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Seeing the Light: Sunrise in the Sahara Desert

After a night in the desert, a new nomad gains an illuminating perspective.

By Kirsten Smith

I opened my eyes just before sunrise and lay blinking at a pale sky beginning to drape the Sahara Desert in a faint veil of wispy pastels. Cocooned within heavy, rough-hewn blankets piled atop a thick, striped mat resting on sand, I craned my neck to glance around the Berber camp where I’d spent the night.

Encircling me was an assemblage of large, faded Moroccan kilim rugs layered haphazardly over a skeleton of metal poles to form sand-shielding rooms. Though a slightly rough construction, it allows the nomadic Berber people to quickly pull up stakes and rebuild their homes in new lands when the need arose.

“Good morning, it’s time to wake up,” came the soft voice of our shy Berber guide, Mohammed. He leaned out the door flap of the kitchen tent where he was preparing breakfast. His white turban was perfectly wrapped and his long blue kaftan looked spotless, a stark contradiction to my mussed-up appearance. I especially liked Mohammed, with his sweet demeanor, kind brown eyes and gentle expression.

I noticed the sleeping mats of my travel companions, Colin and Maria, were empty; blankets pushed back into stiff heaps of fabric encrusted with wind-blown granules, looking vaguely like mounds of sugared pastries. My own blankets (as well as my face and hair) were similarly glazed with sand.

“Have you seen–” I began.

“There,” Mohammed smiled, motioning toward the dunes beyond the entrance to the circular camp. I rummaged through my backback to retrieve my camera, which by now was emitting a gritty grinding sound whenever I rotated the lens, and stumbled clumsily toward the doorway through deep, cool sand not yet baked by the day.

Shuffling up a low rise outside, I scanned the landscape for my friends. When we’d arrived at the camp the previous evening, it had been twilight and the surrounding dunes had already dissolved into deep purple obscurity. Now, however, the smooth behemoths were delicately illuminated and I could see them clearly, echoing forever in all directions.

My gaze landed on Maria, sitting cross-legged on the crest of a distant hill. Colin’s lanky form stood atop the tallest of the nearby dunes, camera held to his face, snapping photos of the brightening horizon. I settled myself with my camera on the wind-rippled spine of the closest ridge to wait for the sunlight.

As I sat quietly, a light breeze grazing my skin, scenes from the past evening replayed in my mind, recollected fragments of an exquisite dream.

Tasting the aromatic, savory spices of Mohammed’s traditional Moroccan tagine dish, washed down with steaming glasses of sweet mint tea. Giggling at each other’s absurd attempts at playing our guide’s bongo drums, with their taut dried sheep’s stomach stretched over the hand-carved wooden rims. Snuggling into the folds of my blankets as Mohammed flicked off the lone bare bulb at the center of the camp. It was if the lights of the universe were suddenly switched on. The heavens blazed like an upside down black sea of lustrous pinpricks. I’d gawked in wonderment for as long as my eyelids would comply, feeling heart-achingly alive, yet utterly tranquil.

Then my mind traveled to murkier thoughts.

When my friends from San Francisco had joined me two weeks earlier for the Morocco leg of my year-long world journey, which I’d embarked upon only a month prior, I’d been thrilled and grateful for their company. But, unintentionally, they had brought with them the baggage of city life, and with it unpleasant reminders of the anxiety-ridden version of myself I had been trying hard to banish.

Colin’s tales of dating woes resurrected feelings of failure from still being single in my mid-thirties. What am I doing? Aren’t I supposed to be trying to find “the one”? Maria carried with her the ghosts of beauty standards past. “I’m so ugly,” or, “God, I’m fat,” she’d say, glaring disdainfully at a mirror, though the reflection always depicted a thin and very striking woman. Her words awakened old self-inflicted wounds. I’ve gained a little weight lately…

The me I’d become in a mere month of traveling the world had begun to actually appreciate what she saw in the mirror. I was no longer feverishly shellacking on makeup or berating myself for eating carbs. For the first time, I was glimpsing the contented, self-reliant woman I’d always hoped to be. Silently, I declared my freedom to the desert.

From my perch atop the dune, I watched as gilded rays swelled and then spilled over the horizon. They spread warmly, graceful fingers of light and shadow reaching out across the impossible expanse of peaks and valleys of the Sahara—a place where nomads can wake up one day, tear down old walls, and rebuild again as they choose.

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

 

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Late night st kittsMy time in St. Kitts went too quickly. I loved participating in the first ever restaurant week and exploring parts of the island. For our final morning, I woke up to see the sunrise and to catch our early morning flight. Relaxing in the tranquility of the YU Lounge was a relief after the early wake up call and traveling by Porsche Cayenne to the tarmac was a treat. I loved all the super luxury experiences on this island from Belle Mont Farm, to Christophe Harbour, the Pavilion and Salt Plage! I cannot wait to return!

