I remember my last day in the States. I ran past the White House and paused for a selfie with the caption, “Peace out, USA. See you Christmas morning.” I called my intended five months of travel on five continents “Chasing Summer,” as aside from fall in Europe, I’d be in warm climates until my proposed Christmas morning landing into JFK.
But it’s now January 24th and I’m staying with a host family in Australia working part time at a cafe in exchange for free food and housing on Tamborine Mountain, Queensland.
It’s been a journey that’s felt like laugh lines could stay frozen in time on my face, tears that felt like tattoos of confusion and question marks, peace that made the breathing in and out from the back of a moto looking up at the night sky feel like breath itself was divinity.
There’s many stories I could tell, some of my own experiences, others from incredible people I’ve met from all over the world. I could tell you bits of the German, Spanish, Italian, French, Vietnamese, and Thai I’ve picked up along the way. But not only would my sentences render uncomprehendable; no single experience alone can tell the journey.
So what I will tell you now is some vulnerable pieces of my heart that have been shaped by others’ words and heartbeats. By the way the sun sizzles on ocean surfaces. By the new scars on my knee and arm. By malaria meds and water purification tablets. By the conversion of miles to kilometers. By the holes in my shoes and jeans. And by the excerpts of my worn journal pages which I will now dispense in free flow.
“It’s so clear to me now, carrying my 31 pound pack, that adding the weight of worry, anxiety and fear is futile and will smother you from your own experience. I don’t even have the desire to worry, a fixation that nearly became my security blanket, as though anxiety would protect me from experiencing all of the things that could go wrong-as though I can’t trust in the goodness of life, as though I don’t really believe things work together for good. But I do. I do believe these things…” -Kigali, Rwanda, 24 July 2015
“Walking across the border into DRC had a completely different feel from Rwanda-UN vehicles on the road, several bullet holes through the sign of Virunga National Park and hiking with several armed guards. Congo is estimated to have $24 trillion in mineral wealth, yet is ranked the poorest country in the world. It’s hard to stare into our histories that created this chasm, rooted in colonialism, power, greed and the accumulation of wealth. That may be oversimplification, but oh how many conflicts can be traced back to those four words…It’s hard to hear stories of people’s experiences of humanity that did not include the safety like I was able to experience. That none of us chooses where we were born; mere chance perhaps. Yet life realities play out in melodies of 1,000 strings, each one a different sound, melody. Pure cacophony and disarray. Pure peace, security, harmony. It all seems to unfair. Passing through Goma, an aura of hopelessness stagnates the air, people loitering the streets, and I know women here have been raped and beaten in war… and while my heart breaks, I’m left wrestling with my own humanity and privilege, and think, ‘I’m so glad I didn’t have to grow up here.’ I think of Bono’s, ‘Where you live shouldn’t decide whether you live or whether you die,’ believing the “should,” grappling with the reality.” – Virunga National Park, Congo, 2 August 2015
“After nearly 26 hours and a near deportation in Nigeria, I’m now in Togo with my host family, having a dance party with these four smiling little sisters to my favorite Nigerian song, the sound of laughter replacing the sound of my voice shaking in front of a yelling deportation officer.” -Kpalime, Togo, 8 August 2015
“I’ve tasted of a beauty I cannot define and a love that cannot be stopped from a God I cannot explain.” -Kpalime, Togo, 13 August 2015
“The solo female hiker narrative still lingered in my head for a while, especially when I had to take a different route, some caution tape written in German strung across the path I wanted to take. But I found my way again, and shortly before reaching a lookout, I realized yet again how much I want to be freed from that bullshit narrative that tries to quell your independence. I got to this beautiful clearing, now getting closer to the mountaintops. There was this bench and I just sat there, then stood on top of it, in awe of this lookout, and all I could think was how amazing this was, and that I got myself here, and that all the fear and unfortunate horror stories in the world didn’t stop me. It felt so damn good, so free. I kept walking and yelled aloud to the universe, ‘THERE IS NOTHING THAT IS GOING TO STOP ME FROM SEEING THIS!’ The rest of my hike was pure bliss, unadulterated, nothing pulling me away from the beauty. I lingered in the next clearing, taking pictures, playing in the sunset. I had no fear of the nonexistent boogeymen hiding in the forest. I wanted to see more, to get closer to those snowcapped mountains in the near distance. But it was getting dark, and before I knew it, I was running down the trail with my cell phone as a flashlight, trying not to fall again. I got a bit scared, thinking how stupid it was to be running through the woods alone in a country I’ve never been to before.
