Sunday, March 13, 2011

Why I Love to Travel: Via TravelPost

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Standing precariously atop a small boulder at a dizzying altitude of 8920 ft, 1180 ft of which I’d spent the past hour climbing, I gasped for air and struggled to avoid the looming thought of what would happen as a result of a slight misstep. High upon this crumbling green tower of a mountain, majestic in the way it pierced the clouds surrounding its peak, I focused my attention on Machu Picchu below.

Meri at Machu Picchu with the mighty peak of Wayna Picchu in the background

Looking down on the Condor-Shaped Machu Picchu from the top of Wayna Picchu
From eye level, the ancient Peruvian city perched high up in the Andes Mountains, was an architectural wonder—worth the visit, despite shoving elbows with many other tourists. My climb afforded me a better view. Looking down from Wayna Picchu, one of the taller cone-shaped mountains that surrounds Machu Picchu, the experience transcended all of my expectations. Machu Picchu had revealed itself below as a city carefully planned and built in the shape of an Incan religious symbol, the Condor.

At this height, I marveled at the brilliance of a past civilization. Beyond the feat of creating a whole city by transporting thousands of boulders 1000's of feet up a steep mountainside before there were machines, the aerial view from Wayna Picchu revealed a master plan, a divine sense of order behind every stone that had been laid.

Lightheaded but energized from my climb, I gazed down and thought about perspective. Machu Picchu marked the end of a greater journey. Many months earlier I had set out upon an adventure to live and teach in South America. I had left a comfortable job in Washington D.C. in favor of the unknown, in defiance of those hushed and nagging voices whispering within the walls of my cubicle about the urgency and responsibility of the “real world”.

Meri in Patagonia

 I ended up in the Chilean Patagonia as a volunteer teacher in a town called Punta Arenas, just a stone’s throw from Antarctica and touted as the “southernmost city in the world.” There, I found myself becoming part of a community far removed from the rest of the world that somehow thrived in this pristine, glacier-covered, windblown and wild corner of the earth.

Suspended for one last moment atop Wayna Picchu, reflecting at the end of an unforgettable journey, it all came into view. I love travel for its ability to connect people, to educate and to open the mind—and for its unique ability to provide a bird’s eye view on life.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Another Year Over, A New One Just Begun

Happy 2009. Dare I make a resolution to write more often? Here's hoping the New Year will provide me with the appropriate inspiration.

A friend of mine, currently "livin' the dream"--teaching English in Germany, sent me a great quote:
"Reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it"

Ah, 2007 and 2008 were fantastic for losing touch. But it's time to reel it back in... hook, line and sinker, I've swallowed a big dose of reality. Being 'back' has definitely been stressful at times. But I'm beginning to realize that's its stressful in a different way than it used to be. After reaching some of the furthest corners of the planet, my journey has turned inward. And there's a certain calm that pervades every pitfall, curve-ball, and setback. I'm home, back in the same old place, but this feeling is new--and I hope it stays around for a while.

I'm looking forward to some trips in the coming months--Austin, TX, Jackson Hole, WY, even a potential quick trip to Europe this summer. But as I told another friend currently traveling South America, who, a year later, did the same English Teaching Volunteer program in Chile as me: travel as much as you can, as long as the feeling of adventure lasts-- when it feels like you're running, you'll know it's time to come home.

I came home. I'm am home. And it finally feels like it. This year-- another resolution, perhaps?-- I'll save the running for my tennis shoes. Heck knows they could use the attention.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

In Today's News...

Really, in USA Today...all of my obnoxious excessive photo-taking seems to have paid off :) I submitted some photos to the USA Today Readers Summer Vacation Photos contest, and they chose mine! See Photo #3 in the slide show. It's a picture of my friend, Anita from Seattle (by way of England), who I met during my Pachamama tour in Chile, looking out over the San Pedro de Atacama Desert.

Now, just to get a new camera...

Friday, September 12, 2008

Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice

I firmly believe that Starbucks coffee is laced with crack... and that a lifetime of making Excel spreadsheets could (and perhaps has) lead to early death--definitely impaired eyesight anyway.

Oh, to be back in an office... seeking thrills in the "not-so-Great Escapes"--satisfying that reckless urge on a Friday afternoon with a taste of the fall season-- Pumpkin Spice coffee from the corner Starbucks (an excuse to get away from the computer screen), to get the pulse going, the hands jittering, and work up a little sweat while anxiously awaiting the end of the day.