Read more about our adventures in St. Kitts:

Day One: St. Kitts Arrival at YU Lounge and the St. Kitts Marriott

Day Two: From over the rails to beneath the sea: St. Kitts Restaurant Week

Day Three:  A taste of history to complement local treats: St. Kitts Restaurant Week Day 3

Day Four:  Upscale eats and the writing is on the… tree! St. Kitts Restaurant Week Day 4

Enjoy this video of Sunrise over St. Kitts on our last day and the second video from Sunset at Salt Plage.

Leaving #StKitts @yu_lounge by @Porsche & @Americanair This is #luxury #sknrestaurantwk #lgg4

A photo posted by Lisa Niver (@wesaidgotravel) on

Thanks #StKitts for a wonderful visit! Flight by @Americanair Photos by @lgusamobile #lgg4 #sknrestaurantwk A photo posted by Lisa Niver (@wesaidgotravel) on

Great fun #StKitts snorkel with @breannajwilson & @kelleesetgo. Thx to Bre for @Gopro photo

A photo posted by Lisa Niver (@wesaidgotravel) on

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“I suppose I should let the cat out of the bag, being that I leave in about 2 1/2 weeks…., I will be teaching English in Beijing, China for an entire year at a learning center. I will miss so many of you dearly, you really don’t actually know. I just started crying a bit just writing this. This past year has been one of growth and development as I climbed from the pits of clinical depression. It made me isolated and people thought I cut ties. I hope I can see as many of you before I go, so definitely let me know if you’re around New Orleans!”

That was the post I finally made public not too long ago, and it was flooded with warm wishes and sincerity. For such a long time I believed not a soul cared whether I was around or not. This became very isolating and I couldn’t help but stay inside day in and day out. I was living in one of the most exciting cities, filled with sunshine and beaches. That city was Los Angeles, but it wasn’t quite the City of Angels. Rather it came to be, for me at the time, a city of Devils disguising themselves in angelic and heavenly glows. I was alone. I had a few friends I could hang with but we were all so busy with work/school/artistic endeavors we hardly found the time. There was no family. Fast forward to this morning as I sip my coffee under the roof of my best friend since I was 5 years old’s house. We used to sit there blowing snot bubbles during kindergarten nap time and laughing uncontrollably for hours. I haven’t had more gratitude towards the people and things in my life since I lived in New Orleans so many years ago (my family evacuated a couple days before Hurricane Katrina and drove to the Boston area where we stayed with family).

I haven’t lived with my brother, two sisters and parents since 2010, a year before my high school graduation. Since then I’ve gone off to college for 4 years, worked countless jobs and traveled around Europe twice. The travels around Europe, however, was what strengthened bonds with people I hold dear to my heart. Whenever we had the chance to skype or talk on WhatsApp my heart was filled to the brim with joy.There were also times I didn’t even have two euro coins to scratch together. But I never let that impede my journey.

For such a long time I let my depression rule my thinking, preventing myself from having the tiniest ounces of happiness. The first time I headed off to Europe, sure, I admit it was a runaway/escape of sorts. I backpacked, worked odd-jobs, hitch hiked and train hopped across 7 different countries and learned to speak French fluently. For this I can’t help but feel grateful toward. My parents were in full support the entire time. And even though they could not support me financially, the emotional and spiritual support was incomparable to monetary need.My gratitude by far goes toward the support and love one receives when being truly open and honest to their dear friends and family.

About the Author: Xave Guidry has been known as a ramblin’, gamblin’, travelin’ man with a penchant for adventure, fueled by an unwavering wanderlust. He has studied Sociology and Occupational Science at the University of Southern California, where he reinvigorated his creative spirit. Since moving to Los Angeles and finally back to New Orleans, he has regained his love for playing music, writing poetry, and snapping the world around him with a film SLR camera. Xave will begin a new adventure to the Far East, as he sets out on a Chinese/Asian adventure for an entire calendar year.  

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I board the plane crisp and respectable and promptly feel myself morph into something retched and inexplicably slimy.  Flights do that to a person.  But after all the rearranging of doll-house-sized pillows and the moments of fitful sleep, the end is near.  I know this because the nice lady just handed me a slip of paper- the entry form.

This is all they want to know about me: Name, Date of Birth, Passport Number, and Reason for Travel.  The last one always stumps me.  It’s a ‘why’ question and there’s only a couple boxes available to check.  There’s definitely not enough room for my answer.   I search for something that says, “If you need more space, please attach another sheet’, because this is what I really want to say:

“Dear unsmiling uniformed officer,

No, I am not carrying more than $10,000 in currency, nor do I have any goods to sell, though I heard that blue jeans were a hit in Russia some time ago.  And, yes, I have no fruits, seeds, or meat.  The truth is, I ate them all on the plane ride, mostly 10 minutes before disembarking, and yes sir, it was a lot of food.  For some reason, I always think that an eight-hour plane ride will require the nourishment to sustain a marathon; as if I would starve to death right there in seat 23E and embarrass myself in front of the Window Guy and the Aisle Lady.   So, I have just consumed three apples, a banana, a bag of beef jerky, and a pound of pistachios.  Yes, the pistachios were the most difficult; with the shells and all.  I apologize if I look rather bloated.

