Lisbon spreads her arms until she is hugging the statue of Cristo Rei on the opposite side of River Tejo. She is a huge hug to herself. I say “her” because she’s more than a city, I do feel it. Lisbon is my partner, my lover on this journey.
Lisbon is located on the river. Actually, this is just the final part, the mouth, the outlet. Exactly here, it is meeting and mixing with the Ocean. That’s why the water becomes salty. So Lisbon owns sea, river, earth, and sky. She is the perfect result, the combination of all the elements that make you feel alive.
Two hundred and fifty sunny days per year, an everlasting summer…The sun is so big and the daylight so strong and powerful that you can even absorb it. Therefore you get tanned so easily, just walking through the streets, and your hair can even become blonder while your eyes must close a little bit. Call it magic.
At the moment that I’m writing it’s the 4th of November 2017, time 17:37, and the sky is still so bright, clear and wide-open, preparing its next breath-taking sunset. Lisbon is the city of sunsets, or better of ‘Pôres-do-sol’. In Italian we used to say: “Rosso di sera, bel tempo si spera”; when the sky turns red at the sunset, you may expect for good weather the next day. This happens here every day, almost. We check the correct time on the forecast online when the sun goes down, when it falls in the river or in the Ocean, depending on your point of view. We all go to one of the hundreds of Miradouros, we seat and we breathe the end of the day. Lisbon is a city to think, to meditate, to first know yourself better, and then to love others more.
Lisbon is so close to paradise, Portugal is Lisbon, white city, pier and ship, Europe and Atlantic. From all this derives its hidden meaning: the Saudade. Saudade is Lisbon’s key word, ranked as the 7th most difficult word to translate. It denotes a melancholic feeling of incompleteness, due to a previous pleasant experience, state, or place, absent and missed at the present moment. Saudade is what you can feel while leaving Lisbon, she is able to give a real and natural sense of place.
In Lisbon I’ve learned to stop and relax, to come back late at night but not so late, and before going to bed -in short pyjamas even if it’s November- I can’t wait to stay staring in front of my window just to watch the city sleeping and the planes landing. In Lisbon you can see airplanes all day long, you hear their noise and notice them so close that it can scare you. It seems that everyone is coming here, everyone wants to reach this peace, and catch a flight.
In Lisbon, I’ve learnt that you can reach anything you want, which I learnt because I always prefer to walk instead of taking the metro. Every street is a climb and when you reach the top the city gives you a panorama most of the time. In Lisbon I’ve learnt to get lost, to be patient, and to wait.
I arrived here two months and two days ago, I’ll be here for three more. After the first phase of “organisation” and adaptation, I’ve started taking the advantage of every moment, that here more than anywhere else, seem to pass so fast. I must be honest: I didn’t want to come to Lisbon. Or better, I didn’t know so much about Portugal and its capital. Portuguese people may be still trying to live in their peaceful paradise, a little bit out of the world, believing in traditions and blessed by their sun. So everything was a surprise, and it was by chance. I am so grateful now- OBRIGADA- to be here, surrounded by all this sunshine, and discovering day by day something that for me was more than unknown.
I’m a happy and satisfied Erasmus student. I made a promise to myself here in Lisbon: I won’t complain anymore as long as I can, because my life is so wonderful and I’ve definitely understood it more now. One more last detail: my flatmate calls me -in Spanish- “terremoto”, that is, “earthquake”. Lisbon is the second city in Europe for highest seismic risk. I’m here. “Onde a terrase acaba e o mar começa” (Luís Vaz de Camões), where the land finishes and the sea begins.
Written by Paola Pedrotti and edited by Bethany Naylor
I am an Italian journalism student now based in Lisbon, enjoying Erasmus+ programme at ISCTE-IUL University. I study in Verona. After one year spent in Madrid, I definitely decided that I could not stop exploring this world. My hometown is Desenzano del Garda, on Lake Garda, such a touristic but inspiring place. I practise sport since I was born and teach artistic gymnastic too. I worked as guide in a private Foundation and I can speak 5 languages. Portuguese is my next challenge! Among my interests, I adore art, poetry, dancing and writing. I feel ready to create my future and just can’t wait to see what is coming next in my life.
