longer.

We caught the next train and arrived at our destination just fine. The first step in unwinding that anxious little brain was to acknowledge that while on travel things do not always go as planned. Take a deep breath and carry on.

Dave learned that lesson as well when he stepped in the ocean off balance and messed up his knee in Koh Samui three days later. It ended his trip completely and he had to fly back to San Francisco. Bummer to lose Dave but another sign that you must go with flow, appreciate the opportunity at hand, and do not take for granted the wonder of the wide open world.

Erin and I ended up on the island of Koh Phangan a few days after losing Dave and we arrived the same day as the Half Moon jungle party. Let’s see what this party island is all about!

A buzz of energy was in the air as we arrived to the hostel. “Free shots!” proclaimed the staff. Body paint, alcohol, and good times got us started. We caught a tuk-tuk and hung on tight up the winding jungle road to our destination. Twelve of us on one ride had me hanging teetering on the side as the driver moved seamlessly through town and up toward a night to remember.

Dropped off in the jungle I begin to see the bright lights and hear the sound of the electronic music. Now here is a scene we were familiar with back home. Witnessing the grand stage production with a DJ booth and the amazing colors streaming out from the LED visual panel above the booth we found our place for the evening. Wandering around near the brightly lit tree in the middle of the dance floor it was possible to sit, reflect on the journey thus far, and smile from within. This is why we came across the world, to find our true freedom away from the hustle and grind back home and meet all these amazing souls from many different walks of life. Take the journey in stride and realize that there is no schedule here, only great memories to be made and life to be lived.

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

kenyaCertain Freedom On The Edge in Kenya

I had travelled very little in life, almost all of it within the geographical borders of New York State and most of that between the rounded mountains of the Catskills, the tumble of the Adirondacks, and the rocky Eastern shores of Lake Ontario. The world is a comfortable, dependable, predictable place when it amounts to roughly 150 miles by 150 miles. It also becomes routine, dull, and even a little oppressive. Still and all, it was MY world and what I knew.

You might think that such a small, intimate world would be accustomed to many of those born and raised there taking their leave, escaping into the wider world all around. To be sure, that occurred, enough to not be unusual, but not enough to be common. So, when the opportunity to leave New York and live in Kenya presented itself, pursuing that opportunity became a rich source of unsolicited advice, unsought opinion, and even outright discouragement.

I had wanted to explore the wider world beyond Upstate New York for some time, but did not have a good idea of how to do so. No one in my family or group of friends had travelled much, if at all. One uncle who had travelled extensively had done so by making a career with US Air Force. Joining “the Service” did not appeal to me, much to my uncle’s and father’s dismay. But, in a tangential twist of reasoning, the concept of esprit de corps Dad continually espoused bloomed into the idea of serving in the US Peace Corps.

You can imagine the usual paperwork, interviews, and bureaucratic back-and-forth that took place over the course of six months. Eventually, I was assigned to be a high school teacher in Western Kenya; specifically, the tiny hamlet of Kipsoen clinging 1,000 meters atop the escarpment, above the floor of the Great Rift Valley. The edge of the world.

Everything I had been sure – and assured – of: the world I knew and the person I was certain of, quickly melted away under the equatorial sun of the African plains.

The landscape: Isak Dinesen describes it as, “the views were immensely wide — everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility.” (Out of Africa, 1937). The culture and the people: time and interactions had an easy, open, welcoming quality. Telling time was upended: What was 7:00AM on a clock in New York, was read as “sah moja” (the first hour, or 1:00AM) in KiSwahili, the national language of Kenya. The attitude toward Life: “Hakuna Matata” (there are no problems), as Pumbaa and Timon sang in Disney’s The Lion King, is an actual truth in traditional Kenyan thinking. In short, travelling halfway around the world took me worlds away from what I’d learned and from where I’d come.

Going all that distance and in the melting away, the removal, of all the fixtures and accoutrements of growing up in my old world, there was space for new outlooks, attitudes, and growth. It wasn’t a smooth, quick, easy, nor always a conscious process. Among some of the oldest peoples on the planet, on the oldest continent, I found a new start.

That is where I found my freedom.

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munichWalking on the Winter Streets in Munich, Germany

Bavaria in the winter is a different proposition from Bavaria in the summer. Perhaps if one skies, a winter in Bavaria might seem like heaven with mountain slopes. I emphatically don’t ski. Nor do I like beer. Thus Munich would seem like an odd choice.

I stayed in Munich for three months with my aunt. Four years ago she moved here for work, and found a comfortable apartment with an extra bedroom. Every member of my extended family has, at least once, come here to stay with her and take short trips elsewhere in Europe once the jet lag has worn off. I’m the last one to make the journey.

As for myself, this is not particularly a vacation. More like a figure-out-what-the-hell-I’m-doing-with-my-life sabbatical of frustration from what I’m used to in Colorado. Also a somewhat desperate bid to step up my photography with inspiration from new places.

It’s early on a Sunday, and despite the temperatures and the fact that the winter sun hasn’t managed to filter much through a blanket of cloud cover, we layer up in warm gear, pulling on knit hats over our bed-messy hair to go for a walk, camera as ever glued to my side.

It’s cold in Munich on a winter morning, and often the wind makes it colder. The apartment is located on a Fahrradstrasse, meaning “bicycle street.” One has to watch out for the bikes more than the cars. The canal we cross is lined with tall trees that are still incongruously sheathed in thick green ivy leaves. The tops of the trees are bare twigs, but no one seems to have told the ivy that it’s cold.

We crunch our way down narrow sidewalks covered in gravel, the German answer to ice-melt. The apartment buildings each have small yards for the ground-floor flats, and most balconies sport what will be greenery in a few months. Some even have tiny pines or spruce, which are decked out festively with Christmas lights during the holidays. Yet despite their similarities, none are quite the same. All have stucco exteriors, but in a surprising range of pastels. Each has its own architecture, some with decorative paintings or small inset statues.

There’s a bakery for every neighborhood, and an apoteke (pharmacy) on practically every street in Munich. The grocery store is never more than a couple of blocks’ walk. On any weekend morning you’ll find a queue outside the bakery, husbands whose wives sent them out on breakfast duty. It’s a different way of life than I’m used to, but I’ve grown to enjoy it.

It takes less than fifteen minutes of walking from the Fahrradstrasse to get to Nymphenburg Palace. The massive white exterior is impressive, but we pass by the huge staircase entrance and enter the gates that lead to the grounds. There are many paths to choose from, criss-crossing the wooded estate. Bird calls ring out unexpectedly, from the tiny blue tits to blackbirds, crows, and geese. Pillared bridges span the canals that divert water from the river to feed several fountains, still now for the winter.

Few people are out this early, so we have the quiet woods mostly to ourselves. As we crunch along, the church bells begin to toll, right on time.

It strikes me as a uniquely European experience to meander on forested paths, yet still hear perfectly tuned church bells sing out from the street that is in fact not too far away. We stop at one of our favorite trees which exudes an air of quiet wisdom, a huge and gnarled beech with bark like elephant skin, and listening to the church bells there feels as sacred as any experience I can remember having.

My time in Munich turned out to be not what I was expecting. But it was precisely what I needed. It was culture and nature all mixed up together; a new frame of reference and an opportunity to see a new way ahead. I knew that I wouldn’t be the same after this time spent traveling, and that is true. Photography became real for me, far more than a hobby. More importantly, I became bigger in Munich, with a wider world-view and deeper determination to live in a meaningful way.

Photo Credit: Dawn Myscofski

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Backpack & Bushes In Munich: The Freedom In Wandering

There I was, wandering the suburban streets of Munich with a poor sense of direction and the absence of mobile technology. That afternoon, I had stepped off of an airplane that had departed from the island of Majorca in the south of Spain. Majorca was warm, tropical, and evoked the inner island-ista in me and, therefore, I was sporting my thinnest tank top and beachy footwear. Although the time of year was early August, the weather in Münich resembled the brisk end of autumn.

Needless to say, I was cold, lost, and the sun was setting. I was on the hunt for the flat belonging to my Couchsurfing hosts, without a way of contacting them. All of the surrounding buildings were residential and very quiet. Any passerby was fair game when it came to directional questions, but I only crossed paths with two in my many hours of searching. The first person was Turkish and I, unfortunately, did not speak his language. I showed him my hand-written address and he pointed onward down the street; I kept walking.

This is the point where I should have broken down and cried. There was not one car or taxi to flag and deliver me to my destination. I was far from the nearest train station and low on cash. Instead of crying, however, I stayed calm. I had my backpack; everything I needed was on my person so spending a night in the bushes… was totally doable!

In that backpack I had multiple layers of clothing, a change of shoes, and probably something edible. My backpack was there for me. My backpack gave me the freedom to make a mistake like this and helped me recognize my privilege in possessing the items necessary for basic comforts. This realization showed me that once basic needs are met, less is more in travel.

The freer we want to become, the more we must leave behind. Before I could be a self-titled traveler, I had to look this realization square in the eyes because leaving behind the things that maintain comfort in order to travel is uncomfortable. I did not like getting dirty and staying dirty. I wanted my full size shampoo bottle. I needed silence and complete darkness in order to sleep through the night.

For me, it was a little grey backpack that challenged me to decide what was to be left behind in order to see what true freedom feels like. If it was travel that I wanted, I had to bridge the void between lux and living. I had to become okay with getting dirty, losing sleep, being uncomfortable for the sake of seeing the world with authenticity. When living life as a traveler, what is essential is what we choose to travel with us. The size of my backpack has taught me to choose wisely and intuitively.

This very backpack encourages me to not only open the door of my closet to get it out but doors all over the world. It has been there to support me through the wonderful and harried times of my adventures. My backpack was there for me when I hunted for my hostel on the winding streets of Barcelona. She has sat beside me and heard countless tales from strangers who have transformed into friends. And she has been there for the myriad of travel-mishaps that have left me questioning if I will be sleeping in the bushes for the evening.

The end of my Munich mishap goes like this: Lost in a dark courtyard, I spotted a man climbing his porch steps about to unlock his front door. Across the green space, I shouted for help as politely and nonthreatening as possible. He stopped and turned around seemingly jolly and ready to help. Thank God! I showed him the address and, in broken German-English, he described that I was on the side of the street with even-numbered addresses and I needed to be in the courtyard across the street with odd-numbered addresses. I was saved from a foliage-filled slumber!

Because everything I needed was on my back, a night in the shrubs was not only a possibility but also something I was prepared to experience. Of course, I know that I am more than my backpack and, even without it, I would have survived, but I have learned that living with less is actually living with enough. By setting off on an adventure with minimal essentials, I have been allowed to become myself again. Even though I found the flat in Munich that night, my backpack has given me the freedom and contentment in knowing that there really is not much I need to pack to have a proper adventure.

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Democracy, Freedom and Independence in Bratislava, Slovakia.

It is a holiday commemorating the 1945 uprising against Nazi occupation today. Devinska Nova Ves (DNV) is a large village about 16 km north of Bratislava. Its wide main street is lined with old houses, there is an enormous Volkswagen factory and a few tower blocks – nothing special really. But back in 2012 it came to the attention of the world’s press, even Reuters. It was all about a bridge.

DNV is on the Morava River- the border between Slovakia and Austria. In Cold War times this was a heavily militarized zone of barbed-wire fences and constant patrols by border guards. Many people died trying to run through the wire here. Inside the one km exclusion zone you could have been shot on sight. If they had tried swimming they would have had to deal with serious currents on both the Danube and Morava rivers. In 2012 a bridge was completed over the river at DNV to join the formerly impenetrable frontier. The Bratislava Regional Assembly set up a Facebook vote to name this historically significant link between the old communist block and Western Europe. The Regional Governor, Pavol Freso, affirmed that they would probably go with the people’s wishes. That is until the “Chuck Norris Bridge” polled more than 10 times as many votes as the Regional Assembly’s proposal, or indeed any other suggestions. Now Reuters started to take an interest. Chuck Norris was always a source of jokes concerning macho invincibility in Slovakia (Chuck Norris can delete the recycling bin…), but hardly a feasible choice for naming a bridge (no-one walks over Chuck Norris was later mentioned by the Assembly). But you can cross this historic bridge today. The floodplains beneath will be a Site of Special Scientific Interest, teeming with rare flora and fauna.

About two km South of DNV lies the village of Devin, where today there is a festival. If you bus out of Bratislava you may well sit next to a knight, complete with chain mail, sword and helmet on his mobile phone.

Devin Castle, first recorded in 864, lies atop a cliff overlooking the Danube. In the thirteenth century it was the frontier post of the Hungarian Empire. It featured on a coin and a note of the former currency in Cold War times – an important national symbol. Now it lies in ruins (thank Napoleon for that). At the castle are “medieval” tents with costumed people sitting around cooking over fires in iron pots. It has an authentic feel. All the men have long hair and one is undressing to his boxer shorts to put on his chain mail vest, boots, helmet and jacket.

We walk up to the ruins, where my four-year-old daughter, Mollie, is delighted to shout “bottom” down the 55 metre well and enjoy its echo. From up here you can see the Danube curving round to the Morava.

Terraced vineyards sweep down from Dacha’s (small wooden summer villas) on the mountain-top. One huge, elegant residence dominates all of these. I was told that this belongs to the Russian mafia. Down at the river you can throw a stone over into Austria which is why so many tried their luck here. If it wasn’t running through the militarized zone and barbed wire then trying to swim, it was (homemade) hang-gliders from the hilltops. Down by the confluence a serious ceremony is taking place. Over 400 people died between 1945 and 1989 attempting this: nearly one a month for 44 years from one small village on the Austrian border. Each name listed on the sculpture and explained in four languages. It read (verbatim):
“The Iron Curtain used to stand here. It cannot be pulled away. It can only be cracked. Four Hundred people sacrificed their life while fighting for their rights. Human beings, free and unrestricted do not forget that freedom of thinking, acting and dreaming is a value that is not only worth living but also bringing sacrifices.”

Judging by their ages, the attendees here could well have been the brothers or sisters, even parents of those desperado’s who died for freedom and independence. So there you have it: freedom and independence in one rather confusing package. Foul-mouthed four-year-olds, uprisings against Nazi occupation, modern ex-Iron Curtain members of the EEC co-existing with today’s Russian mafia, medieval knights, would-be escapees of communism and Chuck Norris. The Bratislava Regional Assembly, in their infinite wisdom actually rejected the 12,599 votes for the “Chuck Norris Bridge” in favour of the “Freedom Cycling Bridge” (457 votes), which is now its official name. However, thanks to Reuters, it is even today easily findable on Google under its more democratic name. If my daughter were able to understand this, I am absolutely sure that she would say, “But that’s bottom democracy, freedom and independence!”

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Forging my Inquisitive Name in Egypt

Standing in a shop in Cairo, I spelled out my name for the clerk, both in English and in Arabic. Should it end with an eliph or a taa marbuta? We went back and forth, settling on aliph, the first letter of the alphabet, and I handed over a not insignificant amount of Egyptian pounds.

I was in Egypt for six weeks studying Arabic and Middle Eastern politics, as part of one of my many minors. But really, I was there because the summer before I had stayed home in Massachusetts, working retail. I had watched as friends flooded facebook with photos from all over Egypt. I wanted to learn about the region, but I also wanted to go on an adventure, having conversations and experiences that would never happen back home. My parents had agreed, on the grounds that university staff would accompany us. My boyfriend would be waiting when I got back, in spite of how nervous I had been to even ask that question.

Six weeks seemed like a long time, but once I was abroad, it it didn’t take long for us both to chafe under the situation. He felt like I was always too busy, and was suspicious of the new friends I was making, especially the male ones. I felt like every call was either a fight or a one-sided conversation, keeping me from flash cards, late-night dessert treks, and new friends. I had started spending time with young women who proudly called themselves feminists and stretched my previous definition of the word. I started wondering why I had ever found the necklace he gave me, emblazoned with the word “princess,” to be sweet.

A couple of days after spelling out my name in the shop, a small velvet envelope arrived. I took off the old necklace, something I hadn’t done since he gave it to me, and excitedly placed my new one around my neck. Instead of someone else’s ill-fitting pet name, I was wearing my own. More than that, my Arabic name necklace was an outward sign of my accomplishments: the hundreds of hours learning Arabic, the nerve-wracking solo cab ride, the ever-present street harassment, and the wonder of Naguib Mahfouz’s books. I was working harder academically than I ever had in my life, not to mention constantly learning from everyone I met. This country had indelibly changed me, and it all sat there at my collarbone, in elegant, silver, Arabic script.

Back home, I wore my new necklace proudly. That did not go unnoticed.

There were questions and tears. It seems the symbolism of the two pieces of jewelry wasn’t lost on anyone. It didn’t help that I hid his necklace from myself out of sadness and couldn’t find it again until years later, well after our relationship was dead and buried. But it wouldn’t have mattered; I had changed.

My time in Egypt brought so much to my life: feminism, a love of the Middle East, dear friends, and a knowledge that not only can I do things that seem big and scary, but I thrive on them. I’ll never be certain why we broke up, but I know I couldn’t have become the person I am now while remaining his girlfriend. I needed years to myself, without any guilt or judgment about my travels and personal politics, two of my strongest and most intertwined traits. I needed room to grow, to see where the world would take me if I didn’t need anyone else and no one else needed me. I needed to be a woman of my own making, not someone else’s vision of me, not an asterisked version of myself that was only acceptable with caveats and conditions. I needed to be able to pick up and go, over and over again, and not be seen as disloyal for doing so.

One day, the necklace slipped off at a friend’s backyard barbecue, never to be seen again. I miss it like I miss so much about Egypt, from koshery and nutty actions movies to hijabi fashion and Al Azhar Park. But I take comfort in the fact that I don’t need the necklace like I once did. By the time I lost the necklace, it had served its purpose. I was out of that relationship and had travelled to many countries, but most importantly, I had been brave enough to choose myself, and the life I wanted to lead. I knew my choices were not dalliances but a path. I had chosen a life driven by adventure and ideals, one where my brain and my bravado are my most prized possessions. Someday, there may be another man who wants to rename me and keep me close by his side. I’d like to see him try.

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A safe itinerary to exciting success in Nigeria
He possessed an intrepid physique, radiant cheeks, hair still remain dark, and a gritty skin. He wore a hat strolling around the backyard, and a tattered blue army overcoat when it was cold, and sometimes top-boots. He walks round the house and an earsplitting yell was heard from the backyard, before he could be rushed to the hospital, he gave up the ghost.

What a pity! There is no one death cannot eliminate as death claim the life of my father after being battled by the debilitating disease of cancer.
One morning after the corpse was interred; the family members sideline my mother from other important discussion concerning the properties of the deceased. She stood upon her gallery with arms akimbo, shedding tears, so unexpected and bewildering was the death of her husband. The next decision of the family member was that the children of the deceased would be taken care of by the family members but my mother disagreed.

Few days to that time, I was kidnapped by unknown abductors alongside my mother and my younger ones into the narrow strip of shade on the porch of the long, low house; the hot sunlight was beating in on the brown old boards as an unpleasant odour filled the atmosphere, and a terrific sound was coming across the non-flowering cotton-field. The kidnappers were sent by the family member who wanted to confiscate the hard earned properties of the deceased from his immediate family.

Few minute to our execution by the kidnappers, a serene was heard within that abode alarmed by the Nigeria Police who were on duty when they notice some suspicious movement and sound in that environment. They thwarted the kidnappers from achieving their goal as they all fled away from being arrested and we were all unfettered from their captivity.

After two days of staying at the police station for security reasons, an officer lent my mother a piece of advice and that leads to our itinerary to Lagos state so that we can gain the freedom from our nemesis.

In the struggle of being totally independence, my mother seeks for employment opportunity for various months under the administration of the rickety Nigeria government before she later started with a petty trade. My mother also clamour that I should be independent by now as she inculcated that I must learn a vocation and must also provide and feed myself. This was initially difficult for me and I had persistent fight with her. I begin to hate her the more, my emotion begins to suffer depression, and my life now lacks the nutrient of joy and happiness. Drastically, I am becoming more irrelevant to the community as I use obsolete phone, I have accrued debt and I can’t avoid eating three meals a day because I have fallen into the abysmal of excruciating pestilence of poverty.

At a conference which I reluctantly attended transformed my life, I was inspired to take responsibility. Consequently, I searched for job in consensus to the inspiring testimonies heard at the conference that “before you can become successful, you would need to move out of your environment”. This emanates how I became a driver as I virtually travel and tour the whole Nigeria and Ghana while doing a job of a driver.

After about 15hours on road from Nigeria due to various barricades by the security personnel and also the vehicle engine problem which hiatus our journey. The red sunset and the blue-gray twilight had together flung a purple mist across the road that hid it from our view. We could no longer hear the wheezing and creaking of wheels but could still faintly hear the shrill, glad voices of the children in the passing vehicles. Finally, we reach Ghana and I got employed by the benevolent business woman called Miss Calister to whom I return the wallet she forgot in my bus some weeks ago.
I seated myself beside the table as I glance through the room, into which the evening shadows were creeping and deepening around my solitary figure, happy that I bounced back to a life of debt free, joy and happiness and I regain my freedom from the bumpy hands of poverty and sadness. This is the chronicle of my itinerary to success.

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Gulin china5 Places worth a visit in Guilin, China

Anyone who’s ever read a Chinese textbook can attest that these textbooks glorify Guilin. Not only that, politicians also sing praises to this city’s natural endowments and often entertain visiting dignitaries in this resort town. During my last visit to Guilin, I was adamant to find out in less than a week if Guilin and its surrounding areas do indeed live up to its reputation. Here are the top five sights I saw and love to reminisce about.

1. Reed flute cave

I spent a good hour here oohing and ahhing at the sight of the abundant stalactites and rock formations, which were illuminated by multi-colored lighting. This lighting enhanced the otherworldly atmosphere contained therein. It was like stumbling into a fairy’s den, another world you’ll normally associate with a fictional novel. The highlight was the laser light musical show at the end of the cave, which gave me chills. With the help of the guide, I could easily visualize animals, cities, and plants among the rock formations.

2. Fubo hill

This attraction made me withstand an intense cardio exercise as I climbed the steps leading up to the lookout point on top that showed a bird’s eye view of the city. You could see panoramic views of the Li River and the developing city’s natural beauty from high above.

3. Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces

Hours away from Guilin, I found myself gaping at the brilliant spectacle of the verdant green man-made terraces carved as far as the eye could see. I could tell from the wide expanse of the terraces that this is the culmination of the Zhuang people’s strenuous efforts and ingeniousness. I rode a cable car to get to the top where I could see just how high and extensive the work done must have been to transform the vast region into layer upon layer of rice terraces. It was a picturesque sight to behold and I could imagine how its beauty changes into golden hues for autumn, crisp white in winter and bright green for summer to keep onlookers wanting to come back again.

4. The Long Hair Village

The moment I stumbled upon the Long Hair Village, the Guinness world book record holder for the “world’s longest hair village”, I was intrigued. I was bewildered that such a place even exists! I discovered with my own eyes that the village is beautiful with its rustic charm and truly, its residents does indeed live up to their village name. The Yao ethnic women who reside there were the embodiment of brunette Rapunzels. They dress in unique and colorful traditional clothing and performed by singing and dancing. It was amusing to watch as they invited male guests to participate in a mock wedding ceremony as done in their village. You may ask: how do they keep their hair jet-black even when they’re old and wrinkled? They do so by washing their hair with fermented rice water! Nature truly works wonders.

5. Li River cruise

As featured on the 20 yuan note, you can see the lush landscape looking reminiscent of Ha Long Bay at every twist and turn on this relaxing cruise. I saw fishermen, some with tourists, on their bamboo rafts sailing through the calm water. After a few hours, the cruise stops at Yangshuo, a small town where you can easily find food or bargain with small shops selling pearl, jade, Chinese paintings and more.

After being left breathless by these five stand-out sights, I was rest assured that Guilin and its surrounding areas are indeed worth a visit and are definitely worthy of its accolades.

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colombiaLiving Life to its fullest in England

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted a poem by Pablo Neruda entitled “You start dying slowly.” It resonated with me, and expressed the way that I was feeling 3 years ago, before my life took a detour from its original trajectory. There are not many things in this world that I am afraid of, but dying without fully experiencing life is one of my greatest fears.

“You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking every day on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine.”

Freedom and fulfillment of dreams are central to the North American ideal, but many of us don’t feel free. Instead, we feel enslaved to our jobs and our lifestyles like we are just part of the rat race, mechanically putting one foot in front of the other. It wasn’t long ago that I felt trapped in my life, like I was living in auto-pilot, moving through each day without anything special and feeling unsatisfied. I was in my fifth year as a junior high/middle-school science teacher in my hometown, and although I loved my job and my students, I felt stuck. Everyone else seemed to be moving forward, finding love, settling down, and having families. Yet here I was, doing the “same old things”; I was not content to “settle”. But what could I do?

“You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job,
[…] If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream […]
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.”

I have always had a love of traveling, since my first plane rides and car trips across Canada as a toddler to visit family. I was very fortunate to have the experience of doing a semester abroad in university, and it lit the fire to try life in another country. When I finished university, I dreamed of teaching overseas. The more unsatisfied I felt with my life, the more my desire to teach abroad increased. I made the decision to move overseas, and after being denied a leave of absence, I resigned from my position, packed up my life and my house, and moved to England. By moving abroad, I was forcing myself to meet new people, try new things and change my routines. There were many new things to experience and different customs to learn to try to fit into my new surroundings.

