I returned to Rwanda on January 22, 2019, but not as an active Peace Corps volunteer. It was a strange feeling… to return to the area I lived in yet not have a home. To speak the language [somewhat] yet know how much I’ve forgotten. To visit my banking town yet not have an active bank account at the present time. To visit my fellow volunteers who had to go to work, yet not have any actual work to do myself.
Rwanda is a small country that can easily be explored by a tourist in a week of so. In fact most tourist come to Kigali, go to a national park or two and go on to the next country on the list. I did that, but also found time to visit some of my fellow volunteers. In a situation where I don’t know if I’m returning to volunteering, I was a chance to have a little bit of closure. Being pushed out the country so quickly [there was only 36 hours between the time I was told I was leaving until I was on a plane] didn’t allow me to say good-bye to hardly anyone [in the village or to other volunteers]. This return allowed me to have a little bit of closure. And also gave me the opportunity to explore a little bit more of Rwanda
I made it over to Lake Kivu and explored parts of Nyungwe National Forest. I spend some time in the city where I could see the DRC, and went to Volcanoes National Park and climbed a volcano [and more importantly didn’t fall**]. I made it to Rwanda’s eastern border with Tanzania and safaried in Akagera. All these experiences were things I wanted to do while in Rwanda… Things I thought I’d have two years to do, but due to circumstances beyond my control, just didn’t happen.
I’m glad I went. I’m glad I had the opportunity to experience Rwanda on my terms. I’m glad I had the opportunity to say good-bye. In case I don’t make it back to Rwanda, I won’t feel as though I left things unsettled.
**My official diagnosis when I left the country was Morel- Lavalee Lesion of the left pre-patellar area. Due to the government shutdown, I have been unable to contact anyone at Peace Corps’ Medical headquarters to get approved for whatever treatment I may need. Truthfully, by the time I *DO* get in to see an orthopedist, the injury may have healed. A few days before I left was the first time I was able to put any weight on my left knee. I probably the only person in the history of Peace Corps’ to be medically evacuated because of a ‘bruise’ [what the PCMO said I had for nearly a month before agreeing to a MRI which proved that my injury was slightly more involved than a ‘bruise’]
Did I really just go to good ole ‘Murica? Only a few days back in Rwanda, and the entire trip back to South Carolina feels like a dream. I left Rwanda on a Saturday night and was in my own bed by Monday. Lucy and Molly inspected me with above normal curiosity… Maybe they know I’ve been cheating on them with Sadie Mae. Thanks to the generous soul who came to fetch me, my first America meal was a home cooked feast complete with time spent with some of my favorite people. The combination of a full belly and a little more than 24 hours worth of travel had me collapsing into bed around 10p despite the party that was still going on downstairs.
My nearly one month back in ‘Murica had me meeting my new niece [born November 14 ], seeing friends and family, visiting the DMV [in person!], checking out Christmas lights at America’s largest house, dealing with the state nursing board [on-line], making doctor’s appointments, doing some light decorating to my house, and eating pizza! and salads.
I weeded through piles of clothing for clothes that fit [I’ve lost 35 pounds while in Rwanda], donated two large tubs of clothing to charity [maybe I can buy them again in Rwanda] ate out with friends, sat in hot tub, and just enjoyed America’s luxuries in general.
Here’s some general observations I have about going back to America after living 7 months in the rural Rwandan countryside:
America is rich. Excessively so. Even though I stayed in my own house [modest by American standards], I was amazed at the luxury I have. 1 acre of land. 3 TVs. Running water that you can drink straight from the faucet. Toilets. Washing Machine and Dryer. A car.
American bureaucracy sucks just as much as Rwandan bureaucracy–I just understand the language better. #governmentshutdown
Americans eat so much. My Burrito Bowl? Easily 3 Rwandan meals; it lasted for two in America. Nearly every meal I had in America was easily 2-3 Rwandan meals.
Small towns are the same wherever you are. Even though my American neighbors don’t call me ‘muzungu’, they were definitely aware and curious about the fact that I was home.
