Spain

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Located three hours by bus northwest of Madrid, Gredos is a quiet farming community surrounded by snow capped mountains.  My husband and I went there with 21 other Anglos to converse in English with an equal number of Spanish business people and students.  We were part of a program in which people learn the language by being immersed in conversation with English speaking folks.  The program was the most unusual experience I’ve had.  It’s not that our activities were so different, no rock climbing or mountain summiting, but nonstop conversation with strangers for one week was outside of my usual comfort zone.  There were great variations in the amount of English each Spaniard knew, but all were there to improve their skills.

 

Our daily routine began with an 8 am wake up call so we could get ready for breakfast at 9 am sharp and begin conversation.  After that we spent the morning meeting one-on-one, switching partners on the hour.  During this time we could take a walk, sit in the lobby, have coffee, or do whatever else we desired, as long as we were conversing.  Talking for an hour allowed us to get past just commenting on the weather and into meatier subjects such as whether there is life after death.  We ate a late lunch and had a break from 3-5 pm.  Then it was back to work, participating in group activities, more one-on-one, and for some, planning entertainment for the rest of the group.

What made this trip so unique?  I hardly saw any of the surrounding area and pretty much spent my time cooped up in the hotel.  However, I have one special memory that will stay with me.  We arrived on a Friday and the following Monday a party was scheduled.  It was held in a room cleared for dancing, with low lighting and recorded music provided (Elvis to Disco to Hip Hop).  The decorations looked leftover from a kindergarten class and the sangria was only drinkable if you were already drunk.  But it was the best party I’ve ever attended.  Everyone and I mean all 46 of us, took part and danced.  I have been to parties with people I’ve known much better than this and we never danced.  Everyone seemed at ease moving to the music.  Not that we moved very well – there were probably two or three who could really dance and the rest of us could’ve used a few lessons.  We all hung out together too, no breaking up into smaller groups separate from the others.    It was such an eye opener to the power of communication.  I thought to myself, three days ago I first met these people and now we’re partying like good friends.

That night is the best way I can simply describe the special aspect of that week.  We learned plenty from each other and it was more than just language.  We shared stories, culture, and best of all, ourselves.

That experience has been my inspiration for feeling free to be myself.  I saw that large group of people come together and unite in spite of differences.  Feeling free is a state of mind and I got a glimpse of how wonderful it can be.

About the author:  Marikay is a world traveler sharing her passion with others through her stories.   She has been a cost estimator, college instructor, accounting assistant and currently, an academic advisor.  Travelling has enhanced all areas of her life.

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On the 8th of June back in 2012, I walked to The End of the Earth and found my bravery along the way. The end of the earth (also called Finnisterre) sits on the end of Cape Finnisterre, a rocky peninsula just beyond the town of Fisterra in the North West corner of Spain. In 2012, I had walked eight hundred kilometers across Spain to Santiago de Compostela on the Camino de Santiago. The day after I arrived in Santiago, I set out for Finnisterre, eighty-seven kilometers away.

On the morning of the 8th, I woke up on the top bunk of a rickety metal bunk bed in an alburgue in Olveiroa. A dozen pilgrims were still sleeping in the room. I had a bad uncomfortable sleep, so at first light, I climbed down from the bunk and got to a toilet before a line formed. After dressing and packing, I sat down and put on my shoes as everyone else started moving. Some pilgrims asked me questions, and I answered them politely even though I was not awake. My mood turned grumpy in the café as pilgrim friends chatted around me, so I left with my bag on my back.

Usually, I was fine once I started walking, but that morning, I was not fine. I was angry and annoyed on a dirt road filled with happy pilgrims. I walked past a smiling woman with her bare feet in a stream. She annoyed me with her contentment. My mind became a series of curse words.

When I was in first grade, I was told by my teacher that I had a bad temper. I soon learned not only how to behave correctly, but also how to suppress my anger internally. Besides, girls weren’t supposed to feel anger. We were the everything-nice gender. For decades, I criticized my anger instead of just letting myself feel it.

On the road out of Olveiroa, I had no reason to stop the stream of anger inside me. I seethed internally about rocks on the road or the color of someone’s backpack. And the rage gave me adrenaline. And I walked faster. And I kept raging. I didn’t want to walk thirty-one kilometers to Fisterra. I was done with this stupid walking. I was done with all of it. Curse word, cursing curse word.