” You start dying slowly
If you do not travel,
If you do not listen to the sounds of life
If you do not appreciate your life […]
If you avoid to feel passion.”

I struggled when I first moved, and found that I still wasn’t as happy as I had hoped to be. I was forced to figure out my passions. I always knew that traveling was a passion of mine, but I was very fortunate to meet a group of diverse women who helped me rediscover another passion of mine, dance. One of my favourite things when I am visiting a different region, or country, is to learn about their food and about their culture, in particular, the way that music influences people and their outlooks on life. This was especially evident when I took my next leap to Colombia. One of the most diverse countries in South America, there are so many different cultures all blended into one, and it makes for an amazing and lively blend of music and movement. Nothing can make you happier than some cool Colombian beats!

Since traveling is my passion, I felt the most alive when I was able to get out of London and travel throughout Europe. I tried to figure out a way that I could experience that presence in my day to day life. One advantage of such a large city, is that it made exploring close to home quite easy. There are so many different parks, markets and sites to see, that most weekends, I would make an effort to immerse myself in my environment.

It actually took living in Colombia, in a city that lacked parks, for me to realize how important nature is to feeling free and satisfied with life. For those that may not have the ability to travel far from home, going to the local park, the mountains or the ocean is another great way to free yourselves from the stresses and confines of daily life. What I discovered from moving around the world, is that to feel free, you don’t have to go far. By paying attention to your surroundings, and surrounding yourself with nature, you too can feel free.

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

thailand-scheduleThere Is No Crammed Schedule in Thailand

Erin and I took a giant leap of adventure when we sold all our belongings in the USA and booked a one way ticket to Bangkok, Thailand. No itinerary. No plans. It was time to shake life up and discover more of ourselves. We were all too familiar with the 9-5 grind and were ready for something completely different. It does not take long on the backpacking trail to learn a few things about self and about life.

It is difficult to make and keep travel plans out in this world experiencing pure freedom. Where the wind blows and you follow along with the stranger met last night. A few buckets and a few beers and next thing you know we were on our way from Bangkok to Surat Thani with a brand new friend Dave, who happened to be approaching 60 years old, but knew a thing or two about travel.

We sat on the floor near the KFC in the brightly lit open air train station. Where the locals chipper away with their Thai accents and the smell of all sorts of food fill the air. Quite a strange aroma of fried chicken and Pad Thai, especially for the just arrived tourists we were. After two hours on the very hard train station floor I thought to myself, “I haven’t heard an announcement for our train and it is past departure time.” I walk up to the ticket window with Dave and learn the train was gone. We missed it!

Now that was a hard pill to swallow at that time. Missed the train, “Oh no,” we thought, “what are we going to do now!?” At the ticket counter, the lady next to me says, “That’s traveling. Just let it go. You’ll get there fine.” My worrying mind was wound so tight from the life I left behind that I could not comprehend the ease with which she said let it go. No other choice but to buy another ticket and sit next to the ladies chomping on their bags of rice and hang out longer.

We caught the next train and arrived at our destination just fine. The first step in unwinding that anxious little brain was to acknowledge that while on travel things do not always go as planned. Take a deep breath and carry on.

Dave learned that lesson as well when he stepped in the ocean off balance and messed up his knee in Koh Samui three days later. It ended his trip completely and he had to fly back to San Francisco. Bummer to lose Dave but another sign that you must go with flow, appreciate the opportunity at hand, and do not take for granted the wonder of the wide open world.

Erin and I ended up on the island of Koh Phangan a few days after losing Dave and we arrived the same day as the Half Moon jungle party. Let’s see what this party island is all about!

A buzz of energy was in the air as we arrived to the hostel. “Free shots!” proclaimed the staff. Body paint, alcohol, and good times got us started. We caught a tuk-tuk and hung on tight up the winding jungle road to our destination. Twelve of us on one ride had me hanging teetering on the side as the driver moved seamlessly through town and up toward a night to remember.

Dropped off in the jungle I begin to see the bright lights and hear the sound of the electronic music. Now here is a scene we were familiar with back home. Witnessing the grand stage production with a DJ booth and the amazing colors streaming out from the LED visual panel above the booth we found our place for the evening. Wandering around near the brightly lit tree in the middle of the dance floor it was possible to sit, reflect on the journey thus far, and smile from within. This is why we came across the world, to find our true freedom away from the hustle and grind back home and meet all these amazing souls from many different walks of life. Take the journey in stride and realize that there is no schedule here, only great memories to be made and life to be lived.

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

kenyaCertain Freedom On The Edge in Kenya

I had travelled very little in life, almost all of it within the geographical borders of New York State and most of that between the rounded mountains of the Catskills, the tumble of the Adirondacks, and the rocky Eastern shores of Lake Ontario. The world is a comfortable, dependable, predictable place when it amounts to roughly 150 miles by 150 miles. It also becomes routine, dull, and even a little oppressive. Still and all, it was MY world and what I knew.

You might think that such a small, intimate world would be accustomed to many of those born and raised there taking their leave, escaping into the wider world all around. To be sure, that occurred, enough to not be unusual, but not enough to be common. So, when the opportunity to leave New York and live in Kenya presented itself, pursuing that opportunity became a rich source of unsolicited advice, unsought opinion, and even outright discouragement.

I had wanted to explore the wider world beyond Upstate New York for some time, but did not have a good idea of how to do so. No one in my family or group of friends had travelled much, if at all. One uncle who had travelled extensively had done so by making a career with US Air Force. Joining “the Service” did not appeal to me, much to my uncle’s and father’s dismay. But, in a tangential twist of reasoning, the concept of esprit de corps Dad continually espoused bloomed into the idea of serving in the US Peace Corps.

You can imagine the usual paperwork, interviews, and bureaucratic back-and-forth that took place over the course of six months. Eventually, I was assigned to be a high school teacher in Western Kenya; specifically, the tiny hamlet of Kipsoen clinging 1,000 meters atop the escarpment, above the floor of the Great Rift Valley. The edge of the world.

Everything I had been sure – and assured – of: the world I knew and the person I was certain of, quickly melted away under the equatorial sun of the African plains.

The landscape: Isak Dinesen describes it as, “the views were immensely wide — everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility.” (Out of Africa, 1937). The culture and the people: time and interactions had an easy, open, welcoming quality. Telling time was upended: What was 7:00AM on a clock in New York, was read as “sah moja” (the first hour, or 1:00AM) in KiSwahili, the national language of Kenya. The attitude toward Life: “Hakuna Matata” (there are no problems), as Pumbaa and Timon sang in Disney’s The Lion King, is an actual truth in traditional Kenyan thinking. In short, travelling halfway around the world took me worlds away from what I’d learned and from where I’d come.

Going all that distance and in the melting away, the removal, of all the fixtures and accoutrements of growing up in my old world, there was space for new outlooks, attitudes, and growth. It wasn’t a smooth, quick, easy, nor always a conscious process. Among some of the oldest peoples on the planet, on the oldest continent, I found a new start.

That is where I found my freedom.

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munichWalking on the Winter Streets in Munich, Germany

Bavaria in the winter is a different proposition from Bavaria in the summer. Perhaps if one skies, a winter in Bavaria might seem like heaven with mountain slopes. I emphatically don’t ski. Nor do I like beer. Thus Munich would seem like an odd choice.

I stayed in Munich for three months with my aunt. Four years ago she moved here for work, and found a comfortable apartment with an extra bedroom. Every member of my extended family has, at least once, come here to stay with her and take short trips elsewhere in Europe once the jet lag has worn off. I’m the last one to make the journey.

As for myself, this is not particularly a vacation. More like a figure-out-what-the-hell-I’m-doing-with-my-life sabbatical of frustration from what I’m used to in Colorado. Also a somewhat desperate bid to step up my photography with inspiration from new places.

It’s early on a Sunday, and despite the temperatures and the fact that the winter sun hasn’t managed to filter much through a blanket of cloud cover, we layer up in warm gear, pulling on knit hats over our bed-messy hair to go for a walk, camera as ever glued to my side.

It’s cold in Munich on a winter morning, and often the wind makes it colder. The apartment is located on a Fahrradstrasse, meaning “bicycle street.” One has to watch out for the bikes more than the cars. The canal we cross is lined with tall trees that are still incongruously sheathed in thick green ivy leaves. The tops of the trees are bare twigs, but no one seems to have told the ivy that it’s cold.

We crunch our way down narrow sidewalks covered in gravel, the German answer to ice-melt. The apartment buildings each have small yards for the ground-floor flats, and most balconies sport what will be greenery in a few months. Some even have tiny pines or spruce, which are decked out festively with Christmas lights during the holidays. Yet despite their similarities, none are quite the same. All have stucco exteriors, but in a surprising range of pastels. Each has its own architecture, some with decorative paintings or small inset statues.

There’s a bakery for every neighborhood, and an apoteke (pharmacy) on practically every street in Munich. The grocery store is never more than a couple of blocks’ walk. On any weekend morning you’ll find a queue outside the bakery, husbands whose wives sent them out on breakfast duty. It’s a different way of life than I’m used to, but I’ve grown to enjoy it.

It takes less than fifteen minutes of walking from the Fahrradstrasse to get to Nymphenburg Palace. The massive white exterior is impressive, but we pass by the huge staircase entrance and enter the gates that lead to the grounds. There are many paths to choose from, criss-crossing the wooded estate. Bird calls ring out unexpectedly, from the tiny blue tits to blackbirds, crows, and geese. Pillared bridges span the canals that divert water from the river to feed several fountains, still now for the winter.

Few people are out this early, so we have the quiet woods mostly to ourselves. As we crunch along, the church bells begin to toll, right on time.

It strikes me as a uniquely European experience to meander on forested paths, yet still hear perfectly tuned church bells sing out from the street that is in fact not too far away. We stop at one of our favorite trees which exudes an air of quiet wisdom, a huge and gnarled beech with bark like elephant skin, and listening to the church bells there feels as sacred as any experience I can remember having.

My time in Munich turned out to be not what I was expecting. But it was precisely what I needed. It was culture and nature all mixed up together; a new frame of reference and an opportunity to see a new way ahead. I knew that I wouldn’t be the same after this time spent traveling, and that is true. Photography became real for me, far more than a hobby. More importantly, I became bigger in Munich, with a wider world-view and deeper determination to live in a meaningful way.

Photo Credit: Dawn Myscofski

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Backpack & Bushes In Munich: The Freedom In Wandering

There I was, wandering the suburban streets of Munich with a poor sense of direction and the absence of mobile technology. That afternoon, I had stepped off of an airplane that had departed from the island of Majorca in the south of Spain. Majorca was warm, tropical, and evoked the inner island-ista in me and, therefore, I was sporting my thinnest tank top and beachy footwear. Although the time of year was early August, the weather in Münich resembled the brisk end of autumn.

Needless to say, I was cold, lost, and the sun was setting. I was on the hunt for the flat belonging to my Couchsurfing hosts, without a way of contacting them. All of the surrounding buildings were residential and very quiet. Any passerby was fair game when it came to directional questions, but I only crossed paths with two in my many hours of searching. The first person was Turkish and I, unfortunately, did not speak his language. I showed him my hand-written address and he pointed onward down the street; I kept walking.

This is the point where I should have broken down and cried. There was not one car or taxi to flag and deliver me to my destination. I was far from the nearest train station and low on cash. Instead of crying, however, I stayed calm. I had my backpack; everything I needed was on my person so spending a night in the bushes… was totally doable!

In that backpack I had multiple layers of clothing, a change of shoes, and probably something edible. My backpack was there for me. My backpack gave me the freedom to make a mistake like this and helped me recognize my privilege in possessing the items necessary for basic comforts. This realization showed me that once basic needs are met, less is more in travel.

The freer we want to become, the more we must leave behind. Before I could be a self-titled traveler, I had to look this realization square in the eyes because leaving behind the things that maintain comfort in order to travel is uncomfortable. I did not like getting dirty and staying dirty. I wanted my full size shampoo bottle. I needed silence and complete darkness in order to sleep through the night.

For me, it was a little grey backpack that challenged me to decide what was to be left behind in order to see what true freedom feels like. If it was travel that I wanted, I had to bridge the void between lux and living. I had to become okay with getting dirty, losing sleep, being uncomfortable for the sake of seeing the world with authenticity. When living life as a traveler, what is essential is what we choose to travel with us. The size of my backpack has taught me to choose wisely and intuitively.

This very backpack encourages me to not only open the door of my closet to get it out but doors all over the world. It has been there to support me through the wonderful and harried times of my adventures. My backpack was there for me when I hunted for my hostel on the winding streets of Barcelona. She has sat beside me and heard countless tales from strangers who have transformed into friends. And she has been there for the myriad of travel-mishaps that have left me questioning if I will be sleeping in the bushes for the evening.

The end of my Munich mishap goes like this: Lost in a dark courtyard, I spotted a man climbing his porch steps about to unlock his front door. Across the green space, I shouted for help as politely and nonthreatening as possible. He stopped and turned around seemingly jolly and ready to help. Thank God! I showed him the address and, in broken German-English, he described that I was on the side of the street with even-numbered addresses and I needed to be in the courtyard across the street with odd-numbered addresses. I was saved from a foliage-filled slumber!

Because everything I needed was on my back, a night in the shrubs was not only a possibility but also something I was prepared to experience. Of course, I know that I am more than my backpack and, even without it, I would have survived, but I have learned that living with less is actually living with enough. By setting off on an adventure with minimal essentials, I have been allowed to become myself again. Even though I found the flat in Munich that night, my backpack has given me the freedom and contentment in knowing that there really is not much I need to pack to have a proper adventure.

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Democracy, Freedom and Independence in Bratislava, Slovakia.

It is a holiday commemorating the 1945 uprising against Nazi occupation today. Devinska Nova Ves (DNV) is a large village about 16 km north of Bratislava. Its wide main street is lined with old houses, there is an enormous Volkswagen factory and a few tower blocks – nothing special really. But back in 2012 it came to the attention of the world’s press, even Reuters. It was all about a bridge.

DNV is on the Morava River- the border between Slovakia and Austria. In Cold War times this was a heavily militarized zone of barbed-wire fences and constant patrols by border guards. Many people died trying to run through the wire here. Inside the one km exclusion zone you could have been shot on sight. If they had tried swimming they would have had to deal with serious currents on both the Danube and Morava rivers. In 2012 a bridge was completed over the river at DNV to join the formerly impenetrable frontier. The Bratislava Regional Assembly set up a Facebook vote to name this historically significant link between the old communist block and Western Europe. The Regional Governor, Pavol Freso, affirmed that they would probably go with the people’s wishes. That is until the “Chuck Norris Bridge” polled more than 10 times as many votes as the Regional Assembly’s proposal, or indeed any other suggestions. Now Reuters started to take an interest. Chuck Norris was always a source of jokes concerning macho invincibility in Slovakia (Chuck Norris can delete the recycling bin…), but hardly a feasible choice for naming a bridge (no-one walks over Chuck Norris was later mentioned by the Assembly). But you can cross this historic bridge today. The floodplains beneath will be a Site of Special Scientific Interest, teeming with rare flora and fauna.

About two km South of DNV lies the village of Devin, where today there is a festival. If you bus out of Bratislava you may well sit next to a knight, complete with chain mail, sword and helmet on his mobile phone.

Devin Castle, first recorded in 864, lies atop a cliff overlooking the Danube. In the thirteenth century it was the frontier post of the Hungarian Empire. It featured on a coin and a note of the former currency in Cold War times – an important national symbol. Now it lies in ruins (thank Napoleon for that). At the castle are “medieval” tents with costumed people sitting around cooking over fires in iron pots. It has an authentic feel. All the men have long hair and one is undressing to his boxer shorts to put on his chain mail vest, boots, helmet and jacket.

We walk up to the ruins, where my four-year-old daughter, Mollie, is delighted to shout “bottom” down the 55 metre well and enjoy its echo. From up here you can see the Danube curving round to the Morava.

Terraced vineyards sweep down from Dacha’s (small wooden summer villas) on the mountain-top. One huge, elegant residence dominates all of these. I was told that this belongs to the Russian mafia. Down at the river you can throw a stone over into Austria which is why so many tried their luck here. If it wasn’t running through the militarized zone and barbed wire then trying to swim, it was (homemade) hang-gliders from the hilltops. Down by the confluence a serious ceremony is taking place. Over 400 people died between 1945 and 1989 attempting this: nearly one a month for 44 years from one small village on the Austrian border. Each name listed on the sculpture and explained in four languages. It read (verbatim):
“The Iron Curtain used to stand here. It cannot be pulled away. It can only be cracked. Four Hundred people sacrificed their life while fighting for their rights. Human beings, free and unrestricted do not forget that freedom of thinking, acting and dreaming is a value that is not only worth living but also bringing sacrifices.”

Judging by their ages, the attendees here could well have been the brothers or sisters, even parents of those desperado’s who died for freedom and independence. So there you have it: freedom and independence in one rather confusing package. Foul-mouthed four-year-olds, uprisings against Nazi occupation, modern ex-Iron Curtain members of the EEC co-existing with today’s Russian mafia, medieval knights, would-be escapees of communism and Chuck Norris. The Bratislava Regional Assembly, in their infinite wisdom actually rejected the 12,599 votes for the “Chuck Norris Bridge” in favour of the “Freedom Cycling Bridge” (457 votes), which is now its official name. However, thanks to Reuters, it is even today easily findable on Google under its more democratic name. If my daughter were able to understand this, I am absolutely sure that she would say, “But that’s bottom democracy, freedom and independence!”

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Forging my Inquisitive Name in Egypt

Standing in a shop in Cairo, I spelled out my name for the clerk, both in English and in Arabic. Should it end with an eliph or a taa marbuta? We went back and forth, settling on aliph, the first letter of the alphabet, and I handed over a not insignificant amount of Egyptian pounds.

I was in Egypt for six weeks studying Arabic and Middle Eastern politics, as part of one of my many minors. But really, I was there because the summer before I had stayed home in Massachusetts, working retail. I had watched as friends flooded facebook with photos from all over Egypt. I wanted to learn about the region, but I also wanted to go on an adventure, having conversations and experiences that would never happen back home. My parents had agreed, on the grounds that university staff would accompany us. My boyfriend would be waiting when I got back, in spite of how nervous I had been to even ask that question.

Six weeks seemed like a long time, but once I was abroad, it it didn’t take long for us both to chafe under the situation. He felt like I was always too busy, and was suspicious of the new friends I was making, especially the male ones. I felt like every call was either a fight or a one-sided conversation, keeping me from flash cards, late-night dessert treks, and new friends. I had started spending time with young women who proudly called themselves feminists and stretched my previous definition of the word. I started wondering why I had ever found the necklace he gave me, emblazoned with the word “princess,” to be sweet.

A couple of days after spelling out my name in the shop, a small velvet envelope arrived. I took off the old necklace, something I hadn’t done since he gave it to me, and excitedly placed my new one around my neck. Instead of someone else’s ill-fitting pet name, I was wearing my own. More than that, my Arabic name necklace was an outward sign of my accomplishments: the hundreds of hours learning Arabic, the nerve-wracking solo cab ride, the ever-present street harassment, and the wonder of Naguib Mahfouz’s books. I was working harder academically than I ever had in my life, not to mention constantly learning from everyone I met. This country had indelibly changed me, and it all sat there at my collarbone, in elegant, silver, Arabic script.

Back home, I wore my new necklace proudly. That did not go unnoticed.

There were questions and tears. It seems the symbolism of the two pieces of jewelry wasn’t lost on anyone. It didn’t help that I hid his necklace from myself out of sadness and couldn’t find it again until years later, well after our relationship was dead and buried. But it wouldn’t have mattered; I had changed.

My time in Egypt brought so much to my life: feminism, a love of the Middle East, dear friends, and a knowledge that not only can I do things that seem big and scary, but I thrive on them. I’ll never be certain why we broke up, but I know I couldn’t have become the person I am now while remaining his girlfriend. I needed years to myself, without any guilt or judgment about my travels and personal politics, two of my strongest and most intertwined traits. I needed room to grow, to see where the world would take me if I didn’t need anyone else and no one else needed me. I needed to be a woman of my own making, not someone else’s vision of me, not an asterisked version of myself that was only acceptable with caveats and conditions. I needed to be able to pick up and go, over and over again, and not be seen as disloyal for doing so.

One day, the necklace slipped off at a friend’s backyard barbecue, never to be seen again. I miss it like I miss so much about Egypt, from koshery and nutty actions movies to hijabi fashion and Al Azhar Park. But I take comfort in the fact that I don’t need the necklace like I once did. By the time I lost the necklace, it had served its purpose. I was out of that relationship and had travelled to many countries, but most importantly, I had been brave enough to choose myself, and the life I wanted to lead. I knew my choices were not dalliances but a path. I had chosen a life driven by adventure and ideals, one where my brain and my bravado are my most prized possessions. Someday, there may be another man who wants to rename me and keep me close by his side. I’d like to see him try.

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A safe itinerary to exciting success in Nigeria
He possessed an intrepid physique, radiant cheeks, hair still remain dark, and a gritty skin. He wore a hat strolling around the backyard, and a tattered blue army overcoat when it was cold, and sometimes top-boots. He walks round the house and an earsplitting yell was heard from the backyard, before he could be rushed to the hospital, he gave up the ghost.

What a pity! There is no one death cannot eliminate as death claim the life of my father after being battled by the debilitating disease of cancer.
One morning after the corpse was interred; the family members sideline my mother from other important discussion concerning the properties of the deceased. She stood upon her gallery with arms akimbo, shedding tears, so unexpected and bewildering was the death of her husband. The next decision of the family member was that the children of the deceased would be taken care of by the family members but my mother disagreed.

Few days to that time, I was kidnapped by unknown abductors alongside my mother and my younger ones into the narrow strip of shade on the porch of the long, low house; the hot sunlight was beating in on the brown old boards as an unpleasant odour filled the atmosphere, and a terrific sound was coming across the non-flowering cotton-field. The kidnappers were sent by the family member who wanted to confiscate the hard earned properties of the deceased from his immediate family.

Few minute to our execution by the kidnappers, a serene was heard within that abode alarmed by the Nigeria Police who were on duty when they notice some suspicious movement and sound in that environment. They thwarted the kidnappers from achieving their goal as they all fled away from being arrested and we were all unfettered from their captivity.

After two days of staying at the police station for security reasons, an officer lent my mother a piece of advice and that leads to our itinerary to Lagos state so that we can gain the freedom from our nemesis.

In the struggle of being totally independence, my mother seeks for employment opportunity for various months under the administration of the rickety Nigeria government before she later started with a petty trade. My mother also clamour that I should be independent by now as she inculcated that I must learn a vocation and must also provide and feed myself. This was initially difficult for me and I had persistent fight with her. I begin to hate her the more, my emotion begins to suffer depression, and my life now lacks the nutrient of joy and happiness. Drastically, I am becoming more irrelevant to the community as I use obsolete phone, I have accrued debt and I can’t avoid eating three meals a day because I have fallen into the abysmal of excruciating pestilence of poverty.

At a conference which I reluctantly attended transformed my life, I was inspired to take responsibility. Consequently, I searched for job in consensus to the inspiring testimonies heard at the conference that “before you can become successful, you would need to move out of your environment”. This emanates how I became a driver as I virtually travel and tour the whole Nigeria and Ghana while doing a job of a driver.

After about 15hours on road from Nigeria due to various barricades by the security personnel and also the vehicle engine problem which hiatus our journey. The red sunset and the blue-gray twilight had together flung a purple mist across the road that hid it from our view. We could no longer hear the wheezing and creaking of wheels but could still faintly hear the shrill, glad voices of the children in the passing vehicles. Finally, we reach Ghana and I got employed by the benevolent business woman called Miss Calister to whom I return the wallet she forgot in my bus some weeks ago.
I seated myself beside the table as I glance through the room, into which the evening shadows were creeping and deepening around my solitary figure, happy that I bounced back to a life of debt free, joy and happiness and I regain my freedom from the bumpy hands of poverty and sadness. This is the chronicle of my itinerary to success.

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Gulin china5 Places worth a visit in Guilin, China

Anyone who’s ever read a Chinese textbook can attest that these textbooks glorify Guilin. Not only that, politicians also sing praises to this city’s natural endowments and often entertain visiting dignitaries in this resort town. During my last visit to Guilin, I was adamant to find out in less than a week if Guilin and its surrounding areas do indeed live up to its reputation. Here are the top five sights I saw and love to reminisce about.

1. Reed flute cave

I spent a good hour here oohing and ahhing at the sight of the abundant stalactites and rock formations, which were illuminated by multi-colored lighting. This lighting enhanced the otherworldly atmosphere contained therein. It was like stumbling into a fairy’s den, another world you’ll normally associate with a fictional novel. The highlight was the laser light musical show at the end of the cave, which gave me chills. With the help of the guide, I could easily visualize animals, cities, and plants among the rock formations.

2. Fubo hill

This attraction made me withstand an intense cardio exercise as I climbed the steps leading up to the lookout point on top that showed a bird’s eye view of the city. You could see panoramic views of the Li River and the developing city’s natural beauty from high above.

3. Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces

Hours away from Guilin, I found myself gaping at the brilliant spectacle of the verdant green man-made terraces carved as far as the eye could see. I could tell from the wide expanse of the terraces that this is the culmination of the Zhuang people’s strenuous efforts and ingeniousness. I rode a cable car to get to the top where I could see just how high and extensive the work done must have been to transform the vast region into layer upon layer of rice terraces. It was a picturesque sight to behold and I could imagine how its beauty changes into golden hues for autumn, crisp white in winter and bright green for summer to keep onlookers wanting to come back again.