It’s a little known fact that the whole reason I started blogging was a guy I met off Tinder. Although I know many of you will doubt me when I say this, Tinder isn’t always used for hookups. I know, shocking. It can be the greatest tool in your world conquering toolbox, if you use it right. If it can give me a job, it can give you a good night out. If you utilise it correctly.
In August 2015 I arrived in Malaga teary and sleepless, having just days before ending the longest relationship of my life. When it was over, I immediately ran away to work on a beach in Spain for the rest of the summer, because at the time that was exactly how I dealt with my problems. I still do, in a way. I already had tinder installed on my phone, before we had broken up my ex and I had made a bet to see who could get the most matches in a day, which in retrospect was probably a sign that our relationship was drawing to its natural end.
After checking in to my hostel, I immediately fired up Tinder, hoping desperately to find a fellow soul to spend my two days in the beautiful city with. After returning from Guatemala my brother had told me how he had used Tinder to find English speaking tour guides amongst the locals, so I figured I could do the same.
Now, first things first. If I ever use tinder in England, which isn’t often I admit, I tend to get roughly a 50% return on my right swipes. In Spain, I was getting closer to 100%. Secondly, Spanish guys on tinder tend to be a lot more to the point, and half the messages I first got were no more than dirty bootycalls, even though my profile stated quite clearly that I was only looking for a tour. If anything, this openness actually makes it easier to find that one person who you expect might not be an asshole.
Then, something interesting. I met a guy who owned a travel site, and who was looking for exactly the same thing as me. Someone normal to go and get a drink and see the city with. We ended up bonding so much that when weeks later he recommended I start writing down my experiences, I took him up on his word as if he were a closer friend than just a guy I’d seen twice on holiday. We’re even still in contact today.
I still use tinder when I’m travelling, sometimes you just get a free tour of the city, others you walk away with a friend for life. The last tinder date I went on was in Rome this January, and it actually ended up being one of the most enjoyable dates of my life, even if it lacked that special spark which prompts a second date. (Looking back, this may have been because we ended the night in the gay district and my eyes were slightly distracted elsewhere.)
You might hate tinder, you might think it sucks and it’s users are pathetic. Be realistic, the vast majority of young people these days have a tinder account, the chances are that at least one of them is looking for the same thing you are.
So here are my tips for using Tinder as a travel tool:
Know what you want from it. Are you looking for a tour? A local? Other tourists? People to get a drink with? A hook up? Make sure you’re clear in your own mind before you attempt to meet anyone.
Be upfront about what you are looking for. If you’re not looking for a hook up, make that clear. My go-to tinder bio when I’m travelling starts with the sentence. “I HAVE A BOYFRIEND.” That way people know what to expect and can’t get irate when you’re inevitably not interested in taking things further.
Safety first. Most of us know that when we go on a date, especially with a stranger, it’s of utmost importance that someone, somewhere, knows who you’re with and what you’re doing. This isn’t any less relevant just because you’re on holiday. If you can’t tell someone back home, (or if this would be useless), tell your hostel staff. Tell them you expect to back at X o’clock and give them a phone number so they can call you if you’re not. Meet in a safe place. Preferably a place with lots of people about, and a place of your choosing. No, you don’t know the city, but a big square with lots of people in has less danger than the small cafe down a dingy alleyway that no-one has ever heard of has.
Have fun. We live in a world where potential friendships, unlikely hookups or even job offers are only a swipe away. Use this to your advantage and let social media help your travels not hinder them. No, don’t be that guy sitting in the hostel kitchen mindlessly swiping through all the girls on tinder until he finds that one girl on the second floor that he was too scared to talk. But where’s the harm in having a little fun whilst you’re away?
Every three months, the seasons change. The weather begins to shift, and a new kind of energy moves into the world. Society, at large, has lost a lot of touch with these transitions simply because of how we tend to interact with nature. That is, we don’t tend to interact very much. Many pagan religions mark the coming of a new season with rituals, and indigenous tribes do the same. However, for the ‘modern’ world, many of the changes go unnoticed, as central air and electricity mean that we can get the ideal heat whenever we want, and the setting sun becomes secondary when it comes to illuminating our pastimes.