I got off the plane and went through a fancy customs kiosk. But it literally stunned me, how professional the airport security was. They called me “ma’am” and said “please move this way”. Did you know there is no Rwandan word for please? Professionalism is something we DEFINITELY take for granted in America. It’s expected that you will be treated with respect and courtesy when you enter a service situation where money changes hands. Professionalism in Rwanda? Definitely not what Americans are accustomed to. People are late, answer their phones in meetings, sometimes even drink beer during training. Professionalism is not a value in this culture. As Rwanda tried to increase it’s service sector and therefore its economic position in the world, its people could learn a thing or two about professionalism, courtesy, and manners.
It was nice to be back in an area that is diverse–even if only somewhat. Rwanda, of course, has foreign visitors. And even refugees from Congo and Burundi, but Rwandas are just Rwandan. They have made a concentrated effort to stamp out any ethnic diversity in part due to their history. I love diversity. I love seeing different races and nationalities in the same place at the same time. I love hearing multiple foreign languages spoken at one time.
I haven’t been back in rural Rwanda long enough to assess my feelings. I had to go back to America; I didn’t have to come back to Rwanda. I had appointments to manage, licenses to renew, certifications to maintain, and medical appointment to see about. These are things I could not do from Rwanda, and these licenses weren’t something I was willing to let lapse. I also took the GRE, and while I could have done that in Rwanda, it was just easier to do from America. I wanted to see my people, and despite all the rumors you hear about Reverse Culture Shock, being back home felt ‘right.’ Oh sure, some things felt foreign, but overall, it felt comfortable, and I ‘adjusted’ real quick.
There are decisions to be made for sure, but none of that has to happen right now. And for now, I can enjoy my remaining time in Rwanda whether it be weeks, months, or two years, hang out with friends, and enjoy exploring this tiny, yet incredibly diverse country.
One of the very few things I remember from my Business Law class is ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse,’ nor is it a valid defense. However, in Aberdeen not only did I unknowingly break several laws, had I been caught, ignorance would have been my only defense.
Aberdeen is not quite the Scottish Highlands, but it is getting closer. Aberdeen is Scotland’s third largest city behind Edinburgh and Glasgow, and its location on the North Sea gives it an amazing coastline and busy shipping docks.
Nearly everything in the town is constructed with granite mined from the Rubinslaw Quarry. The quarry was active for nearly 300 years, but was closed in 1971. Now it’s a big giant hole in the ground filled with 40+ years of rainwater.
History Nerd Alert #1:
Robert I, popularly known as Robert the Bruce, was King of Scots from 1306 until his death in 1329. Robert was one of the most famous warriors of his generation, eventually leading Scotland during the Wars of Scottish Independence against England.
Marischal College–now a civic building in Aberdeen
History Nerd Alert #2:
A mercat cross is the Scots name for the market cross found frequently in Scottish towns, cities and villages where historically the right to hold a regular market or fair was granted by the monarch, a bishop or a baron. It therefore served a secular purpose as a symbol of authority, and was an indication of a burgh’s relative prosperity. Historically, the term dates from the period before 1707 when Scotland was an autonomous kingdom, but it has been applied loosely to later structures built in the traditional architectural style of crosses or structures fulfilling the function of marking a settlement’s focal point. (Thank you Wikipedia) Aberdeen’s cross was constructed from granite and was designed by local architect John Montgomery in 1686.
History Nerd Alert #3
The Gordon Highlanders was the name of a British Army Infantry Regiment. It was active from 1881 to 1994, and I always thought that Gordon Highlander was a single person in Scotland’s history.
They used to hold public executions in the spot across from Old Blackfriar’s pub. Nothing like a good public execution to stir up an appetite for fine Scotch and good grub.
St. Nicholas Church
Courtyard at St Nicholas
I’m not very good at following rules. It’s a badge of honour that I have not yet ever spent time in jail. I certainly have done some things in my time that could have landed me there. In my wanderings out and about in Aberdeen, I have inadvertently broken the following Scottish laws today: [I can only hope that I don’t end up at the roofless Scottish prison in Edinburgh]
Took pictures in a shopping center
Took a picture of a police car and perhaps a police man[person]
Touched an old rusted propeller in a museum that had it labeled as something “too fragile to touch”
Read an article in a magazine in a store without purchasing it
Took pictures in a church
Took pictures of Scottish people without their permission [ In my defense though, no one will be able to recognized the aforementioned Scottish people.]
