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American. That’s what it says in the space after “nationality” in my passport. Its navy cover is starting to fray around the edges and the pages are starting to curl at the corners. I guess that’s what happens after being stuffed into my sweaty jean pocket one too many times.

 The metal disk bore an unexpected weight in the palm of my hand. It was about the size of a hockey puck, but twice as heavy. My new friend, Carlos, demonstrated his technique by gracefully arcing his disk into a pit of clay several meters ahead. Sparks flew as the metal made contact with an explosive packet.


 My American passport has allowed me to cross into countries without question. My American passport has brought with it looks of awe and admiration in some countries, and loathing and contempt in others.

 My fingers traced the disk’s cool surface, dimpled from being thrown by others before me. I attempted to mimic Carlos. The puck landed with a thud, not even near the clay pit.

 My American passport carries with it a promise of irrevocable freedom, for which I am eternally grateful. But that navy blue book comes with another truth of which we don’t often speak. My American passport comes with expectations. Expectations that I, like all others, want the American Dream. The split-level house and yard to go with it. A practical minivan equipped with car seats. And most importantly, a traditional career that I’ll stay in, happily adding to my 401K, until I’m the ripe old age of 65 and ready to retire. Replacement knees and all. 

 Sometimes people confuse independence and freedom.

 This time, I heeded Carlos’s sage advice, “More strong.” I let my arm swing back and felt my weight drive forward as I propelled the disk into the air.


 It made it into the clay this time, but still no sparks. No bang.

 There was no explosion when I quit my job either. Everyone kept on living their lives as normal. I don’t know what I expected. After years of having a clear idea of the path I’m “supposed” to take engrained in my mind, I guess I just didn’t expect it to be so uneventful. My parents didn’t yell or try to convince me to stay. They were supportive in every sense of the word.

 No sparks flew when I stuffed my backpack full on a one-way flight to South America. And there wasn’t even a small bang when I moved across the world to teach English in Korea.   

 I’ll be the first to admit, quitting my job wasn’t perhaps the most responsible thing to do. But responsibility is another word that’s often mistaken for independence. They’re far from the same. Often times one cannot be true if the other is present.

 In my mind, a mortgage and a cubicle with my name on it seems responsible, yes, but far from independent.

 My idea of independence is playing a game with locals in a Colombian bar where I’m the only gringa. I don’t have to wake up early the next day, and the night is full of possibilities. Independence is forging a new life in a country where I don’t speak the language. Each new word I’m able to read in this language so foreign to me is an accomplishment. Independence is hiking to the top of a mountain and looking down at how far my feet have taken me. I own every step.  

 Independence is not knowing what the next year will bring, but knowing with all certainty that I have the ability to choose my own path and indulge in new dreams along the way. 

 I drained the remainder of my warm beer and heaved my last metal puck in the direction of the pit.

 Bang! Bang! Bang!

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DSC07574 (680 x 1000)At the border between Colombia and Ecuador, there lies a cemetery so beautiful that they say it invites one to die. A place where sculpted green giants and doves watch over rows of flowers like Mother Earth’s sentries.

I wander between the headstones at the topiary cemetery in Tulcán. Music drifts through the air as a local Ecuadorian prepares for a funeral. But there is no melancholy in his guitar chords, only peace.

The Colombians I’m with cross themselves as we leave. We hail a taxi and return to the village on the opposite side of the border.
The next afternoon we’re knocking on doors in Las Lajas, Colombia. Only 300 people live here; it’s a village which formed around Las Lajas Sanctuary, one of the most important churches and pilgrimage spots on the continent. Almost all of the houses double as souvenir shops, selling rosaries and Catholic icons to the devout visitors. Like a trail of dominos, the buildings spill down the hill until they reach the sanctuary, which rises out of a deep gorge in a tower of white.

My friend, Diego, has been away for three years. Like many Colombians his age, he left in search of a more secure future. But he’s surprised his mother with a Christmas visit, and now she’s leading us door to door to pop in on his relatives.

“Look who is back!” Each time she says this, Diego steps out of the shadows with a grin on his face and his arms open wide. Nobody can keep their hands off of him.

They’re all hugs and tears.

“It’s been too long,” one aunt says as she passes us aromáticas, herbal tea. She’s in the process of building a new house, and chickens roam around one of the half-constructed rooms while she rummages through the cupboards for something to serve. A plate of crackers end up in front of us, along with a pile of warm wishes.At the next house, we meet a distant relative.