Then I heard another voice in my head. It was not a voice saying I was a bad person. It was not a voice telling me to calm down. It was a voice that said, okay Jen, if today is your last day of walking, then you’re going all the way to the end of the earth. You’re gonna walk thirty-one kilometers.

Once I heard that voice, I calmed down. I was okay. Instead of pushing the rage away, I had let it flow, and it brought me back to myself and what I wanted to do. I had been scared of the distance and tired from the bad sleep, and all of that became the rage. Once the rage had burned off, I only had myself left, and I could deal with myself.

So I walked and walked. I was even nice to the happy pilgrims at rest stops. In the afternoon, I started feeling tired. I started making little goals—get to the tree, get to the sign. I sang songs to keep my body moving, but my energy was low.

“Helloooo Jennifer” A familiar voice said behind me. I turned around, and there was my Camino buddy Peter. We had last seen each other in Santiago before I left. I hadn’t expected to see him on the road. He had taken the bus from Santiago with the plan to walk the last few kilometers into Fisterra where he had booked a room at a pension.

“How are you?” Peter asked.

How often did I just say fine to answer that question? I don’t like being vulnerable. However, at that point, I was so tired that I had to be honest.

“I’m exhausted.” I said. Peter nodded. He understood. We started walking single file on the road. I focused on matching his pace and listening to his stories.

We walked into Fisterra where his pension had a room for me. Later that day, we walked to the end of the earth. I looked out at the Atlantic and realized it was okay to have internal rage and it was okay to allow myself to be vulnerable. I could do anything I set my mind to if I just stayed true to who I was. Then Peter and I walked back to town and had a great dinner. I slept well that night and woke up the next day feeling good.

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I had thought it would be Miguel de Cervantes’ house. But the most inspiring part of Alcala de Henares was a small, sun-filled park with a row of exercise equipment for the elderly.

I have never been the traveling type. She always has been. She had seen London, Paris, Madrid. My family had lived in the same rural corner of Maryland for 350 years. We met at a college she attended because it was far from her home, and that I attended because it was an hour from mine. So when she asked me to join her in Alcala de Henares, home of the author of Don Quixote,  I thought the destination was fitting motivation for me to overcome my doubts and fears and take a plane into uncharted (for me, anyway) territory.

Alcala is a town filled with a thousand small things that deserve to have long stories written about them. There is a university where successful graduates were historically rewarded with town-wide parties lasting multiple days, and failures were chased out in shame. There is a convent with nuns so dedicated to their life of seclusion that they sell candied almonds via rotating trays build into the convent’s walls. And, of course, there is the house of perhaps the most famous Spanish author in history. A man with a legacy so imprinted on European culture that the European Space Agency sent a copy of Don Quixote into space to symbolize Spanish achievement.

All those things, amazing as they were, failed to stamp my soul like that park. Located near the center of the town, where a bronze statue of Cervantes watches over passers-by, we found the park as we were walking back from the convent. Bags of candied almonds in our hands, we curiously studied the exercise equipment installed along one edge of the unassuming park. We walked along the line of equipment, trying one machine after the other, laughing as we attempted to decipher the directions for their use.

And then suddenly, standing there in the sun with her, I could see into the future; or at least what I hoped was the future. I saw a couple once again in Alcala de Henares, in this small park, next to this line of exercise equipment. Grey-haired and bright eyed, this couple had shared a lifetime of adventures together. They were two lives lived as one, greater than the sum of their parts. I wanted that future. I needed it.

The future loomed like a giant, or perhaps a windmill, in front of me. I trembled at the possibilities, uncertain and ephemeral, that danced in my mind and prodded my fears and doubts. It was a journey I feared to take, but wanted with every fiber of my being to embark upon. I wasn’t prepared; I had no plan; I was on unknown terrain and out of my element. But as I stood in the park thinking of the years ahead, of an old couple so comfortable, so connected to each other, I knew exactly what I wanted. Fears were swept aside, and the towering giant seemed a little smaller. And so I gathered my courage and spurred my horse like the Man of La Mancha.