Did I ever leave? Was the past year just a dream from which I've woken up with longer hair and less money?

So being back has its perks (not Pumpkin Spice flavored). As I continue to test my options, there's so much going on around here and as it turns out, so much to say about American culture...which I'm going to start doing. Maybe not Great Escapes, but hopefully entertaining enough to keep my small readership stopping by occasionally :)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Worth It?

I’m back where it all began. The nation's capital... the pulse and vibe of the city, it's sprawling lawns and majestic monuments, the daily rhythm of business suits and laptops, Starbucks coffee and uniquely flavored martinis after work, amongst snippets of political banter every which direction, just as I remember it. I am back! front of a computer screen.

The year I’ve left behind —the experiences, at times thrilling, then disheartening, on occasion breathtaking, and sometimes lonely— slowly recedes into memory as my days settle into a once-familiar pattern of predictability.

A year has passed since I set off in search of adventure, meaning, a break in the traditional cycle of an average life. And while I've been gone, DC has remained mostly unchanged in my absence (though we'll see what the next election brings *"Politically Polarized Partying" Article*).

As I transition into a more settled state, I am given the opportunity to reflect on what I've gained in the past year. and, well...between a stolen passport, a lost camera and a diminished savings account, my only solid, clear-cut gain has been.... weight.

Worth it? I think so...For the life of me, I wouldn't give up the past year of Chilean Empanadas from a local bakery in Barrio Brazil while hung over from too many Piscolitas, Centolla (Patagonian king crab) on my 25th birthday caught fresh from the Strait of Magellan, lips stained maroon drinking glasses of Argentine Malbec at a Tango show in San Telmo, Peruvian fresh tropical fruit smoothies slurped down at a dizzying altitude of 4200 meters, Artesanal Spanish cheeses in the central plaza of Madrid, Moroccan Tagines served in the sweltering heat of a maze-like city and so much more.

Yes, it's been worth every pound, every penny, every overnight bus ride and uncomfortable red-eye flight... even my beloved passport and camera.

And while I don't have all the answers (and probably never will), I'm back to the "same old shit" with a new perspective.

Life is what you make of it.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Summer Days, Driftin´ Away

And I don´t mind spending the last of them in Barcelona!

Wow, I think this is the first time I´ve had a solid hour to sit down and write anything in the past month and a half. I´ve been busy and tired to the bone, and it´s been fabulous.

I guess I´ll start where it all started...I flew into Madrid on June 10th to spend a week at Pueblo Ingles... a program that brings 20 English speakers and 20 Spanish speakers together so that the Spanish can improve their English... all the English speakers have to do is talk about ourselves and drink all the Spanish wine our hearts could desire, all on Pueblo Ingles´ dime...not bad. We stayed in a beautiful small town in the Spanish countryside called La Alberca, which is famous for it´s iberian ham. It´s in the Spanish province of Salamanca, the city where I studied abroad way back when. It was great to be back.

After Pueblo Ingles, I hung out in Madrid for a few days with my new Spanish and English friends before heading down to El Puerto de Santa Maria, a beach town near Cadiz, in the south of Spain, where I did training week for the English Summer Camp I´d be working at. Training week kept me busy from early morning until late at night... and that was only a taste of what was to come. When we actually started working at a beautiful whitewashed monastery in a smaller town called Santi Pietri, I realized they expected us to work 24 hours a day. Between the teaching 4 hours per day of lessons, 2 hours of arts and crafts and having meals, evening activities and putting to bed the kids, and of course some time in there for sleep, they also expected us to find some time to plan 20+ hours per week of lessons...

But despite the lack of sleep, I liked being that busy. It´s nice to feel like you´ve really earned the cold beers you´re drinking on a hot day in the South of Spain, during your one day off per week, and its nice to go for a swim in the Mediterranean during your 2 hour break and just forget it all, letting it drift away with the waves.

The thing I´ll take away from the summer is the amazing people I´ve met from all over the place... Ireland, England, Zimbabwe, Australia... and of course the US. It was hard saying goodbye as I set off for Morocco to meet up with my college roommate Johanna.