But you are obviously busy with very serious business, so let’s get to the point.  Once upon a time, I didn’t know what propelled me to keep throwing myself into foreign places.  I didn’t know why I wanted to spend my time roaming around some cobbled streets or sitting in an overloaded bus with a chicken as my seatmate.  I didn’t know why, when I was wrapping up one trip, the only way to stave off some serious melancholy was to start planning the next adventure.  But I did it, over and over and over again.

And it’s not like everything was cake and berries, no, sir.  There was the time I got locked in a self-cleaning bathroom in Rome, and the time I got lost in a grizzly bear preserve, and, yeah, the seven horrific food-fails in Asia.  Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, all of my trips were fraught with misadventure- delays, missed busses, bad street food, and one too many moments of inadvertent nudity.   I got lost, cold, hungry, and embarrassed every single time, but I kept wanting more.

Then one day, I stumbled upon a list.  Not any old list, sir, but a list that smacked me hard on the face.  It was titled, ‘Common Traits of Americans’ and it scared the sweat out of me.  Every single item on that page was something I had assumed, until then, reflected who I was at my very core- my innermost passions, my innate sensibilities, and even my quirky nuances.  But my culture defined me and shaped me like a potter sculpting clay.  It was so blatant that it was subtle; possibly the greatest magic trick in the book.  And really, this is not such a bad thing, but it made me wonder; beneath all the ketchup and mustard, who am I, really?

Travel, it turns out, has a way of stripping us down to our innards; separating us from that ‘list’ and the expectations of our society.  People boast of freedom behind the colored and symbolic flags of their nations, but I sir, tend to think that the only true flag of independence is the white one.   When we have surrendered all of the things that define us, all that is left is wits and guts.  It’s all very Wizard-of-Oz-y: there you are on some cobbled road, a much more potent and colorful version of yourself.

So, who am I?  Well, sir, here’s the bad news:  I’m still trying to figure that one out.   My mountain of travel journals and the well-inked passports may look like just paper and words, but I see them as the remnants of abandoned cocoons.  You see, every time I go somewhere, something inside of me is outgrown and something brand new is born.   And my question is still unanswered.

And, that, officer, is my ‘Reason for Travel’.  I hope this helps explain things and again, sorry if I look so slimy and bloated.”

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

I never expected to be able visit Turkey. Although everyone I knew that had been loved it, they all said how they thought it was too inaccessible for me. You see, I can’t walk much because of my disabilities, and generally use a wheelchair scooter to get around if we don’t have our car handy. I have travel with disabilities down to a science – I do my research, rent a car (or drive our own), figure it out, adjust my day. So how could I travel to Turkey, where the buildings are so ancient that accessibility isn’t really an option? I saw photos, I heard stories and travel tales, I tasted fresh Turkish delight and made gozleme. I hung evil eyes (gifts from loved ones), and read voraciously. Turkey? It was my Mt. Everest.

And then.

Turkish Airlines asked the most influential travel bloggers (including yours truly) from the White House Travel Bloggers Summit to visit Turkey. I asked if they could help make it accessible. Gizem Salcigi White of Turkish Airlines worked hard to make it so – she arranged for a wheelchair for me and found some university students, Sezer and Kadir, to help me get around Istanbul. YES!! I was so excited – I could visit a place that I dearly wanted to explore, but never thought I could. Having disabilities can be difficult, especially for travel. Venice? Probably not an option. Turkey? NOW an option!

The two guys that helped make Istanbul accessible to me.

Kadir and Sezer, two university students that helped make Istanbul accessible to me. 

And so I went – flying from Chicago to Istanbul was effortless. Airport handicap access is not the same the world over, but I had no issues. In fact, in Turkey, Turkish Air has these amazing trucks that lift up to the plane and then drop down and take you to the airport – all in your wheelchair. Genius.

At first, handicap accessibility was easy. I can do up to a flight of steps, so walking a few steps up into the bus that took us into Istanbul was no problem. Our hotel (the Renaissance Bosphorus) was completely accessible. I began to wonder if I had made much ado about nothing.

Cruising on the Bosphorus.

Aboard a cruise on the Bosphorus

Once in Istanbul, all of the travel writers split into groups and then went out to discover different aspects of the city. My trusty wheelchair was stowed in the back of the bus, and my university friends were ready and handy. We went to the Turkish Airlines campus, exploring training for the airline (including heading inside an enormous flight simulator), and the HUGE hangars in which airplanes are repaired. Mostly accessible, thanks to my wheelchair and Sezer and Kadir.

At the Turkish Airlines training center, Istanbul.