“There’s nothing like seeing family again,” the old man says as he too offers us tea and crackers.

I gaze at the black-and-white family portraits on the wall. Other than a crucifix, they’re the only decoration in the room. Some 6000 km away, my family’s house sits cluttered with stacks of books, knick-knacks, and one too many overpriced souvenirs. But when was the last time someone dropped in on us for a spontaneous visit? In Canada, day-timers and e-mails set our schedules. Even our family reunion was planned via Facebook.

After three more houses, three more cups of tea, and more crackers than I can count, we make it to the sanctuary. Diego points out the hundreds of plaques, hung to recognize the miracles that reportedly took place nearby. In the 18th century, a local indigenous woman sought shelter from a storm here with her deaf-mute daughter. While the two hid in a cave, the Virgin is said to have appeared to them, curing the young daughter. A chapel was built to commemorate the spot. The current church, a neo-Gothic basilica, was completed in 1949.

As we cross the bridge over the gorge, I notice a cluster of Quechua pilgrims at the edge of the river. After a long journey from somewhere in Ecuador, they must be weary. Their babies are howling and their clothes are dirty. They cleanse themselves in the icy water before entering the sanctuary.
“Isn’t it impressive?” Diego asks. I can’t tell if he’s talking about the church or the river or the stunning beauty of the gorge, so I just nod.
But as I stand there, I think of the pilgrims and the cups of tea and all of the people in the world coming and going. My mind drifts back to the topiary cemetery, back to the pruned sentinels which hover between hundreds of identical vaulted graves. I recall an Italian proverb that was carved onto a sign between the rows: “After the game, the pawn and the king return to the same box.” As I stare out over the hills, at the array of fields that stretch out and away from here, I know it’s time to consider my next move.

About the Author: Ellen Keith is a Canadian freelancer who is currently based in Amsterdam. Between her travels, she’s working on her MFA in creative writing through the University of British Columbia.

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BOGOTAA heart strives off of dreams and encouragement in life. Whether someone believes they have a dream or not, everybody has hopes and desires. Despite the amazing truth in this, we still let so many things get in the way of us and our dreams. We don’t go out and explore the world or seek to help others accomplish their dreams in the way that we should either. I was lucky enough to experience the joy of traveling and serving others once and I am determined to return again someday.

My name is Cheyenne and 13 months ago, I went on a short term mission’s trip to Bogota, Colombia. I had been looking forward to this trip for quite some time yet when the time actually came, I didn’t want to go. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to help or serve. It was not that I didn’t want to travel. I simply was afraid to go to another country. What if the language was too much of a barrier? What if I could not handle saying goodbye when the time came? What if I or somebody else going was injured or killed while we were down there? I knew my fears sounded ridiculous but I couldn’t rid myself of the thoughts. I tried my hardest to get out of the trip the night before we were to leave but it was pointless. I had already paid and there were people counting on me.

As the plane took off and we stopped on the way, my mind raced. I slept; I wrote. I prayed and I cried. I could not understand why I was so nervous. As we landed in Bogota and stepped off of the plane, we were greeted by unusually warm weather and a very kind man. The orphanage that we would be working with for those 10 days is called Children’s Vision International and it was started decades back by a woman named Jeanene Thicke. Some years after moving from Wisconsin, United States to Bogota, Colombia, she married a wonderful man named Richard. This was the man that met us at the airport Can you imagine marrying someone in a foreign country who already had about 50 children!? It may seem insane to us but I respect them both so much for their love and courage and dedication throughout the years.

The ride to the orphanage was crazy. Rich drove us in a bus and in the same crazy way as the rest of the drivers. He explained that you see plenty of cars but the most popular form of transportation is by motorcycle because you can weave between cars and there is less chance of being robbed while on the road.

As the days passed by and we would get up every morning at eight to work, it became a blessing instead of an obligation. We played games and bonded with the children. We baked with Jeanene and helped out at the school. We took trips to the local shops, markets, and the mall in the afternoons and bonded with each other as well. The days were busy but they went by so quickly. I was learning a lot but I don’t think that the truth of the circumstances down there had really sunk in yet. If not, it most certainly did that last Saturday there.