4. The Long Hair Village

The moment I stumbled upon the Long Hair Village, the Guinness world book record holder for the “world’s longest hair village”, I was intrigued. I was bewildered that such a place even exists! I discovered with my own eyes that the village is beautiful with its rustic charm and truly, its residents does indeed live up to their village name. The Yao ethnic women who reside there were the embodiment of brunette Rapunzels. They dress in unique and colorful traditional clothing and performed by singing and dancing. It was amusing to watch as they invited male guests to participate in a mock wedding ceremony as done in their village. You may ask: how do they keep their hair jet-black even when they’re old and wrinkled? They do so by washing their hair with fermented rice water! Nature truly works wonders.

5. Li River cruise

As featured on the 20 yuan note, you can see the lush landscape looking reminiscent of Ha Long Bay at every twist and turn on this relaxing cruise. I saw fishermen, some with tourists, on their bamboo rafts sailing through the calm water. After a few hours, the cruise stops at Yangshuo, a small town where you can easily find food or bargain with small shops selling pearl, jade, Chinese paintings and more.

After being left breathless by these five stand-out sights, I was rest assured that Guilin and its surrounding areas are indeed worth a visit and are definitely worthy of its accolades.

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

colombiaLiving Life to its fullest in England

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted a poem by Pablo Neruda entitled “You start dying slowly.” It resonated with me, and expressed the way that I was feeling 3 years ago, before my life took a detour from its original trajectory. There are not many things in this world that I am afraid of, but dying without fully experiencing life is one of my greatest fears.

“You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking every day on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine.”

Freedom and fulfillment of dreams are central to the North American ideal, but many of us don’t feel free. Instead, we feel enslaved to our jobs and our lifestyles like we are just part of the rat race, mechanically putting one foot in front of the other. It wasn’t long ago that I felt trapped in my life, like I was living in auto-pilot, moving through each day without anything special and feeling unsatisfied. I was in my fifth year as a junior high/middle-school science teacher in my hometown, and although I loved my job and my students, I felt stuck. Everyone else seemed to be moving forward, finding love, settling down, and having families. Yet here I was, doing the “same old things”; I was not content to “settle”. But what could I do?

“You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job,
[…] If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream […]
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.”

I have always had a love of traveling, since my first plane rides and car trips across Canada as a toddler to visit family. I was very fortunate to have the experience of doing a semester abroad in university, and it lit the fire to try life in another country. When I finished university, I dreamed of teaching overseas. The more unsatisfied I felt with my life, the more my desire to teach abroad increased. I made the decision to move overseas, and after being denied a leave of absence, I resigned from my position, packed up my life and my house, and moved to England. By moving abroad, I was forcing myself to meet new people, try new things and change my routines. There were many new things to experience and different customs to learn to try to fit into my new surroundings.

” You start dying slowly
If you do not travel,
If you do not listen to the sounds of life
If you do not appreciate your life […]
If you avoid to feel passion.”

I struggled when I first moved, and found that I still wasn’t as happy as I had hoped to be. I was forced to figure out my passions. I always knew that traveling was a passion of mine, but I was very fortunate to meet a group of diverse women who helped me rediscover another passion of mine, dance. One of my favourite things when I am visiting a different region, or country, is to learn about their food and about their culture, in particular, the way that music influences people and their outlooks on life. This was especially evident when I took my next leap to Colombia. One of the most diverse countries in South America, there are so many different cultures all blended into one, and it makes for an amazing and lively blend of music and movement. Nothing can make you happier than some cool Colombian beats!

Since traveling is my passion, I felt the most alive when I was able to get out of London and travel throughout Europe. I tried to figure out a way that I could experience that presence in my day to day life. One advantage of such a large city, is that it made exploring close to home quite easy. There are so many different parks, markets and sites to see, that most weekends, I would make an effort to immerse myself in my environment.

It actually took living in Colombia, in a city that lacked parks, for me to realize how important nature is to feeling free and satisfied with life. For those that may not have the ability to travel far from home, going to the local park, the mountains or the ocean is another great way to free yourselves from the stresses and confines of daily life. What I discovered from moving around the world, is that to feel free, you don’t have to go far. By paying attention to your surroundings, and surrounding yourself with nature, you too can feel free.

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

thailand-scheduleThere Is No Crammed Schedule in Thailand

Erin and I took a giant leap of adventure when we sold all our belongings in the USA and booked a one way ticket to Bangkok, Thailand. No itinerary. No plans. It was time to shake life up and discover more of ourselves. We were all too familiar with the 9-5 grind and were ready for something completely different. It does not take long on the backpacking trail to learn a few things about self and about life.

It is difficult to make and keep travel plans out in this world experiencing pure freedom. Where the wind blows and you follow along with the stranger met last night. A few buckets and a few beers and next thing you know we were on our way from Bangkok to Surat Thani with a brand new friend Dave, who happened to be approaching 60 years old, but knew a thing or two about travel.

We sat on the floor near the KFC in the brightly lit open air train station. Where the locals chipper away with their Thai accents and the smell of all sorts of food fill the air. Quite a strange aroma of fried chicken and Pad Thai, especially for the just arrived tourists we were. After two hours on the very hard train station floor I thought to myself, “I haven’t heard an announcement for our train and it is past departure time.” I walk up to the ticket window with Dave and learn the train was gone. We missed it!

Now that was a hard pill to swallow at that time. Missed the train, “Oh no,” we thought, “what are we going to do now!?” At the ticket counter, the lady next to me says, “That’s traveling. Just let it go. You’ll get there fine.” My worrying mind was wound so tight from the life I left behind that I could not comprehend the ease with which she said let it go. No other choice but to buy another ticket and sit next to the ladies chomping on their bags of rice and hang out longer.

We caught the next train and arrived at our destination just fine. The first step in unwinding that anxious little brain was to acknowledge that while on travel things do not always go as planned. Take a deep breath and carry on.

Dave learned that lesson as well when he stepped in the ocean off balance and messed up his knee in Koh Samui three days later. It ended his trip completely and he had to fly back to San Francisco. Bummer to lose Dave but another sign that you must go with flow, appreciate the opportunity at hand, and do not take for granted the wonder of the wide open world.

Erin and I ended up on the island of Koh Phangan a few days after losing Dave and we arrived the same day as the Half Moon jungle party. Let’s see what this party island is all about!

A buzz of energy was in the air as we arrived to the hostel. “Free shots!” proclaimed the staff. Body paint, alcohol, and good times got us started. We caught a tuk-tuk and hung on tight up the winding jungle road to our destination. Twelve of us on one ride had me hanging teetering on the side as the driver moved seamlessly through town and up toward a night to remember.

Dropped off in the jungle I begin to see the bright lights and hear the sound of the electronic music. Now here is a scene we were familiar with back home. Witnessing the grand stage production with a DJ booth and the amazing colors streaming out from the LED visual panel above the booth we found our place for the evening. Wandering around near the brightly lit tree in the middle of the dance floor it was possible to sit, reflect on the journey thus far, and smile from within. This is why we came across the world, to find our true freedom away from the hustle and grind back home and meet all these amazing souls from many different walks of life. Take the journey in stride and realize that there is no schedule here, only great memories to be made and life to be lived.

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

kenyaCertain Freedom On The Edge in Kenya

I had travelled very little in life, almost all of it within the geographical borders of New York State and most of that between the rounded mountains of the Catskills, the tumble of the Adirondacks, and the rocky Eastern shores of Lake Ontario. The world is a comfortable, dependable, predictable place when it amounts to roughly 150 miles by 150 miles. It also becomes routine, dull, and even a little oppressive. Still and all, it was MY world and what I knew.

You might think that such a small, intimate world would be accustomed to many of those born and raised there taking their leave, escaping into the wider world all around. To be sure, that occurred, enough to not be unusual, but not enough to be common. So, when the opportunity to leave New York and live in Kenya presented itself, pursuing that opportunity became a rich source of unsolicited advice, unsought opinion, and even outright discouragement.

I had wanted to explore the wider world beyond Upstate New York for some time, but did not have a good idea of how to do so. No one in my family or group of friends had travelled much, if at all. One uncle who had travelled extensively had done so by making a career with US Air Force. Joining “the Service” did not appeal to me, much to my uncle’s and father’s dismay. But, in a tangential twist of reasoning, the concept of esprit de corps Dad continually espoused bloomed into the idea of serving in the US Peace Corps.

You can imagine the usual paperwork, interviews, and bureaucratic back-and-forth that took place over the course of six months. Eventually, I was assigned to be a high school teacher in Western Kenya; specifically, the tiny hamlet of Kipsoen clinging 1,000 meters atop the escarpment, above the floor of the Great Rift Valley. The edge of the world.

Everything I had been sure – and assured – of: the world I knew and the person I was certain of, quickly melted away under the equatorial sun of the African plains.

The landscape: Isak Dinesen describes it as, “the views were immensely wide — everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility.” (Out of Africa, 1937). The culture and the people: time and interactions had an easy, open, welcoming quality. Telling time was upended: What was 7:00AM on a clock in New York, was read as “sah moja” (the first hour, or 1:00AM) in KiSwahili, the national language of Kenya. The attitude toward Life: “Hakuna Matata” (there are no problems), as Pumbaa and Timon sang in Disney’s The Lion King, is an actual truth in traditional Kenyan thinking. In short, travelling halfway around the world took me worlds away from what I’d learned and from where I’d come.

Going all that distance and in the melting away, the removal, of all the fixtures and accoutrements of growing up in my old world, there was space for new outlooks, attitudes, and growth. It wasn’t a smooth, quick, easy, nor always a conscious process. Among some of the oldest peoples on the planet, on the oldest continent, I found a new start.

That is where I found my freedom.

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munichWalking on the Winter Streets in Munich, Germany

Bavaria in the winter is a different proposition from Bavaria in the summer. Perhaps if one skies, a winter in Bavaria might seem like heaven with mountain slopes. I emphatically don’t ski. Nor do I like beer. Thus Munich would seem like an odd choice.

I stayed in Munich for three months with my aunt. Four years ago she moved here for work, and found a comfortable apartment with an extra bedroom. Every member of my extended family has, at least once, come here to stay with her and take short trips elsewhere in Europe once the jet lag has worn off. I’m the last one to make the journey.

As for myself, this is not particularly a vacation. More like a figure-out-what-the-hell-I’m-doing-with-my-life sabbatical of frustration from what I’m used to in Colorado. Also a somewhat desperate bid to step up my photography with inspiration from new places.

It’s early on a Sunday, and despite the temperatures and the fact that the winter sun hasn’t managed to filter much through a blanket of cloud cover, we layer up in warm gear, pulling on knit hats over our bed-messy hair to go for a walk, camera as ever glued to my side.

It’s cold in Munich on a winter morning, and often the wind makes it colder. The apartment is located on a Fahrradstrasse, meaning “bicycle street.” One has to watch out for the bikes more than the cars. The canal we cross is lined with tall trees that are still incongruously sheathed in thick green ivy leaves. The tops of the trees are bare twigs, but no one seems to have told the ivy that it’s cold.

We crunch our way down narrow sidewalks covered in gravel, the German answer to ice-melt. The apartment buildings each have small yards for the ground-floor flats, and most balconies sport what will be greenery in a few months. Some even have tiny pines or spruce, which are decked out festively with Christmas lights during the holidays. Yet despite their similarities, none are quite the same. All have stucco exteriors, but in a surprising range of pastels. Each has its own architecture, some with decorative paintings or small inset statues.

There’s a bakery for every neighborhood, and an apoteke (pharmacy) on practically every street in Munich. The grocery store is never more than a couple of blocks’ walk. On any weekend morning you’ll find a queue outside the bakery, husbands whose wives sent them out on breakfast duty. It’s a different way of life than I’m used to, but I’ve grown to enjoy it.

It takes less than fifteen minutes of walking from the Fahrradstrasse to get to Nymphenburg Palace. The massive white exterior is impressive, but we pass by the huge staircase entrance and enter the gates that lead to the grounds. There are many paths to choose from, criss-crossing the wooded estate. Bird calls ring out unexpectedly, from the tiny blue tits to blackbirds, crows, and geese. Pillared bridges span the canals that divert water from the river to feed several fountains, still now for the winter.

Few people are out this early, so we have the quiet woods mostly to ourselves. As we crunch along, the church bells begin to toll, right on time.

It strikes me as a uniquely European experience to meander on forested paths, yet still hear perfectly tuned church bells sing out from the street that is in fact not too far away. We stop at one of our favorite trees which exudes an air of quiet wisdom, a huge and gnarled beech with bark like elephant skin, and listening to the church bells there feels as sacred as any experience I can remember having.

My time in Munich turned out to be not what I was expecting. But it was precisely what I needed. It was culture and nature all mixed up together; a new frame of reference and an opportunity to see a new way ahead. I knew that I wouldn’t be the same after this time spent traveling, and that is true. Photography became real for me, far more than a hobby. More importantly, I became bigger in Munich, with a wider world-view and deeper determination to live in a meaningful way.

Photo Credit: Dawn Myscofski

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Backpack & Bushes In Munich: The Freedom In Wandering

There I was, wandering the suburban streets of Munich with a poor sense of direction and the absence of mobile technology. That afternoon, I had stepped off of an airplane that had departed from the island of Majorca in the south of Spain. Majorca was warm, tropical, and evoked the inner island-ista in me and, therefore, I was sporting my thinnest tank top and beachy footwear. Although the time of year was early August, the weather in Münich resembled the brisk end of autumn.

Needless to say, I was cold, lost, and the sun was setting. I was on the hunt for the flat belonging to my Couchsurfing hosts, without a way of contacting them. All of the surrounding buildings were residential and very quiet. Any passerby was fair game when it came to directional questions, but I only crossed paths with two in my many hours of searching. The first person was Turkish and I, unfortunately, did not speak his language. I showed him my hand-written address and he pointed onward down the street; I kept walking.

This is the point where I should have broken down and cried. There was not one car or taxi to flag and deliver me to my destination. I was far from the nearest train station and low on cash. Instead of crying, however, I stayed calm. I had my backpack; everything I needed was on my person so spending a night in the bushes… was totally doable!

In that backpack I had multiple layers of clothing, a change of shoes, and probably something edible. My backpack was there for me. My backpack gave me the freedom to make a mistake like this and helped me recognize my privilege in possessing the items necessary for basic comforts. This realization showed me that once basic needs are met, less is more in travel.

The freer we want to become, the more we must leave behind. Before I could be a self-titled traveler, I had to look this realization square in the eyes because leaving behind the things that maintain comfort in order to travel is uncomfortable. I did not like getting dirty and staying dirty. I wanted my full size shampoo bottle. I needed silence and complete darkness in order to sleep through the night.

For me, it was a little grey backpack that challenged me to decide what was to be left behind in order to see what true freedom feels like. If it was travel that I wanted, I had to bridge the void between lux and living. I had to become okay with getting dirty, losing sleep, being uncomfortable for the sake of seeing the world with authenticity. When living life as a traveler, what is essential is what we choose to travel with us. The size of my backpack has taught me to choose wisely and intuitively.

This very backpack encourages me to not only open the door of my closet to get it out but doors all over the world. It has been there to support me through the wonderful and harried times of my adventures. My backpack was there for me when I hunted for my hostel on the winding streets of Barcelona. She has sat beside me and heard countless tales from strangers who have transformed into friends. And she has been there for the myriad of travel-mishaps that have left me questioning if I will be sleeping in the bushes for the evening.

The end of my Munich mishap goes like this: Lost in a dark courtyard, I spotted a man climbing his porch steps about to unlock his front door. Across the green space, I shouted for help as politely and nonthreatening as possible. He stopped and turned around seemingly jolly and ready to help. Thank God! I showed him the address and, in broken German-English, he described that I was on the side of the street with even-numbered addresses and I needed to be in the courtyard across the street with odd-numbered addresses. I was saved from a foliage-filled slumber!

Because everything I needed was on my back, a night in the shrubs was not only a possibility but also something I was prepared to experience. Of course, I know that I am more than my backpack and, even without it, I would have survived, but I have learned that living with less is actually living with enough. By setting off on an adventure with minimal essentials, I have been allowed to become myself again. Even though I found the flat in Munich that night, my backpack has given me the freedom and contentment in knowing that there really is not much I need to pack to have a proper adventure.

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Democracy, Freedom and Independence in Bratislava, Slovakia.

It is a holiday commemorating the 1945 uprising against Nazi occupation today. Devinska Nova Ves (DNV) is a large village about 16 km north of Bratislava. Its wide main street is lined with old houses, there is an enormous Volkswagen factory and a few tower blocks – nothing special really. But back in 2012 it came to the attention of the world’s press, even Reuters. It was all about a bridge.

DNV is on the Morava River- the border between Slovakia and Austria. In Cold War times this was a heavily militarized zone of barbed-wire fences and constant patrols by border guards. Many people died trying to run through the wire here. Inside the one km exclusion zone you could have been shot on sight. If they had tried swimming they would have had to deal with serious currents on both the Danube and Morava rivers. In 2012 a bridge was completed over the river at DNV to join the formerly impenetrable frontier. The Bratislava Regional Assembly set up a Facebook vote to name this historically significant link between the old communist block and Western Europe. The Regional Governor, Pavol Freso, affirmed that they would probably go with the people’s wishes. That is until the “Chuck Norris Bridge” polled more than 10 times as many votes as the Regional Assembly’s proposal, or indeed any other suggestions. Now Reuters started to take an interest. Chuck Norris was always a source of jokes concerning macho invincibility in Slovakia (Chuck Norris can delete the recycling bin…), but hardly a feasible choice for naming a bridge (no-one walks over Chuck Norris was later mentioned by the Assembly). But you can cross this historic bridge today. The floodplains beneath will be a Site of Special Scientific Interest, teeming with rare flora and fauna.

About two km South of DNV lies the village of Devin, where today there is a festival. If you bus out of Bratislava you may well sit next to a knight, complete with chain mail, sword and helmet on his mobile phone.

Devin Castle, first recorded in 864, lies atop a cliff overlooking the Danube. In the thirteenth century it was the frontier post of the Hungarian Empire. It featured on a coin and a note of the former currency in Cold War times – an important national symbol. Now it lies in ruins (thank Napoleon for that). At the castle are “medieval” tents with costumed people sitting around cooking over fires in iron pots. It has an authentic feel. All the men have long hair and one is undressing to his boxer shorts to put on his chain mail vest, boots, helmet and jacket.

We walk up to the ruins, where my four-year-old daughter, Mollie, is delighted to shout “bottom” down the 55 metre well and enjoy its echo. From up here you can see the Danube curving round to the Morava.

Terraced vineyards sweep down from Dacha’s (small wooden summer villas) on the mountain-top. One huge, elegant residence dominates all of these. I was told that this belongs to the Russian mafia. Down at the river you can throw a stone over into Austria which is why so many tried their luck here. If it wasn’t running through the militarized zone and barbed wire then trying to swim, it was (homemade) hang-gliders from the hilltops. Down by the confluence a serious ceremony is taking place. Over 400 people died between 1945 and 1989 attempting this: nearly one a month for 44 years from one small village on the Austrian border. Each name listed on the sculpture and explained in four languages. It read (verbatim):
“The Iron Curtain used to stand here. It cannot be pulled away. It can only be cracked. Four Hundred people sacrificed their life while fighting for their rights. Human beings, free and unrestricted do not forget that freedom of thinking, acting and dreaming is a value that is not only worth living but also bringing sacrifices.”

Judging by their ages, the attendees here could well have been the brothers or sisters, even parents of those desperado’s who died for freedom and independence. So there you have it: freedom and independence in one rather confusing package. Foul-mouthed four-year-olds, uprisings against Nazi occupation, modern ex-Iron Curtain members of the EEC co-existing with today’s Russian mafia, medieval knights, would-be escapees of communism and Chuck Norris. The Bratislava Regional Assembly, in their infinite wisdom actually rejected the 12,599 votes for the “Chuck Norris Bridge” in favour of the “Freedom Cycling Bridge” (457 votes), which is now its official name. However, thanks to Reuters, it is even today easily findable on Google under its more democratic name. If my daughter were able to understand this, I am absolutely sure that she would say, “But that’s bottom democracy, freedom and independence!”

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Forging my Inquisitive Name in Egypt

Standing in a shop in Cairo, I spelled out my name for the clerk, both in English and in Arabic. Should it end with an eliph or a taa marbuta? We went back and forth, settling on aliph, the first letter of the alphabet, and I handed over a not insignificant amount of Egyptian pounds.

I was in Egypt for six weeks studying Arabic and Middle Eastern politics, as part of one of my many minors. But really, I was there because the summer before I had stayed home in Massachusetts, working retail. I had watched as friends flooded facebook with photos from all over Egypt. I wanted to learn about the region, but I also wanted to go on an adventure, having conversations and experiences that would never happen back home. My parents had agreed, on the grounds that university staff would accompany us. My boyfriend would be waiting when I got back, in spite of how nervous I had been to even ask that question.

Six weeks seemed like a long time, but once I was abroad, it it didn’t take long for us both to chafe under the situation. He felt like I was always too busy, and was suspicious of the new friends I was making, especially the male ones. I felt like every call was either a fight or a one-sided conversation, keeping me from flash cards, late-night dessert treks, and new friends. I had started spending time with young women who proudly called themselves feminists and stretched my previous definition of the word. I started wondering why I had ever found the necklace he gave me, emblazoned with the word “princess,” to be sweet.

A couple of days after spelling out my name in the shop, a small velvet envelope arrived. I took off the old necklace, something I hadn’t done since he gave it to me, and excitedly placed my new one around my neck. Instead of someone else’s ill-fitting pet name, I was wearing my own. More than that, my Arabic name necklace was an outward sign of my accomplishments: the hundreds of hours learning Arabic, the nerve-wracking solo cab ride, the ever-present street harassment, and the wonder of Naguib Mahfouz’s books. I was working harder academically than I ever had in my life, not to mention constantly learning from everyone I met. This country had indelibly changed me, and it all sat there at my collarbone, in elegant, silver, Arabic script.

Back home, I wore my new necklace proudly. That did not go unnoticed.

There were questions and tears. It seems the symbolism of the two pieces of jewelry wasn’t lost on anyone. It didn’t help that I hid his necklace from myself out of sadness and couldn’t find it again until years later, well after our relationship was dead and buried. But it wouldn’t have mattered; I had changed.

My time in Egypt brought so much to my life: feminism, a love of the Middle East, dear friends, and a knowledge that not only can I do things that seem big and scary, but I thrive on them. I’ll never be certain why we broke up, but I know I couldn’t have become the person I am now while remaining his girlfriend. I needed years to myself, without any guilt or judgment about my travels and personal politics, two of my strongest and most intertwined traits. I needed room to grow, to see where the world would take me if I didn’t need anyone else and no one else needed me. I needed to be a woman of my own making, not someone else’s vision of me, not an asterisked version of myself that was only acceptable with caveats and conditions. I needed to be able to pick up and go, over and over again, and not be seen as disloyal for doing so.

One day, the necklace slipped off at a friend’s backyard barbecue, never to be seen again. I miss it like I miss so much about Egypt, from koshery and nutty actions movies to hijabi fashion and Al Azhar Park. But I take comfort in the fact that I don’t need the necklace like I once did. By the time I lost the necklace, it had served its purpose. I was out of that relationship and had travelled to many countries, but most importantly, I had been brave enough to choose myself, and the life I wanted to lead. I knew my choices were not dalliances but a path. I had chosen a life driven by adventure and ideals, one where my brain and my bravado are my most prized possessions. Someday, there may be another man who wants to rename me and keep me close by his side. I’d like to see him try.

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

A safe itinerary to exciting success in Nigeria
He possessed an intrepid physique, radiant cheeks, hair still remain dark, and a gritty skin. He wore a hat strolling around the backyard, and a tattered blue army overcoat when it was cold, and sometimes top-boots. He walks round the house and an earsplitting yell was heard from the backyard, before he could be rushed to the hospital, he gave up the ghost.

What a pity! There is no one death cannot eliminate as death claim the life of my father after being battled by the debilitating disease of cancer.
One morning after the corpse was interred; the family members sideline my mother from other important discussion concerning the properties of the deceased. She stood upon her gallery with arms akimbo, shedding tears, so unexpected and bewildering was the death of her husband. The next decision of the family member was that the children of the deceased would be taken care of by the family members but my mother disagreed.

Few days to that time, I was kidnapped by unknown abductors alongside my mother and my younger ones into the narrow strip of shade on the porch of the long, low house; the hot sunlight was beating in on the brown old boards as an unpleasant odour filled the atmosphere, and a terrific sound was coming across the non-flowering cotton-field. The kidnappers were sent by the family member who wanted to confiscate the hard earned properties of the deceased from his immediate family.

Few minute to our execution by the kidnappers, a serene was heard within that abode alarmed by the Nigeria Police who were on duty when they notice some suspicious movement and sound in that environment. They thwarted the kidnappers from achieving their goal as they all fled away from being arrested and we were all unfettered from their captivity.

After two days of staying at the police station for security reasons, an officer lent my mother a piece of advice and that leads to our itinerary to Lagos state so that we can gain the freedom from our nemesis.