Aberdeen–you are a beautiful, unexpected breath of fresh air.
It’s October…one of my favorite months. For starters, college football is in full swing. Baseball is in its play-off period. European football has gotten over its opening schedule shockers, and ice hockey starts up at the end of the month. It’s also one of my favorite seasons for traveling. For a few years, I took the month of October off from work and traveled, and those were some of my best trips. The weather is nice …cool, but not cold…surprising warm days mixed in, and Halloween…my favorite holiday of the year.
So to celebrate my favorite month of the year, I’ll be featuring some of my favorite cemeteries in the world. I LOVE, love, love, visiting cemeteries. [and I love cats…any coincidence that cats like to hang out a cemeteries….I think not] They fascinate me [cemeteries not cats]… Fancy ones like Pere LaChaise in Paris and Recoleta in Buenos Aires. Solemn ones like Arlington National just outside Washington DC and the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague. Old ones like Magnolia in Charleston, SC and Bonaventure in Savannah, Georgia. Eclectic ones like merry cemetery in Săpânţa, Romania, and the Mayan cemetery in Xcaret. Odd ones like the crypt of the Capuchin monks in Rome… None of it matters. If I hear of an ‘interesting’ cemetery…whether its old and crumbly or happy and bright or austere and serene, I’m there.
Some of my favorite final resting places from around the world
1. Pere-LeChaise Cemetery, Paris France
I spent a day in Paris. I know what you are saying…’Only one day, impossible’, but it’s true. I watched fireworks at the Eiffel Tower and hung out with the dead. Paris is awesome.
2. Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Argentina
years ago, I was in Buenos Aires. It was my birthday. Instead of doing something fancy like going to a tango show, I went to Recoleta and hung out with the dead. And the cats.
3. Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA, USA
I stand up straighter and walk a little taller when I visit Arlington. It’s impressive, quiet, and simple. American soldiers. Clean white tombstones. A Marine guard. It doesn’t get more solemn than this.
4. Jewish Cemetery, Prague, Czech Republic
On a snowy day in January 2013, I visited the Jewish Cemetery in Prague. I think I was the only living thing around.
5. Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston, South Carolina
Southern cemeteries are awesome. Spanish moss hanging down gives everything a spooky appeal, and the humidity makes everything rust and age rather quickly.
6. Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia
They say Bonaventure is haunted. If you go there at night, it certainly feels that way.
7. Mayan Cemetery, Xcaret, Mexico
Confession time: this is a fake cemetery. It’s a creation of what a lot of Mexican cemeteries do on El Dia de los Muertos….this one is a lot cleaner, though. The Mayans didn’t actually bury their dead.
8. Merry Cemetery, Săpânţa, Romania
It’s happy. It’s bright. It’s weird. Go there. See for yourself. These dead peeps are having the time of their lives.
9. Crypt of the Capuchin Monks, Rome, Italy
Eerie. Spooky…Bone-chilling…Fascinating…I wonder if the Monks know their bones are being used as decorations. I’m not a Monk, but I’d love to donate my femur [you know, once I’m done with it] for a clock or better yet, the handle of the scythe of the Grim Reaper
10. Monumental Cemetery, Milan, Italy
Morbid statues. Fascinating pageantry. Marble slabs of decaying flowers. Ingenious.
11. Hanging Coffins, Sagada, Philippines
If heaven is up, and hell is down, wouldn’t you rather be hanging on the side of a cliff instead of buried in a hole?
12. Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow, Russia
Boris Yeltsin, Anton Chekhov, Gherman Titov…I’m a bit fascinated with Russia and the dead Russians. If you can’t qualify for the Kremlin, Novodevichy is a fantastic second choice.
13. Hallstat Ossuary, Hallstat, Austria
Oooh…more bones….since I’m donating my femur to the Monk, the Ossuary can have my skull, but only if they paint a pretty design on it.