At the Turkish Airlines training center

Visiting the Blue Mosque gave me a glimpse into accessibility and ancient buildings. The wheelchair could only go so far – the rest I had to walk. I held tightly onto Kadir’s arm as I climbed the steps into the Blue Mosque, wandered around inside on the soft carpets, and then headed out again, in a daze from the beauty and history of it. Sezer had taken the chair back around to the entrance and was waiting for me.

Steps into the Blue Mosque.

Steps into the Blue Mosque

Heading into the Blue Mosque.

Heading into the Blue Mosque

Inside the Blue Mosque, Istanbul.

Inside the Blue Mosque with Kadir

A visit to the Hagia Sofia… same thing. You can’t really make millennia-old buildings accessible, although there are some concessions (a shorter line to get in, sort of ramps to get over the door steps). I felt a bit stymied (and in a great deal of pain), but enjoyed the time with my new friends, who pushed without complaint and sought new ways to show me parts of these gorgeous buildings. We laughed, explored, and figured it out as best we could. In the back of my mind, I was becoming more and more stressed about actually seeing anything in Istanbul. It’s too ancient, too inaccessible, too crowded.

crazy sidewalks in Istanbul.

Crazy sidewalks in Istanbul – these ancient marble slates were the GOOD sidewalks!

And then it truly became more difficult. Crowds. Traffic. Steep, winding cobblestone roads. I sat in my wheelchair for a long time while my fellow travel writers went down a hill to an incredible arts museum and learned to do traditional Turkish marble painting. It was hot, and I looked at the wares for sale across the street, eyed some of the many Istanbul cats roaming the streets, people watched, and started to feel sorry for myself. It isn’t fun to wait, in the sun, while you’d rather be doing something else and you feel your disabilities acutely. Tears may or may not have entered the picture. 

getting into ancient buildings in Istanbul.

getting into ancient buildings in Istanbul.

Watching cats in Istanbul

Watching cats in Istanbul

The long steep pathway to a traditional crafts museum in Istanbul.

The long steep pathway to a traditional crafts museum in Istanbul – you can’t even see the door from here

And then Sezer left the museum and came up to keep me company. He showed me photos – of his friends, his beautiful mother, his home. I learned that many Istanbulites escape the city as often as they can, to go home to relax and visit family. I learned that family is extremely important in Turkish culture. I learned about what life is like for a university student in Istanbul, far from home (in Sezer’s case, beautiful Antalya). We laughed, played word games, shared stories, and sat in the sun together, enjoying each other’s company. All of a sudden, being in a wheelchair wasn’t so horrible. I was having a great time, instead of missing things I’d wanted to see and experience.

It dawned on me…that instead of seeing the sights of Istanbul (or sitting outside of the sights of Istanbul, if they were too ancient), I was here to learn about the people of Istanbul. That instead of wandering through millennia of history, I could find glimpses of now. Instead of learning about a building (i.e., Topkapi Palace – extraordinarily beautiful, but NOT accessible), I could learn about a person, family, culture. If you know me, you know I love to talk with and learn about people. Why didn’t I realize this earlier, instead of being sad about not seeing the main attractions? The change in me was immediate.

I sparked with joy.

Instead of a tour of Istanbul, I was on a people tour. Here’s how it went…

We next headed down an extremely rough cobblestone street and down a hill (one thing that Sezer and Kadir did was pretend to be Fast and Furious drivers. I didn’t fear for my life, much, but it was a great deal of fun once I got over being scared. Istanbul is hilly!). My travel writer friends headed into a beautiful pottery shop, and learned about making traditional Turkish pottery. I climbed the few steps in, and then waited while our group went downstairs to see traditional moonstone pottery. I found a newspaper with a new kind of game, like Sudoku (with famous people!), and chatted with a local. Learning about Turkish culture and talking with people? CHECK.

The next day, we visited Topkapi Palace. While some of Topkapi is somewhat accessible, most of it isn’t. For me, there was a long, restful period of time sitting around the fountain inside the grounds – peaceful and relaxing. I talked with the guys, with fellow tourists, with girls duckfacing for selfies. We then had lunch at the amazing Istanbul360, known for its views.

At Istanbul 360

At Istanbul 360 – what a view!

Afterward, instead of heading off to explore and photograph Taksim, Galata, and other famous areas of Istanbul, Kadir and Sezer played Fast and Furious again, taking me down a very (very!) steep street (yes, some walking was involved, as the wheelchair would never have made it all the way on the street and sidewalk).

Sidewalks in Istanbul.

Sidewalks in Istanbul. Yes, we headed down this steep road in a wheelchair…

The steep road down to the lemonade cafe.

The steep road down to the lemonade cafe.

Down, down, down the hill in Istanbul.