A few days before we left, we took a trip up to a mountain. A couple of the children from the orphanage had formed a group to put on skits and others came along simply to help. We went to distribute food and water to the people that lived on the mountain. There was a family of 12 living in a 3 bedroom house that the husband made himself out of wood. They’re bathroom was a hole in the ground with a toilet seat over it. There was another family with a one room house and a new born baby. They had a fridge, a sink, a couple of toys, and one bed. That was all. It really hit me then how blessed we truly are in America – how blessed I am.
Bogota may be a place of poverty and I may not speak the language but no place has ever touched my heart the same. I had always wanted to travel even before that trip but now I am determined to return there as well as travel other places over the years. I want to learn and experience in new ways and help others reach their goals and dreams in the process. I encourage everyone to take a trip to another country, even if it is only for a week or two. It will amaze you how much you can learn simply through travel.

About the Author: My name is Cheyenne Katsma and I am originally from Wisconsin but am currently attending college in Illinois. I am a secondary English Education major but would love to do anything with writing as well.

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MedellinMy time in Colombia was brief but certainly very sweet. From admiring street art on the buildings in Bogota, to embracing the peace and beauty in the colonial town of Villa de Leyva, to endless partying in Medellin, every minute of my time there was well spent. Although the country has many positive qualities, and I could provide endless reasons to go, the thing that impressed me most about Colombia was how friendly and open the people are there. Having woken up unusually early one morning, I decided to visit a café just around the corner from my hostel in Medellin, where I sat writing in my journal whilst eating breakfast. After a few minutes, the guy on the table next to me asked what I was doing and we began chatting. His name was Jerry, he owned a diamond company and what sounded like a pretty plush apartment overlooking the city. I was eager to accept when he asked if I’d like to see this apartment, but felt nervous at the prospect of going to a stranger’s house alone, so I returned to the hostel, dragged my friend Will out of bed and took him along with me.

Jerry’s house was indeed impressive; modern, stylish, spacious and so high up that looking down at the jungle beneath us from his balcony gave me vertigo. We spent the entire morning there, chatting, listening to music, eating freshly picked fruit and basking in the glorious rays of sunshine. I was hesitant to leave, but at the same time didn’t want to outstay my welcome, so we decided to make our way back before lunchtime. Not only did Jerry give us both warm hugs as we left, he also gave us t-shirts, hats and key rings with his company logo on as souvenirs of our special morning.

Amazingly enough, that wasn’t the only time we were welcomed in to another person’s home; that very same day, a woman overheard us asking a waitress if she could recommend a good spot to watch the sunset from, and she instantly chipped in and told us we could watch if from her balcony should we like. Having had such a positive experience with Jerry, we didn’t hesitate in saying yes and, before we knew it, we were sitting in this woman’s car with her husband and three gorgeous children driving up the windy mountain roads to their house. The view from their balcony could not have been any more spectacular, leading me to believe that we had genuinely found the most perfect place. Carla, the mother, brought us cups of rich, delicious Colombian coffee and the seven of us sat together admiring the city from above as it glistened in the warm, soft glow of the evening sun. Once it grew dark, we returned inside, where the children excitedly took us from room to room so that they could show us their toys and play with us. The whole family could not have been kinder and more generous towards us, they even drove us to a nearby restaurant for dinner and gave us their contact details, urging us to get in touch if ever we needed anything.

After two such amazing experiences in just one day, I was convinced that the people in Colombia had to be the friendliest in all Latin America. I only wish I could have spent more time there, but I know that one day I’ll be back for sure, and will no doubt pop in to visit Gerry and Carla’s family once again.

About the Author: Camilla (Milly) Day is a lively, energetic person who tries to make the most of every day. My favourite things include travelling, writing, food & wine, music, dancing and nature. I am currently working as English Content Manager for a tourism agency based in Argentina, writing articles about travel (and loving every minute of it).

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Bogota_muralWe spend our lives making safe choices: insurance policies, retirement funds, dual-side airbags. Then we travel.

Only as our finger hovers over “Purchase” on the airline website are we free. In that moment, we haven’t yet determined when we should depart for the airport. We haven’t compared hotel reviews or fretted about connections in Dallas or Amsterdam. The world is ripe for adventure, and we are courageous explorers, savvy and open to change.

Then we plan.

We request advice. We read travel books. We map our journeys from the first moment to the last, stringing sights like a pearl necklace: churches and museums, parks and promenades. We anticipate —no, we insure— against the unexpected, insulating ourselves from the very freedom we sought when we were inspired to travel.