I have traveled a lot. Not as much as some, but a lot more than most of the people I deal with on a daily basis. I often get asked what’s my favorite city/country area, and it’s hard to say. Sometimes it depends on my mood. Sometimes it depends on the reason they are asking. So, I’ve come up with a list to answer what’s my favorite. OK two lists: one for smaller cities and one for European capitals.
First up, my favorite European cities.
St. Petersburg, Russia
Next, my favorite European capitals.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that, in general, I don’t love large cities. Luckily for me, some of Europe’s capital cities are quite small. Europe is so diverse and every country is so different that it is often impossible to make fair comparisons.
I have been to London 5 times, but only in the last two years have I gotten out and truly explored the city. I have barely cracked the surface, and there is so much more to explore. I am absolutely head over heels for it. If I could magically get a work visa and a job offer in London [not sure if the NHS hires foreigners or if I’d want to work there, but I digress], I would move there tomorrow; that’s how much I love it. I’ve never pictured myself living in a big city — until I finally explored London for the first time.
Things I love about London:
The variety — neighborhoods, food, museums, parks, historical sites; they’re all here
The location — London is situated perfectly to explore Europe, which this traveler loves. The only time I haven’t flown into London for a European holiday was when I solely toured Italy.
The Englishness — the Tube, the castles, the red double decker buses, the black cabs, the pubs, the tea… it’s all so quintessential English!
Berlin doesn’t get the attention than Munich or Bavaria does, but that’s OK by me… I’ve never been one to fall for surface flashiness, and on the surface Berlin is grungy, but it’s OK. I’m not ashamed to admit it: I am in love with Berlin. You could actually say that it was love at first sight, as I felt an immediate connection with Berlin from the moment I arrived. I don’t know if it’s the alternative culture, the history, or a mixture of the two that draws me to Berlin. But there’s no denying that it’s a place I can see myself spending a lot of time in in the future.
Things I love about Berlin:
The history — from Nazis during WWII to the Berlin Wall during the Cold War, Berlin has a fascinating (and very recent) history
The creative side — because I have a soft spot for hipsters and street art
The vibe — it’s a little gritty and a little alternative, but Berlin is evolving in a way that I find very exciting.
I never planned to go to Budapest at least not the first time, but a cheap flight from Geneva on EasyJet had me landing there one January afternoon, and my oh my was is bone-chillingly cold. The capital of Hungary was a bit of a surprise for me — I never expected to like it as much as I did. But, whether it was strolling along the Danube, visiting the Semmelweis Museum, or soaking at the Szecheni Baths while watching snow fall, I found myself loving everything about Budapest. It’s also seriously awesome ( and hot!) in the summer.
Things I love about Budapest:
The two halves of the city — the Buda and Pest sides of the city have completely different feels to them.
The bridges — which are attractive and offer up nice views of the Danube.
The buildings — from Parliament to Fisherman’s Bastion to Buda Castle, there’s plenty of amazing architecture here to view.
The capital of Scotland is one city that I probably will never tire of visiting. It’s not a large capital like the others listed here, but it still has a unique character all its own. Whether it’s roaming around the Old Town or climbing up to quieter parts like Calton Hill, Edinburgh is always enjoyable — even in that unpredictable Scottish weather.
Things I love about Edinburgh:
The architecture — with the gorgeous Victoria Street being my favorite example
The history — the entire city is recognized by UNESCO, which tells you something
The people– Scottish people are a treasure
Cardiff, the smallest capital in the UK doesn’t get near as much attention as London, Dublin, or even Edinburgh, but it’s still pretty amazing. Only two hours by train from London, and 45 minutes to Bristol, you can easily get to a bigger city quickly if the small town feel of Cardiff starts to get to you.
Things I love about Cardiff:
The size–For a capital city, Cardiff is small. And that makes it easy to navigate. And that makes me happy.
It’s location–Cardiff is perched on a river, quite close to the Atlantic Ocean, and on the Wales Coast Path. Coastal Welsh weather is unpredictable, but on nice days, Cardiff is close enough to the beach to make an afternoon of it.
The Language–Welsh is a language I’ll probably never master, but I love that every single sign is in both Welsh and English. The history and architecture are pretty great too.