            We celebrated our first anniversary last July, and welcomed our first son into the world in October.  He is a handsome, joyous boy with his mother’s nose and my ears. I look at him and see a world of possibilities in front of him, as yet unfettered by the fears and limitations that the outside world tries to foist upon the human spirit. His travels are still spread out in front of him.  His life is a book not only unwritten, but still unbound; a road not only untraveled, but still waiting for the first footprints to mark the path. I imagine his future, travels and trials, triumphs and tragedies, looming before him like so many giants. They wait for him to lower the lance, and spur the horse.

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Boabdil’s Sigh

Regret, defeat, anger, sorrow, dispair. Imagine a sigh deep and heavy enough to carry all of those feelings. Maybe you know that feeling. Such was the sigh of Boabdil, last Moorish King of Granada, Andalucia, Spain. He was fleeing, conquered and defeated, from his kingdom. A luxerious, prosperous kingdom. As he reached a hill and looked back at the city he wept and sighed. It is said that his mother, who was with him said, “you do well to cry over what you were not man enough to defend”. Harsh words. You can visit the marked site where he gazed and sighed on that sad day. It’s interesting. It’s worth a peek. But the great news is that Granada is still Granada and it is still fabulous.

Woven together in the fabric of Granada are the cultures of many people in different ages and times. Moors, Spaniards, Gypsies, all adding color and spice to this historically rich city. So if you crave inspiration, don’t only look from Boabdil’s hill. Go conquer the city yourself and explore.

Lose yourself in the quaint, narrow streets of the Albaicin neighborhood. Buy trinkets from the gypsies. Visit the great Cathedral in all its splendor. Sit for a spell in the Bib-Rambla plaza soaking in the sights and sounds. Staring is permitted…do it. You won’t regret it. Walk up to Sacromonte and do the gypsy cave thing. If you’re really brave you can spend a night in one of the cave houses. Be sure to take in an evening of flamenco dancing. It will mezmerize you and make you feel like you’re in a different world altogether. If exotic teas, middle-eastern food, and silky decor suit your fancy try an afternoon stroll up the Caldereria streets. They offer unresistable charm.

And then there’s Sierra Nevada. How small our daily problems seem when standing so close to heaven. If you’re a snow sport person, if winter is your thing, then by all means conqueor Sierra Nevada. It will make you feel lighter, braver…close to invincible. Then return to the coziness of Granada’s night life to enjoy the experience of a Tapas Bar. You can find them sprinkled throughout the city, all of them very unique. They will serve you a plate of ‘tapas’ or snacks with every drink you buy. Tapas can range from little sandwiches to potatoe salad, from iberian ham to seafood, all bursting with authentic medditeranean flavor. A decent supper for any hungry soul.

As your visit nears its end take a day or two to soak in one of the greatest pieces of artistic arquitecture of all time. The Alhambra. As you walked the streets of Granada it was constantly in your vision, looming majestic above the valley. Find the Cuesta de Gomerez, the road that takes you through the woods right up to the gates of the Alhambra. Walk that road slowly. Breathe deeply. Feel the mystery. Imagine everything. Once inside the fortified walls you’ll see the palace, towers, gardens, stone gateways. All home to some mortals in another age. Think about Boabdil, King Fernando, Queen Isabella and the hundreds more who actually lived there. It’s not a fairytale but it is a grand tale. One that deserves to be told.

Before leaving the Alhambra go up to the Flag Tower. Right over to the edge. Look down on the charming city of Granada. Streets, people walking, flowers, trees, plazas, roofs, pinnacles. All woven together make an unforgettable sight. Take one last long look out across the valley. This is Granada and you have experienced it. You have lived it. So don’t sigh. No regrets. Be hopeful. Be amazed. Be brave.

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Help!  Already I was lost!  And not even out of Madrid airport!   I hadn’t even started to walk the Camino Frances, the medieval pilgrim trail, over 440 miles across Spain to Santiago de Compostela. 

No intrepid traveller, I’d worried intensely about travelling alone over 12,000 miles from home, whether I’d get lost on a foreign continent, get lonely, get sick, get bedbugs, not get a bed, and much more, but I never dreamt I’d have a problem so soon.  The plan was to get off the plane and straight onto a bus to Pamplona, where I’d start walking, but it was only 6am, there weren’t any information booths open, and there was no-one around to direct me as I wandered tiredly to and fro, lugging my heavy backpack.

A pitying non-English speaking bus driver eventually waved me onto his bus, conveying he was taking me to “Ameriga”.  Did I want to go there?  How would I know?  I was new in town!  But all was well.  He dropped me at a bus terminal in Avenida de America, and eventually I was the proud possessor of a ticket to Pamplona. 