This strikes me as unfortunate, and possibly unhealthy. One of the ways that we, as humans, keep in touch with the reality that everything is a cycle, and everything changes, is by observing that very dynamic in the way nature moves. Without this, I think there is a tendency to lose sight of the death—and rebirth—inherent in every single moment. Life is death is life.
For the Spring Equinox, I decided to partake in a ritual practiced by thousands of yoga practitioners all over the world: 108 sun salutations.
The number is significant on multiple levels, across several cultures.
In Hindu mythology, it is said that Lord Shiva—the creator of Yoga—lived 108 lives before being reincarnated as a god. The number 1 represents the Divinity that is in all of us, 0 represents nothingness and also the eternal cycle of life, while 8 represents eternity. There are 108 beads on a male, 108 Upanishads (ancient sacred Hindu texts), 108 sacred sites in India, and 108 sacred points on the human body. Buddhist texts enumerate 108 temptations one must overcome in order to reach enlightenment. The number 108 is reached by multiplying the six senses (taste, touch, smell, feeling, sight, and consciousness) by the three types (painful, pleasant, or neutral) by their origin (internal or external) by time (past, present, or future). Thus, 6 x 3 x 2 x 3 = 108. There are references in literature, in Japanese mythology, even in sports and card games. (Uno has 108 cards.)
If you’re familiar with yoga asana practice, you know that 108 sun salutations are no laughing matter. What better way, then, to ring in the new season than with a physical, mental, and spiritual challenge. Because a sun salutation is not just an exercise, it is a prayer.
To keep track of my salutations, I turned to my daily practice of reciting the 12 names of Surya Bhagavan, the Sun God. I repeated the cycle 9 times, keeping track with my chakra stones, as well as a lovely wire flower a street jeweller made me in Cusco and a stone heart given to me by someone near and dear to my own heart.
12 Names Of Surya Bhagavan (Om…namah essentially means ‘I bow to you’)
Om Mitraya namah (The friend of all)
Om Ravaye namah (Praised by all)
Om Suryaya namah (The guide of all)
Om Bhanave namah (The bestower of beauty)
Om Khagaya namah (Stimulator of the senses)
Om Pushne namah (The nourisher of all)
Om Hiranyagarbhaya namah (The creator)
Om Marichaye namah (Destroyer of disease)
Om Adityaya namah (The inspirer)
Om Savitre namah (The purifier)
Om Arkaya namah (The radiant)
Om Bhaskaraya namah (The illuminator)
I set up my mat, Nestled My Lord Shiva murti next to my Lord Ganesha murti, said a prayer asking for guidance and illumination in the coming season, and got to work. The whole process took about two hours, including a couple short breaks and a nice, yummy savasana. In the beginning, I told myself that if I needed to stop, or needed to modify at any point I would. This wasn’t a means of torturing myself, but a way to push me beyond what my preconceived notions of my own limitations.
It worked. I surprised myself. I didn’t give up. I didn’t modify. I grew tired, but at the same time, I felt myself move into a space of body prayer, where every movement was a humbling of myself to something far greater than I could ever imagine. My bedroom became a temple, my music became songs of worship, and my body became a voice lifted to God.
It’s so clear to me when I look at the pictures I took of myself before and after, that a true change occurred. There’s a softness and a light there, that don’t appear in the before picture. To me, it seems like a little bit more of that Divinity that lives in me—that lives in all of us—is able to shine through.
When I woke up two days later, I couldn’t touch my toes. As close as I get to God, I am still living this human experience. Which means my hamstrings still get sore! Still, a small price to pay. I’ll be going back to this practice for the Summer solstice. I hope you feel inspired to try it out, too, or to mark the change with some ritual of your own.
Written by Sarah Hirsch, edited by Bethany Naylor. If you’re interested in reading about Sarah’s time in India you can check out her time in Arambol here, or read her comparisons of Christmas in India alone, and Peru with a boyfriend here!