Thankfully, the world has other aims for us. We know this. Floating beneath our intent for control, our subconscious minds are drawn to navigate the inky network of adventure and surprise. Part of us hopes to be whisked away, tested by unpredictable circumstances, because those moments are what make us feel alive.

Journeys like these bring us to strange, bustling streets bursting with storefronts painted in fuchsia and robin’s egg blue, whose historic palimpsest chips away at the hardened walls of our hearts. This is no quaint European vacation whose transit strikes leave time for cappuccino or whose closed museums yield afternoons at the edges of the Seine. This is La Candelaria, the oldest neighborhood in Bogotá, Colombia, whose sun-drowsed stoops abut chaotic, stony El Centro.

Unlike Florence, nothing stops in Bogotá. Not the abuelitas selling mobile phone minutes, or the flocks of fruit vendors or the toothless old men shaking plastic cups of change outside La Iglesia de San Francisco.

Calles and carreras are easy to confuse. One minute the route is clear, then suddenly the shops become seedier, the faces attuned to the gringa, the freckled brunette whose handbag is full of American promise. A homeless woman calls to her in Spanish as she steps through the square to the sound of makeshift drums beaten by a teenage boy near the fountain.

A la izquierda, a la derecha, she thinks as she turns left and right. She’s following the spire of the yellow church, a landmark her friend said would guide her. From all directions, it’s just out of reach. Her heart flutters when the guard at the ministry of finance doesn’t understand her query, nor she his response. She stops to ask one woman and then another with no luck; she wonders if she’ll find her way.

The gringa pauses in a colonnade to check the map, unable to find her quarry, a crisp white building where a trove of chubby Botero paintings and sculptures await, cherubic nudes blushing not for themselves but the viewers who giggle at their plump nakedness. She turns around, crossing the square again, shooing the wares they press into her hands and the flyers they flutter in her face. She pushes through the crowds gently, as if they were her mother’s beaded curtains.

The streetlight turns and she stops short, saving herself from death by taxi, stumbling back atop the curb. She looks up for the first time in hours, and suddenly, there is the Museo del Oro where she began. Her bearings regained, she abandons her search for Botero and walks instead to the base of Monserrate —this, she can find— and boards the funicular.

Her heart beats in her throat as the old cable car hovers parallel with the mountain all the way to the top where a church glows green against the falling dusk. In this aerie pilgrimage, her friend awaits, arms outstretched. Nico has sold her fresh fruit every morning, each more strange and delicious than the other. When she sees him, her mission is complete.

At home, she’s never relieved, but here at 10,000 feet where planes fly, she feels unweighted. She tells him about the graffiti murals and the special gold room at the Museo del Oro. She doesn’t mention the elusive Botero.

Nico’s eyes are as brown as the coffee at his family’s market. The taste of his mouth as they kiss hello is tangy and sweet, like the lulo fruit he blended for her into frothy jugo. The Colombian food is still new, like the toasted corn arepas and steamy infusions of herbs and flowers they drink in the afternoons.

“Echar los perros,” he whispers in her ear as she leans forward over the stone parapet, dizzied by the winds blowing up from the Bogotá savannah. “Release the dogs,” he translates when she tilts her head. Soon, she comes to learn its meaning. Let’s throw caution to the wind. Let’s be together. Let’s try. Let’s go.

About the Author: A Detroit native and Seattle resident, Gabriela Denise Frank is the author of “CivitaVeritas: An Italian Fellowship Journey.”

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mud bath colombiaYou can dress a puddle of mud up how you like. Call it a “mud spa”, “a mud volcano”, even a “mud fountain” if you want-but essentially, it remains what it is-a puddle of mud.

These are my thoughts as I stood on the wooden steps of the 15 metre El Totumo mud volcano in Colombia. Every year, thousands of willing tourists queue up on rickety stairs to slide into this “natural wonder. As I watch the group in front of me slipping around in brown viscose liquid, I ponder my life so far that had led me to this point. Why had I exclaimed gleefully (and slightly swayed by champagne) on my fortieth birthday that I was going to live life to the full and try things I had never tried before? Why had I not limited this to trying a new curry at the local restaurant in North London or putting ice in my cider? Even a tandem parachute jump has its merits. Instead, here I am, standing in my oldest bikini (the recommendation is to wear something you will never need to wear again) at the northernmost tip of Colombia, wondering what excuse I can give to get me out of this situation and back on the white sand beaches of Cartagena with a pina colada in hand.