A few days later, my fears of loneliness allayed, I was socialising at an albergue in a little Spanish village.  I’d chatted to a no-name Canadian, who had done the Camino five years before and forgotten how hard it was, a round-as-high Aussie, and a blowsy Londoner with a tomb of toppled teeth, travelling with a group of twenty Irish.  “I slept above the (unprintable) Reverend last night”, she roared.  I bet he was glad he’d taken his vows…. 

I’d shared albergues with Mexicans, Germans and a Frenchwoman.  Florence the Frenchie had already been walking for a month, from Le Puy, in France, and I was sick with envy.  I’d been walking only a short time and looked like my mother never loved me.  She’d trekked 400 miles and looked like she’d just stepped off the runway! Not even a crease in sight and such fashionable clothes!   

Albergues are dormitory-style accommodation, where for 6 to 10 Euros you get a bed, a pillow, and with a bit of luck, a hot shower.  Since there was no telling who your bedmates might be, earplugs were a necessity, but albergue life is very Japanese-like. We each had our own little space, a few inches wider than our bed, and were blind and deaf to anything outside the invisible line. 

 The trail itself was very busy and quite beautiful, whilst walking in the hours most are usually sleeping.   Earlier it was to avoid the heat of the sun, by midday it was exhausting, but temperatures were dropping rapidly, and it became something of a bed-race, with pilgrims heading down the trail before light.  It’s a very odd experience, wandering along each day, not knowing where you’re going, what you’ll eat, who you’ll meet, who you’ll sleep in the albergues with, whether you’ll even get a bed.  The scenery and radical difference to daily life is what makes the Camino Frances so appealing.  Stunning medieval villages, wildflowers, gardens, woods, animals, outdoor life, complexity, simpleness, honesty and human interaction impress.  Every day – hour – turning brings something different to the experience.   

One morning I walked out of town in pitch blackness, completely alone, not even moonlight showing the way.  My torch had died, so I could only navigate by watching each footfall on the white gravel path.  In contrast, the next day was rush hour.  Lemminglike, we poured in waves through the streets.  Where did all those people come from overnight?  Spooky… 

More than thirty eventful days later, nearing pilgrimage end, the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, I’d become intoxicated by the beauty of the trail, the centuries old villages, vineyards, cornfields and gardens, where only jet trails clouded the sky.   

Where else would every person you met, in every town and village, greet you and wish you a good journey?  Where else would you see so many stunning sunrises?  Drink free red wine from a fountain?  Sleep with so many strange people?  Find out just how much your feet can hurt?  Get a tan that stops at the ankles?  Watch cranes settle in for the night atop a church steeple?  Walk for hours through rustling woods, eucalyptus groves and shaded lanes beside rushing rivers. And mist, fog, sunshine and rain, church and cow bells ringing across the hills?  

I’d been lost, I’d been lonely, been ill and seen others with bedbug bites, and experienced almost everything I had so feared before leaving home.  To my surprise I wasn’t the wuss I’d believed.  I’d walked alone hundreds of miles, through cities, valleys, towns and mountains and experienced a fantastic journey.  Fear of the unknown would never hold me back from embarking on an adventure again.

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Spain:  These Legs are Made for Walking

 

I knew this trip was one I really wanted. After all, I’d been planning for almost two years. I’d applied for two or three different credit cards, just for free air miles to get me across the world. I spent all summer long reading books about this opportunity.

But it wasn’t until I sat at the front desk of my gym hyperventilating that I realized exactly how MUCH I wanted it. I had wanted to walk the Camino de Santiago ever since Martin Sheen made that movie “The Way.” I put together this whole training plan—walking, hiking, strength training, hills, stairclimber with a pack on my back, the works. I was gonna train from February through August, and would hit the Camino just before September began.

First came the race injury. In April I signed up for a fundraising half marathon, and somehow tweaked my knee. X-ray. MRI. Conversation about possible surgery. Physical therapy—lots and lots of physical therapy. Slowly, gingerly I resumed my training. Did a few hill walks with my pack on. Walked a lot. Did strength training at the gym. That is, until the day I fell and ripped my leg open.