In the struggle of being totally independence, my mother seeks for employment opportunity for various months under the administration of the rickety Nigeria government before she later started with a petty trade. My mother also clamour that I should be independent by now as she inculcated that I must learn a vocation and must also provide and feed myself. This was initially difficult for me and I had persistent fight with her. I begin to hate her the more, my emotion begins to suffer depression, and my life now lacks the nutrient of joy and happiness. Drastically, I am becoming more irrelevant to the community as I use obsolete phone, I have accrued debt and I can’t avoid eating three meals a day because I have fallen into the abysmal of excruciating pestilence of poverty.

At a conference which I reluctantly attended transformed my life, I was inspired to take responsibility. Consequently, I searched for job in consensus to the inspiring testimonies heard at the conference that “before you can become successful, you would need to move out of your environment”. This emanates how I became a driver as I virtually travel and tour the whole Nigeria and Ghana while doing a job of a driver.

After about 15hours on road from Nigeria due to various barricades by the security personnel and also the vehicle engine problem which hiatus our journey. The red sunset and the blue-gray twilight had together flung a purple mist across the road that hid it from our view. We could no longer hear the wheezing and creaking of wheels but could still faintly hear the shrill, glad voices of the children in the passing vehicles. Finally, we reach Ghana and I got employed by the benevolent business woman called Miss Calister to whom I return the wallet she forgot in my bus some weeks ago.
I seated myself beside the table as I glance through the room, into which the evening shadows were creeping and deepening around my solitary figure, happy that I bounced back to a life of debt free, joy and happiness and I regain my freedom from the bumpy hands of poverty and sadness. This is the chronicle of my itinerary to success.

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Gulin china5 Places worth a visit in Guilin, China

Anyone who’s ever read a Chinese textbook can attest that these textbooks glorify Guilin. Not only that, politicians also sing praises to this city’s natural endowments and often entertain visiting dignitaries in this resort town. During my last visit to Guilin, I was adamant to find out in less than a week if Guilin and its surrounding areas do indeed live up to its reputation. Here are the top five sights I saw and love to reminisce about.

1. Reed flute cave

I spent a good hour here oohing and ahhing at the sight of the abundant stalactites and rock formations, which were illuminated by multi-colored lighting. This lighting enhanced the otherworldly atmosphere contained therein. It was like stumbling into a fairy’s den, another world you’ll normally associate with a fictional novel. The highlight was the laser light musical show at the end of the cave, which gave me chills. With the help of the guide, I could easily visualize animals, cities, and plants among the rock formations.

2. Fubo hill

This attraction made me withstand an intense cardio exercise as I climbed the steps leading up to the lookout point on top that showed a bird’s eye view of the city. You could see panoramic views of the Li River and the developing city’s natural beauty from high above.

3. Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces

Hours away from Guilin, I found myself gaping at the brilliant spectacle of the verdant green man-made terraces carved as far as the eye could see. I could tell from the wide expanse of the terraces that this is the culmination of the Zhuang people’s strenuous efforts and ingeniousness. I rode a cable car to get to the top where I could see just how high and extensive the work done must have been to transform the vast region into layer upon layer of rice terraces. It was a picturesque sight to behold and I could imagine how its beauty changes into golden hues for autumn, crisp white in winter and bright green for summer to keep onlookers wanting to come back again.

4. The Long Hair Village

The moment I stumbled upon the Long Hair Village, the Guinness world book record holder for the “world’s longest hair village”, I was intrigued. I was bewildered that such a place even exists! I discovered with my own eyes that the village is beautiful with its rustic charm and truly, its residents does indeed live up to their village name. The Yao ethnic women who reside there were the embodiment of brunette Rapunzels. They dress in unique and colorful traditional clothing and performed by singing and dancing. It was amusing to watch as they invited male guests to participate in a mock wedding ceremony as done in their village. You may ask: how do they keep their hair jet-black even when they’re old and wrinkled? They do so by washing their hair with fermented rice water! Nature truly works wonders.

5. Li River cruise

As featured on the 20 yuan note, you can see the lush landscape looking reminiscent of Ha Long Bay at every twist and turn on this relaxing cruise. I saw fishermen, some with tourists, on their bamboo rafts sailing through the calm water. After a few hours, the cruise stops at Yangshuo, a small town where you can easily find food or bargain with small shops selling pearl, jade, Chinese paintings and more.

After being left breathless by these five stand-out sights, I was rest assured that Guilin and its surrounding areas are indeed worth a visit and are definitely worthy of its accolades.

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

colombiaLiving Life to its fullest in England

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted a poem by Pablo Neruda entitled “You start dying slowly.” It resonated with me, and expressed the way that I was feeling 3 years ago, before my life took a detour from its original trajectory. There are not many things in this world that I am afraid of, but dying without fully experiencing life is one of my greatest fears.

“You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking every day on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine.”

Freedom and fulfillment of dreams are central to the North American ideal, but many of us don’t feel free. Instead, we feel enslaved to our jobs and our lifestyles like we are just part of the rat race, mechanically putting one foot in front of the other. It wasn’t long ago that I felt trapped in my life, like I was living in auto-pilot, moving through each day without anything special and feeling unsatisfied. I was in my fifth year as a junior high/middle-school science teacher in my hometown, and although I loved my job and my students, I felt stuck. Everyone else seemed to be moving forward, finding love, settling down, and having families. Yet here I was, doing the “same old things”; I was not content to “settle”. But what could I do?

“You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job,
[…] If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream […]
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.”

I have always had a love of traveling, since my first plane rides and car trips across Canada as a toddler to visit family. I was very fortunate to have the experience of doing a semester abroad in university, and it lit the fire to try life in another country. When I finished university, I dreamed of teaching overseas. The more unsatisfied I felt with my life, the more my desire to teach abroad increased. I made the decision to move overseas, and after being denied a leave of absence, I resigned from my position, packed up my life and my house, and moved to England. By moving abroad, I was forcing myself to meet new people, try new things and change my routines. There were many new things to experience and different customs to learn to try to fit into my new surroundings.

” You start dying slowly
If you do not travel,
If you do not listen to the sounds of life
If you do not appreciate your life […]
If you avoid to feel passion.”

I struggled when I first moved, and found that I still wasn’t as happy as I had hoped to be. I was forced to figure out my passions. I always knew that traveling was a passion of mine, but I was very fortunate to meet a group of diverse women who helped me rediscover another passion of mine, dance. One of my favourite things when I am visiting a different region, or country, is to learn about their food and about their culture, in particular, the way that music influences people and their outlooks on life. This was especially evident when I took my next leap to Colombia. One of the most diverse countries in South America, there are so many different cultures all blended into one, and it makes for an amazing and lively blend of music and movement. Nothing can make you happier than some cool Colombian beats!

Since traveling is my passion, I felt the most alive when I was able to get out of London and travel throughout Europe. I tried to figure out a way that I could experience that presence in my day to day life. One advantage of such a large city, is that it made exploring close to home quite easy. There are so many different parks, markets and sites to see, that most weekends, I would make an effort to immerse myself in my environment.

It actually took living in Colombia, in a city that lacked parks, for me to realize how important nature is to feeling free and satisfied with life. For those that may not have the ability to travel far from home, going to the local park, the mountains or the ocean is another great way to free yourselves from the stresses and confines of daily life. What I discovered from moving around the world, is that to feel free, you don’t have to go far. By paying attention to your surroundings, and surrounding yourself with nature, you too can feel free.

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

thailand-scheduleThere Is No Crammed Schedule in Thailand

Erin and I took a giant leap of adventure when we sold all our belongings in the USA and booked a one way ticket to Bangkok, Thailand. No itinerary. No plans. It was time to shake life up and discover more of ourselves. We were all too familiar with the 9-5 grind and were ready for something completely different. It does not take long on the backpacking trail to learn a few things about self and about life.

It is difficult to make and keep travel plans out in this world experiencing pure freedom. Where the wind blows and you follow along with the stranger met last night. A few buckets and a few beers and next thing you know we were on our way from Bangkok to Surat Thani with a brand new friend Dave, who happened to be approaching 60 years old, but knew a thing or two about travel.

We sat on the floor near the KFC in the brightly lit open air train station. Where the locals chipper away with their Thai accents and the smell of all sorts of food fill the air. Quite a strange aroma of fried chicken and Pad Thai, especially for the just arrived tourists we were. After two hours on the very hard train station floor I thought to myself, “I haven’t heard an announcement for our train and it is past departure time.” I walk up to the ticket window with Dave and learn the train was gone. We missed it!

Now that was a hard pill to swallow at that time. Missed the train, “Oh no,” we thought, “what are we going to do now!?” At the ticket counter, the lady next to me says, “That’s traveling. Just let it go. You’ll get there fine.” My worrying mind was wound so tight from the life I left behind that I could not comprehend the ease with which she said let it go. No other choice but to buy another ticket and sit next to the ladies chomping on their bags of rice and hang out longer.

We caught the next train and arrived at our destination just fine. The first step in unwinding that anxious little brain was to acknowledge that while on travel things do not always go as planned. Take a deep breath and carry on.

Dave learned that lesson as well when he stepped in the ocean off balance and messed up his knee in Koh Samui three days later. It ended his trip completely and he had to fly back to San Francisco. Bummer to lose Dave but another sign that you must go with flow, appreciate the opportunity at hand, and do not take for granted the wonder of the wide open world.

Erin and I ended up on the island of Koh Phangan a few days after losing Dave and we arrived the same day as the Half Moon jungle party. Let’s see what this party island is all about!

A buzz of energy was in the air as we arrived to the hostel. “Free shots!” proclaimed the staff. Body paint, alcohol, and good times got us started. We caught a tuk-tuk and hung on tight up the winding jungle road to our destination. Twelve of us on one ride had me hanging teetering on the side as the driver moved seamlessly through town and up toward a night to remember.

Dropped off in the jungle I begin to see the bright lights and hear the sound of the electronic music. Now here is a scene we were familiar with back home. Witnessing the grand stage production with a DJ booth and the amazing colors streaming out from the LED visual panel above the booth we found our place for the evening. Wandering around near the brightly lit tree in the middle of the dance floor it was possible to sit, reflect on the journey thus far, and smile from within. This is why we came across the world, to find our true freedom away from the hustle and grind back home and meet all these amazing souls from many different walks of life. Take the journey in stride and realize that there is no schedule here, only great memories to be made and life to be lived.

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

kenyaCertain Freedom On The Edge in Kenya

I had travelled very little in life, almost all of it within the geographical borders of New York State and most of that between the rounded mountains of the Catskills, the tumble of the Adirondacks, and the rocky Eastern shores of Lake Ontario. The world is a comfortable, dependable, predictable place when it amounts to roughly 150 miles by 150 miles. It also becomes routine, dull, and even a little oppressive. Still and all, it was MY world and what I knew.

You might think that such a small, intimate world would be accustomed to many of those born and raised there taking their leave, escaping into the wider world all around. To be sure, that occurred, enough to not be unusual, but not enough to be common. So, when the opportunity to leave New York and live in Kenya presented itself, pursuing that opportunity became a rich source of unsolicited advice, unsought opinion, and even outright discouragement.

I had wanted to explore the wider world beyond Upstate New York for some time, but did not have a good idea of how to do so. No one in my family or group of friends had travelled much, if at all. One uncle who had travelled extensively had done so by making a career with US Air Force. Joining “the Service” did not appeal to me, much to my uncle’s and father’s dismay. But, in a tangential twist of reasoning, the concept of esprit de corps Dad continually espoused bloomed into the idea of serving in the US Peace Corps.

You can imagine the usual paperwork, interviews, and bureaucratic back-and-forth that took place over the course of six months. Eventually, I was assigned to be a high school teacher in Western Kenya; specifically, the tiny hamlet of Kipsoen clinging 1,000 meters atop the escarpment, above the floor of the Great Rift Valley. The edge of the world.

Everything I had been sure – and assured – of: the world I knew and the person I was certain of, quickly melted away under the equatorial sun of the African plains.

The landscape: Isak Dinesen describes it as, “the views were immensely wide — everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility.” (Out of Africa, 1937). The culture and the people: time and interactions had an easy, open, welcoming quality. Telling time was upended: What was 7:00AM on a clock in New York, was read as “sah moja” (the first hour, or 1:00AM) in KiSwahili, the national language of Kenya. The attitude toward Life: “Hakuna Matata” (there are no problems), as Pumbaa and Timon sang in Disney’s The Lion King, is an actual truth in traditional Kenyan thinking. In short, travelling halfway around the world took me worlds away from what I’d learned and from where I’d come.

Going all that distance and in the melting away, the removal, of all the fixtures and accoutrements of growing up in my old world, there was space for new outlooks, attitudes, and growth. It wasn’t a smooth, quick, easy, nor always a conscious process. Among some of the oldest peoples on the planet, on the oldest continent, I found a new start.

That is where I found my freedom.

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munichWalking on the Winter Streets in Munich, Germany

Bavaria in the winter is a different proposition from Bavaria in the summer. Perhaps if one skies, a winter in Bavaria might seem like heaven with mountain slopes. I emphatically don’t ski. Nor do I like beer. Thus Munich would seem like an odd choice.

I stayed in Munich for three months with my aunt. Four years ago she moved here for work, and found a comfortable apartment with an extra bedroom. Every member of my extended family has, at least once, come here to stay with her and take short trips elsewhere in Europe once the jet lag has worn off. I’m the last one to make the journey.

As for myself, this is not particularly a vacation. More like a figure-out-what-the-hell-I’m-doing-with-my-life sabbatical of frustration from what I’m used to in Colorado. Also a somewhat desperate bid to step up my photography with inspiration from new places.

It’s early on a Sunday, and despite the temperatures and the fact that the winter sun hasn’t managed to filter much through a blanket of cloud cover, we layer up in warm gear, pulling on knit hats over our bed-messy hair to go for a walk, camera as ever glued to my side.

It’s cold in Munich on a winter morning, and often the wind makes it colder. The apartment is located on a Fahrradstrasse, meaning “bicycle street.” One has to watch out for the bikes more than the cars. The canal we cross is lined with tall trees that are still incongruously sheathed in thick green ivy leaves. The tops of the trees are bare twigs, but no one seems to have told the ivy that it’s cold.

We crunch our way down narrow sidewalks covered in gravel, the German answer to ice-melt. The apartment buildings each have small yards for the ground-floor flats, and most balconies sport what will be greenery in a few months. Some even have tiny pines or spruce, which are decked out festively with Christmas lights during the holidays. Yet despite their similarities, none are quite the same. All have stucco exteriors, but in a surprising range of pastels. Each has its own architecture, some with decorative paintings or small inset statues.

There’s a bakery for every neighborhood, and an apoteke (pharmacy) on practically every street in Munich. The grocery store is never more than a couple of blocks’ walk. On any weekend morning you’ll find a queue outside the bakery, husbands whose wives sent them out on breakfast duty. It’s a different way of life than I’m used to, but I’ve grown to enjoy it.

It takes less than fifteen minutes of walking from the Fahrradstrasse to get to Nymphenburg Palace. The massive white exterior is impressive, but we pass by the huge staircase entrance and enter the gates that lead to the grounds. There are many paths to choose from, criss-crossing the wooded estate. Bird calls ring out unexpectedly, from the tiny blue tits to blackbirds, crows, and geese. Pillared bridges span the canals that divert water from the river to feed several fountains, still now for the winter.

Few people are out this early, so we have the quiet woods mostly to ourselves. As we crunch along, the church bells begin to toll, right on time.

It strikes me as a uniquely European experience to meander on forested paths, yet still hear perfectly tuned church bells sing out from the street that is in fact not too far away. We stop at one of our favorite trees which exudes an air of quiet wisdom, a huge and gnarled beech with bark like elephant skin, and listening to the church bells there feels as sacred as any experience I can remember having.

My time in Munich turned out to be not what I was expecting. But it was precisely what I needed. It was culture and nature all mixed up together; a new frame of reference and an opportunity to see a new way ahead. I knew that I wouldn’t be the same after this time spent traveling, and that is true. Photography became real for me, far more than a hobby. More importantly, I became bigger in Munich, with a wider world-view and deeper determination to live in a meaningful way.

Photo Credit: Dawn Myscofski

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Backpack & Bushes In Munich: The Freedom In Wandering

There I was, wandering the suburban streets of Munich with a poor sense of direction and the absence of mobile technology. That afternoon, I had stepped off of an airplane that had departed from the island of Majorca in the south of Spain. Majorca was warm, tropical, and evoked the inner island-ista in me and, therefore, I was sporting my thinnest tank top and beachy footwear. Although the time of year was early August, the weather in Münich resembled the brisk end of autumn.

Needless to say, I was cold, lost, and the sun was setting. I was on the hunt for the flat belonging to my Couchsurfing hosts, without a way of contacting them. All of the surrounding buildings were residential and very quiet. Any passerby was fair game when it came to directional questions, but I only crossed paths with two in my many hours of searching. The first person was Turkish and I, unfortunately, did not speak his language. I showed him my hand-written address and he pointed onward down the street; I kept walking.

This is the point where I should have broken down and cried. There was not one car or taxi to flag and deliver me to my destination. I was far from the nearest train station and low on cash. Instead of crying, however, I stayed calm. I had my backpack; everything I needed was on my person so spending a night in the bushes… was totally doable!

In that backpack I had multiple layers of clothing, a change of shoes, and probably something edible. My backpack was there for me. My backpack gave me the freedom to make a mistake like this and helped me recognize my privilege in possessing the items necessary for basic comforts. This realization showed me that once basic needs are met, less is more in travel.

The freer we want to become, the more we must leave behind. Before I could be a self-titled traveler, I had to look this realization square in the eyes because leaving behind the things that maintain comfort in order to travel is uncomfortable. I did not like getting dirty and staying dirty. I wanted my full size shampoo bottle. I needed silence and complete darkness in order to sleep through the night.

For me, it was a little grey backpack that challenged me to decide what was to be left behind in order to see what true freedom feels like. If it was travel that I wanted, I had to bridge the void between lux and living. I had to become okay with getting dirty, losing sleep, being uncomfortable for the sake of seeing the world with authenticity. When living life as a traveler, what is essential is what we choose to travel with us. The size of my backpack has taught me to choose wisely and intuitively.

This very backpack encourages me to not only open the door of my closet to get it out but doors all over the world. It has been there to support me through the wonderful and harried times of my adventures. My backpack was there for me when I hunted for my hostel on the winding streets of Barcelona. She has sat beside me and heard countless tales from strangers who have transformed into friends. And she has been there for the myriad of travel-mishaps that have left me questioning if I will be sleeping in the bushes for the evening.

The end of my Munich mishap goes like this: Lost in a dark courtyard, I spotted a man climbing his porch steps about to unlock his front door. Across the green space, I shouted for help as politely and nonthreatening as possible. He stopped and turned around seemingly jolly and ready to help. Thank God! I showed him the address and, in broken German-English, he described that I was on the side of the street with even-numbered addresses and I needed to be in the courtyard across the street with odd-numbered addresses. I was saved from a foliage-filled slumber!

Because everything I needed was on my back, a night in the shrubs was not only a possibility but also something I was prepared to experience. Of course, I know that I am more than my backpack and, even without it, I would have survived, but I have learned that living with less is actually living with enough. By setting off on an adventure with minimal essentials, I have been allowed to become myself again. Even though I found the flat in Munich that night, my backpack has given me the freedom and contentment in knowing that there really is not much I need to pack to have a proper adventure.

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Democracy, Freedom and Independence in Bratislava, Slovakia.

It is a holiday commemorating the 1945 uprising against Nazi occupation today. Devinska Nova Ves (DNV) is a large village about 16 km north of Bratislava. Its wide main street is lined with old houses, there is an enormous Volkswagen factory and a few tower blocks – nothing special really. But back in 2012 it came to the attention of the world’s press, even Reuters. It was all about a bridge.

DNV is on the Morava River- the border between Slovakia and Austria. In Cold War times this was a heavily militarized zone of barbed-wire fences and constant patrols by border guards. Many people died trying to run through the wire here. Inside the one km exclusion zone you could have been shot on sight. If they had tried swimming they would have had to deal with serious currents on both the Danube and Morava rivers. In 2012 a bridge was completed over the river at DNV to join the formerly impenetrable frontier. The Bratislava Regional Assembly set up a Facebook vote to name this historically significant link between the old communist block and Western Europe. The Regional Governor, Pavol Freso, affirmed that they would probably go with the people’s wishes. That is until the “Chuck Norris Bridge” polled more than 10 times as many votes as the Regional Assembly’s proposal, or indeed any other suggestions. Now Reuters started to take an interest. Chuck Norris was always a source of jokes concerning macho invincibility in Slovakia (Chuck Norris can delete the recycling bin…), but hardly a feasible choice for naming a bridge (no-one walks over Chuck Norris was later mentioned by the Assembly). But you can cross this historic bridge today. The floodplains beneath will be a Site of Special Scientific Interest, teeming with rare flora and fauna.

About two km South of DNV lies the village of Devin, where today there is a festival. If you bus out of Bratislava you may well sit next to a knight, complete with chain mail, sword and helmet on his mobile phone.

Devin Castle, first recorded in 864, lies atop a cliff overlooking the Danube. In the thirteenth century it was the frontier post of the Hungarian Empire. It featured on a coin and a note of the former currency in Cold War times – an important national symbol. Now it lies in ruins (thank Napoleon for that). At the castle are “medieval” tents with costumed people sitting around cooking over fires in iron pots. It has an authentic feel. All the men have long hair and one is undressing to his boxer shorts to put on his chain mail vest, boots, helmet and jacket.

We walk up to the ruins, where my four-year-old daughter, Mollie, is delighted to shout “bottom” down the 55 metre well and enjoy its echo. From up here you can see the Danube curving round to the Morava.

Terraced vineyards sweep down from Dacha’s (small wooden summer villas) on the mountain-top. One huge, elegant residence dominates all of these. I was told that this belongs to the Russian mafia. Down at the river you can throw a stone over into Austria which is why so many tried their luck here. If it wasn’t running through the militarized zone and barbed wire then trying to swim, it was (homemade) hang-gliders from the hilltops. Down by the confluence a serious ceremony is taking place. Over 400 people died between 1945 and 1989 attempting this: nearly one a month for 44 years from one small village on the Austrian border. Each name listed on the sculpture and explained in four languages. It read (verbatim):
“The Iron Curtain used to stand here. It cannot be pulled away. It can only be cracked. Four Hundred people sacrificed their life while fighting for their rights. Human beings, free and unrestricted do not forget that freedom of thinking, acting and dreaming is a value that is not only worth living but also bringing sacrifices.”

Judging by their ages, the attendees here could well have been the brothers or sisters, even parents of those desperado’s who died for freedom and independence. So there you have it: freedom and independence in one rather confusing package. Foul-mouthed four-year-olds, uprisings against Nazi occupation, modern ex-Iron Curtain members of the EEC co-existing with today’s Russian mafia, medieval knights, would-be escapees of communism and Chuck Norris. The Bratislava Regional Assembly, in their infinite wisdom actually rejected the 12,599 votes for the “Chuck Norris Bridge” in favour of the “Freedom Cycling Bridge” (457 votes), which is now its official name. However, thanks to Reuters, it is even today easily findable on Google under its more democratic name. If my daughter were able to understand this, I am absolutely sure that she would say, “But that’s bottom democracy, freedom and independence!”

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Forging my Inquisitive Name in Egypt

Standing in a shop in Cairo, I spelled out my name for the clerk, both in English and in Arabic. Should it end with an eliph or a taa marbuta? We went back and forth, settling on aliph, the first letter of the alphabet, and I handed over a not insignificant amount of Egyptian pounds.

I was in Egypt for six weeks studying Arabic and Middle Eastern politics, as part of one of my many minors. But really, I was there because the summer before I had stayed home in Massachusetts, working retail. I had watched as friends flooded facebook with photos from all over Egypt. I wanted to learn about the region, but I also wanted to go on an adventure, having conversations and experiences that would never happen back home. My parents had agreed, on the grounds that university staff would accompany us. My boyfriend would be waiting when I got back, in spite of how nervous I had been to even ask that question.

Six weeks seemed like a long time, but once I was abroad, it it didn’t take long for us both to chafe under the situation. He felt like I was always too busy, and was suspicious of the new friends I was making, especially the male ones. I felt like every call was either a fight or a one-sided conversation, keeping me from flash cards, late-night dessert treks, and new friends. I had started spending time with young women who proudly called themselves feminists and stretched my previous definition of the word. I started wondering why I had ever found the necklace he gave me, emblazoned with the word “princess,” to be sweet.

A couple of days after spelling out my name in the shop, a small velvet envelope arrived. I took off the old necklace, something I hadn’t done since he gave it to me, and excitedly placed my new one around my neck. Instead of someone else’s ill-fitting pet name, I was wearing my own. More than that, my Arabic name necklace was an outward sign of my accomplishments: the hundreds of hours learning Arabic, the nerve-wracking solo cab ride, the ever-present street harassment, and the wonder of Naguib Mahfouz’s books. I was working harder academically than I ever had in my life, not to mention constantly learning from everyone I met. This country had indelibly changed me, and it all sat there at my collarbone, in elegant, silver, Arabic script.

Back home, I wore my new necklace proudly. That did not go unnoticed.

There were questions and tears. It seems the symbolism of the two pieces of jewelry wasn’t lost on anyone. It didn’t help that I hid his necklace from myself out of sadness and couldn’t find it again until years later, well after our relationship was dead and buried. But it wouldn’t have mattered; I had changed.