It’s no secret that I prefer small cities to large ones, but this list is a good mix of both large cities and small villages.
I am not the most patriotic person around. I don’t know where all my ancestors hail from. I know there’s some Cherokee [the original Americans], Irish, English, Scottish, and possibly German… What I do know is that my ancestors come from South Carolina, North Carolina, and Tennessee from as far back as the early 1800’s/ late 1700’s. In spite of all that or maybe because of it, I do love history and am often called a history nerd… History classes such Western Civ, US History, and even Spanish/New World Latin American history were always my favorite classes in school; I even wrote my senior thesis on Mayan Art and Architecture. I love stumbling up hidden historical markers and visiting well known historical sites whenever I am out and about.
The USA is massive and each different geographic area boasts of a different history. For example, the southeast is completely different than the Pacific Northwest. Almost as if they were different countries. Yes, we’re all Americans and speak the same language, but culturally, politically, and historically, this two areas are as different as night and day. On this 241st birthday of the United States, let’s s explore some of the things that make the USA different from its neighbors and former ‘masters’. This is more of a Happy Birthday USA post than anything else, and with that I’ll leave you some of my favorite photos of historical sites.
First up: America’s friendliest city and representing my home state, Charleston, SC
Historical homes on the battery at night.
Boneyard beach… on one of Charleston’s barrier islands
Charleston-Mount Pleasant bridge
And the famous live oak trees that populated the coastal south nearly everywhere
Next up: Washington DC, the capital city of the USA and sort of the cultural divide between north and south
Washington DC, as the US capital, is one of the most historic spots in America has something photogenic at every turn.
And of course [although not my favorite] New York City
Lady Liberty and her island
The craziness of Times Square
And the Empire State Building viewing sites
Moving on to the West Coast…
Hello San Francisco…
Moving out to the west coast, it one of the more iconic bridges in the world… the Golden Gate Bridge painted in its infamous International Orange colour.
Hello, Las Vegas…
The wonderment that is the Grand Canyon [Read my posts about hiking the Grand Canyon]
One of the best natural features in the USA
Mount Rainier–outside of Seattle in Washington.
and beautiful mountains
and awesome hiking trails on both sides of the country
To date there are 195 different countries in the world and I have visited roughly 1/3  of them. To some that’s simply an amazing accomplishment; to others, it’s a drop in the bucket. When I think that I’ve yet to visit anywhere in Africa, Oceania, or Asia, there’s still a lot of the world left for me to see.
Even though there is still a lot of the world left for me to visit, there are a few corners of the world that I find myself returning to again and again. Within the US [and to a lesser extent, Canada], I find myself drawn to the Pacific North West. PNW is almost as foreign in every way to South Carolina as say Berlin. We speak the same language, but that’s about all we have in common. I love this region so much, that I’ll probably live there at some point in my life.
I’ve also been to Mexico several times, even living there for a year. Germany, especially Berlin, feels like home, and surprisingly so does Budapest and St Petersburg. I’d love to return to Mendoza, and I’ve set foot in some part of the United Kingdom every year since 2012. London is amazing, but the area of the UK that has totally won my heart is the often overlooked western part, the wild and rugged Wales.
There are so many things to love about Wales, from the UK’s smallest capital, Cardiff, to the incredible Wales Coast Path. North Wales boasts of the Isle of Anglesey and the incredible Snowdon National Park. Sheep and cats rule the countryside, and the Welsh language is difficult beyond measure, but sounds amazing when spoken by a native. The Welsh accented English is my favorite English dialect. The best part of Wales is how relatively few tourists go there, and how sparsely populated the country is
I freaking LOVE Wales [although I do admit, Scotland is a close second].
And to convert you to #TeamWales, here are some of my favorite photos from one of my favorite places in the world.
[A word of caution: These photos may indeed make you want to pack your bags and move to Wales ASAP. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.]
I do not think that means what you think it means… Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride.
The English word “wanderlust” already existed in German dating as far back as High Middle German. The first documented use of the term in English occurred in 1902 as a reflection of what was then seen as a characteristically German predilection for wandering that may be traced back to the German system of apprenticeship, as well as the adolescent custom of the ‘Wanderbird’ seeking unity with Nature.