Down, down, down the hill in Istanbul

Destination? A lovely lemonade café, with a side journey to a bookstore (it’s the academic in me, I can’t pass one without going in) and an art supply store to pick up a notebook for our daughter.

a bookstore in Istanbul

An academic can always find a bookstore or two…

Bookstore in Istanbul

We made it to the lemonade café… and I discovered an entirely local, completely beautiful aspect of Istanbul I never knew existed. Shady trees in between the tall buildings, people playing chess, a professor holding forth to his class at the next table, couples on dates, groups of friends. THIS is also the real Istanbul, as much as the tourist attractions are. We ordered crisp, tart lemonades, and talked school mascots, friends, family, what they were studying in university, and more. We whiled away a few hours, and I thought: today, I discovered a tree in a bathroom, a secret garden, new friends with a wicked sense of humor, and a slice of life in Istanbul. It was glorious.

At the lemonade cafe in Istanbul

Kadir, Sezer, and I sipping lemonade

Look what message I saw on the board at the lemonade cafe in Istanbul!

Look what message I saw on the board at the lemonade cafe in Istanbul!

At the lemonade cafe, Istanbul.

At the lemonade cafe – what an oasis of calm! 

At the lemonade cafe, Istanbul

At the lemonade cafe, Istanbul.

A simple change in perspective can truly change your journey.

 

Evil eyes in Turkey

When our group went to the Spice Market, I was told that it was not accessible. Sezer and I rolled across the empty square, seeing a wedding party and a very smart way to handle the great amounts of trash in Istanbul (hint: it looks like a TARDIS). While I didn’t see the spices inside the market, I did see men on tiny stools having coffee, discussed trash with the trash guy, bought plenty of Turkish delight, discovered and discussed how many Syrian refugees are living in Istanbul, and had freshly roasted corn on the cob with Sezer, who loves old cars and showed me one of his favorites, parked near to where we munched on our corn. It was a different side of Istanbul than I’d expected to discover – one where you see real life, not just tourist stuff.

Turkish delight in Istanbul.

Turkish delight in Istanbul

An open square near the Spice Market, Istanbul

An open square near the Spice Market

Happy wedding! Istanbul

Lovely wedding couple 

TARDIS trash machine in Istanbul

The TARDIS-like underground trash containers in Istanbul

Sezer and I with fresh roasted corn in Istanbul

Sezer and I with fresh roasted corn

Vintage cars in Istanbul

Vintage cars in Istanbul

Sezer is a cowboy, a James Dean, a renegade who will go far, but whose thoughts are never far from his home in Antalya. Kadir? He’s a sensitive, thoughtful guy, very smart and talented (he can bowl backward!), with a strong grip that helped me up many a staircase and a ready smile to encourage me.

Sezer and I in Istanbul.

Sezer and I

Kadir in the Hagia Sofia

Kadir in the Hagia Sofia

My fellow travel writer friends helped when I needed it, lent arms and shoulders, and gave hugs. A loving and friendly face in a stressful situation is a wonderful thing – even better when you are longtime friends and colleagues. Like when you’re an expat and you find a box of Cheerios and your heart gives a leap? Yes. My friends made my heart happy, with their care and love.

My people tour of Turkey didn’t end in Istanbul.

When we flew to Izmir and Kusadasi, to visit Ephesus, the House of the Mother Mary, and the Basilica of St. John (and later, Pamukkale), I spent most of my waiting time with Can (pronounced John), a funny guy with a wry smile and a very caring nature. I hacked his internet while we waited atop Pamukkale (because I am addicted to Instagram and wanted to share it); laughed at signs at the marketplace at the end of visiting Ephesus; learned of his job in tourism and how he tries to help travelers with disabilities.

Can and I in Sirince

Can and I in Sirince

Laughing at Ephesus

Laughing at Ephesus. No genuine fake watches were bought.

Handicap gate to Pamukkale

Handicap gate to Pamukkale

A lovely table atop Pamukkale, where we rested in the shade

A lovely table atop Pamukkale, where we rested in the shade and instagrammed the heck out of the lovely area

When I waited outside of the ruins of the Basilica of St. John, I sat and talked with a man and his father – they ran the gift shop directly across the street. I learned that they each practice Islam very differently, but that understanding goes across generations, and is humble and kind.

new friends near the ruins of the Basilica of St John, Turkey

New friends

While I waited in Sirince, after a glorious lunch at Sirince Artemis, I talked with the woman who ran the beverage shop. She was surprised when I asked for a cold hot chocolate and then made me one after we figured out the language difficulties, and then she made fresh hot donuts for me (I think she wanted me to have something hot that day).

Fresh donuts in Sirince, Turkey

Fresh donuts for me! Thank you!

We visited a local cooperative and learned about traditional Turkish rug weaving. While our group climbed the stairs to see the amazing showroom and museum, I sat in the main weaving room under a tinted portrait of Ataturk, watching the women and girls weave in peace, chatting softly amongst themselves and showing far greater skill and talent than I had ever imagined.