My first couple weeks in India, I spent an inordinate amount of time in bed, door locked. Sometimes I had power, sometimes the fan would slowly revolve to a stop and the heat of the day would wrap itself around me like a thick, stifling blanket. I slept a lot. Went out only long enough to get food. Ignored well-meaning people knocking on my door.
When I got to Peru, a similar thing happened.
The same thing happened when I lived in Washington.
It wasn’t the travel that assaulted me, though being in a new place, with strange customs and a painful distance from friends and family, did contribute to my feelings. What is unchanged in all of these scenarios is me. Sometimes, the only viable option is to stay in bed, shades drawn, quietly pretending like I don’t exist. Not even to myself. Because the reality of existence weighs too much, and I’m not always strong.
It reminds me of physical exercise, in a way. Some days I work out hard, really pushing myself, for a few days stretch. By day four or five my arms are shaking, my legs feel like bruised rubber, and the thought of a push-up is enough to start the waterworks. Emotions are like that, too. Carry around that heavy stuff for too long, and fatigue sets in.
Except, it’s harder to put down emotions than a free weight, and, when travelling, taking that day (or three) to sit in the dark and recharge doesn’t seem like an option. There are places to go! Food to eat! Adventures to be had!
All of which can be loosely translated as: If I’m not out there DOING, I’m wasting my time, wasting my opportunities.
It’s a hard balance to strike. I knew I didn’t want to go home and say, yeah, I spent all my time looking at the ceiling. However, I knew that pushing myself too hard would just whip around and smack me in the face. So I figured out some things that helped, even a little, and started from there. Maybe they can help you, too. Whether you’re darting around SE Asia, or studying at university, or moving through daily life in your hometown, taking care of yourself is always a priority.
The single most important factor in feeling okay with the world has been music. When I was in Rishikesh, I could not stand walking through the bustling streets with all the people and the noise and the vendors shouting at me. I told myself I had to do it that way, or else I wasn’t really experiencing the city. Which, I had a point, but it was making it so I didn’t go out at all. Then, I plugged in my headphones. Instantly, the world became a whole lot easier to tackle. Find something that feeds your positive emotions. As tempting as a good Bright Eyes marathon might be, see if you can resonate with an artist who sings about beauty, truth, and love. Not just heartache.
Yoga has served as a major sustaining practice in my life. Through a divorce, being fired for the first time, losing one of my cats, and on and on, yoga has been a place I can turn to when the noise of the world gets too loud. It is a home that I can take everywhere with me. Developing some kind of mindful movement practice can help you settle more deeply into your body, and in this present moment. I’ve found that when I am truly focused on right now, the fact that I am alive and breathing and in no imminent danger, helps to make those clamouring sirens of oh-my-god-I-can’t-do-this fade away a bit.
Asking For Help
I’ve never been great at making friends, and keeping them has been challenging, too. At least, that’s what I’ve told myself. My first night in Delhi, I had a meltdown. When I took to Facebook and posted a plea for help, I was surprised at the response I got. Not my boyfriend, not my family, not the friends I thought I’d grown close to before I left. Almost immediately I received a message from a guy I’d met at a festival, weeks earlier. He became my lifeline that night, and many more times in the following months. Reach out. Keep reaching out, especially when it hurts. Love comes from directions you may never expect.
Take excellent care of yourselves. Be kind. Be soft. Be love.
I’m leaning out of the window of a bus which is hurtling much too fast down a very narrow, very bumpy mountain road. Directly below me, the land drops abruptly away, the bottom of the mountain swallowed by a darkness so heavy I can feel it. The wind whips at my hair, and the silhouetted mountains loom down at me. I feel that I have never seen anything so big in all my life as this landscape which stretches into the night in every direction. I tilt my head upwards. The stars have exploded across the sky. Have there always been this many? I cannot even see the moon. Nothing but stars and shadows and my hair leaping in the wind. I was not consciously searching for it, but my eyes latch onto a familiar constellation. Orion, upside down, blinks back at me.
I would become accustomed to his presence. To combing the sky until I spotted him, touching base. Orion watched me zig zag my way through northern Chile, ricocheting from mountain-valley landscapes to the coast and back again. When I think of Chile, I think of beach days, mountain hikes, and impossibly vast starscapes.