My time in Egypt brought so much to my life: feminism, a love of the Middle East, dear friends, and a knowledge that not only can I do things that seem big and scary, but I thrive on them. I’ll never be certain why we broke up, but I know I couldn’t have become the person I am now while remaining his girlfriend. I needed years to myself, without any guilt or judgment about my travels and personal politics, two of my strongest and most intertwined traits. I needed room to grow, to see where the world would take me if I didn’t need anyone else and no one else needed me. I needed to be a woman of my own making, not someone else’s vision of me, not an asterisked version of myself that was only acceptable with caveats and conditions. I needed to be able to pick up and go, over and over again, and not be seen as disloyal for doing so.

One day, the necklace slipped off at a friend’s backyard barbecue, never to be seen again. I miss it like I miss so much about Egypt, from koshery and nutty actions movies to hijabi fashion and Al Azhar Park. But I take comfort in the fact that I don’t need the necklace like I once did. By the time I lost the necklace, it had served its purpose. I was out of that relationship and had travelled to many countries, but most importantly, I had been brave enough to choose myself, and the life I wanted to lead. I knew my choices were not dalliances but a path. I had chosen a life driven by adventure and ideals, one where my brain and my bravado are my most prized possessions. Someday, there may be another man who wants to rename me and keep me close by his side. I’d like to see him try.

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

A safe itinerary to exciting success in Nigeria
He possessed an intrepid physique, radiant cheeks, hair still remain dark, and a gritty skin. He wore a hat strolling around the backyard, and a tattered blue army overcoat when it was cold, and sometimes top-boots. He walks round the house and an earsplitting yell was heard from the backyard, before he could be rushed to the hospital, he gave up the ghost.

What a pity! There is no one death cannot eliminate as death claim the life of my father after being battled by the debilitating disease of cancer.
One morning after the corpse was interred; the family members sideline my mother from other important discussion concerning the properties of the deceased. She stood upon her gallery with arms akimbo, shedding tears, so unexpected and bewildering was the death of her husband. The next decision of the family member was that the children of the deceased would be taken care of by the family members but my mother disagreed.

Few days to that time, I was kidnapped by unknown abductors alongside my mother and my younger ones into the narrow strip of shade on the porch of the long, low house; the hot sunlight was beating in on the brown old boards as an unpleasant odour filled the atmosphere, and a terrific sound was coming across the non-flowering cotton-field. The kidnappers were sent by the family member who wanted to confiscate the hard earned properties of the deceased from his immediate family.

Few minute to our execution by the kidnappers, a serene was heard within that abode alarmed by the Nigeria Police who were on duty when they notice some suspicious movement and sound in that environment. They thwarted the kidnappers from achieving their goal as they all fled away from being arrested and we were all unfettered from their captivity.

After two days of staying at the police station for security reasons, an officer lent my mother a piece of advice and that leads to our itinerary to Lagos state so that we can gain the freedom from our nemesis.

In the struggle of being totally independence, my mother seeks for employment opportunity for various months under the administration of the rickety Nigeria government before she later started with a petty trade. My mother also clamour that I should be independent by now as she inculcated that I must learn a vocation and must also provide and feed myself. This was initially difficult for me and I had persistent fight with her. I begin to hate her the more, my emotion begins to suffer depression, and my life now lacks the nutrient of joy and happiness. Drastically, I am becoming more irrelevant to the community as I use obsolete phone, I have accrued debt and I can’t avoid eating three meals a day because I have fallen into the abysmal of excruciating pestilence of poverty.

At a conference which I reluctantly attended transformed my life, I was inspired to take responsibility. Consequently, I searched for job in consensus to the inspiring testimonies heard at the conference that “before you can become successful, you would need to move out of your environment”. This emanates how I became a driver as I virtually travel and tour the whole Nigeria and Ghana while doing a job of a driver.

After about 15hours on road from Nigeria due to various barricades by the security personnel and also the vehicle engine problem which hiatus our journey. The red sunset and the blue-gray twilight had together flung a purple mist across the road that hid it from our view. We could no longer hear the wheezing and creaking of wheels but could still faintly hear the shrill, glad voices of the children in the passing vehicles. Finally, we reach Ghana and I got employed by the benevolent business woman called Miss Calister to whom I return the wallet she forgot in my bus some weeks ago.
I seated myself beside the table as I glance through the room, into which the evening shadows were creeping and deepening around my solitary figure, happy that I bounced back to a life of debt free, joy and happiness and I regain my freedom from the bumpy hands of poverty and sadness. This is the chronicle of my itinerary to success.

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Gulin china5 Places worth a visit in Guilin, China

Anyone who’s ever read a Chinese textbook can attest that these textbooks glorify Guilin. Not only that, politicians also sing praises to this city’s natural endowments and often entertain visiting dignitaries in this resort town. During my last visit to Guilin, I was adamant to find out in less than a week if Guilin and its surrounding areas do indeed live up to its reputation. Here are the top five sights I saw and love to reminisce about.

1. Reed flute cave

I spent a good hour here oohing and ahhing at the sight of the abundant stalactites and rock formations, which were illuminated by multi-colored lighting. This lighting enhanced the otherworldly atmosphere contained therein. It was like stumbling into a fairy’s den, another world you’ll normally associate with a fictional novel. The highlight was the laser light musical show at the end of the cave, which gave me chills. With the help of the guide, I could easily visualize animals, cities, and plants among the rock formations.

2. Fubo hill

This attraction made me withstand an intense cardio exercise as I climbed the steps leading up to the lookout point on top that showed a bird’s eye view of the city. You could see panoramic views of the Li River and the developing city’s natural beauty from high above.

3. Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces

Hours away from Guilin, I found myself gaping at the brilliant spectacle of the verdant green man-made terraces carved as far as the eye could see. I could tell from the wide expanse of the terraces that this is the culmination of the Zhuang people’s strenuous efforts and ingeniousness. I rode a cable car to get to the top where I could see just how high and extensive the work done must have been to transform the vast region into layer upon layer of rice terraces. It was a picturesque sight to behold and I could imagine how its beauty changes into golden hues for autumn, crisp white in winter and bright green for summer to keep onlookers wanting to come back again.

4. The Long Hair Village

The moment I stumbled upon the Long Hair Village, the Guinness world book record holder for the “world’s longest hair village”, I was intrigued. I was bewildered that such a place even exists! I discovered with my own eyes that the village is beautiful with its rustic charm and truly, its residents does indeed live up to their village name. The Yao ethnic women who reside there were the embodiment of brunette Rapunzels. They dress in unique and colorful traditional clothing and performed by singing and dancing. It was amusing to watch as they invited male guests to participate in a mock wedding ceremony as done in their village. You may ask: how do they keep their hair jet-black even when they’re old and wrinkled? They do so by washing their hair with fermented rice water! Nature truly works wonders.

5. Li River cruise

As featured on the 20 yuan note, you can see the lush landscape looking reminiscent of Ha Long Bay at every twist and turn on this relaxing cruise. I saw fishermen, some with tourists, on their bamboo rafts sailing through the calm water. After a few hours, the cruise stops at Yangshuo, a small town where you can easily find food or bargain with small shops selling pearl, jade, Chinese paintings and more.

After being left breathless by these five stand-out sights, I was rest assured that Guilin and its surrounding areas are indeed worth a visit and are definitely worthy of its accolades.

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colombiaLiving Life to its fullest in England

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted a poem by Pablo Neruda entitled “You start dying slowly.” It resonated with me, and expressed the way that I was feeling 3 years ago, before my life took a detour from its original trajectory. There are not many things in this world that I am afraid of, but dying without fully experiencing life is one of my greatest fears.

“You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking every day on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine.”

Freedom and fulfillment of dreams are central to the North American ideal, but many of us don’t feel free. Instead, we feel enslaved to our jobs and our lifestyles like we are just part of the rat race, mechanically putting one foot in front of the other. It wasn’t long ago that I felt trapped in my life, like I was living in auto-pilot, moving through each day without anything special and feeling unsatisfied. I was in my fifth year as a junior high/middle-school science teacher in my hometown, and although I loved my job and my students, I felt stuck. Everyone else seemed to be moving forward, finding love, settling down, and having families. Yet here I was, doing the “same old things”; I was not content to “settle”. But what could I do?

“You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job,
[…] If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream […]
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.”

I have always had a love of traveling, since my first plane rides and car trips across Canada as a toddler to visit family. I was very fortunate to have the experience of doing a semester abroad in university, and it lit the fire to try life in another country. When I finished university, I dreamed of teaching overseas. The more unsatisfied I felt with my life, the more my desire to teach abroad increased. I made the decision to move overseas, and after being denied a leave of absence, I resigned from my position, packed up my life and my house, and moved to England. By moving abroad, I was forcing myself to meet new people, try new things and change my routines. There were many new things to experience and different customs to learn to try to fit into my new surroundings.

” You start dying slowly
If you do not travel,
If you do not listen to the sounds of life
If you do not appreciate your life […]
If you avoid to feel passion.”

I struggled when I first moved, and found that I still wasn’t as happy as I had hoped to be. I was forced to figure out my passions. I always knew that traveling was a passion of mine, but I was very fortunate to meet a group of diverse women who helped me rediscover another passion of mine, dance. One of my favourite things when I am visiting a different region, or country, is to learn about their food and about their culture, in particular, the way that music influences people and their outlooks on life. This was especially evident when I took my next leap to Colombia. One of the most diverse countries in South America, there are so many different cultures all blended into one, and it makes for an amazing and lively blend of music and movement. Nothing can make you happier than some cool Colombian beats!

Since traveling is my passion, I felt the most alive when I was able to get out of London and travel throughout Europe. I tried to figure out a way that I could experience that presence in my day to day life. One advantage of such a large city, is that it made exploring close to home quite easy. There are so many different parks, markets and sites to see, that most weekends, I would make an effort to immerse myself in my environment.

It actually took living in Colombia, in a city that lacked parks, for me to realize how important nature is to feeling free and satisfied with life. For those that may not have the ability to travel far from home, going to the local park, the mountains or the ocean is another great way to free yourselves from the stresses and confines of daily life. What I discovered from moving around the world, is that to feel free, you don’t have to go far. By paying attention to your surroundings, and surrounding yourself with nature, you too can feel free.

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

thailand-scheduleThere Is No Crammed Schedule in Thailand

Erin and I took a giant leap of adventure when we sold all our belongings in the USA and booked a one way ticket to Bangkok, Thailand. No itinerary. No plans. It was time to shake life up and discover more of ourselves. We were all too familiar with the 9-5 grind and were ready for something completely different. It does not take long on the backpacking trail to learn a few things about self and about life.

It is difficult to make and keep travel plans out in this world experiencing pure freedom. Where the wind blows and you follow along with the stranger met last night. A few buckets and a few beers and next thing you know we were on our way from Bangkok to Surat Thani with a brand new friend Dave, who happened to be approaching 60 years old, but knew a thing or two about travel.

We sat on the floor near the KFC in the brightly lit open air train station. Where the locals chipper away with their Thai accents and the smell of all sorts of food fill the air. Quite a strange aroma of fried chicken and Pad Thai, especially for the just arrived tourists we were. After two hours on the very hard train station floor I thought to myself, “I haven’t heard an announcement for our train and it is past departure time.” I walk up to the ticket window with Dave and learn the train was gone. We missed it!

Now that was a hard pill to swallow at that time. Missed the train, “Oh no,” we thought, “what are we going to do now!?” At the ticket counter, the lady next to me says, “That’s traveling. Just let it go. You’ll get there fine.” My worrying mind was wound so tight from the life I left behind that I could not comprehend the ease with which she said let it go. No other choice but to buy another ticket and sit next to the ladies chomping on their bags of rice and hang out longer.

We caught the next train and arrived at our destination just fine. The first step in unwinding that anxious little brain was to acknowledge that while on travel things do not always go as planned. Take a deep breath and carry on.

Dave learned that lesson as well when he stepped in the ocean off balance and messed up his knee in Koh Samui three days later. It ended his trip completely and he had to fly back to San Francisco. Bummer to lose Dave but another sign that you must go with flow, appreciate the opportunity at hand, and do not take for granted the wonder of the wide open world.

Erin and I ended up on the island of Koh Phangan a few days after losing Dave and we arrived the same day as the Half Moon jungle party. Let’s see what this party island is all about!

A buzz of energy was in the air as we arrived to the hostel. “Free shots!” proclaimed the staff. Body paint, alcohol, and good times got us started. We caught a tuk-tuk and hung on tight up the winding jungle road to our destination. Twelve of us on one ride had me hanging teetering on the side as the driver moved seamlessly through town and up toward a night to remember.

Dropped off in the jungle I begin to see the bright lights and hear the sound of the electronic music. Now here is a scene we were familiar with back home. Witnessing the grand stage production with a DJ booth and the amazing colors streaming out from the LED visual panel above the booth we found our place for the evening. Wandering around near the brightly lit tree in the middle of the dance floor it was possible to sit, reflect on the journey thus far, and smile from within. This is why we came across the world, to find our true freedom away from the hustle and grind back home and meet all these amazing souls from many different walks of life. Take the journey in stride and realize that there is no schedule here, only great memories to be made and life to be lived.

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kenyaCertain Freedom On The Edge in Kenya

I had travelled very little in life, almost all of it within the geographical borders of New York State and most of that between the rounded mountains of the Catskills, the tumble of the Adirondacks, and the rocky Eastern shores of Lake Ontario. The world is a comfortable, dependable, predictable place when it amounts to roughly 150 miles by 150 miles. It also becomes routine, dull, and even a little oppressive. Still and all, it was MY world and what I knew.

You might think that such a small, intimate world would be accustomed to many of those born and raised there taking their leave, escaping into the wider world all around. To be sure, that occurred, enough to not be unusual, but not enough to be common. So, when the opportunity to leave New York and live in Kenya presented itself, pursuing that opportunity became a rich source of unsolicited advice, unsought opinion, and even outright discouragement.

I had wanted to explore the wider world beyond Upstate New York for some time, but did not have a good idea of how to do so. No one in my family or group of friends had travelled much, if at all. One uncle who had travelled extensively had done so by making a career with US Air Force. Joining “the Service” did not appeal to me, much to my uncle’s and father’s dismay. But, in a tangential twist of reasoning, the concept of esprit de corps Dad continually espoused bloomed into the idea of serving in the US Peace Corps.

You can imagine the usual paperwork, interviews, and bureaucratic back-and-forth that took place over the course of six months. Eventually, I was assigned to be a high school teacher in Western Kenya; specifically, the tiny hamlet of Kipsoen clinging 1,000 meters atop the escarpment, above the floor of the Great Rift Valley. The edge of the world.

Everything I had been sure – and assured – of: the world I knew and the person I was certain of, quickly melted away under the equatorial sun of the African plains.

The landscape: Isak Dinesen describes it as, “the views were immensely wide — everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility.” (Out of Africa, 1937). The culture and the people: time and interactions had an easy, open, welcoming quality. Telling time was upended: What was 7:00AM on a clock in New York, was read as “sah moja” (the first hour, or 1:00AM) in KiSwahili, the national language of Kenya. The attitude toward Life: “Hakuna Matata” (there are no problems), as Pumbaa and Timon sang in Disney’s The Lion King, is an actual truth in traditional Kenyan thinking. In short, travelling halfway around the world took me worlds away from what I’d learned and from where I’d come.

Going all that distance and in the melting away, the removal, of all the fixtures and accoutrements of growing up in my old world, there was space for new outlooks, attitudes, and growth. It wasn’t a smooth, quick, easy, nor always a conscious process. Among some of the oldest peoples on the planet, on the oldest continent, I found a new start.

That is where I found my freedom.

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munichWalking on the Winter Streets in Munich, Germany

Bavaria in the winter is a different proposition from Bavaria in the summer. Perhaps if one skies, a winter in Bavaria might seem like heaven with mountain slopes. I emphatically don’t ski. Nor do I like beer. Thus Munich would seem like an odd choice.

I stayed in Munich for three months with my aunt. Four years ago she moved here for work, and found a comfortable apartment with an extra bedroom. Every member of my extended family has, at least once, come here to stay with her and take short trips elsewhere in Europe once the jet lag has worn off. I’m the last one to make the journey.

As for myself, this is not particularly a vacation. More like a figure-out-what-the-hell-I’m-doing-with-my-life sabbatical of frustration from what I’m used to in Colorado. Also a somewhat desperate bid to step up my photography with inspiration from new places.

It’s early on a Sunday, and despite the temperatures and the fact that the winter sun hasn’t managed to filter much through a blanket of cloud cover, we layer up in warm gear, pulling on knit hats over our bed-messy hair to go for a walk, camera as ever glued to my side.

It’s cold in Munich on a winter morning, and often the wind makes it colder. The apartment is located on a Fahrradstrasse, meaning “bicycle street.” One has to watch out for the bikes more than the cars. The canal we cross is lined with tall trees that are still incongruously sheathed in thick green ivy leaves. The tops of the trees are bare twigs, but no one seems to have told the ivy that it’s cold.

We crunch our way down narrow sidewalks covered in gravel, the German answer to ice-melt. The apartment buildings each have small yards for the ground-floor flats, and most balconies sport what will be greenery in a few months. Some even have tiny pines or spruce, which are decked out festively with Christmas lights during the holidays. Yet despite their similarities, none are quite the same. All have stucco exteriors, but in a surprising range of pastels. Each has its own architecture, some with decorative paintings or small inset statues.

There’s a bakery for every neighborhood, and an apoteke (pharmacy) on practically every street in Munich. The grocery store is never more than a couple of blocks’ walk. On any weekend morning you’ll find a queue outside the bakery, husbands whose wives sent them out on breakfast duty. It’s a different way of life than I’m used to, but I’ve grown to enjoy it.

It takes less than fifteen minutes of walking from the Fahrradstrasse to get to Nymphenburg Palace. The massive white exterior is impressive, but we pass by the huge staircase entrance and enter the gates that lead to the grounds. There are many paths to choose from, criss-crossing the wooded estate. Bird calls ring out unexpectedly, from the tiny blue tits to blackbirds, crows, and geese. Pillared bridges span the canals that divert water from the river to feed several fountains, still now for the winter.

Few people are out this early, so we have the quiet woods mostly to ourselves. As we crunch along, the church bells begin to toll, right on time.

It strikes me as a uniquely European experience to meander on forested paths, yet still hear perfectly tuned church bells sing out from the street that is in fact not too far away. We stop at one of our favorite trees which exudes an air of quiet wisdom, a huge and gnarled beech with bark like elephant skin, and listening to the church bells there feels as sacred as any experience I can remember having.

My time in Munich turned out to be not what I was expecting. But it was precisely what I needed. It was culture and nature all mixed up together; a new frame of reference and an opportunity to see a new way ahead. I knew that I wouldn’t be the same after this time spent traveling, and that is true. Photography became real for me, far more than a hobby. More importantly, I became bigger in Munich, with a wider world-view and deeper determination to live in a meaningful way.

Photo Credit: Dawn Myscofski

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Backpack & Bushes In Munich: The Freedom In Wandering

There I was, wandering the suburban streets of Munich with a poor sense of direction and the absence of mobile technology. That afternoon, I had stepped off of an airplane that had departed from the island of Majorca in the south of Spain. Majorca was warm, tropical, and evoked the inner island-ista in me and, therefore, I was sporting my thinnest tank top and beachy footwear. Although the time of year was early August, the weather in Münich resembled the brisk end of autumn.

Needless to say, I was cold, lost, and the sun was setting. I was on the hunt for the flat belonging to my Couchsurfing hosts, without a way of contacting them. All of the surrounding buildings were residential and very quiet. Any passerby was fair game when it came to directional questions, but I only crossed paths with two in my many hours of searching. The first person was Turkish and I, unfortunately, did not speak his language. I showed him my hand-written address and he pointed onward down the street; I kept walking.

This is the point where I should have broken down and cried. There was not one car or taxi to flag and deliver me to my destination. I was far from the nearest train station and low on cash. Instead of crying, however, I stayed calm. I had my backpack; everything I needed was on my person so spending a night in the bushes… was totally doable!

In that backpack I had multiple layers of clothing, a change of shoes, and probably something edible. My backpack was there for me. My backpack gave me the freedom to make a mistake like this and helped me recognize my privilege in possessing the items necessary for basic comforts. This realization showed me that once basic needs are met, less is more in travel.

The freer we want to become, the more we must leave behind. Before I could be a self-titled traveler, I had to look this realization square in the eyes because leaving behind the things that maintain comfort in order to travel is uncomfortable. I did not like getting dirty and staying dirty. I wanted my full size shampoo bottle. I needed silence and complete darkness in order to sleep through the night.

For me, it was a little grey backpack that challenged me to decide what was to be left behind in order to see what true freedom feels like. If it was travel that I wanted, I had to bridge the void between lux and living. I had to become okay with getting dirty, losing sleep, being uncomfortable for the sake of seeing the world with authenticity. When living life as a traveler, what is essential is what we choose to travel with us. The size of my backpack has taught me to choose wisely and intuitively.

This very backpack encourages me to not only open the door of my closet to get it out but doors all over the world. It has been there to support me through the wonderful and harried times of my adventures. My backpack was there for me when I hunted for my hostel on the winding streets of Barcelona. She has sat beside me and heard countless tales from strangers who have transformed into friends. And she has been there for the myriad of travel-mishaps that have left me questioning if I will be sleeping in the bushes for the evening.

The end of my Munich mishap goes like this: Lost in a dark courtyard, I spotted a man climbing his porch steps about to unlock his front door. Across the green space, I shouted for help as politely and nonthreatening as possible. He stopped and turned around seemingly jolly and ready to help. Thank God! I showed him the address and, in broken German-English, he described that I was on the side of the street with even-numbered addresses and I needed to be in the courtyard across the street with odd-numbered addresses. I was saved from a foliage-filled slumber!

Because everything I needed was on my back, a night in the shrubs was not only a possibility but also something I was prepared to experience. Of course, I know that I am more than my backpack and, even without it, I would have survived, but I have learned that living with less is actually living with enough. By setting off on an adventure with minimal essentials, I have been allowed to become myself again. Even though I found the flat in Munich that night, my backpack has given me the freedom and contentment in knowing that there really is not much I need to pack to have a proper adventure.

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Democracy, Freedom and Independence in Bratislava, Slovakia.

It is a holiday commemorating the 1945 uprising against Nazi occupation today. Devinska Nova Ves (DNV) is a large village about 16 km north of Bratislava. Its wide main street is lined with old houses, there is an enormous Volkswagen factory and a few tower blocks – nothing special really. But back in 2012 it came to the attention of the world’s press, even Reuters. It was all about a bridge.

DNV is on the Morava River- the border between Slovakia and Austria. In Cold War times this was a heavily militarized zone of barbed-wire fences and constant patrols by border guards. Many people died trying to run through the wire here. Inside the one km exclusion zone you could have been shot on sight. If they had tried swimming they would have had to deal with serious currents on both the Danube and Morava rivers. In 2012 a bridge was completed over the river at DNV to join the formerly impenetrable frontier. The Bratislava Regional Assembly set up a Facebook vote to name this historically significant link between the old communist block and Western Europe. The Regional Governor, Pavol Freso, affirmed that they would probably go with the people’s wishes. That is until the “Chuck Norris Bridge” polled more than 10 times as many votes as the Regional Assembly’s proposal, or indeed any other suggestions. Now Reuters started to take an interest. Chuck Norris was always a source of jokes concerning macho invincibility in Slovakia (Chuck Norris can delete the recycling bin…), but hardly a feasible choice for naming a bridge (no-one walks over Chuck Norris was later mentioned by the Assembly). But you can cross this historic bridge today. The floodplains beneath will be a Site of Special Scientific Interest, teeming with rare flora and fauna.

About two km South of DNV lies the village of Devin, where today there is a festival. If you bus out of Bratislava you may well sit next to a knight, complete with chain mail, sword and helmet on his mobile phone.

Devin Castle, first recorded in 864, lies atop a cliff overlooking the Danube. In the thirteenth century it was the frontier post of the Hungarian Empire. It featured on a coin and a note of the former currency in Cold War times – an important national symbol. Now it lies in ruins (thank Napoleon for that). At the castle are “medieval” tents with costumed people sitting around cooking over fires in iron pots. It has an authentic feel. All the men have long hair and one is undressing to his boxer shorts to put on his chain mail vest, boots, helmet and jacket.

We walk up to the ruins, where my four-year-old daughter, Mollie, is delighted to shout “bottom” down the 55 metre well and enjoy its echo. From up here you can see the Danube curving round to the Morava.

Terraced vineyards sweep down from Dacha’s (small wooden summer villas) on the mountain-top. One huge, elegant residence dominates all of these. I was told that this belongs to the Russian mafia. Down at the river you can throw a stone over into Austria which is why so many tried their luck here. If it wasn’t running through the militarized zone and barbed wire then trying to swim, it was (homemade) hang-gliders from the hilltops. Down by the confluence a serious ceremony is taking place. Over 400 people died between 1945 and 1989 attempting this: nearly one a month for 44 years from one small village on the Austrian border. Each name listed on the sculpture and explained in four languages. It read (verbatim):
“The Iron Curtain used to stand here. It cannot be pulled away. It can only be cracked. Four Hundred people sacrificed their life while fighting for their rights. Human beings, free and unrestricted do not forget that freedom of thinking, acting and dreaming is a value that is not only worth living but also bringing sacrifices.”