The term originates from the German words wandern (to hike) and Lust (desire). The term wandern, frequently misused as a false cognate does in fact not mean “to wander”, but “to hike.” Placing the two words together, translated: “enjoyment of hiking”, although it is commonly described as an enjoyment of strolling, roaming about or wandering.
I am a wanderer… both in the historic sense of the word and the modern.
I grew up an introvert, sensitive, an only child, and a bookworm with a keen desire to explore beyond my boundaries. Pictures exist of me, I could not have been more than three years-old, packing a bag and leaving home. Of course, at three, I never really went anywhere. I saved the real adventure until I was five. [but that’s a story for another day]. I was athletic and sporty; I lived for summer basketball and soccer camp. Then later, volleyball and softball camp. I loved being away from home, hanging out on college campuses, and imagining when I would finally be able to leave my small town for good. I was 8 and already imaging life at 18.
I come from a long line of homebodies, inwardly jealous of friends and classmates who went to ‘the beach’ every summer. Or Disney World. Or anywhere really. My dad’s idea of a vacation was a weekend trip to Atlanta to watch the Braves or a fall Saturday to Clemson or Columbia to watch college football. Week-long or even multiple week vacations were unheard of in my family. My fondest junior high memory was of being left behind at Martin Luther King center in downtown Atlanta. Upon returning from the restroom, my entire class was no where to be found. Cell phones were in their infancy; no one I knew had one. But I knew the city well enough, or at least how to get to the ballpark. I was 13, and on my own in the big city (at least for a while). It. Was. Fucking. Awesome. Right then and there I knew I’d been bitten by the travel bug.
There’s a word in Korean that means the inability to get over one’s addiction to travel, a perpetual case of wanderlust. Once the travel bug has bitten, it indicates, there is no cure.
The fixation with traveling that began with memorizing world capitals and drawing country flags on notebooks took on a life of its own. At 14, I managed to sneak away from home for two days, take the train to Baltimore, watch a baseball game, and get back home without my absence being noticed. And once I’d gotten my driver’s license, the back roads and hiking trails of South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia became intimately familiar. I was determined to go everywhere… working on a bucket list that didn’t yet have a name.
I’ve never been one to advocate for quitting one’s job in order to see the world. Yes, I have worked in jobs I hated and for companies I hated even more. I’ve worked in jobs or positions that I absolutely knew was just a paycheck. But I knew that this was temporary. I was waiting for one or two thing to happen and then I was out of there. I’ve always known that working these jobs would allow me to pursue my dreams. I worked PRN-status for 10 years so that I’d be able to create my own schedule and take time off when I wanted to. Everything I’ve done has contributed to my seemingly disparate goals of 1: seeing as much of the world as possible and 2: becoming a nurse practitioner. One is not mutually exclusive of the other.
I got my first real job, other than the odd thing here and there, when I was 18. It was working in a home improvement store where I learned to mix paint, use a commercial saw, and do basic electrical things. I also had to count nuts and bolts by hand during inventory. I was by far the youngest person working there although there were a few guys that worked there on their college break. For most of my co-workers, this was there career. They were satisfied with their two weeks’ vacation and only being closed three days a year. I made nearly $5000 that first year; I had to file taxes and thought I’d amassed a fortune. I made another $4000 working in a factory spring semester of my freshman year. Oh God, how I hated that job. I sat there, loading parts on a machine, conjugating French, German, or Spanish verbs in my head, thinking ‘this is why I’m in college…’
At 19, I had the chance to go to England for two weeks; I jumped at the opportunity. When things didn’t go as planned, instead of coming home and working at the factory yet again, I stayed three months. I still have the journal I wrote it when I left Atlanta. It’s funny now… and telling.
“I’m on a plane to London via Amsterdam. I AM ON A PLANE.”