Ataturk

Weaving course in Turkey

Weaving Turkish carpets

I rested and watched her artistry

When we stayed at the Hotel Kismet in Kusadasi, one of the staff very kindly took me down the hill in a golf cart, so I could swim in the Aegean as often as I could. For a mermaid such as I, this was more than welcome – it was life-giving and soul-nourishing. I know he was busy, and I appreciated his efforts.

Catching a golf cart ride down to the Aegean at the Hotel Kismet, Kusadasi.

See how happy I am? BIG THANKS to this kind man for helping me to get to the sea!

When my friends boarded the Turkish Airlines flight back to Istanbul the regular way (walking across the tarmac, climbing the stairs), I talked with the guy who ran those genius accessible boarding trucks, learning about how things work at smaller airports – and who solicitously made sure I got to my seat ok.

Accessible airports in Turkey

I love seeing signs like this! It means WAY less pain for me.

Loading trucks for accessible travel with Turkish airlines

Loading truck for people with disabilities. You go on the back gate in your wheelchair, it rises up to the top. You drive to the airplane, and then get right up next to the plane. Voila – VERY accessible boarding! Thank you, Turkish Airlines.

Did I miss seeing the attractions? Yes. But I learned so much more about Turkey than I realized – about the people who live there and care about their country, who pine for their homes while they are in the city, and who daily practice kindness and generosity to strangers. While some ancient structures may be inaccessible, people with disabilities can definitely visit Turkey – if they change their mindset on how to experience place, as I did. You won’t be able to see everything, but you will be able to experience more than you ever thought possible.

Me and my shadow- accessible Turkey

Can and I and our shadows on some pretty flat marble in Pamukkale

 

And the famous Turkish hospitality? It runs more deeply than I could have imagined, and made me fall in love with this venerable culture and country, which welcomed me with open arms.

 

Accessible Istanbul.

#WidenYourWorld - accessible travel in Turkey

#WidenYourWorld – accessible travel in Turkey is possible!

 

 

Note: This article was originally published at Wandering Educators.

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Adventure is a funny thing. We have heard the word used and over-used on so many occasions, but have you ever stopped to truly think about what it means? Adventure is the only thing that you can spend all you have, yet somehow make even more.

This summer I had the incredible opportunity to embark on a journey in which we visited thirteen states. “The Great Westward Adventure” changed me, and also my outlook on this beautiful nation I am privileged to live in.

The Pacific Northwest region is exquisite, somewhat uncharted territory. We left from Arkansas and visited Iowa, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Montana, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, and Missouri.

The trip was partially to help us find ourselves, but in ways we found so much than we anticipated.

We camped in a tipi in North Dakota, visited national parks in which we witnesses wild buffalo walking right beside our vehicle. In South Dakota we saw quaint small towns and of course the not so quaint Mt. Rushmore. After camping out, Montana gave a gorgeous display of God’s handiwork with cascading, snow capped mountains and crystal clear streams and rivers. The views were breath taking in every sense of the word. The majesty of the mountains took our breath away, as well as the hike up them.

Washington had a variety of activities from coffee and ferry rides in Seattle to awe-inspiring mountain ranges in Olympic National Park, Mount St. Helens and Mt. Rainer. Oregon might have put the icing on the cake of adventure for me. We stayed in downtown Portland the very same week as the Rose Festival, a carnival and Fleet Week. That being said, there were sailors in uniform everywhere we looked. That sight was almost as pretty as the mountain ranges.

When we departed the city we drove to Multnomah Falls and Oneonta Gorge. The waterfalls were lovely to say the least. The last sight of Oregon we took in was the incredible coastal region. Thor’s Well, The mighty waves and even the fog struck wonder into our hearts.

Unfortunately our trip was cut short in Idaho when we were involved in accident. We were driving at about eighty-five miles an hour when we unexplainably lost control and began spinning toward oncoming traffic. We flipped three times. The vehicle came to an abrupt halt, landing upside down leaving us having to crawl out of the driver’s side window. My friend and I walked away from that horrifying accident with only some bruises and scrapes. During the petrifying events, I never had one of those “life flash before your eyes” kind of moments. In an unexplainable sort of way, I knew that everything was going to be all right.

After our hospital stay and one night’s rest, We finished the trip in a rental car hitting Wyoming, Nebraska, Utah, Colorado and Missouri. Even though the accident took place, this trip was indeed the best one of my life.

We saw gorgeous views, met great people and more than anything, we made memories that will last a lifetime.

I am well aware that this piece was meant to highlight Independence, or a place that makes me feel free to be myself. If you really think about it, that is exactly what I have done. You see, there is not one specific place I can pinpoint that gives me this feeling, but rather the open road itself. It is there that all distractions seem to dissipate and the journeys begin to unfold. In between the white lines on the road is wherethe stories are made.