Judging by their ages, the attendees here could well have been the brothers or sisters, even parents of those desperado’s who died for freedom and independence. So there you have it: freedom and independence in one rather confusing package. Foul-mouthed four-year-olds, uprisings against Nazi occupation, modern ex-Iron Curtain members of the EEC co-existing with today’s Russian mafia, medieval knights, would-be escapees of communism and Chuck Norris. The Bratislava Regional Assembly, in their infinite wisdom actually rejected the 12,599 votes for the “Chuck Norris Bridge” in favour of the “Freedom Cycling Bridge” (457 votes), which is now its official name. However, thanks to Reuters, it is even today easily findable on Google under its more democratic name. If my daughter were able to understand this, I am absolutely sure that she would say, “But that’s bottom democracy, freedom and independence!”

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Forging my Inquisitive Name in Egypt

Standing in a shop in Cairo, I spelled out my name for the clerk, both in English and in Arabic. Should it end with an eliph or a taa marbuta? We went back and forth, settling on aliph, the first letter of the alphabet, and I handed over a not insignificant amount of Egyptian pounds.

I was in Egypt for six weeks studying Arabic and Middle Eastern politics, as part of one of my many minors. But really, I was there because the summer before I had stayed home in Massachusetts, working retail. I had watched as friends flooded facebook with photos from all over Egypt. I wanted to learn about the region, but I also wanted to go on an adventure, having conversations and experiences that would never happen back home. My parents had agreed, on the grounds that university staff would accompany us. My boyfriend would be waiting when I got back, in spite of how nervous I had been to even ask that question.

Six weeks seemed like a long time, but once I was abroad, it it didn’t take long for us both to chafe under the situation. He felt like I was always too busy, and was suspicious of the new friends I was making, especially the male ones. I felt like every call was either a fight or a one-sided conversation, keeping me from flash cards, late-night dessert treks, and new friends. I had started spending time with young women who proudly called themselves feminists and stretched my previous definition of the word. I started wondering why I had ever found the necklace he gave me, emblazoned with the word “princess,” to be sweet.

A couple of days after spelling out my name in the shop, a small velvet envelope arrived. I took off the old necklace, something I hadn’t done since he gave it to me, and excitedly placed my new one around my neck. Instead of someone else’s ill-fitting pet name, I was wearing my own. More than that, my Arabic name necklace was an outward sign of my accomplishments: the hundreds of hours learning Arabic, the nerve-wracking solo cab ride, the ever-present street harassment, and the wonder of Naguib Mahfouz’s books. I was working harder academically than I ever had in my life, not to mention constantly learning from everyone I met. This country had indelibly changed me, and it all sat there at my collarbone, in elegant, silver, Arabic script.

Back home, I wore my new necklace proudly. That did not go unnoticed.

There were questions and tears. It seems the symbolism of the two pieces of jewelry wasn’t lost on anyone. It didn’t help that I hid his necklace from myself out of sadness and couldn’t find it again until years later, well after our relationship was dead and buried. But it wouldn’t have mattered; I had changed.

My time in Egypt brought so much to my life: feminism, a love of the Middle East, dear friends, and a knowledge that not only can I do things that seem big and scary, but I thrive on them. I’ll never be certain why we broke up, but I know I couldn’t have become the person I am now while remaining his girlfriend. I needed years to myself, without any guilt or judgment about my travels and personal politics, two of my strongest and most intertwined traits. I needed room to grow, to see where the world would take me if I didn’t need anyone else and no one else needed me. I needed to be a woman of my own making, not someone else’s vision of me, not an asterisked version of myself that was only acceptable with caveats and conditions. I needed to be able to pick up and go, over and over again, and not be seen as disloyal for doing so.

One day, the necklace slipped off at a friend’s backyard barbecue, never to be seen again. I miss it like I miss so much about Egypt, from koshery and nutty actions movies to hijabi fashion and Al Azhar Park. But I take comfort in the fact that I don’t need the necklace like I once did. By the time I lost the necklace, it had served its purpose. I was out of that relationship and had travelled to many countries, but most importantly, I had been brave enough to choose myself, and the life I wanted to lead. I knew my choices were not dalliances but a path. I had chosen a life driven by adventure and ideals, one where my brain and my bravado are my most prized possessions. Someday, there may be another man who wants to rename me and keep me close by his side. I’d like to see him try.

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A safe itinerary to exciting success in Nigeria
He possessed an intrepid physique, radiant cheeks, hair still remain dark, and a gritty skin. He wore a hat strolling around the backyard, and a tattered blue army overcoat when it was cold, and sometimes top-boots. He walks round the house and an earsplitting yell was heard from the backyard, before he could be rushed to the hospital, he gave up the ghost.

What a pity! There is no one death cannot eliminate as death claim the life of my father after being battled by the debilitating disease of cancer.
One morning after the corpse was interred; the family members sideline my mother from other important discussion concerning the properties of the deceased. She stood upon her gallery with arms akimbo, shedding tears, so unexpected and bewildering was the death of her husband. The next decision of the family member was that the children of the deceased would be taken care of by the family members but my mother disagreed.

Few days to that time, I was kidnapped by unknown abductors alongside my mother and my younger ones into the narrow strip of shade on the porch of the long, low house; the hot sunlight was beating in on the brown old boards as an unpleasant odour filled the atmosphere, and a terrific sound was coming across the non-flowering cotton-field. The kidnappers were sent by the family member who wanted to confiscate the hard earned properties of the deceased from his immediate family.

Few minute to our execution by the kidnappers, a serene was heard within that abode alarmed by the Nigeria Police who were on duty when they notice some suspicious movement and sound in that environment. They thwarted the kidnappers from achieving their goal as they all fled away from being arrested and we were all unfettered from their captivity.

After two days of staying at the police station for security reasons, an officer lent my mother a piece of advice and that leads to our itinerary to Lagos state so that we can gain the freedom from our nemesis.

In the struggle of being totally independence, my mother seeks for employment opportunity for various months under the administration of the rickety Nigeria government before she later started with a petty trade. My mother also clamour that I should be independent by now as she inculcated that I must learn a vocation and must also provide and feed myself. This was initially difficult for me and I had persistent fight with her. I begin to hate her the more, my emotion begins to suffer depression, and my life now lacks the nutrient of joy and happiness. Drastically, I am becoming more irrelevant to the community as I use obsolete phone, I have accrued debt and I can’t avoid eating three meals a day because I have fallen into the abysmal of excruciating pestilence of poverty.

At a conference which I reluctantly attended transformed my life, I was inspired to take responsibility. Consequently, I searched for job in consensus to the inspiring testimonies heard at the conference that “before you can become successful, you would need to move out of your environment”. This emanates how I became a driver as I virtually travel and tour the whole Nigeria and Ghana while doing a job of a driver.

After about 15hours on road from Nigeria due to various barricades by the security personnel and also the vehicle engine problem which hiatus our journey. The red sunset and the blue-gray twilight had together flung a purple mist across the road that hid it from our view. We could no longer hear the wheezing and creaking of wheels but could still faintly hear the shrill, glad voices of the children in the passing vehicles. Finally, we reach Ghana and I got employed by the benevolent business woman called Miss Calister to whom I return the wallet she forgot in my bus some weeks ago.
I seated myself beside the table as I glance through the room, into which the evening shadows were creeping and deepening around my solitary figure, happy that I bounced back to a life of debt free, joy and happiness and I regain my freedom from the bumpy hands of poverty and sadness. This is the chronicle of my itinerary to success.

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Gulin china5 Places worth a visit in Guilin, China

Anyone who’s ever read a Chinese textbook can attest that these textbooks glorify Guilin. Not only that, politicians also sing praises to this city’s natural endowments and often entertain visiting dignitaries in this resort town. During my last visit to Guilin, I was adamant to find out in less than a week if Guilin and its surrounding areas do indeed live up to its reputation. Here are the top five sights I saw and love to reminisce about.

1. Reed flute cave

I spent a good hour here oohing and ahhing at the sight of the abundant stalactites and rock formations, which were illuminated by multi-colored lighting. This lighting enhanced the otherworldly atmosphere contained therein. It was like stumbling into a fairy’s den, another world you’ll normally associate with a fictional novel. The highlight was the laser light musical show at the end of the cave, which gave me chills. With the help of the guide, I could easily visualize animals, cities, and plants among the rock formations.

2. Fubo hill

This attraction made me withstand an intense cardio exercise as I climbed the steps leading up to the lookout point on top that showed a bird’s eye view of the city. You could see panoramic views of the Li River and the developing city’s natural beauty from high above.

3. Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces

Hours away from Guilin, I found myself gaping at the brilliant spectacle of the verdant green man-made terraces carved as far as the eye could see. I could tell from the wide expanse of the terraces that this is the culmination of the Zhuang people’s strenuous efforts and ingeniousness. I rode a cable car to get to the top where I could see just how high and extensive the work done must have been to transform the vast region into layer upon layer of rice terraces. It was a picturesque sight to behold and I could imagine how its beauty changes into golden hues for autumn, crisp white in winter and bright green for summer to keep onlookers wanting to come back again.

4. The Long Hair Village

The moment I stumbled upon the Long Hair Village, the Guinness world book record holder for the “world’s longest hair village”, I was intrigued. I was bewildered that such a place even exists! I discovered with my own eyes that the village is beautiful with its rustic charm and truly, its residents does indeed live up to their village name. The Yao ethnic women who reside there were the embodiment of brunette Rapunzels. They dress in unique and colorful traditional clothing and performed by singing and dancing. It was amusing to watch as they invited male guests to participate in a mock wedding ceremony as done in their village. You may ask: how do they keep their hair jet-black even when they’re old and wrinkled? They do so by washing their hair with fermented rice water! Nature truly works wonders.

5. Li River cruise

As featured on the 20 yuan note, you can see the lush landscape looking reminiscent of Ha Long Bay at every twist and turn on this relaxing cruise. I saw fishermen, some with tourists, on their bamboo rafts sailing through the calm water. After a few hours, the cruise stops at Yangshuo, a small town where you can easily find food or bargain with small shops selling pearl, jade, Chinese paintings and more.

After being left breathless by these five stand-out sights, I was rest assured that Guilin and its surrounding areas are indeed worth a visit and are definitely worthy of its accolades.

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colombiaLiving Life to its fullest in England

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted a poem by Pablo Neruda entitled “You start dying slowly.” It resonated with me, and expressed the way that I was feeling 3 years ago, before my life took a detour from its original trajectory. There are not many things in this world that I am afraid of, but dying without fully experiencing life is one of my greatest fears.

“You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking every day on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine.”

Freedom and fulfillment of dreams are central to the North American ideal, but many of us don’t feel free. Instead, we feel enslaved to our jobs and our lifestyles like we are just part of the rat race, mechanically putting one foot in front of the other. It wasn’t long ago that I felt trapped in my life, like I was living in auto-pilot, moving through each day without anything special and feeling unsatisfied. I was in my fifth year as a junior high/middle-school science teacher in my hometown, and although I loved my job and my students, I felt stuck. Everyone else seemed to be moving forward, finding love, settling down, and having families. Yet here I was, doing the “same old things”; I was not content to “settle”. But what could I do?

“You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job,
[…] If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream […]
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.”

I have always had a love of traveling, since my first plane rides and car trips across Canada as a toddler to visit family. I was very fortunate to have the experience of doing a semester abroad in university, and it lit the fire to try life in another country. When I finished university, I dreamed of teaching overseas. The more unsatisfied I felt with my life, the more my desire to teach abroad increased. I made the decision to move overseas, and after being denied a leave of absence, I resigned from my position, packed up my life and my house, and moved to England. By moving abroad, I was forcing myself to meet new people, try new things and change my routines. There were many new things to experience and different customs to learn to try to fit into my new surroundings.

” You start dying slowly
If you do not travel,
If you do not listen to the sounds of life
If you do not appreciate your life […]
If you avoid to feel passion.”

I struggled when I first moved, and found that I still wasn’t as happy as I had hoped to be. I was forced to figure out my passions. I always knew that traveling was a passion of mine, but I was very fortunate to meet a group of diverse women who helped me rediscover another passion of mine, dance. One of my favourite things when I am visiting a different region, or country, is to learn about their food and about their culture, in particular, the way that music influences people and their outlooks on life. This was especially evident when I took my next leap to Colombia. One of the most diverse countries in South America, there are so many different cultures all blended into one, and it makes for an amazing and lively blend of music and movement. Nothing can make you happier than some cool Colombian beats!

Since traveling is my passion, I felt the most alive when I was able to get out of London and travel throughout Europe. I tried to figure out a way that I could experience that presence in my day to day life. One advantage of such a large city, is that it made exploring close to home quite easy. There are so many different parks, markets and sites to see, that most weekends, I would make an effort to immerse myself in my environment.

It actually took living in Colombia, in a city that lacked parks, for me to realize how important nature is to feeling free and satisfied with life. For those that may not have the ability to travel far from home, going to the local park, the mountains or the ocean is another great way to free yourselves from the stresses and confines of daily life. What I discovered from moving around the world, is that to feel free, you don’t have to go far. By paying attention to your surroundings, and surrounding yourself with nature, you too can feel free.

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thailand-scheduleThere Is No Crammed Schedule in Thailand

Erin and I took a giant leap of adventure when we sold all our belongings in the USA and booked a one way ticket to Bangkok, Thailand. No itinerary. No plans. It was time to shake life up and discover more of ourselves. We were all too familiar with the 9-5 grind and were ready for something completely different. It does not take long on the backpacking trail to learn a few things about self and about life.

It is difficult to make and keep travel plans out in this world experiencing pure freedom. Where the wind blows and you follow along with the stranger met last night. A few buckets and a few beers and next thing you know we were on our way from Bangkok to Surat Thani with a brand new friend Dave, who happened to be approaching 60 years old, but knew a thing or two about travel.

We sat on the floor near the KFC in the brightly lit open air train station. Where the locals chipper away with their Thai accents and the smell of all sorts of food fill the air. Quite a strange aroma of fried chicken and Pad Thai, especially for the just arrived tourists we were. After two hours on the very hard train station floor I thought to myself, “I haven’t heard an announcement for our train and it is past departure time.” I walk up to the ticket window with Dave and learn the train was gone. We missed it!

Now that was a hard pill to swallow at that time. Missed the train, “Oh no,” we thought, “what are we going to do now!?” At the ticket counter, the lady next to me says, “That’s traveling. Just let it go. You’ll get there fine.” My worrying mind was wound so tight from the life I left behind that I could not comprehend the ease with which she said let it go. No other choice but to buy another ticket and sit next to the ladies chomping on their bags of rice and hang out longer.

We caught the next train and arrived at our destination just fine. The first step in unwinding that anxious little brain was to acknowledge that while on travel things do not always go as planned. Take a deep breath and carry on.

Dave learned that lesson as well when he stepped in the ocean off balance and messed up his knee in Koh Samui three days later. It ended his trip completely and he had to fly back to San Francisco. Bummer to lose Dave but another sign that you must go with flow, appreciate the opportunity at hand, and do not take for granted the wonder of the wide open world.

Erin and I ended up on the island of Koh Phangan a few days after losing Dave and we arrived the same day as the Half Moon jungle party. Let’s see what this party island is all about!

A buzz of energy was in the air as we arrived to the hostel. “Free shots!” proclaimed the staff. Body paint, alcohol, and good times got us started. We caught a tuk-tuk and hung on tight up the winding jungle road to our destination. Twelve of us on one ride had me hanging teetering on the side as the driver moved seamlessly through town and up toward a night to remember.

Dropped off in the jungle I begin to see the bright lights and hear the sound of the electronic music. Now here is a scene we were familiar with back home. Witnessing the grand stage production with a DJ booth and the amazing colors streaming out from the LED visual panel above the booth we found our place for the evening. Wandering around near the brightly lit tree in the middle of the dance floor it was possible to sit, reflect on the journey thus far, and smile from within. This is why we came across the world, to find our true freedom away from the hustle and grind back home and meet all these amazing souls from many different walks of life. Take the journey in stride and realize that there is no schedule here, only great memories to be made and life to be lived.

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kenyaCertain Freedom On The Edge in Kenya

I had travelled very little in life, almost all of it within the geographical borders of New York State and most of that between the rounded mountains of the Catskills, the tumble of the Adirondacks, and the rocky Eastern shores of Lake Ontario. The world is a comfortable, dependable, predictable place when it amounts to roughly 150 miles by 150 miles. It also becomes routine, dull, and even a little oppressive. Still and all, it was MY world and what I knew.

You might think that such a small, intimate world would be accustomed to many of those born and raised there taking their leave, escaping into the wider world all around. To be sure, that occurred, enough to not be unusual, but not enough to be common. So, when the opportunity to leave New York and live in Kenya presented itself, pursuing that opportunity became a rich source of unsolicited advice, unsought opinion, and even outright discouragement.

I had wanted to explore the wider world beyond Upstate New York for some time, but did not have a good idea of how to do so. No one in my family or group of friends had travelled much, if at all. One uncle who had travelled extensively had done so by making a career with US Air Force. Joining “the Service” did not appeal to me, much to my uncle’s and father’s dismay. But, in a tangential twist of reasoning, the concept of esprit de corps Dad continually espoused bloomed into the idea of serving in the US Peace Corps.

You can imagine the usual paperwork, interviews, and bureaucratic back-and-forth that took place over the course of six months. Eventually, I was assigned to be a high school teacher in Western Kenya; specifically, the tiny hamlet of Kipsoen clinging 1,000 meters atop the escarpment, above the floor of the Great Rift Valley. The edge of the world.

Everything I had been sure – and assured – of: the world I knew and the person I was certain of, quickly melted away under the equatorial sun of the African plains.

The landscape: Isak Dinesen describes it as, “the views were immensely wide — everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility.” (Out of Africa, 1937). The culture and the people: time and interactions had an easy, open, welcoming quality. Telling time was upended: What was 7:00AM on a clock in New York, was read as “sah moja” (the first hour, or 1:00AM) in KiSwahili, the national language of Kenya. The attitude toward Life: “Hakuna Matata” (there are no problems), as Pumbaa and Timon sang in Disney’s The Lion King, is an actual truth in traditional Kenyan thinking. In short, travelling halfway around the world took me worlds away from what I’d learned and from where I’d come.

Going all that distance and in the melting away, the removal, of all the fixtures and accoutrements of growing up in my old world, there was space for new outlooks, attitudes, and growth. It wasn’t a smooth, quick, easy, nor always a conscious process. Among some of the oldest peoples on the planet, on the oldest continent, I found a new start.

That is where I found my freedom.

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munichWalking on the Winter Streets in Munich, Germany

Bavaria in the winter is a different proposition from Bavaria in the summer. Perhaps if one skies, a winter in Bavaria might seem like heaven with mountain slopes. I emphatically don’t ski. Nor do I like beer. Thus Munich would seem like an odd choice.

I stayed in Munich for three months with my aunt. Four years ago she moved here for work, and found a comfortable apartment with an extra bedroom. Every member of my extended family has, at least once, come here to stay with her and take short trips elsewhere in Europe once the jet lag has worn off. I’m the last one to make the journey.

As for myself, this is not particularly a vacation. More like a figure-out-what-the-hell-I’m-doing-with-my-life sabbatical of frustration from what I’m used to in Colorado. Also a somewhat desperate bid to step up my photography with inspiration from new places.

It’s early on a Sunday, and despite the temperatures and the fact that the winter sun hasn’t managed to filter much through a blanket of cloud cover, we layer up in warm gear, pulling on knit hats over our bed-messy hair to go for a walk, camera as ever glued to my side.

It’s cold in Munich on a winter morning, and often the wind makes it colder. The apartment is located on a Fahrradstrasse, meaning “bicycle street.” One has to watch out for the bikes more than the cars. The canal we cross is lined with tall trees that are still incongruously sheathed in thick green ivy leaves. The tops of the trees are bare twigs, but no one seems to have told the ivy that it’s cold.

We crunch our way down narrow sidewalks covered in gravel, the German answer to ice-melt. The apartment buildings each have small yards for the ground-floor flats, and most balconies sport what will be greenery in a few months. Some even have tiny pines or spruce, which are decked out festively with Christmas lights during the holidays. Yet despite their similarities, none are quite the same. All have stucco exteriors, but in a surprising range of pastels. Each has its own architecture, some with decorative paintings or small inset statues.

There’s a bakery for every neighborhood, and an apoteke (pharmacy) on practically every street in Munich. The grocery store is never more than a couple of blocks’ walk. On any weekend morning you’ll find a queue outside the bakery, husbands whose wives sent them out on breakfast duty. It’s a different way of life than I’m used to, but I’ve grown to enjoy it.

It takes less than fifteen minutes of walking from the Fahrradstrasse to get to Nymphenburg Palace. The massive white exterior is impressive, but we pass by the huge staircase entrance and enter the gates that lead to the grounds. There are many paths to choose from, criss-crossing the wooded estate. Bird calls ring out unexpectedly, from the tiny blue tits to blackbirds, crows, and geese. Pillared bridges span the canals that divert water from the river to feed several fountains, still now for the winter.

Few people are out this early, so we have the quiet woods mostly to ourselves. As we crunch along, the church bells begin to toll, right on time.

It strikes me as a uniquely European experience to meander on forested paths, yet still hear perfectly tuned church bells sing out from the street that is in fact not too far away. We stop at one of our favorite trees which exudes an air of quiet wisdom, a huge and gnarled beech with bark like elephant skin, and listening to the church bells there feels as sacred as any experience I can remember having.

My time in Munich turned out to be not what I was expecting. But it was precisely what I needed. It was culture and nature all mixed up together; a new frame of reference and an opportunity to see a new way ahead. I knew that I wouldn’t be the same after this time spent traveling, and that is true. Photography became real for me, far more than a hobby. More importantly, I became bigger in Munich, with a wider world-view and deeper determination to live in a meaningful way.

Photo Credit: Dawn Myscofski

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Backpack & Bushes In Munich: The Freedom In Wandering

There I was, wandering the suburban streets of Munich with a poor sense of direction and the absence of mobile technology. That afternoon, I had stepped off of an airplane that had departed from the island of Majorca in the south of Spain. Majorca was warm, tropical, and evoked the inner island-ista in me and, therefore, I was sporting my thinnest tank top and beachy footwear. Although the time of year was early August, the weather in Münich resembled the brisk end of autumn.

Needless to say, I was cold, lost, and the sun was setting. I was on the hunt for the flat belonging to my Couchsurfing hosts, without a way of contacting them. All of the surrounding buildings were residential and very quiet. Any passerby was fair game when it came to directional questions, but I only crossed paths with two in my many hours of searching. The first person was Turkish and I, unfortunately, did not speak his language. I showed him my hand-written address and he pointed onward down the street; I kept walking.

This is the point where I should have broken down and cried. There was not one car or taxi to flag and deliver me to my destination. I was far from the nearest train station and low on cash. Instead of crying, however, I stayed calm. I had my backpack; everything I needed was on my person so spending a night in the bushes… was totally doable!

In that backpack I had multiple layers of clothing, a change of shoes, and probably something edible. My backpack was there for me. My backpack gave me the freedom to make a mistake like this and helped me recognize my privilege in possessing the items necessary for basic comforts. This realization showed me that once basic needs are met, less is more in travel.

The freer we want to become, the more we must leave behind. Before I could be a self-titled traveler, I had to look this realization square in the eyes because leaving behind the things that maintain comfort in order to travel is uncomfortable. I did not like getting dirty and staying dirty. I wanted my full size shampoo bottle. I needed silence and complete darkness in order to sleep through the night.

For me, it was a little grey backpack that challenged me to decide what was to be left behind in order to see what true freedom feels like. If it was travel that I wanted, I had to bridge the void between lux and living. I had to become okay with getting dirty, losing sleep, being uncomfortable for the sake of seeing the world with authenticity. When living life as a traveler, what is essential is what we choose to travel with us. The size of my backpack has taught me to choose wisely and intuitively.

This very backpack encourages me to not only open the door of my closet to get it out but doors all over the world. It has been there to support me through the wonderful and harried times of my adventures. My backpack was there for me when I hunted for my hostel on the winding streets of Barcelona. She has sat beside me and heard countless tales from strangers who have transformed into friends. And she has been there for the myriad of travel-mishaps that have left me questioning if I will be sleeping in the bushes for the evening.

The end of my Munich mishap goes like this: Lost in a dark courtyard, I spotted a man climbing his porch steps about to unlock his front door. Across the green space, I shouted for help as politely and nonthreatening as possible. He stopped and turned around seemingly jolly and ready to help. Thank God! I showed him the address and, in broken German-English, he described that I was on the side of the street with even-numbered addresses and I needed to be in the courtyard across the street with odd-numbered addresses. I was saved from a foliage-filled slumber!

Because everything I needed was on my back, a night in the shrubs was not only a possibility but also something I was prepared to experience. Of course, I know that I am more than my backpack and, even without it, I would have survived, but I have learned that living with less is actually living with enough. By setting off on an adventure with minimal essentials, I have been allowed to become myself again. Even though I found the flat in Munich that night, my backpack has given me the freedom and contentment in knowing that there really is not much I need to pack to have a proper adventure.

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Democracy, Freedom and Independence in Bratislava, Slovakia.

It is a holiday commemorating the 1945 uprising against Nazi occupation today. Devinska Nova Ves (DNV) is a large village about 16 km north of Bratislava. Its wide main street is lined with old houses, there is an enormous Volkswagen factory and a few tower blocks – nothing special really. But back in 2012 it came to the attention of the world’s press, even Reuters. It was all about a bridge.