I never planned to go to Chile, but the decision to take a quick detour on the way from Bolivia to Peru somehow turned into a month. A month soaked in red wine and pink sunsets; a month of cold beaches and scorching deserts; a month which drained my bank account and stole my heart. I cannot find the words to write about Chile. How can an entire country and four weeks of my life be adequately pinned into words on a page? So I’m not going to tell you about Chile. I’m going to tell you about Orion.
Orion was there the night we wrapped ourselves in blankets stolen from our hostel and felt our way up a mountain path in the dark to stargaze. The tiny town was called Pisco Elqui and it was nestled at the very bottom of the Elqui valley. The mountains which towered over it from every direction beckoned hikers and horse lovers. The main tourist attraction was a tour of a Pisco distillery. The nearest city a three hour drive away. The four of us had decided to forgo the expensive observatory tours in favour of star gazing the old fashioned way – by going outside and looking up. By midnight we had found our way to a plateau on a mountain high above the city. The only light which reached us came from our own headlamps and the stars. As we lay there, the cold seeping into our bones – “I’m not leaving until I’ve seen at least ten shooting stars!” – we could see the rotation of the earth by the visible shifting of the stars position in the sky. We talked about how even the night sky looked different here than at home. The only constellation we could identify, despite our stargazing apps (yes, really), was Orion. We watched as he slowly slipped into view from behind a distant mountain, surrounded by stars which swooped and dived on our peripheral vision.
Days or weeks later, I found myself cycling through the Atacama desert at five in the morning. I was with the same girls, having decided we would stick together until the border. Orion watched us, nestled in yet another unbelievably vibrant night sky hanging above a pitch black earth. Navigating our way through said blackness resulted in several wrong turns and we were soon racing against the clock to make it to the heart of Valle de la Luna before the sunrise.
This morning, which ended with the three of us cycling the entire length of the valley in the ever more oppressive heat, remains one of my favourite memories of my entire trip. I felt like I was flying as we sped down the winding roads, like we were the only humans in the world and Orion our only witness.
The night before I was due to leave Chile, I found myself on a balcony, overlooking the ocean. I had never felt more torn in two the entire trip. One part of me was yearning to keep moving, as ever, while the other part was desperate to stay and learn to paraglide with the friends I’d made there (after months of travelling, this did not strike me as the outlandish dilemma which it now seems, writing of it from a kitchen table in southern England). I stood there while the hostel continued to party below me, staring at the stars. And I realised that, while it was easy to be seduced by the idea of staying with new friends and learning an insane new skill, my own personal form of flight was different. I would not stay. I would cross the border into Peru and lean forward into the next adventure.
In the middle of such moments, soon to be relegated to the vaults of memory, I would find myself glancing up at the sky, touching base with my sole constant. And, no matter how many miles I launched myself away from my own peculiar normalcy, the consistency of the night sky reminded me that the world would keep turning, Orion would keep appearing, and my own untrodden path would continue to beckon me onwards.
I often forget I ever went to Alabama. I fell asleep in Chatanooga, Tennessee, and woke up to palm trees and high-rise apartment blocks half a day later. Themed bars with broken neon lights and cheap wire fences called out to Florida, ten minutes down the highway, and the whole placed seethed with a white-trash nostalgia that up until that point I had believed only existed on TV.
Welcome, my host chuckled, to the Redneck Riviera.
Redneck, sure. I couldn’t even call the place a town; it felt like several highway rest stops had been folded in on one another, littered with a couple of souvenir mega-stores and dropped on the unsuspecting coastline tucked away at the very bottom of Alabama. But Riviera? It transpired that behind some of the biggest buildings I have ever seen – tall, wide, and adorned with thousands of identical balconies – was an enormous golden beach and an endless horizon. The buildings acted as a frontline, the only thing stopping fast-food chains and strip malls absorbing the tranquil beauty of the shoreline and the infinite ocean.