But time shows no sympathy and I am soon at the edge of the mud crater, looking into a sludgy hell. I politely let all those behind me pass but, eventually, there is no alternative. Calling on my innermost resources, I step into the crater. My dignity immediately bubbles away through the quagmire as I slip on top of a complete stranger, trying to find my horizontal equilibrium. How can I describe it? Like swimming through custard? Like wrestling in gooey gloop? From above, we must look like a human broth, ready to be served to a famished volcano god.

I must admit, I am not instantly enchanted. I certainly regret paying the on –site photographer to take photographs of me looking like some zombie tourist, coated in grey slime. There comes a time however when you give yourself over to an experience and let the rules of your previous life disappear. Before long I am giggling and mud-diving with all the others, delighting in the novelty and absurdity of the experience. When I finally slither out (and I DO slither) I am not even faintly perturbed by the experience of paying three dollars to have local women wrestling off my bikini and scrubbing me down in a nearby lagoon . Old fashioned British reservations melt into the Colombian heat and I embrace the moment.

So would I recommend bathing in the El Totumo mud volcano in the second happiest nation in the world? Let’s just say, I am glad I took part and was not “a stick in the mud”.

About the Author: Fran Conley. I am a teacher and traveller, sometimes at the same time! I live in North London, U.K and have a husband, two wonderful children and numerous animals.

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medellin“A woman was shot dead in this bar a few years ago” says my host brightly, passing me a plate of empanadas and a beer, “She was sitting right where you are now actually”.

I resist the urge to leap out of my seat and head for the nearest airport. Medelllin, Colombia (pronounced Med-e-jin ) is, after all, a very different place now than it was 10 years ago when the city was still reeling from the dark reign of drug lord Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel and murder rates ran at over 2000 per year. Modern Medellin is a city of hope, throwing itself headlong into the future and challenging the rest of South America to keep up. Medellín is now Colombia’s second largest industrial center, and home to factories making everything from designer clothing to trucks. It also has a blossoming tourist industry with thousands of visitors discovering it’s unique charm each year. Whilst many countries still issue general warnings about travelling in Colombia, Medellin is now considered one of the safer destinations-a vast leap forward from two decades ago when it had the dubious honour of being named “The most dangerous city in the world.”

The joyful and exuberant spirit of the city is symbolised by the “chiva” or party bus (less a bus, perhaps, than a wagon) which tours the city each night with disco lights flashing, music blaring and impossibly gorgeous people dancing energetically whilst trying at the same time to avoid banging their heads on the low ceiling. It is perhaps due to my more advanced years that I feel they are better experienced from the outside than the inside.

There is beauty in spadefuls in Medellin and the surrounding area, as seen from the air as you come into land in Jose Maria Cordova Airport. Medellin itself nestles in Arruba valley, surrounded by the majestic Andres Mountains and is just a short drive from such gems as Guatalape, Rio Claro nature reserve and the coffee region of Antioquia. Inside the city limits, Medellin boasts world famous gardens, as well museums, a cathedral, theatres and many well-respected universities.As a visiting teacher on a cultural exchange programme, I am treated to a tour of all that the city is proud of, from the Museo de Antioquia to the Plaza Botero, and it is as much the pride and hopefulness of my hosts that touches me as the sights I am shown.

Yes, there are shanty towns (favelas), but Medellin strives to embrace and develop them rather than hide them away. Sergio Fajardo Valderrama-Mayor of Medellin from 2003-2007- worked tirelessly for social integration in the city and an impressive cable car system (the Metrocable) connects the favelas to the centre of the city, allowing affordable access to jobs, education and healthcare Even in poorest areas there is a sense of ingenuity with locals selling everything from garden earth to guinea pigs to make a living and a unique outdoors escalator used as a transport system up and down the mountain in the San Javier area, to the west of the city.