The beauty of adventure is also found here. I can choose anywhere I want to go, drive anything I want to drive, see anything my heart and eyes desire, and ultimately, expand my horizons and discover things I have never seen before. Travel is the most enlightening forms of independence. It is freeing and it is wide open. The road is waiting, where will it take you next?

About the Author:

Rachel is a writer for a youth magazine and also has a bi-weekely blog. She is a recent graduate of Ushan College and an avid traveler and adventure seeker. She enjoys photography, nature, painting, reading and exploring.

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

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Lisa Niver, travel guru and creator of We Said Go Travel, knows a thing or two about making travel easier. She’s been to over one hundred countries and six continents, and has narrowed down her travel must-haves to these items. She doesn’t go anywhere without them, so maybe you shouldn’t either!

1. Kindle

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The Kindle is a travel must. It’s the only way to pack as many extra books as you want, with no additional weight! And the genius screen design makes it easy to read outdoors, unlike the iPad. This one has a 6-inch glare free, touchscreen display and is wifi ready. Whether on the hiking trail or by the pool, this Kindle has you covered.

2. Eagle Creek Daypack

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The Eagle Creek Daypack is perfect for hiking or any short-term vacation where you can pack light. If you are taking a long trip and need a smaller backpack for mini excursions, this backpack is a great, lightweight option.

3. Four Wheeled Suitcase

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This Skyway suitcase makes life at the airport a million times easier. A four wheeled system adds increased mobility, perfect for close quarters, like crowded airports and train stations. The bright color makes it easy to spot, and the hard case design protects your belongings.

4. Becca Swimsuit

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Lisa loves her Becca swimsuit. Becca swimwear is durable, comfortable and has added shelf support. They come in a variety of fun patterns, giving you plenty of options, no matter if you are packing for Tahiti or Tahoe.

5. Comfortable, Travel Ready Pants

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A long day of airports and train rides demands easy to wear clothing. These Everyday Pants by Lucy are perfect for travel, with chafe-resistant seams, elastic closure, and invisible zip pockets. The moisture-wicking fabric will keep you cool, even when you’re walking all day through muggy Florence.

Don’t forget to keep up with Lisa’s latest adventures!

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Straight from college, I landed my very first corporate job and never stopped working ever since. Not until I was retrenched last year. During my six years of being employed, I will see travel pictures of my friends and relatives and has always felt envious. To not feel miserable, I say to myself that my lack of free time is the reason I don’t travel. I have a career to build after all.

And then came my retrenchment. I was left with a decent amount of fund and plenty of time to finally travel. Still, I have not gone thru my travel plans. I later on learned that the absence of travel in my life is not because of lack of time or even money… but it is my lack of will to just pack my bag and go.

But I woke up one day and told myself, cliché as it may sound, ‘that it is now or never’. My old self would have asked someone to go with me – my boyfriend, my friend, my sister. But when I decided that I wanted to just go, people around me started approaching me and ask me if they can go instead of me asking them to go with me. It’s like a magnetic force. I sincerely hope I am exuding the free-spirit vibe.

Ever since the start of this year, two months after I lost my job, I’ve been to one international destination – South Korea, with no travel guide just one travel buddy, and has explored my very own country, Philippines: sailed on a ship to reach one local but unadulterated island with no one by myself, been to multiple resorts in my province and nearby provinces with my friends, multiple beaches with my GoPro, and several ‘I’ll just pack my bag and go’ unplanned trips with whoever is ready to go with me. Surprisingly, the fund has been sufficient, the timing was all perfect and most importantly my will to just go has not diminished at all, instead it is being refueled after every trip.

My liberty from my own binding thought that I don’t have the time to travel has been proven false when I finally have the time but I still don’t have the will. I found my independence from the wrong thought and asked myself to just do it ‘cause that’s what I want. My social media feed has been filled with salt water, sand, sea shells and breath taking views. My laptop is filled with itineraries and destination targets. My friends started asking me for suggestion where to go, and even asked me to go with them.

I stopped asking why I have to go and explore, I just did. I don’t have stress to deal with to say I need to go. I don’t have the monthly expected salary to say I am entitled ‘cause I worked hard for it. I just did.

Freedom from excuses not to go, or independence from the need to have a reason to go has made me realize that I wanted to do this more than anything else.

I could definitely travel more. I can definitely go further not because I’ll have the money or time. I can ‘cause I will and that’s coming from the heart.

 About the Author:

Annabelle “Belle” Lingao is a 26-year old Filipina with a ‘to-do’ list to complete before getting hitched this year. She has been enjoying her free time ever since losing her corporate job. The negative has turned into positive in her life and she’s more than ready to take over the world.

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

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Lucky for us travelers, there are geniuses all around the world trying to make our lives easier! Planes, trains, and hostels never looked quite as comfy before these amazing, easy inventions! They are designed to make any kind of travel easier and more enjoyable. Check them out:

1. J Pillow

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The J Pillow is the Winner of the 2013 British Inventor Award. It stops your head from falling forward while sleeping. Perfect for flying, this genius pillow will help you sleep better while sitting upright, making that long trip to New Zealand a bit easier.