Then I reminded myself that I was just adding to my brave memories. Like traveling solo through the sketchiest part of Togo at midnight and taking a 12:30 moto home alone. Add to it now running through these mountains alone in the dark in a new country with not a soul in sight. I don’t think we should go out of our way to do things that intentionally put us in danger’s crossfire, but there’s something to be said for that feeling when you finally arrive home at 12:30 to your host family, or reaching the main road safely out of the woods in the dark.
I’m convinced every woman who wants this should do this at least once in her life. To fuck the fear narratives and strike out on her own, going wherever her heart and curiosity take her, instead of fear and prescribed narratives for her life.” -Alpspitz, Liechtenstein, 24 September 2015
“There were mountains so captivating, I paused and whispered, ‘Holy Shit. You are so fucking beautiful.’ I believe I was talking to God, without needing to look him/her in the eye, this deity somehow already knowing my commentary was a reflection of its artistry, and the expletives were welcome words of appreciation for a world my human mind cannot grasp.” -Camino de Santiago, Spain, 12 October 2015
“Running shoes are the world’s way of telling me I’m going to be ok- no matter where I am in the world.” -Amsterdam, Netherlands, 28 October 2015
“It’s been so freeing to walk past all those voices that try to quell women’s needs for exploration, discovery, awakening, growth and learning and to now, not only walk past them, but to not even hear them in the first place anymore, head held high in full freedom.” -Würzburg, Germany, 2 November 2015
“I will forever embrace, grieve, and let go of places, people, and experiences. I needed to let go of the fact that there are people here I may never see again. I needed to hold my palms open on top of a mountain to remember in the same breath that we never know what can happen, so do not live in foolish hope nor premature defeat.” -Rome, Italy, 4 November 2015
“Here’s the thing about life…YOU’RE GOING TO BE OK.” -Rome, Italy, 9 November 2015
“Now I’m back on a plane- a big plane, the ones with the triple sections, and the back beat of my heart flutters a little bit and a smile forms because it means we’re going somewhere far. And it’s the far that always pulls my heart into ‘yessssss’ exploration.” -Istanbul Airport, Turkey, 11 November 2015
“So take comfort, because sometimes the universe already knows what it’s doing.” -Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 20 November 2015
“I said to my soul, ‘Relax. You’re not the only one having this experience. You’re not the only one who feels like they don’t know what they’re doing with their life. Who’s had many dreams and been confused as to how to pursue them and which to pursue right now. There are many interesting people who’ve had linear paths their entire life, but I bet there are many more whose paths have been knotty and uncertain, souls weathered and etched by question marks. Basically, you’re no exception nor exemption from the difficulties of the uncertainties that come from this human life.‘” Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 24 November 2015
“Thailand taught me to be brave. It gave me outlets and challenges to feel tough, adventurous, the me I always wanted to be. The solo hikes, rock climb, bike rides in crazy traffic and a bloody knee from a motorcyclist driving the wrong way. Slippery rocks leading to the next adventure. Cliffs to teach you that you don’t have to be brave all at once, but to get out of your head, get out of your mind, get off the ground and land… into water.” -Chiang Mai, Thailand 5 December 2015
“And if these peaks had mouths, I bet they’d be singing.” – Cat Ba National Park, Vietnam, 9 December 2015
“I’m learning that our oppressive histories of the world share a common story, each one having their own characters of differing hues and accents, who slowly learn to see each other’s humanity just enough to stop killing each other. I’m learning that those stories aren’t done yet and that my lot is dealing with my own privilege that I am not a refugee nor under persecution.” –Standing outside the War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam 14 December 2015
“I’m learning how to let go of people so that their souls are free, meaning mine is too, even though freedom can feel like heartache sometimes.” -Sydney, Australia, 20 December 2015
“Six months abroad today. What’s left to do but stand under waterfalls and feel the pulse of the Earth and fist bump to an unknown future in a big world with a grateful heart?” -Springbook National Park, Australia, 24 January 2016
Thank you for your love, laughter, inspiration and encouragement on my journey. Here’s to another six. Or something like that…
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