Time is used to control resources effectively in Medellin. Public schools are taught in shifts with a separate morning shift and an afternoon shift to allow access to education for all (“There would be a third shift if the kids could stay awake that long” the principal of one school tells me, darkly). Driving in the city is restricted to certain hours for certain number-plates to prevent congestion. You get the impression that a great deal of thought and planning has gone into modern Medellin and it comes as no surprise to learn that in 2013 it was awarded the title of Innovative City of the Year by The Wall Street Journal, outranking rivals New York and Tel Aviv

There is no doubt that Medellin has reinvented itself, shrugging off its notoriously violent past whilst still managing to retain its strong cultural identity. The residents of the city, or “paisas,” are proud of this transformation; as my host says “There are so many bad memories but now we are working hard to change people’s perceptions of Medellin.” Whilst still not entirely drug or crime free (what major city is?), Medellin is certainly on the right track. It is known locally as “The City of Everlasting Spring” and one gets the sense that this is as much a reference to Medellin’s positive philosophy as to its temperate climate. In many ways, Medellin embodies the modern fairytale, with the evil of decades being destroyed and peace and calm being restored to the kingdom. Sitting in a bar, sharing a typical local meal with my smiling host whilst Medellin life carries on all around us, I am glad to be part of its “happy ever after.”

About the Author: Fran Conley

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IMG_3570c (800x600)One of the byproducts of not planning a trip is that expectations drop to ambiguous media tidbits and scattered commentary from friends or fellow travelers, as was the case of Bogota, Colombia. It was the last stop of 3 months of travels through Central and South America, and was a close contender with Peru, Chile and Ecuador. After much vacillating, Colombia won out, partially due to its dangerous reputation that appealed to my illogical sense of adventure despite concerns of being a woman travelling alone.

The US embassy websites did nothing to assuage my concerns but further piqued my interest. While securing travelers insurance in the U.S., a kind woman on the phone explained my benefits should there be an emergency abroad. I perversely, and nervously, wanted to know, “Does it cover kidnappings in Colombia?”

I had set out on my travels alone but, because of the many friends and family at my destinations along the way, I rarely felt alone. I had the best of both worlds at my fingertips until Colombia.

My arrival into Bogota was irrevocably alone and I found myself in an unfamiliar place which I knew little about except for echoes of warnings and danger orbiting my mind. Pensive rain greeted me upon arrival creating the perfect backdrop to view the graffiti art scattered along the highways and roads at high speeds, at once primal, dark and painfully honest yet surging with life and hope around its rough, uncompromising edges. It was my first impression of Colombia, and after seeing the graffiti art in Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, I realized it had perhaps more to say about the landscape, the people, the politics and the struggles than a brochure or history lesson could adequately capture.

As darkness descended, the rain downgraded to more of a drizzle but the night sky was amplified by lightning flashes. From my terrace I watched the subdued spectacle, captivated by the energy and light, when I heard the sound of loud music from quite some distance away. The beat of the music consumed me and I was overcome by the urge to dance on the rooftop terrace alone. In that moment I realized that this unfamiliar place had been emanating a euphoric energy, submissive and simultaneously inspired by more sinister energies; the perfect blend of life and death; of happiness and sorrow.

Setting out on foot through the streets of Bogota, I was struck by the lack of Americans and postcards for sale. It gave the sense of being not just a tourist, but a stranger in another land. A taxi driver understood my broken Spanish enough to take me to La Candelaria, the historic part of Bogota. There was a moment of panic when I seemed to be taken in the opposite direction of my desired destination, but there was enough communication to gather that I would not be kidnapped via taxi. When he began taking turns at such high speeds that the tires squealed, I became elated and had to suppress my laughter.

The world suddenly became more vivid and everything came into focus.

I was dropped off where La Candelaria’s heartbeat seemed to originate, brimming with people wandering amidst the venerable structures. I made my way through the groups, peering into shops and trying to absorb every architectural detail without looking like the tourist or stranger I was. A block away was a courtyard, with a view of an imposing cathedral and other buildings. I walked in the erratic ways of a stranger alone in an unfamiliar place, creating unconscious circles for many minutes watching the people sitting on the cathedral steps, the children laughing and playing, the families and groups of people milling about the vendors, street artists, and performers. I ended up near the center of the courtyard where hundreds of birds roamed about when suddenly, one bird took flight. It was followed by another and yet another, then a seeming hundred or more. I was captivated and tried to follow them with my eyes, the spiraling pattern they flew in, circumnavigating the courtyard lifting up high then swirling down. My body followed of its own accord and I found myself staggering and almost losing my balance in unabashed wide-mouthed awe. It could have been a mundane event were it not for the sheer number of birds expressing a version of life in movement and flight with the stately, stagnant cathedral in the background as well as my own state of mind. Suddenly being a stranger and alone was nothing more than the flight of winged birds and just as breathtakingly beautiful. I was a stranger in an exquisitely beautiful, purportedly dangerous land.

I was alive in a moment of flight, thankful for every rapturous moment I was alone.