“I JUST ORDERED A BLOODY MARY FOR DINNER. AND THEY BROUGHT IT. I HAVE ARRIVED*”
“TRAVELING IS AMAZING”
A series of travel mishaps later, I end up at the flat of a friend of a friend of a friend. The flat was empty. The landlord came and asked how I knew of this place. I told my story. No, I’d never met the previous tenant. Yes, I was only visiting. No, I didn’t want to rent it, but then, I was offered the deal of a lifetime–200 pounds/month for June, July and August for a 1 bedroom/1 bath in Stafford, England. My dorm room cost more than that. I said yes and after some international finagling of funds, I had $5000 transferred to me** and that is what I lived on that summer.
That summer, I traveled. To Wales. To Scotland. To Ireland. And around England. I ate and drank in pubs. I learn to play darts. And cricket. And drink whisky. I met up with different people every week. It was the life I’d always wanted. The day before I was to come back, I was in the pub with the friends I’d made this summer when I saw a guy I’d never seen before. He was scruffy and despite drinking a pint of Guinness, was clearly out of place of the regulars. I went over, dart in hand, and said “hey, wanna play?”
His name was Nick or Mick. Or maybe it was Mark. I don’t remember. He was from Australia. Or New Zealand. Those details are fuzzy now. But he was well-traveled. Meeting up with a cousin before heading back home. Or something like that. He was tanned in a way you can’t get in England and spoke of places like Chaing Mai, Siam Reep, and Angor Wat. I was mesmerized. And impressed. “Wow, you travel a lot.” He took a long swallow of his Guinness before answering me, foam still on his lips.
“Trying to. The world is an awfully big place and there’s always more to see.”
“That’s true. Well, do you play or not.” I was trying not be be impressed by the late 20 something sexy stranger.
“Good. You can be on my team.”
He told me about his running with the bulls in Spain and working on a farm in France. How he worked his way through Thailand and Vietnam. He told me about the spice markets in Istanbul and Marrakesh. And about eating guinea pigs in Ecuador and piranhas in Brazil. I had never met anybody like him. I had never met anyone who was doing what I wanted to do. I was spellbound. Amid pints and double old fashions, he grabbed me around my waist and pulled me away from everyone, kissed me hard on the mouth. At that moment, my world stopped. Mesmerized by those green eyes and mop of black hair. I had one throw left, and it was almost too perfect that I hit the bullseye to win.
I spent the rest of the night nuzzled in the pub, making out with the cute boy from far away, listening to his enticing travel tales telling myself that one day I’d be the one telling those tales. The details of that night have faded, but the feelings of knowing a life of adventures were waiting for me if only I had the courage to see it through has never left me.
*My very first alcoholic drink was at 30,000 feet flying over the Atlantic Ocean. I have never felt more adult… more cool in my life than when I ordered and subsequently drank that first alcoholic drink
**International banking was a lot more complicated in the 2000’s than it is now. I had $5000 wired to me and stashed the cash in a secret place in the flat. The secret place is the same secret place I stash cash in my current apartment.
I am trying to live my life in a state of gratitude. Some days are easier than others. And sometimes, when I think about the past, I realize how truly grateful I am.
No traveler lives completely in a vacuum when traveling. I suppose it is possible to travel somewhere and so strictly follow a schedule that it is nearly impossible to get lost or need help, but that’s never happened to me. I have had to ask for directions at minimum on every single trip I have ever taken. Sometimes it has been much more involved than simple directions.
We hear all the time that the world is a dangerous, scary place. In fact, the most common question I was asked is “Won’t you be scared/Weren’t you scared?”
No, I am not, and No, I wasn’t.
I may have been a little nervous at times, but I was never scared. Okay, maybe I was scared a little when I was kidnapped by two guys between the Peru/Ecuador border when they were trying to extort $250 from me. Maybe I was scared a little when I was caught by rouge waves that held me under water when I was learning to surf.
But I was never scared of the people. Even amongst strangers, I [almost] never felt like I was in danger.
I kept my guard up in the beginning, but I soon realized that I needed to learn to trust the people I met along the way. I think that is just part of me. I am used to being alone [only child and all] so I don’t always think about needing to rely on others. I have learned how to do so many things for myself. Time and time again, I needed to rely on the kindness of strangers to get me through. So this Thanksgiving, I want to thank all of those strangers who went above and beyond to help me in my journeys – from people whose names I never knew or soon forgot to those who I am now happy to call my friends.