DNV is on the Morava River- the border between Slovakia and Austria. In Cold War times this was a heavily militarized zone of barbed-wire fences and constant patrols by border guards. Many people died trying to run through the wire here. Inside the one km exclusion zone you could have been shot on sight. If they had tried swimming they would have had to deal with serious currents on both the Danube and Morava rivers. In 2012 a bridge was completed over the river at DNV to join the formerly impenetrable frontier. The Bratislava Regional Assembly set up a Facebook vote to name this historically significant link between the old communist block and Western Europe. The Regional Governor, Pavol Freso, affirmed that they would probably go with the people’s wishes. That is until the “Chuck Norris Bridge” polled more than 10 times as many votes as the Regional Assembly’s proposal, or indeed any other suggestions. Now Reuters started to take an interest. Chuck Norris was always a source of jokes concerning macho invincibility in Slovakia (Chuck Norris can delete the recycling bin…), but hardly a feasible choice for naming a bridge (no-one walks over Chuck Norris was later mentioned by the Assembly). But you can cross this historic bridge today. The floodplains beneath will be a Site of Special Scientific Interest, teeming with rare flora and fauna.

About two km South of DNV lies the village of Devin, where today there is a festival. If you bus out of Bratislava you may well sit next to a knight, complete with chain mail, sword and helmet on his mobile phone.

Devin Castle, first recorded in 864, lies atop a cliff overlooking the Danube. In the thirteenth century it was the frontier post of the Hungarian Empire. It featured on a coin and a note of the former currency in Cold War times – an important national symbol. Now it lies in ruins (thank Napoleon for that). At the castle are “medieval” tents with costumed people sitting around cooking over fires in iron pots. It has an authentic feel. All the men have long hair and one is undressing to his boxer shorts to put on his chain mail vest, boots, helmet and jacket.

We walk up to the ruins, where my four-year-old daughter, Mollie, is delighted to shout “bottom” down the 55 metre well and enjoy its echo. From up here you can see the Danube curving round to the Morava.

Terraced vineyards sweep down from Dacha’s (small wooden summer villas) on the mountain-top. One huge, elegant residence dominates all of these. I was told that this belongs to the Russian mafia. Down at the river you can throw a stone over into Austria which is why so many tried their luck here. If it wasn’t running through the militarized zone and barbed wire then trying to swim, it was (homemade) hang-gliders from the hilltops. Down by the confluence a serious ceremony is taking place. Over 400 people died between 1945 and 1989 attempting this: nearly one a month for 44 years from one small village on the Austrian border. Each name listed on the sculpture and explained in four languages. It read (verbatim):
“The Iron Curtain used to stand here. It cannot be pulled away. It can only be cracked. Four Hundred people sacrificed their life while fighting for their rights. Human beings, free and unrestricted do not forget that freedom of thinking, acting and dreaming is a value that is not only worth living but also bringing sacrifices.”

Judging by their ages, the attendees here could well have been the brothers or sisters, even parents of those desperado’s who died for freedom and independence. So there you have it: freedom and independence in one rather confusing package. Foul-mouthed four-year-olds, uprisings against Nazi occupation, modern ex-Iron Curtain members of the EEC co-existing with today’s Russian mafia, medieval knights, would-be escapees of communism and Chuck Norris. The Bratislava Regional Assembly, in their infinite wisdom actually rejected the 12,599 votes for the “Chuck Norris Bridge” in favour of the “Freedom Cycling Bridge” (457 votes), which is now its official name. However, thanks to Reuters, it is even today easily findable on Google under its more democratic name. If my daughter were able to understand this, I am absolutely sure that she would say, “But that’s bottom democracy, freedom and independence!”

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Forging my Inquisitive Name in Egypt

Standing in a shop in Cairo, I spelled out my name for the clerk, both in English and in Arabic. Should it end with an eliph or a taa marbuta? We went back and forth, settling on aliph, the first letter of the alphabet, and I handed over a not insignificant amount of Egyptian pounds.

I was in Egypt for six weeks studying Arabic and Middle Eastern politics, as part of one of my many minors. But really, I was there because the summer before I had stayed home in Massachusetts, working retail. I had watched as friends flooded facebook with photos from all over Egypt. I wanted to learn about the region, but I also wanted to go on an adventure, having conversations and experiences that would never happen back home. My parents had agreed, on the grounds that university staff would accompany us. My boyfriend would be waiting when I got back, in spite of how nervous I had been to even ask that question.

Six weeks seemed like a long time, but once I was abroad, it it didn’t take long for us both to chafe under the situation. He felt like I was always too busy, and was suspicious of the new friends I was making, especially the male ones. I felt like every call was either a fight or a one-sided conversation, keeping me from flash cards, late-night dessert treks, and new friends. I had started spending time with young women who proudly called themselves feminists and stretched my previous definition of the word. I started wondering why I had ever found the necklace he gave me, emblazoned with the word “princess,” to be sweet.

A couple of days after spelling out my name in the shop, a small velvet envelope arrived. I took off the old necklace, something I hadn’t done since he gave it to me, and excitedly placed my new one around my neck. Instead of someone else’s ill-fitting pet name, I was wearing my own. More than that, my Arabic name necklace was an outward sign of my accomplishments: the hundreds of hours learning Arabic, the nerve-wracking solo cab ride, the ever-present street harassment, and the wonder of Naguib Mahfouz’s books. I was working harder academically than I ever had in my life, not to mention constantly learning from everyone I met. This country had indelibly changed me, and it all sat there at my collarbone, in elegant, silver, Arabic script.

Back home, I wore my new necklace proudly. That did not go unnoticed.

There were questions and tears. It seems the symbolism of the two pieces of jewelry wasn’t lost on anyone. It didn’t help that I hid his necklace from myself out of sadness and couldn’t find it again until years later, well after our relationship was dead and buried. But it wouldn’t have mattered; I had changed.

My time in Egypt brought so much to my life: feminism, a love of the Middle East, dear friends, and a knowledge that not only can I do things that seem big and scary, but I thrive on them. I’ll never be certain why we broke up, but I know I couldn’t have become the person I am now while remaining his girlfriend. I needed years to myself, without any guilt or judgment about my travels and personal politics, two of my strongest and most intertwined traits. I needed room to grow, to see where the world would take me if I didn’t need anyone else and no one else needed me. I needed to be a woman of my own making, not someone else’s vision of me, not an asterisked version of myself that was only acceptable with caveats and conditions. I needed to be able to pick up and go, over and over again, and not be seen as disloyal for doing so.

One day, the necklace slipped off at a friend’s backyard barbecue, never to be seen again. I miss it like I miss so much about Egypt, from koshery and nutty actions movies to hijabi fashion and Al Azhar Park. But I take comfort in the fact that I don’t need the necklace like I once did. By the time I lost the necklace, it had served its purpose. I was out of that relationship and had travelled to many countries, but most importantly, I had been brave enough to choose myself, and the life I wanted to lead. I knew my choices were not dalliances but a path. I had chosen a life driven by adventure and ideals, one where my brain and my bravado are my most prized possessions. Someday, there may be another man who wants to rename me and keep me close by his side. I’d like to see him try.

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A safe itinerary to exciting success in Nigeria
He possessed an intrepid physique, radiant cheeks, hair still remain dark, and a gritty skin. He wore a hat strolling around the backyard, and a tattered blue army overcoat when it was cold, and sometimes top-boots. He walks round the house and an earsplitting yell was heard from the backyard, before he could be rushed to the hospital, he gave up the ghost.

What a pity! There is no one death cannot eliminate as death claim the life of my father after being battled by the debilitating disease of cancer.
One morning after the corpse was interred; the family members sideline my mother from other important discussion concerning the properties of the deceased. She stood upon her gallery with arms akimbo, shedding tears, so unexpected and bewildering was the death of her husband. The next decision of the family member was that the children of the deceased would be taken care of by the family members but my mother disagreed.

Few days to that time, I was kidnapped by unknown abductors alongside my mother and my younger ones into the narrow strip of shade on the porch of the long, low house; the hot sunlight was beating in on the brown old boards as an unpleasant odour filled the atmosphere, and a terrific sound was coming across the non-flowering cotton-field. The kidnappers were sent by the family member who wanted to confiscate the hard earned properties of the deceased from his immediate family.

Few minute to our execution by the kidnappers, a serene was heard within that abode alarmed by the Nigeria Police who were on duty when they notice some suspicious movement and sound in that environment. They thwarted the kidnappers from achieving their goal as they all fled away from being arrested and we were all unfettered from their captivity.

After two days of staying at the police station for security reasons, an officer lent my mother a piece of advice and that leads to our itinerary to Lagos state so that we can gain the freedom from our nemesis.

In the struggle of being totally independence, my mother seeks for employment opportunity for various months under the administration of the rickety Nigeria government before she later started with a petty trade. My mother also clamour that I should be independent by now as she inculcated that I must learn a vocation and must also provide and feed myself. This was initially difficult for me and I had persistent fight with her. I begin to hate her the more, my emotion begins to suffer depression, and my life now lacks the nutrient of joy and happiness. Drastically, I am becoming more irrelevant to the community as I use obsolete phone, I have accrued debt and I can’t avoid eating three meals a day because I have fallen into the abysmal of excruciating pestilence of poverty.

At a conference which I reluctantly attended transformed my life, I was inspired to take responsibility. Consequently, I searched for job in consensus to the inspiring testimonies heard at the conference that “before you can become successful, you would need to move out of your environment”. This emanates how I became a driver as I virtually travel and tour the whole Nigeria and Ghana while doing a job of a driver.

After about 15hours on road from Nigeria due to various barricades by the security personnel and also the vehicle engine problem which hiatus our journey. The red sunset and the blue-gray twilight had together flung a purple mist across the road that hid it from our view. We could no longer hear the wheezing and creaking of wheels but could still faintly hear the shrill, glad voices of the children in the passing vehicles. Finally, we reach Ghana and I got employed by the benevolent business woman called Miss Calister to whom I return the wallet she forgot in my bus some weeks ago.
I seated myself beside the table as I glance through the room, into which the evening shadows were creeping and deepening around my solitary figure, happy that I bounced back to a life of debt free, joy and happiness and I regain my freedom from the bumpy hands of poverty and sadness. This is the chronicle of my itinerary to success.

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Gulin china5 Places worth a visit in Guilin, China

Anyone who’s ever read a Chinese textbook can attest that these textbooks glorify Guilin. Not only that, politicians also sing praises to this city’s natural endowments and often entertain visiting dignitaries in this resort town. During my last visit to Guilin, I was adamant to find out in less than a week if Guilin and its surrounding areas do indeed live up to its reputation. Here are the top five sights I saw and love to reminisce about.

1. Reed flute cave

I spent a good hour here oohing and ahhing at the sight of the abundant stalactites and rock formations, which were illuminated by multi-colored lighting. This lighting enhanced the otherworldly atmosphere contained therein. It was like stumbling into a fairy’s den, another world you’ll normally associate with a fictional novel. The highlight was the laser light musical show at the end of the cave, which gave me chills. With the help of the guide, I could easily visualize animals, cities, and plants among the rock formations.

2. Fubo hill

This attraction made me withstand an intense cardio exercise as I climbed the steps leading up to the lookout point on top that showed a bird’s eye view of the city. You could see panoramic views of the Li River and the developing city’s natural beauty from high above.

3. Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces

Hours away from Guilin, I found myself gaping at the brilliant spectacle of the verdant green man-made terraces carved as far as the eye could see. I could tell from the wide expanse of the terraces that this is the culmination of the Zhuang people’s strenuous efforts and ingeniousness. I rode a cable car to get to the top where I could see just how high and extensive the work done must have been to transform the vast region into layer upon layer of rice terraces. It was a picturesque sight to behold and I could imagine how its beauty changes into golden hues for autumn, crisp white in winter and bright green for summer to keep onlookers wanting to come back again.

4. The Long Hair Village

The moment I stumbled upon the Long Hair Village, the Guinness world book record holder for the “world’s longest hair village”, I was intrigued. I was bewildered that such a place even exists! I discovered with my own eyes that the village is beautiful with its rustic charm and truly, its residents does indeed live up to their village name. The Yao ethnic women who reside there were the embodiment of brunette Rapunzels. They dress in unique and colorful traditional clothing and performed by singing and dancing. It was amusing to watch as they invited male guests to participate in a mock wedding ceremony as done in their village. You may ask: how do they keep their hair jet-black even when they’re old and wrinkled? They do so by washing their hair with fermented rice water! Nature truly works wonders.

5. Li River cruise

As featured on the 20 yuan note, you can see the lush landscape looking reminiscent of Ha Long Bay at every twist and turn on this relaxing cruise. I saw fishermen, some with tourists, on their bamboo rafts sailing through the calm water. After a few hours, the cruise stops at Yangshuo, a small town where you can easily find food or bargain with small shops selling pearl, jade, Chinese paintings and more.

After being left breathless by these five stand-out sights, I was rest assured that Guilin and its surrounding areas are indeed worth a visit and are definitely worthy of its accolades.

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colombiaLiving Life to its fullest in England

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted a poem by Pablo Neruda entitled “You start dying slowly.” It resonated with me, and expressed the way that I was feeling 3 years ago, before my life took a detour from its original trajectory. There are not many things in this world that I am afraid of, but dying without fully experiencing life is one of my greatest fears.

“You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking every day on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine.”

Freedom and fulfillment of dreams are central to the North American ideal, but many of us don’t feel free. Instead, we feel enslaved to our jobs and our lifestyles like we are just part of the rat race, mechanically putting one foot in front of the other. It wasn’t long ago that I felt trapped in my life, like I was living in auto-pilot, moving through each day without anything special and feeling unsatisfied. I was in my fifth year as a junior high/middle-school science teacher in my hometown, and although I loved my job and my students, I felt stuck. Everyone else seemed to be moving forward, finding love, settling down, and having families. Yet here I was, doing the “same old things”; I was not content to “settle”. But what could I do?

“You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job,
[…] If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream […]
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.”

I have always had a love of traveling, since my first plane rides and car trips across Canada as a toddler to visit family. I was very fortunate to have the experience of doing a semester abroad in university, and it lit the fire to try life in another country. When I finished university, I dreamed of teaching overseas. The more unsatisfied I felt with my life, the more my desire to teach abroad increased. I made the decision to move overseas, and after being denied a leave of absence, I resigned from my position, packed up my life and my house, and moved to England. By moving abroad, I was forcing myself to meet new people, try new things and change my routines. There were many new things to experience and different customs to learn to try to fit into my new surroundings.

” You start dying slowly
If you do not travel,
If you do not listen to the sounds of life
If you do not appreciate your life […]
If you avoid to feel passion.”

I struggled when I first moved, and found that I still wasn’t as happy as I had hoped to be. I was forced to figure out my passions. I always knew that traveling was a passion of mine, but I was very fortunate to meet a group of diverse women who helped me rediscover another passion of mine, dance. One of my favourite things when I am visiting a different region, or country, is to learn about their food and about their culture, in particular, the way that music influences people and their outlooks on life. This was especially evident when I took my next leap to Colombia. One of the most diverse countries in South America, there are so many different cultures all blended into one, and it makes for an amazing and lively blend of music and movement. Nothing can make you happier than some cool Colombian beats!

Since traveling is my passion, I felt the most alive when I was able to get out of London and travel throughout Europe. I tried to figure out a way that I could experience that presence in my day to day life. One advantage of such a large city, is that it made exploring close to home quite easy. There are so many different parks, markets and sites to see, that most weekends, I would make an effort to immerse myself in my environment.

It actually took living in Colombia, in a city that lacked parks, for me to realize how important nature is to feeling free and satisfied with life. For those that may not have the ability to travel far from home, going to the local park, the mountains or the ocean is another great way to free yourselves from the stresses and confines of daily life. What I discovered from moving around the world, is that to feel free, you don’t have to go far. By paying attention to your surroundings, and surrounding yourself with nature, you too can feel free.

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thailand-scheduleThere Is No Crammed Schedule in Thailand

Erin and I took a giant leap of adventure when we sold all our belongings in the USA and booked a one way ticket to Bangkok, Thailand. No itinerary. No plans. It was time to shake life up and discover more of ourselves. We were all too familiar with the 9-5 grind and were ready for something completely different. It does not take long on the backpacking trail to learn a few things about self and about life.

It is difficult to make and keep travel plans out in this world experiencing pure freedom. Where the wind blows and you follow along with the stranger met last night. A few buckets and a few beers and next thing you know we were on our way from Bangkok to Surat Thani with a brand new friend Dave, who happened to be approaching 60 years old, but knew a thing or two about travel.

We sat on the floor near the KFC in the brightly lit open air train station. Where the locals chipper away with their Thai accents and the smell of all sorts of food fill the air. Quite a strange aroma of fried chicken and Pad Thai, especially for the just arrived tourists we were. After two hours on the very hard train station floor I thought to myself, “I haven’t heard an announcement for our train and it is past departure time.” I walk up to the ticket window with Dave and learn the train was gone. We missed it!

Now that was a hard pill to swallow at that time. Missed the train, “Oh no,” we thought, “what are we going to do now!?” At the ticket counter, the lady next to me says, “That’s traveling. Just let it go. You’ll get there fine.” My worrying mind was wound so tight from the life I left behind that I could not comprehend the ease with which she said let it go. No other choice but to buy another ticket and sit next to the ladies chomping on their bags of rice and hang out longer.

We caught the next train and arrived at our destination just fine. The first step in unwinding that anxious little brain was to acknowledge that while on travel things do not always go as planned. Take a deep breath and carry on.

Dave learned that lesson as well when he stepped in the ocean off balance and messed up his knee in Koh Samui three days later. It ended his trip completely and he had to fly back to San Francisco. Bummer to lose Dave but another sign that you must go with flow, appreciate the opportunity at hand, and do not take for granted the wonder of the wide open world.

Erin and I ended up on the island of Koh Phangan a few days after losing Dave and we arrived the same day as the Half Moon jungle party. Let’s see what this party island is all about!

A buzz of energy was in the air as we arrived to the hostel. “Free shots!” proclaimed the staff. Body paint, alcohol, and good times got us started. We caught a tuk-tuk and hung on tight up the winding jungle road to our destination. Twelve of us on one ride had me hanging teetering on the side as the driver moved seamlessly through town and up toward a night to remember.

Dropped off in the jungle I begin to see the bright lights and hear the sound of the electronic music. Now here is a scene we were familiar with back home. Witnessing the grand stage production with a DJ booth and the amazing colors streaming out from the LED visual panel above the booth we found our place for the evening. Wandering around near the brightly lit tree in the middle of the dance floor it was possible to sit, reflect on the journey thus far, and smile from within. This is why we came across the world, to find our true freedom away from the hustle and grind back home and meet all these amazing souls from many different walks of life. Take the journey in stride and realize that there is no schedule here, only great memories to be made and life to be lived.

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kenyaCertain Freedom On The Edge in Kenya

I had travelled very little in life, almost all of it within the geographical borders of New York State and most of that between the rounded mountains of the Catskills, the tumble of the Adirondacks, and the rocky Eastern shores of Lake Ontario. The world is a comfortable, dependable, predictable place when it amounts to roughly 150 miles by 150 miles. It also becomes routine, dull, and even a little oppressive. Still and all, it was MY world and what I knew.

You might think that such a small, intimate world would be accustomed to many of those born and raised there taking their leave, escaping into the wider world all around. To be sure, that occurred, enough to not be unusual, but not enough to be common. So, when the opportunity to leave New York and live in Kenya presented itself, pursuing that opportunity became a rich source of unsolicited advice, unsought opinion, and even outright discouragement.

I had wanted to explore the wider world beyond Upstate New York for some time, but did not have a good idea of how to do so. No one in my family or group of friends had travelled much, if at all. One uncle who had travelled extensively had done so by making a career with US Air Force. Joining “the Service” did not appeal to me, much to my uncle’s and father’s dismay. But, in a tangential twist of reasoning, the concept of esprit de corps Dad continually espoused bloomed into the idea of serving in the US Peace Corps.

You can imagine the usual paperwork, interviews, and bureaucratic back-and-forth that took place over the course of six months. Eventually, I was assigned to be a high school teacher in Western Kenya; specifically, the tiny hamlet of Kipsoen clinging 1,000 meters atop the escarpment, above the floor of the Great Rift Valley. The edge of the world.

Everything I had been sure – and assured – of: the world I knew and the person I was certain of, quickly melted away under the equatorial sun of the African plains.

The landscape: Isak Dinesen describes it as, “the views were immensely wide — everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility.” (Out of Africa, 1937). The culture and the people: time and interactions had an easy, open, welcoming quality. Telling time was upended: What was 7:00AM on a clock in New York, was read as “sah moja” (the first hour, or 1:00AM) in KiSwahili, the national language of Kenya. The attitude toward Life: “Hakuna Matata” (there are no problems), as Pumbaa and Timon sang in Disney’s The Lion King, is an actual truth in traditional Kenyan thinking. In short, travelling halfway around the world took me worlds away from what I’d learned and from where I’d come.

Going all that distance and in the melting away, the removal, of all the fixtures and accoutrements of growing up in my old world, there was space for new outlooks, attitudes, and growth. It wasn’t a smooth, quick, easy, nor always a conscious process. Among some of the oldest peoples on the planet, on the oldest continent, I found a new start.

That is where I found my freedom.

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munichWalking on the Winter Streets in Munich, Germany

Bavaria in the winter is a different proposition from Bavaria in the summer. Perhaps if one skies, a winter in Bavaria might seem like heaven with mountain slopes. I emphatically don’t ski. Nor do I like beer. Thus Munich would seem like an odd choice.

I stayed in Munich for three months with my aunt. Four years ago she moved here for work, and found a comfortable apartment with an extra bedroom. Every member of my extended family has, at least once, come here to stay with her and take short trips elsewhere in Europe once the jet lag has worn off. I’m the last one to make the journey.

As for myself, this is not particularly a vacation. More like a figure-out-what-the-hell-I’m-doing-with-my-life sabbatical of frustration from what I’m used to in Colorado. Also a somewhat desperate bid to step up my photography with inspiration from new places.

It’s early on a Sunday, and despite the temperatures and the fact that the winter sun hasn’t managed to filter much through a blanket of cloud cover, we layer up in warm gear, pulling on knit hats over our bed-messy hair to go for a walk, camera as ever glued to my side.

It’s cold in Munich on a winter morning, and often the wind makes it colder. The apartment is located on a Fahrradstrasse, meaning “bicycle street.” One has to watch out for the bikes more than the cars. The canal we cross is lined with tall trees that are still incongruously sheathed in thick green ivy leaves. The tops of the trees are bare twigs, but no one seems to have told the ivy that it’s cold.

We crunch our way down narrow sidewalks covered in gravel, the German answer to ice-melt. The apartment buildings each have small yards for the ground-floor flats, and most balconies sport what will be greenery in a few months. Some even have tiny pines or spruce, which are decked out festively with Christmas lights during the holidays. Yet despite their similarities, none are quite the same. All have stucco exteriors, but in a surprising range of pastels. Each has its own architecture, some with decorative paintings or small inset statues.

There’s a bakery for every neighborhood, and an apoteke (pharmacy) on practically every street in Munich. The grocery store is never more than a couple of blocks’ walk. On any weekend morning you’ll find a queue outside the bakery, husbands whose wives sent them out on breakfast duty. It’s a different way of life than I’m used to, but I’ve grown to enjoy it.

It takes less than fifteen minutes of walking from the Fahrradstrasse to get to Nymphenburg Palace. The massive white exterior is impressive, but we pass by the huge staircase entrance and enter the gates that lead to the grounds. There are many paths to choose from, criss-crossing the wooded estate. Bird calls ring out unexpectedly, from the tiny blue tits to blackbirds, crows, and geese. Pillared bridges span the canals that divert water from the river to feed several fountains, still now for the winter.

Few people are out this early, so we have the quiet woods mostly to ourselves. As we crunch along, the church bells begin to toll, right on time.

It strikes me as a uniquely European experience to meander on forested paths, yet still hear perfectly tuned church bells sing out from the street that is in fact not too far away. We stop at one of our favorite trees which exudes an air of quiet wisdom, a huge and gnarled beech with bark like elephant skin, and listening to the church bells there feels as sacred as any experience I can remember having.

My time in Munich turned out to be not what I was expecting. But it was precisely what I needed. It was culture and nature all mixed up together; a new frame of reference and an opportunity to see a new way ahead. I knew that I wouldn’t be the same after this time spent traveling, and that is true. Photography became real for me, far more than a hobby. More importantly, I became bigger in Munich, with a wider world-view and deeper determination to live in a meaningful way.

Photo Credit: Dawn Myscofski

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Backpack & Bushes In Munich: The Freedom In Wandering

There I was, wandering the suburban streets of Munich with a poor sense of direction and the absence of mobile technology. That afternoon, I had stepped off of an airplane that had departed from the island of Majorca in the south of Spain. Majorca was warm, tropical, and evoked the inner island-ista in me and, therefore, I was sporting my thinnest tank top and beachy footwear. Although the time of year was early August, the weather in Münich resembled the brisk end of autumn.

Needless to say, I was cold, lost, and the sun was setting. I was on the hunt for the flat belonging to my Couchsurfing hosts, without a way of contacting them. All of the surrounding buildings were residential and very quiet. Any passerby was fair game when it came to directional questions, but I only crossed paths with two in my many hours of searching. The first person was Turkish and I, unfortunately, did not speak his language. I showed him my hand-written address and he pointed onward down the street; I kept walking.

This is the point where I should have broken down and cried. There was not one car or taxi to flag and deliver me to my destination. I was far from the nearest train station and low on cash. Instead of crying, however, I stayed calm. I had my backpack; everything I needed was on my person so spending a night in the bushes… was totally doable!