I’m not sure they’d seen an injury quite like that one—we had a whole box’s worth of gauze pads taped on it, and it still bled if I moved my leg even a little bit. That was a difficult morning—when I wasn’t hyperventilating, I was desperately trying to find someone to come get me and take me somewhere: home, urgent care, emergency room, anywhere but the gym (where face it, nobody wants to see somebody bleeding and crying).

I hyperventilated again when they cleaned it, and again when the doctor sewed 16 stitches in a leg I was hoping would carry me 500 miles beginning in just a few weeks. I worried all week when it didn’t seem to be getting better. When they diagnosed a medication-resistant infection, I cursed the people who don’t wipe down their equipment and hoped it wasn’t staph (nope—Group C strep, whatever that is).

At one point, I had three different antibiotics coursing through my body—I was buzzing inside, and wondered if that’s how chemo feels. The doctor gave me dire warnings about not being out in the sunshine, because antibiotic #3 would give me a terrible itchy rash all over my body. “I’ll never take a sulfa drug again,” she said. Hard to walk 500 miles outdoors without encountering the sun…

I don’t know how many people were praying: for my knee, for my leg, for my goals, for me to be encouraged and brave and actually make this trip I’d been hoping and planning for. And I did. That leg wound didn’t fully heal until I was on the other side of 500 miles of walking—38 days’ worth. But it never stopped me. My knee didn’t keep me from hiking up and over the Pyrenees—1450 meters of elevation gain in my first two days of hiking.

Some would have given up with the knee injury. Others would have let that leg gash stop them. But I wasn’t about to miss this trip! It was the journey of a lifetime.

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There are those who are pessimists by blood and wanderers by spirit. To be both, you must be brave, and to be neither, you must be strong-willed. I am neither and both, but I am invisible. Exclusively, I divined in the peacefulness of sitting beneath a tabletop and writing endless stories of characters that enabled me to travel beyond my simple fear and pessimism. Wanderlust ran through my veins, but never could I venture out into the real world. Invisible as I aimed to be, someone always found me and encouraged me to enter a journey I deemed too frightful and dangerous for my confidence. That was before I found a passion; I found a love. My desire to learn and cultivate knowledge leaked into a passion for languages and literature. Simply put, the romantic ghost of life paid me a visit and called me exactly as I was: a fraud. For how can one write tales of adventure if they have never been present enough during their own? I changed. I became visible to myself and the world around me, and I came out from beneath the desk to see those who had looked for me, those whom I had ignored. I booked myself a one-way ticket to Europe with my boyfriend and when I finished high school, I had a pencil and paper, a backpack, little money and all my dreams to live before the dreadful terror that is responsibility made its devastating descent upon my life. I left my invisibility cloak at home and I stepped over the threshold, entering the real world.

At 5am on the plane to Spain, my boyfriend and I were seated beside a charming elderly woman. I say that because I was taught respect for elders as a child, however if she were young, I would probably call her the most frustrating pain in my neck. The entire flight consisted of her committing atrocious crimes against common etiquette and making continuous sexual references, despite her comments on my relationship with my boyfriend. 

“You two are so young, and you better not be doing the naughties until you’re married!”  she had said to us, only to respond after I asked why she was going to Spain, “Oh, I want to find me a young Spaniard.” 

How do you say hypocrite in Spanish?

“Fea!” – “Gorda!” – “Eres tú la morona!” 

My arrival in Spain was more than perfect. I had been geared up for the typical obscenities shouted by youths in the city, but now it hit me. I was in a completely new world. English was a delicacy, yet to me, Spanish was easily the most delicious at this point in time. A calmness reverberated through me as we met with my host family and travelled two hours in their car from Madrid to Valladolid. Spain was so painfully beautiful; the colours, the scarves, the dancing legs and the beautiful grins, unworried faces and fast-food stalls. I could see large spaces. No longer did I want to sit under a table and write stories, I wanted to look out and see the lake, the scenary, and write in truth. Write about the beauty of bravery, leading to an ultimate discovery of the world and oneself. In passing a square with the Spanish flag, amongst a car of Spanish chatter, I felt a heat rise in my throat and a saltiness dripping down my cheeks. The tears flowed and the smile broke. 

For me, Intuition represents an invisible balm on a body; it may soothe in times of undecided distress; prepare in times of fear; strengthen in times of confidence; advance in times of intellectual desire and you know it has reached full potential when you have no explanation; when you know. You simply feel it in your bones, in your core, that you have reached this place and you understand something unique about it. 