Thank you to Missa and Jamie who helped me celebrate my birthday in Rome with a bottle of Chianti, a plate of pasta, and a birthday cards and flowers from the market. It was so nice to not be alone on my birthday.
Thank you to the elderly lady on the train from Rome to Naples or at least I thought it was to Naples. It was actually headed to the other side of Italy. I would have figured it out eventually, but she saved me time and money. I don’t speak Italian great [and even less in 2006] but I know Spanish and between my Spanish and her Italian, she got me pointed in the right direction and I made it to Sorrento during daylight hours.
Thank you to the women in at the Ecuadorian border. After being kidnapped and missing my bus, two women in their 40’s asked me if I needed a ride somewhere. They were headed to Guayaquil and offered to take me anywhere along the route. I had a great time, met some amazing women, had an awesome lunch, and relaxed for the first time that day. After seeing the ugly side of human nature, it was a blessing to see the good.
Thank you to Javier…the teenager who came and picked me up on his moped after I couldn’t get the bus driver to stop. I ended up about 2 km past my intended destinations and carrying the 65L backpack plus the daypack loaded down with my tools for jungle-work would have made a sucky end to a very long day.
Thank you to Massimo…who taught me to cook on a gas stove. I have always either cooked on an electric range or a grill and gas tended to scare me a bit. Thanks to Massimo, I didn’t starve during my weekends alone in the jungle lodge.
Thank you to the lady in Trujillo who made sure I didn’t get cheated by the taxi driver.
Thank you to all the people who have hosted me during my travels. By not spending a ton of money for accommodations, I have gotten to visit so many more places, see how people really live–not just as a tourist, and spend time in places I would have never dreamed about staying.
Lynnley in Charleston, Corinna in San Francisco, Cameron in Seattle, Emily in Vermont, Jeanette in Florida, Angie in Chicago, Emilie in Chamonix, France, Marta in Bratislava, Slovakia, Tomas in Wroclaw, Poland, Alex in Mendoza, Argentina, Steve in Stafford, England, and Sophie in Kokkola, Finland. All strangers at one point; all friends at another.
Today is Veterans Day in the USA. In the UK it’s known as Armistice Day as it is the day that WWI ended–on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 the guns fell silent. It is a day to remember our soldiers, from the Revolutionary War to the latest conflict. Remembering the sacrifices these men and women made allow me to pursue the life I do. I don’t have to fulfill traditional gender roles if I choose not to. I can speak my mind because of free speech. I have the right to own, carry, and use, if necessary, my .40 caliber handgun.
I’ve seen a lot in my travels but one of the more haunting remembrances was the Ceramic Poppy Installation at the Tower Bridge in London in 2014 (the 100th anniversary of the beginning of WWI).
The poppies represent the blood spilt during the Great War, and when complete on 11/11 there will be 888,246 poppies in the moat surrounding the Tower Bridge. I visited in October for the specifc reason of seeing the poppy installation. And it was amzing. It was moving. To think that many young men lost their lives in a single conflict is incredible. Humans are very visual people and to see this loss of life represented so visually was breathtaking.
Freedom is never free and sometimes, we, in the USA forget that. There hasn’t been a conflict on our soil in nearly 100 years. [OK, if you want to be technical, some of WWII happened in American territories–Hawaii, Alaska, and Philippians]. If you haven’t seen up close and personal the devastation war causes, it’s hard to imagine its consequences.
So in an effort to remember to remember, I visited three Revolutionary War battlefields over the last few weeks. Without the sacrifices these brave men [and a few even braver women], the USA would never have become the USA.
Cowpens battlefield circa 1780
A group of South Carolina militia along with a few army regulars under the command of Daniel Morgan beat the British at Cowpens. The victory kept the British from expanding westward.
They were doing some reenacting at King’s Mountain this weekend.
A 3lb British cannon hanging out inside Star Fort at Ninety Six
My feet, just slightly smaller than the average revolutionary war soldier. I wear a US women’s size 8 and at 5’9, I’m a few inches taller than the average Revolutionary War soldier.