In that backpack I had multiple layers of clothing, a change of shoes, and probably something edible. My backpack was there for me. My backpack gave me the freedom to make a mistake like this and helped me recognize my privilege in possessing the items necessary for basic comforts. This realization showed me that once basic needs are met, less is more in travel.

The freer we want to become, the more we must leave behind. Before I could be a self-titled traveler, I had to look this realization square in the eyes because leaving behind the things that maintain comfort in order to travel is uncomfortable. I did not like getting dirty and staying dirty. I wanted my full size shampoo bottle. I needed silence and complete darkness in order to sleep through the night.

For me, it was a little grey backpack that challenged me to decide what was to be left behind in order to see what true freedom feels like. If it was travel that I wanted, I had to bridge the void between lux and living. I had to become okay with getting dirty, losing sleep, being uncomfortable for the sake of seeing the world with authenticity. When living life as a traveler, what is essential is what we choose to travel with us. The size of my backpack has taught me to choose wisely and intuitively.

This very backpack encourages me to not only open the door of my closet to get it out but doors all over the world. It has been there to support me through the wonderful and harried times of my adventures. My backpack was there for me when I hunted for my hostel on the winding streets of Barcelona. She has sat beside me and heard countless tales from strangers who have transformed into friends. And she has been there for the myriad of travel-mishaps that have left me questioning if I will be sleeping in the bushes for the evening.

The end of my Munich mishap goes like this: Lost in a dark courtyard, I spotted a man climbing his porch steps about to unlock his front door. Across the green space, I shouted for help as politely and nonthreatening as possible. He stopped and turned around seemingly jolly and ready to help. Thank God! I showed him the address and, in broken German-English, he described that I was on the side of the street with even-numbered addresses and I needed to be in the courtyard across the street with odd-numbered addresses. I was saved from a foliage-filled slumber!

Because everything I needed was on my back, a night in the shrubs was not only a possibility but also something I was prepared to experience. Of course, I know that I am more than my backpack and, even without it, I would have survived, but I have learned that living with less is actually living with enough. By setting off on an adventure with minimal essentials, I have been allowed to become myself again. Even though I found the flat in Munich that night, my backpack has given me the freedom and contentment in knowing that there really is not much I need to pack to have a proper adventure.

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Democracy, Freedom and Independence in Bratislava, Slovakia.

It is a holiday commemorating the 1945 uprising against Nazi occupation today. Devinska Nova Ves (DNV) is a large village about 16 km north of Bratislava. Its wide main street is lined with old houses, there is an enormous Volkswagen factory and a few tower blocks – nothing special really. But back in 2012 it came to the attention of the world’s press, even Reuters. It was all about a bridge.

DNV is on the Morava River- the border between Slovakia and Austria. In Cold War times this was a heavily militarized zone of barbed-wire fences and constant patrols by border guards. Many people died trying to run through the wire here. Inside the one km exclusion zone you could have been shot on sight. If they had tried swimming they would have had to deal with serious currents on both the Danube and Morava rivers. In 2012 a bridge was completed over the river at DNV to join the formerly impenetrable frontier. The Bratislava Regional Assembly set up a Facebook vote to name this historically significant link between the old communist block and Western Europe. The Regional Governor, Pavol Freso, affirmed that they would probably go with the people’s wishes. That is until the “Chuck Norris Bridge” polled more than 10 times as many votes as the Regional Assembly’s proposal, or indeed any other suggestions. Now Reuters started to take an interest. Chuck Norris was always a source of jokes concerning macho invincibility in Slovakia (Chuck Norris can delete the recycling bin…), but hardly a feasible choice for naming a bridge (no-one walks over Chuck Norris was later mentioned by the Assembly). But you can cross this historic bridge today. The floodplains beneath will be a Site of Special Scientific Interest, teeming with rare flora and fauna.

About two km South of DNV lies the village of Devin, where today there is a festival. If you bus out of Bratislava you may well sit next to a knight, complete with chain mail, sword and helmet on his mobile phone.

Devin Castle, first recorded in 864, lies atop a cliff overlooking the Danube. In the thirteenth century it was the frontier post of the Hungarian Empire. It featured on a coin and a note of the former currency in Cold War times – an important national symbol. Now it lies in ruins (thank Napoleon for that). At the castle are “medieval” tents with costumed people sitting around cooking over fires in iron pots. It has an authentic feel. All the men have long hair and one is undressing to his boxer shorts to put on his chain mail vest, boots, helmet and jacket.

We walk up to the ruins, where my four-year-old daughter, Mollie, is delighted to shout “bottom” down the 55 metre well and enjoy its echo. From up here you can see the Danube curving round to the Morava.

Terraced vineyards sweep down from Dacha’s (small wooden summer villas) on the mountain-top. One huge, elegant residence dominates all of these. I was told that this belongs to the Russian mafia. Down at the river you can throw a stone over into Austria which is why so many tried their luck here. If it wasn’t running through the militarized zone and barbed wire then trying to swim, it was (homemade) hang-gliders from the hilltops. Down by the confluence a serious ceremony is taking place. Over 400 people died between 1945 and 1989 attempting this: nearly one a month for 44 years from one small village on the Austrian border. Each name listed on the sculpture and explained in four languages. It read (verbatim):
“The Iron Curtain used to stand here. It cannot be pulled away. It can only be cracked. Four Hundred people sacrificed their life while fighting for their rights. Human beings, free and unrestricted do not forget that freedom of thinking, acting and dreaming is a value that is not only worth living but also bringing sacrifices.”

Judging by their ages, the attendees here could well have been the brothers or sisters, even parents of those desperado’s who died for freedom and independence. So there you have it: freedom and independence in one rather confusing package. Foul-mouthed four-year-olds, uprisings against Nazi occupation, modern ex-Iron Curtain members of the EEC co-existing with today’s Russian mafia, medieval knights, would-be escapees of communism and Chuck Norris. The Bratislava Regional Assembly, in their infinite wisdom actually rejected the 12,599 votes for the “Chuck Norris Bridge” in favour of the “Freedom Cycling Bridge” (457 votes), which is now its official name. However, thanks to Reuters, it is even today easily findable on Google under its more democratic name. If my daughter were able to understand this, I am absolutely sure that she would say, “But that’s bottom democracy, freedom and independence!”

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Forging my Inquisitive Name in Egypt

Standing in a shop in Cairo, I spelled out my name for the clerk, both in English and in Arabic. Should it end with an eliph or a taa marbuta? We went back and forth, settling on aliph, the first letter of the alphabet, and I handed over a not insignificant amount of Egyptian pounds.

I was in Egypt for six weeks studying Arabic and Middle Eastern politics, as part of one of my many minors. But really, I was there because the summer before I had stayed home in Massachusetts, working retail. I had watched as friends flooded facebook with photos from all over Egypt. I wanted to learn about the region, but I also wanted to go on an adventure, having conversations and experiences that would never happen back home. My parents had agreed, on the grounds that university staff would accompany us. My boyfriend would be waiting when I got back, in spite of how nervous I had been to even ask that question.

Six weeks seemed like a long time, but once I was abroad, it it didn’t take long for us both to chafe under the situation. He felt like I was always too busy, and was suspicious of the new friends I was making, especially the male ones. I felt like every call was either a fight or a one-sided conversation, keeping me from flash cards, late-night dessert treks, and new friends. I had started spending time with young women who proudly called themselves feminists and stretched my previous definition of the word. I started wondering why I had ever found the necklace he gave me, emblazoned with the word “princess,” to be sweet.

A couple of days after spelling out my name in the shop, a small velvet envelope arrived. I took off the old necklace, something I hadn’t done since he gave it to me, and excitedly placed my new one around my neck. Instead of someone else’s ill-fitting pet name, I was wearing my own. More than that, my Arabic name necklace was an outward sign of my accomplishments: the hundreds of hours learning Arabic, the nerve-wracking solo cab ride, the ever-present street harassment, and the wonder of Naguib Mahfouz’s books. I was working harder academically than I ever had in my life, not to mention constantly learning from everyone I met. This country had indelibly changed me, and it all sat there at my collarbone, in elegant, silver, Arabic script.

Back home, I wore my new necklace proudly. That did not go unnoticed.

There were questions and tears. It seems the symbolism of the two pieces of jewelry wasn’t lost on anyone. It didn’t help that I hid his necklace from myself out of sadness and couldn’t find it again until years later, well after our relationship was dead and buried. But it wouldn’t have mattered; I had changed.

My time in Egypt brought so much to my life: feminism, a love of the Middle East, dear friends, and a knowledge that not only can I do things that seem big and scary, but I thrive on them. I’ll never be certain why we broke up, but I know I couldn’t have become the person I am now while remaining his girlfriend. I needed years to myself, without any guilt or judgment about my travels and personal politics, two of my strongest and most intertwined traits. I needed room to grow, to see where the world would take me if I didn’t need anyone else and no one else needed me. I needed to be a woman of my own making, not someone else’s vision of me, not an asterisked version of myself that was only acceptable with caveats and conditions. I needed to be able to pick up and go, over and over again, and not be seen as disloyal for doing so.

One day, the necklace slipped off at a friend’s backyard barbecue, never to be seen again. I miss it like I miss so much about Egypt, from koshery and nutty actions movies to hijabi fashion and Al Azhar Park. But I take comfort in the fact that I don’t need the necklace like I once did. By the time I lost the necklace, it had served its purpose. I was out of that relationship and had travelled to many countries, but most importantly, I had been brave enough to choose myself, and the life I wanted to lead. I knew my choices were not dalliances but a path. I had chosen a life driven by adventure and ideals, one where my brain and my bravado are my most prized possessions. Someday, there may be another man who wants to rename me and keep me close by his side. I’d like to see him try.

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

A safe itinerary to exciting success in Nigeria
He possessed an intrepid physique, radiant cheeks, hair still remain dark, and a gritty skin. He wore a hat strolling around the backyard, and a tattered blue army overcoat when it was cold, and sometimes top-boots. He walks round the house and an earsplitting yell was heard from the backyard, before he could be rushed to the hospital, he gave up the ghost.

What a pity! There is no one death cannot eliminate as death claim the life of my father after being battled by the debilitating disease of cancer.
One morning after the corpse was interred; the family members sideline my mother from other important discussion concerning the properties of the deceased. She stood upon her gallery with arms akimbo, shedding tears, so unexpected and bewildering was the death of her husband. The next decision of the family member was that the children of the deceased would be taken care of by the family members but my mother disagreed.

Few days to that time, I was kidnapped by unknown abductors alongside my mother and my younger ones into the narrow strip of shade on the porch of the long, low house; the hot sunlight was beating in on the brown old boards as an unpleasant odour filled the atmosphere, and a terrific sound was coming across the non-flowering cotton-field. The kidnappers were sent by the family member who wanted to confiscate the hard earned properties of the deceased from his immediate family.

Few minute to our execution by the kidnappers, a serene was heard within that abode alarmed by the Nigeria Police who were on duty when they notice some suspicious movement and sound in that environment. They thwarted the kidnappers from achieving their goal as they all fled away from being arrested and we were all unfettered from their captivity.

After two days of staying at the police station for security reasons, an officer lent my mother a piece of advice and that leads to our itinerary to Lagos state so that we can gain the freedom from our nemesis.

In the struggle of being totally independence, my mother seeks for employment opportunity for various months under the administration of the rickety Nigeria government before she later started with a petty trade. My mother also clamour that I should be independent by now as she inculcated that I must learn a vocation and must also provide and feed myself. This was initially difficult for me and I had persistent fight with her. I begin to hate her the more, my emotion begins to suffer depression, and my life now lacks the nutrient of joy and happiness. Drastically, I am becoming more irrelevant to the community as I use obsolete phone, I have accrued debt and I can’t avoid eating three meals a day because I have fallen into the abysmal of excruciating pestilence of poverty.

At a conference which I reluctantly attended transformed my life, I was inspired to take responsibility. Consequently, I searched for job in consensus to the inspiring testimonies heard at the conference that “before you can become successful, you would need to move out of your environment”. This emanates how I became a driver as I virtually travel and tour the whole Nigeria and Ghana while doing a job of a driver.

After about 15hours on road from Nigeria due to various barricades by the security personnel and also the vehicle engine problem which hiatus our journey. The red sunset and the blue-gray twilight had together flung a purple mist across the road that hid it from our view. We could no longer hear the wheezing and creaking of wheels but could still faintly hear the shrill, glad voices of the children in the passing vehicles. Finally, we reach Ghana and I got employed by the benevolent business woman called Miss Calister to whom I return the wallet she forgot in my bus some weeks ago.
I seated myself beside the table as I glance through the room, into which the evening shadows were creeping and deepening around my solitary figure, happy that I bounced back to a life of debt free, joy and happiness and I regain my freedom from the bumpy hands of poverty and sadness. This is the chronicle of my itinerary to success.

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Gulin china5 Places worth a visit in Guilin, China

Anyone who’s ever read a Chinese textbook can attest that these textbooks glorify Guilin. Not only that, politicians also sing praises to this city’s natural endowments and often entertain visiting dignitaries in this resort town. During my last visit to Guilin, I was adamant to find out in less than a week if Guilin and its surrounding areas do indeed live up to its reputation. Here are the top five sights I saw and love to reminisce about.

1. Reed flute cave

I spent a good hour here oohing and ahhing at the sight of the abundant stalactites and rock formations, which were illuminated by multi-colored lighting. This lighting enhanced the otherworldly atmosphere contained therein. It was like stumbling into a fairy’s den, another world you’ll normally associate with a fictional novel. The highlight was the laser light musical show at the end of the cave, which gave me chills. With the help of the guide, I could easily visualize animals, cities, and plants among the rock formations.

2. Fubo hill

This attraction made me withstand an intense cardio exercise as I climbed the steps leading up to the lookout point on top that showed a bird’s eye view of the city. You could see panoramic views of the Li River and the developing city’s natural beauty from high above.

3. Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces

Hours away from Guilin, I found myself gaping at the brilliant spectacle of the verdant green man-made terraces carved as far as the eye could see. I could tell from the wide expanse of the terraces that this is the culmination of the Zhuang people’s strenuous efforts and ingeniousness. I rode a cable car to get to the top where I could see just how high and extensive the work done must have been to transform the vast region into layer upon layer of rice terraces. It was a picturesque sight to behold and I could imagine how its beauty changes into golden hues for autumn, crisp white in winter and bright green for summer to keep onlookers wanting to come back again.

4. The Long Hair Village

The moment I stumbled upon the Long Hair Village, the Guinness world book record holder for the “world’s longest hair village”, I was intrigued. I was bewildered that such a place even exists! I discovered with my own eyes that the village is beautiful with its rustic charm and truly, its residents does indeed live up to their village name. The Yao ethnic women who reside there were the embodiment of brunette Rapunzels. They dress in unique and colorful traditional clothing and performed by singing and dancing. It was amusing to watch as they invited male guests to participate in a mock wedding ceremony as done in their village. You may ask: how do they keep their hair jet-black even when they’re old and wrinkled? They do so by washing their hair with fermented rice water! Nature truly works wonders.

5. Li River cruise

As featured on the 20 yuan note, you can see the lush landscape looking reminiscent of Ha Long Bay at every twist and turn on this relaxing cruise. I saw fishermen, some with tourists, on their bamboo rafts sailing through the calm water. After a few hours, the cruise stops at Yangshuo, a small town where you can easily find food or bargain with small shops selling pearl, jade, Chinese paintings and more.

After being left breathless by these five stand-out sights, I was rest assured that Guilin and its surrounding areas are indeed worth a visit and are definitely worthy of its accolades.

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

colombiaLiving Life to its fullest in England

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted a poem by Pablo Neruda entitled “You start dying slowly.” It resonated with me, and expressed the way that I was feeling 3 years ago, before my life took a detour from its original trajectory. There are not many things in this world that I am afraid of, but dying without fully experiencing life is one of my greatest fears.

“You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking every day on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine.”

Freedom and fulfillment of dreams are central to the North American ideal, but many of us don’t feel free. Instead, we feel enslaved to our jobs and our lifestyles like we are just part of the rat race, mechanically putting one foot in front of the other. It wasn’t long ago that I felt trapped in my life, like I was living in auto-pilot, moving through each day without anything special and feeling unsatisfied. I was in my fifth year as a junior high/middle-school science teacher in my hometown, and although I loved my job and my students, I felt stuck. Everyone else seemed to be moving forward, finding love, settling down, and having families. Yet here I was, doing the “same old things”; I was not content to “settle”. But what could I do?

“You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job,
[…] If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream […]
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.”

I have always had a love of traveling, since my first plane rides and car trips across Canada as a toddler to visit family. I was very fortunate to have the experience of doing a semester abroad in university, and it lit the fire to try life in another country. When I finished university, I dreamed of teaching overseas. The more unsatisfied I felt with my life, the more my desire to teach abroad increased. I made the decision to move overseas, and after being denied a leave of absence, I resigned from my position, packed up my life and my house, and moved to England. By moving abroad, I was forcing myself to meet new people, try new things and change my routines. There were many new things to experience and different customs to learn to try to fit into my new surroundings.

” You start dying slowly
If you do not travel,
If you do not listen to the sounds of life
If you do not appreciate your life […]
If you avoid to feel passion.”

I struggled when I first moved, and found that I still wasn’t as happy as I had hoped to be. I was forced to figure out my passions. I always knew that traveling was a passion of mine, but I was very fortunate to meet a group of diverse women who helped me rediscover another passion of mine, dance. One of my favourite things when I am visiting a different region, or country, is to learn about their food and about their culture, in particular, the way that music influences people and their outlooks on life. This was especially evident when I took my next leap to Colombia. One of the most diverse countries in South America, there are so many different cultures all blended into one, and it makes for an amazing and lively blend of music and movement. Nothing can make you happier than some cool Colombian beats!

Since traveling is my passion, I felt the most alive when I was able to get out of London and travel throughout Europe. I tried to figure out a way that I could experience that presence in my day to day life. One advantage of such a large city, is that it made exploring close to home quite easy. There are so many different parks, markets and sites to see, that most weekends, I would make an effort to immerse myself in my environment.

It actually took living in Colombia, in a city that lacked parks, for me to realize how important nature is to feeling free and satisfied with life. For those that may not have the ability to travel far from home, going to the local park, the mountains or the ocean is another great way to free yourselves from the stresses and confines of daily life. What I discovered from moving around the world, is that to feel free, you don’t have to go far. By paying attention to your surroundings, and surrounding yourself with nature, you too can feel free.

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

thailand-scheduleThere Is No Crammed Schedule in Thailand

Erin and I took a giant leap of adventure when we sold all our belongings in the USA and booked a one way ticket to Bangkok, Thailand. No itinerary. No plans. It was time to shake life up and discover more of ourselves. We were all too familiar with the 9-5 grind and were ready for something completely different. It does not take long on the backpacking trail to learn a few things about self and about life.

It is difficult to make and keep travel plans out in this world experiencing pure freedom. Where the wind blows and you follow along with the stranger met last night. A few buckets and a few beers and next thing you know we were on our way from Bangkok to Surat Thani with a brand new friend Dave, who happened to be approaching 60 years old, but knew a thing or two about travel.

We sat on the floor near the KFC in the brightly lit open air train station. Where the locals chipper away with their Thai accents and the smell of all sorts of food fill the air. Quite a strange aroma of fried chicken and Pad Thai, especially for the just arrived tourists we were. After two hours on the very hard train station floor I thought to myself, “I haven’t heard an announcement for our train and it is past departure time.” I walk up to the ticket window with Dave and learn the train was gone. We missed it!

Now that was a hard pill to swallow at that time. Missed the train, “Oh no,” we thought, “what are we going to do now!?” At the ticket counter, the lady next to me says, “That’s traveling. Just let it go. You’ll get there fine.” My worrying mind was wound so tight from the life I left behind that I could not comprehend the ease with which she said let it go. No other choice but to buy another ticket and sit next to the ladies chomping on their bags of rice and hang out longer.

We caught the next train and arrived at our destination just fine. The first step in unwinding that anxious little brain was to acknowledge that while on travel things do not always go as planned. Take a deep breath and carry on.

Dave learned that lesson as well when he stepped in the ocean off balance and messed up his knee in Koh Samui three days later. It ended his trip completely and he had to fly back to San Francisco. Bummer to lose Dave but another sign that you must go with flow, appreciate the opportunity at hand, and do not take for granted the wonder of the wide open world.

Erin and I ended up on the island of Koh Phangan a few days after losing Dave and we arrived the same day as the Half Moon jungle party. Let’s see what this party island is all about!

A buzz of energy was in the air as we arrived to the hostel. “Free shots!” proclaimed the staff. Body paint, alcohol, and good times got us started. We caught a tuk-tuk and hung on tight up the winding jungle road to our destination. Twelve of us on one ride had me hanging teetering on the side as the driver moved seamlessly through town and up toward a night to remember.

Dropped off in the jungle I begin to see the bright lights and hear the sound of the electronic music. Now here is a scene we were familiar with back home. Witnessing the grand stage production with a DJ booth and the amazing colors streaming out from the LED visual panel above the booth we found our place for the evening. Wandering around near the brightly lit tree in the middle of the dance floor it was possible to sit, reflect on the journey thus far, and smile from within. This is why we came across the world, to find our true freedom away from the hustle and grind back home and meet all these amazing souls from many different walks of life. Take the journey in stride and realize that there is no schedule here, only great memories to be made and life to be lived.

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

kenyaCertain Freedom On The Edge in Kenya

I had travelled very little in life, almost all of it within the geographical borders of New York State and most of that between the rounded mountains of the Catskills, the tumble of the Adirondacks, and the rocky Eastern shores of Lake Ontario. The world is a comfortable, dependable, predictable place when it amounts to roughly 150 miles by 150 miles. It also becomes routine, dull, and even a little oppressive. Still and all, it was MY world and what I knew.

You might think that such a small, intimate world would be accustomed to many of those born and raised there taking their leave, escaping into the wider world all around. To be sure, that occurred, enough to not be unusual, but not enough to be common. So, when the opportunity to leave New York and live in Kenya presented itself, pursuing that opportunity became a rich source of unsolicited advice, unsought opinion, and even outright discouragement.

I had wanted to explore the wider world beyond Upstate New York for some time, but did not have a good idea of how to do so. No one in my family or group of friends had travelled much, if at all. One uncle who had travelled extensively had done so by making a career with US Air Force. Joining “the Service” did not appeal to me, much to my uncle’s and father’s dismay. But, in a tangential twist of reasoning, the concept of esprit de corps Dad continually espoused bloomed into the idea of serving in the US Peace Corps.

You can imagine the usual paperwork, interviews, and bureaucratic back-and-forth that took place over the course of six months. Eventually, I was assigned to be a high school teacher in Western Kenya; specifically, the tiny hamlet of Kipsoen clinging 1,000 meters atop the escarpment, above the floor of the Great Rift Valley. The edge of the world.

Everything I had been sure – and assured – of: the world I knew and the person I was certain of, quickly melted away under the equatorial sun of the African plains.

The landscape: Isak Dinesen describes it as, “the views were immensely wide — everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility.” (Out of Africa, 1937). The culture and the people: time and interactions had an easy, open, welcoming quality. Telling time was upended: What was 7:00AM on a clock in New York, was read as “sah moja” (the first hour, or 1:00AM) in KiSwahili, the national language of Kenya. The attitude toward Life: “Hakuna Matata” (there are no problems), as Pumbaa and Timon sang in Disney’s The Lion King, is an actual truth in traditional Kenyan thinking. In short, travelling halfway around the world took me worlds away from what I’d learned and from where I’d come.

Going all that distance and in the melting away, the removal, of all the fixtures and accoutrements of growing up in my old world, there was space for new outlooks, attitudes, and growth. It wasn’t a smooth, quick, easy, nor always a conscious process. Among some of the oldest peoples on the planet, on the oldest continent, I found a new start.

That is where I found my freedom.

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munichWalking on the Winter Streets in Munich, Germany

Bavaria in the winter is a different proposition from Bavaria in the summer. Perhaps if one skies, a winter in Bavaria might seem like heaven with mountain slopes. I emphatically don’t ski. Nor do I like beer. Thus Munich would seem like an odd choice.

I stayed in Munich for three months with my aunt. Four years ago she moved here for work, and found a comfortable apartment with an extra bedroom. Every member of my extended family has, at least once, come here to stay with her and take short trips elsewhere in Europe once the jet lag has worn off. I’m the last one to make the journey.

As for myself, this is not particularly a vacation. More like a figure-out-what-the-hell-I’m-doing-with-my-life sabbatical of frustration from what I’m used to in Colorado. Also a somewhat desperate bid to step up my photography with inspiration from new places.

It’s early on a Sunday, and despite the temperatures and the fact that the winter sun hasn’t managed to filter much through a blanket of cloud cover, we layer up in warm gear, pulling on knit hats over our bed-messy hair to go for a walk, camera as ever glued to my side.

It’s cold in Munich on a winter morning, and often the wind makes it colder. The apartment is located on a Fahrradstrasse, meaning “bicycle street.” One has to watch out for the bikes more than the cars. The canal we cross is lined with tall trees that are still incongruously sheathed in thick green ivy leaves. The tops of the trees are bare twigs, but no one seems to have told the ivy that it’s cold.

We crunch our way down narrow sidewalks covered in gravel, the German answer to ice-melt. The apartment buildings each have small yards for the ground-floor flats, and most balconies sport what will be gree