2. Native Union Jump Cable

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The Native Jump Cable won the 2014 Good Design awards, for its sleek look and tangle free design. Unlike most portable chargers, Jump charges itself so it’s always ready to go. It’s the size of a matchbox, and holds an extra 30% charge for your phone. With Jump, you don’t have to remember to charge your phone before you start snapping photos of the Grand Canyon.

3. The Scrubba Wash Bag

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On your long backpacking trips, re-wearing clothes is inevitable. With Scrubba, washing your clothes while backpacking just became easy! This genius invention uses less water in less time, and keeps your clothes cleaner! No more having to find some strange laundromat. Scrubba will only add 5 ounces of weight to your backpack!

4. Hoodie Pillow

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The Hoodie Pillow: simple, but brilliant. The ultimate zone-out design keeps you in your personal bubble, no matter if you’re in a busy train station or on a plane. It also offers a stealthy pocket to hide your wallet or phone while traveling. Get comfy and stay comfy.

5. Sinch Headphone Assistant

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Every time you roll your headphones up neatly, they still come out of your bag looking like a knot. The Sinch will save yourself five minutes each time you want to listen to some music. Store your headphones where you’ll need them, and keep them tangle free, with this easy clip on device for your iPhone.

Hopefully these inventions make your next trip a little easier!

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            My most vivid memory of Paris is running.

 

I woke by my watch’s beeping at 4:45 am for a 6:40 flight to London, the city I where would end my European summer. In a blurry, anxious haze I gathered my bags and squeezed my luggage down narrow hotel stairs that creaked with antiquity then said a thank-you-goodbye to the receptionist in the head-nod body language that defies barrier.

 

My walk to the Metro was a long, quiet one in the cool emptiness of early-morning summer. My watch showed 5:10, 20 minutes early for the last train that would land me in the airport on time. I pulled a few coins from my pocket and triple-checked my math against the sign above the tellers’ desk: two euros short. Repeated swipes of my American debit card in the station’s cash dispenser brought up an error notice. The clerks graciously informed me in rough “Frenglish” they couldn’t spot me any change, didn’t know where the nearest ATM was, and couldn’t, per regulation, watch my luggage.

 

Shouldering my grossly overstuffed canvas suitcase and bulging laptop bag, I ran wildly through the quaint streets of a city tourists visit to browse with slow, savory steps. I huffed along several blocks one direction, shifting my suitcase (roughly the size, shape, and weight of a human child) from shoulder to shoulder, then doubled back until I found an ATM that could read my card and then pounded 10 or so blocks back in enough time to hear train brakes crescendo in the tunnel as I breathlessly handed over cash for my ticket.

 

Aside from flight, I remember little else of my summer abroad other than unremarkable minutiae. The Eiffel Tower is a vague image; I can’t even say what metallic shade of gray it was (was it gray? brass? charcoal?). I can’t name a single painting from Musée d’Orsay, recall a stained-glass portrait adorning Notre Dame, or confirm that Notre Dame even has stained glass windows. More elegant than La Ville-Lumière at night was running through it in a surprise afternoon shower. Richer than its coffee was smoking a cheap cigar watching street dancers. More enriching than its art was the unpacked carnival I perused outside the Louvre.

 

Before that summer, I believed that to tour a foreign place is to observe firsthand the quintessential features that define it, as if to prove that a crêpe tastes a certain way in Paris vs. Boston, that Europeans do fart in public without so much as an Entschuldigen Sie mich, that Big Ben is indeed rather large.

 

Those are the types of experiences I set out to prove in Paris and elsewhere, but in the years since, thinking back on my time there, what come to mind are the distinct feelings of just being present in strange places, feelings I could never replicate anywhere else. It’s a sensation that’s both denotatively nostalgic (“pleasure and sadness that is caused by remembering something from the past”) and anti-nostalgic (“the state of being homesick”).

 

There’s a French word I think describes this feeling more accurately: dépaysement, or “the feeling that comes from not being in one’s home country.” It’s an emotion only describable as its more-familiar inverse, one that can be both alienating and, for some, comforting for it.

 

I think in every tourist there’s a kind of quaint ignorance we’re constantly searching to remedy yet always cultivating because it provokes pursuit of remedy. This is what now draws me to leave what I know in my home and become a tourist in someone else’s, to thread myself into it as if I lived there and exist as I’ve always existed but somehow as a separate person who can only exist in that specific place, to seek out the opportunity posed by feeling lost in a temporary home beyond my own and be whoever that person is, there.

About the Author

Bryce is a freelance writer and MFA student at NC State. His work can be found in Best American Experimental Writing 2015, The Normal School, Mid-American Review, Prairie Schooner, Your Impossible Voice, etc., and he serves on staff for Raleigh Review and BULL: Men’s Fiction..

 

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