About the Author: Naomi Fino currently resides in California, loves to travel, write, sew and design, fire dance, and has a healthy appetite for a good “Adventura”. Visit her new blog.

_MG_8862-Edit“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.” The first time that I heard Brad Pitt’s quote in the movie Fight Club, I didn’t really put any thought into it but for some reason, the passage stuck with me in my mind.

I was hiking in Colombia when this quote randomly popped in my head and I began to think how it applied to me. I interpreted the quote as leaving all my possessions, bills and anything that tied me town to a monotonous life. It was on this hike that I realised that it was when I had a destination ahead of me that I was free. It doesn’t matter where I’m at or where I’m going. As long as I have a destination, I’m free. I’m living life like it is my last day on Earth because one of these days it will be the last.

I’m a firm believer of another quote in Fight Club. “The things that we own end up owning us.”

So many people live to work in order to fulfil the belief that materialism equals happiness. The vicious cycle of buying a nice car to get to a job, only to work to pay off the car. By the time the month is over, most of us are out of money, having to worry about next month and what we can buy.

Why? We are programmed to believe that possessions equals happiness. Who really needs a nice car, designer clothes, a fancy phone or an entire room dedicated to television? It is these possessions that prevent us from being free. The list of things that we own that end up owning us grows with every purchase that we make. Instead of this lifestyle, I decided to work to live, to see the world and experience all that I could before I die.

I made myself that promise twenty years ago when my family took me to visit relatives in Tokyo, Japan. I saw all the latest gadgets that they had with all the bells and whistles. The toilet seat with a remote control attached to it. The latest brand name…whatever it was. I learned that our hosts worked six days and 60-80 hours a week in order to keep up their lifestyle. I made the promise to myself twenty years ago and I have not broken that promise today.

Looking back at that promise? I could not be happier. Instead of possessions that own me, it is the lust for experiences and the desire to go places that I have dreamed about since I can remember. After my trip to Japan I bought a huge wall map and hung it next to my bed. Over the years before I was old enough to travel independently I drew countless lines on the map; itineraries of where I wanted to go and dreaming what life would be like on the lines that I drew. Now that I am older and I have traveled, I have been able to replace lines of old itineraries with pins that take their place.

Each pin represents to me a time and place that I will remember forever and an experience that is unique to me. New lines and new dreams of where to go next continue to fill the map as well as newly placed pins. Every time I get on an airplane, bus, boat or any other mode of transportation to a new place I am free. I am free from the job that I worked at in order to save money. I am free from the gadget that kept me tied down with monthly payments. I am free from the fear, doubt and disbelief that I would not be able to travel.

I have been on a trip for the last five months in South America and it is ending tomorrow. These last five months have been spent living fantasies that I dreamed about as a kid and experiences that I will remember for the rest of my life. When my friends ask me why I do it my response is this: “The greatest risk of all is the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.” Get out off the couch and travel. Find that place that makes you feel free. Be free of everything that holds you back from doing what you want to do.

About the Author: Tyler Brooks: Tyler has always had a world map posted on his wall with trips planned out and places pinned to-go.  After meeting his wife in Colorado, they moved to Thailand, her home country.  After 4 years in Thailand, he is back in Colorado saving money for a house and  for the ever lasting thirst for travel. Read more from Tyler.

Happy Nearly New Year to all!

Thank you to everyone for all your support for our site, our trip and making our dreams come true! We left Los Angeles six months ago and have spent two months in Indonesia, two months in Thailand, 27 days in Myanmar (Burma) and have been in India since November 23rd.

Read more about our current journey here and on our newsletters.

Enjoy the story of New Years 2010 in Cartagena, Columbia! We cannot wait to share about New Years 2012 and our upcoming project for 2013!

Happy New Year! We hope all your dreams come true!

Lisa and George
The story begins: My wife Lisa and I had already had already spent a few days in Cartagena and a couple of weeks in Colombia, all the while awaiting New Year’s Eve.  Since we’d had a very disappointing New Years celebration a few years back in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, we were ready for a true party but were skeptical.  Old San Juan is lovely as is the setting but if you have visions of Ricky Martin and thousands of others filling the streets to dance the night away, let it be known that New Year’s parties either occur in the high- rise hotels (with a stiff admission price) or the Puertoriquenos simply stay home to dine with their families.  We heard rumors that gunshots and/or aspects of their culture led to a dull scene. Read the full story! and enjoy the photo slideshow.