Welcome to your place in the world, bienvenido a España, the chilled air declared before me. 

My intuition brought me here, and my travels extended beyond one country, to a new world, where I became visible in one decision. The decision to follow my passion. I found my place in the world in one decision, one intuition, one love. 

Only when I realized that my fears existed not for my inability to succeed, but my concern that I am powerful beyond belief, could I find my place in the world. And commit to one act; 

An act of bravery, to be seen.

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When I entered the cathedral, everything that was on my mind quickly slipped away. I forgot that my morning train had been late, and that I had to wait in line for a few hours. I forgot that my hostel’s quality was sadly only worth the ten euros I had spent on it. I forgot the events that had prompted me to start traveling, along with my worry that I would never recover who I had been. I forgot that I was a minor traveling alone for the first time, and I forgot that I was scared.

La Sagrada Familia—certainly striking on the outside, but not so out of the ordinary that it warranted its enormous reputation. When I gazed at it as I waited in line, a large part of me was missing the little town of Cuenca and how I could talk to locals instead of fighting my way through tourists and keeping watch over my backpack. But then I entered the building, and I felt like Alice in Wonderland: tiny and confused and overwhelmed.

It was unlike any other cathedral I’d been in, wildly different and simply staggering. I had been expecting beauty, and awe-inspiring carvings, and the standard Gothic dim and dramatic lighting. But this had pure white columns stretching up and up and up, lit by sunlight streaming through stained-glass windows that tinted the light into every color imaginable.

I forgot my worries and my nervousness. I even forgot to be ashamed that I was a tourist, and snapped pictures left and right. I was grinning like an idiot and even lay down in one of the pews, staring up as the colors changed with the sun’s movement. Simply put, that place was magical to me.

When I finally exited the cathedral, its impact stayed with me. I became emboldened. I felt the sun hitting my face and imagined that it was passing through me, tinted by my thoughts the same way it had been tinted by the windows’ colors. And I knew that I didn’t need to recover who I had been, because I was someone different now.

The little town of Cuenca did not teach me that I could be strong when I was alone. Cooking for myself did not teach me that I didn’t have to depend on anyone. Figuring out the metro of a foreign city did not teach me independence. But one day in a striking cathedral taught me all that and more. I had time to reflect on my past and my future, and that time let me look back at my accomplishments and realize that I didn’t need to be brave—at least, not brave according to my old definition.

I didn’t need to perform great acts of bravery. I didn’t need to complete my travels without crying, making mistakes, or asking for help. That didn’t make me brave. With all I’d been through, what made me brave was standing up in the morning. It was brave for me to decide to travel to Spain, and embark on a wild journey all by myself. I already had the courage to carry on when it would have been so easy to stop.

Bravery no longer meant heroism after I watched the light in that cathedral. Or maybe it did, but I now defined heroism differently. I know that I am brave for pushing through and continuing to maintain myself, and maybe even improve.

The cathedral taught me that I was already brave.

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I was in a ferry from Ibiza to Formentera and I couldn’t look up at the sky. Every time I saw an airplane, I felt a big lump in my stomach. I knew the next day I had to go back to Bucharest. Back to my two-years job, back to my comfort zone. I was 24 years old and in the last two weeks I finally accepted that I needed a change in my life. I knew I could do whatever I want. I was young, but I was so scared to actually do it. Until this summer, when I met… me. I was myself there. I talked to people, I heared stories of life, I faced my fears. And the last day in Formentera was the turning point of this journey.

Me and my friend rented a scooter and started our one-day journey. Not long after that, we had an accident on the road. We got a few bruises and I burned my leg a bit.We didn`t feel too much physical pain, possibily because of the shock. Certainly because of the shock! It was my first accident and I was so scared. I didn`t want to climb the scooter again, I just wished to go back. It is said that bad things never come alone. Well, in that moment I realised I forgot my wallet at my friend`s house. So we were injured, I had no money, the scooter was scratched and I was really, really scared. And my friend was so calm in spite of all. She made me see myself – what was my reaction to all of that, how I complained about everything, how there was no point to my fear. We fell –so what, we could still walk. I forgot my wallet – so what, she could borrow me some money. The scooter was damaged – so what, we will pay for it. She opened my eyes, gave me confidence and convinced me to keep going. As she said, at the end of the road a wonderful place awaits for me. And it was all true.