Meeting up with Johanna, however, was great. As I said in an earlier post, I was so impressed by her ability to speak not one, but two Moroccan languages, which if I have it correctly are Darisia (spelling?) and one of the 3 Berber dialects, Taselhit (spelling?), which they speak in Johanna´s town in the south of Morocco near the Sahara desert.

Johanna was great for filling me in on all the cultural aspects of Morocco and making new Moroccan friends. More than once we were invited to have tea or lunch at random Moroccan´s houses whom we had met on the train, or in shops around town. I was excited about the prospect, but with only 6 days in Morocco, we had to politely decline as Johanna explained they "trick" you into thinking it will only take an hour or so, and then Kazam, after a 2 hour lunch they insist you stay for a two hour nap, and before you know it the day is gone. But it was nice to at least see the hospitality offered that Moroccan´s are famous for.

We started in Tangier, an international city if Ive ever seen one. When being hustled by cab drivers and street vendors, if I didn´t respond in French, they´d try me in English, then Spanish and maybe even German. The Moroccan men that lusted after us, and on one occastion followed us, because we weren´t covered the way a Moroccan girl would be, tried the same tactics of harassing us in every language imaginable.

But aside from that I loved everything about the trip. We went to some beautiful beaches outside of Tangier, and after a few days, made our way down to Fez, which is a much more typical Moroccan city. On the hottest train ride of my entire life, from Tangier to Fez, Johanna of course met some Moroccan´s who recommended us a tour guide in Fez, which is apparently necessary since the city is such a ridiculous maze of teeny tiny pedestrian streets, some of which are so skinny you have to walk single file just to fit through.

We set up an appointment and at 9 a.m. the morning after we arrived in Fez, Khalid, our tour guide met us and showed us the ins and outs of "The Medina" or the center city of Fez. Our group consisted of me, Johanna and an Iranian girl who was on vacation in Fez, who said that Morocco was a very liberal Arabic country compared to Iran. Johanna and I had much the opposite opinion about Morocco v.s the US, and Johanna decided to voice that opinion about every half hour to Khalid, who was very kind and patient with his explanations. We stayed with Khalid until 10 p.m., visiting the leather tannery, the tapestry production areas, a few madrassas (islamic schools), the silver teapot stores, and of course the carpet bazaar, where I spontaneously bought a persian rug and now have to lug the damn thing home. But it´s beautiful so I am happy.

Khalid´s tour was one of the highlights of my trip and stands out as a prime example of Moroccan hospitality, willing to do anything to show us the experience we were hoping to have and always availble for help beyond the tour for as long as we were in Fez.

The day after, Johanna and I went outside of Fez to some Ancient ruins built in the 3rd centry BD called Volubilis and then spent the rest of the afternoon in Meknes, which is, without having seen Marrakesh or Casablanca, so far my favorite Moroccan city.

Johanna left on Saturday morning and I took a plane to Barcelona that same afternoon. Unfortunately after a week of miraculously feeling fine, the "stomach bug" decided to hit me the night before my flight. I guess Í deserve it for eating things more unsanitary than a piece of chewing gum stuck to the floor of a public bathroom, but I still say it was worth it. The Tagines (Moroccan meat and vegetable crock-pot style dish), Pastilla (meat pie), honey pastries, nougat, "Jellyfish pancakes" (as Johanna and I deemed a think pancake-like breakfast food) and sweetened mint tea, were all delicious.

After throwing up in the small plane bathroom, I took it easy last night in Barcelona, my favorite city in the world, and had a glorious night´s sleep of almost 12 hours... the first time in 2 months. Today I took a walk down memory lane hitting up some of my favorite old sites of Barcelona and walking by the apartment where I lived 3 summers ago.

Time flies, and soon I will be home...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

In Tangier

View over Tangier Bay

After an extremely laborious, but enjoyable summer teaching Spanish kids in the south of Spain, which I will write more on later, Ive defiitely earned my two weeks vacation. I met up in Tangier on Sunday with my friend Johanna, my sophomore year college roommate, who is doing Peace Corps in Southern Morocco. I came over by ferry from Tarifa, Spain. Im now having fun experiencing the sights and sounds of Morocco and watching Johanna get around in 2 different Moroccan Languages. Im glad to have her as my tour guide and travel buddy. Tomorrow we are headed either to Fez or Casablanca and afterwards Im off to Barcelona. Cant wait.

Me and Johanna in Tangier