When we reached the most eastern point of the island, I closed my eyes for five seconds. Then I opened it. Then I closed it and opened it again. I think I repeated this action for five times. Finally, I smiled. Fot the first time in my life I felt gratitude from the bottom of my heart. I felt it with my eyes, my soul, my ears, with all my human senses. I saw La Mola lighthouse, standing on the edge of the cliff. And there she was, the Mediterranean sea. It was just me and the sea. A deep vastness of blue was spread before me, under me, to my right and my left. No wonder Jules Verne used this place as the setting for an episode in his novel „Hector Servadac”. He actually described it as the end of the world… but for me it felt like the beginning of the world. I was looking at the sea and I felt it. I could enjoy the present moment and there was an entrancing air of gratitude about it. I could trust my instinct, listen to my heart and let my inner feelings be my guide. From that moment I began to appreciate things that I previously took for granted. I knew those last two weeks were not a simple holiday. That something has happened, that something will change. Back then, I had no idea what or how it will happen. But I was confident about one thing: I could do whatever I wanted with my life and I finally had the courage to act.

Back in the present day. A few weeks eariler I read Bob Dylan`s autobiography in which he wrote that sometimes you know things have to change, are going to change. That little things foreshadow what is coming, but you may not recognize them. And then something happens and you are in another world, you jump into the unknown – you are set free. Oh, how I found myself in his words! Those summer days in Ibiza, culminating with the last day in Formentera, was the beginning of my tremendous journey. After four and a half months, after I learned how to feel grateful for every little thing in my life, I finally understood something – fear is just not knowing how things could be and most of the time those things are not as bad as we think they are.

 So… Last weekend I bought a one-way ticket flight to London. Today I quitted my two-year job. And yes, I am scared as hell. But now I can accept fear because it makes me feel alive. And I know this is just the beginning. A beautiful one.

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There are many ways in which people choose to live their lives- every one of them unique. I didn’t, however, just make the choice to have a distinctive life, but also made a choice to aim to have a remarkable day, every single day.

For all of my adult life, I have been an adventure chaser. Deciding on the spur of the moment that my feet are itching for new experiences, unknown lands, new discoveries and awe- inspiring visions. Some prefer routine, or the assurance of stability that staying in one location has. For me, the passion for pastures new overwhelms me, and the everyday challenge of getting by thrills me.

Although the reasons for my spontaneity cannot be explained, neither is it necessary to have a cause. Wandering paths never walked can be the greatest adventure, and can even cause one to appreciate further the simplicities in life. From the lusciously green rice paddies and hard hitting war tunnels in Vietnam, to publicly speaking to an audience of 8000 Chinese High School students. From living in a cabin amongst nothing but mountainous nature for miles in New York state, to teaching English to those it means the most to see a smiling face; I have felt as though I have contributed towards making a small difference to others’ happiness in my short life, and for this, one can feel accomplished. Yet, through all of these life changing experiences, I have felt a small part of a puzzle missing- a base in which I could become, and feel, complete in myself.

Throughout the past 7 years, my wanderlust has thrusted me into situations beyond my imagination. More recently, my implusive desires have brought me to Europe. I arrived in Valencia, Spain, with the notion of teaching privately here and then moving on; the pattern in which my life tends to follow. This initial idea could not have been further from the truth as, ultimately, I found the haven I didn’t even know I was searching for.

This city, Valencia, has captured my heart, and every day here enthralls me and encourages me to continue along the path towards achieving my dreams. Valencia has made me realise I have chosen a life with no limitations, and the extent of what I can accomplish here has no end. Every day I step out of my door, awash with a feeling of contentment. Being here makes me feel optimistic and motivated day by day, passing through the traditionally Spanish historical centre, brushing by the intricately detailed buildings and into yet another beautifully continental cafe. I realise daily just how much this city inspires me, and how lucky I am to have travelled across many oceans and to have found peace so unexpectedly.

Valencia has a mixture of ultra- modern, futuristic style buildings, but historical architecture reigns the skylines. It is a stunning sight to see. I remember when I first arrived in Valencia almost a year ago and the first interaction I had. It began with “Welcome to Valencia, you will never want to leave”, and this couldn’t ring truer. I am very proud and thankful every single day, to call this city my new home.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.