It was in this strange nowhere-place, so quintessentially American and yet bafflingly foreign to me, that I spent my first thanksgiving, on the 27th floor of one of the enormous, identical buildings. I was amazed to see how much food could be crammed into one apartment – and in one person’s mouth for that matter (mine). I learned that there are people in America who consider a bowl of candy corn an appropriate starter, that it is mandatory to make three times as much food as necessary and attempt to eat it all anyway, and that pumpkin pie is cold. This last realisation both disturbed and disappointed me and I chose to stick with chocolate chip cookies and the remains of my multi-coloured entrée.
I stuffed myself on thanksgiving but ate very little the rest of the time. I felt too awkward to ask my hosts for food or to help myself to their snacks, so I subsided on copious amounts of coffee and avoided leaving my bed as much as possible. I was staying with the family of a friend, family which she herself barely knew and who expected very little of our company. So in our beds, we remained. They believed we were doing work, as we had stressed just how rapidly finals were approaching and just how many essays we had to complete for the following week. To no one’s surprise, least of all our own, our work remained untouched for the majority of the trip. We found the place unsettling and fidgeted restlessly in our yellow-wallpapered rooms wondering if we were going crazy. ‘It’s like The Yellow Wallpaper,’ we decided. ‘Something about this room is driving us nuts.’ It occurs to me now that any room would probably drive you nuts if you didn’t leave it for three days expect to walk the ten feet to the coffee machine, but when you are 27 floors from the nearest exit, leaving does not necessarily feel like an appealing option.
One night, overcome with cabin fever and probably overdosing on caffeine, I had finally had enough of the yellow room to motivate myself to leave it. I announced that I was taking my work to the balcony, and disappeared behind the huge living room curtains into the night. The essay lay forgotten, as ever, on the table behind me as I breathed in huge gulps of fresh air and leant forward into the empty sky.
My mind had gone stagnant in the yellow room, but as I stared out to sea, my thoughts began to shake free, tumbling out one after the other after the other. I wanted to go home, home-home, England-home, Queen’s English and hot tea and rude strangers home. I wanted to float out across the horizon, to tread the invisible line between surging coal-dark sea and soaring coal-dark sky. I wanted to throw my laptop over the balcony and forget about such thing as finals and classes and the futility of writing an essay on a topic I didn’t believe in or even understand. I tried to imagine America. I tried to grasp the idea that I was in America, tried to picture the 4,000 miles which stretched between me and almost everyone I had ever known until four months ago. I pictured my mind drifting outside of me and floating up into the sky, watching me recede to a dot on the balcony, watching the building recede to a dot, watching the whole of Alabama, America, Earth, recede to nothing but a dot in the impossible vastness of the universe and time. With a sudden slip, I fell. Like Alice down the rabbit hole, back into myself. Standing on the Balcony. Staring out to sea. In America and unsure what that meant, if it meant anything at all.
India opened its arms to me as if I were a lost child. I arrived an interesting mix of wide-eyed and broken, yearning for answers to questions I didn’t even know how to ask. The months leading up to my trip rocked my world, changing what I thought I knew about art and community and perception. I sought courage in my decision to flee to the complete opposite side of the planet as an emotional refugee, a blank canvas, and an eager explorer without a plan.
The weeks went on and I slowly recovered my sense of self with just enough missing pieces to be filled in with the love of others. I longed for the tribal support that fuels the first chakra and roots the soul, and that longing was what opened up my heart. By living with an open heart you attract the right people into your life and that couldn’t have been demonstrated more beautifully than it was by the people of No Name Free Hostel in Goa.
It began the night of the cancelled jam session. I was walking the Arambol beach with my tap shoes in hand, searching for a place to feed my belly with food and my soul with music. Each spot was blasting trance, but I persisted, determined to find the right destination. It wasn’t until I reached the end of the beach at the last little bar that I could rest.
The music coming out of Seahorse was quirky, to say the least, but it was live. That was all that mattered to me. I sat there eating my chana masala and watched the crowd dance like whizzing electrons as the guitar/drummer duo sang about nonsensical things. They made me laugh, and they energised something deep in me, shouting, “DANCE, dance!”
I inhaled my food and stormed the dance floor equipped with my instrument of choice — my feet. It was love at first jam! The crew had never played with a tap dancer and I was beyond thrilled to fill another pocket of my soul with this tribal oneness.
At the end of the gig, the guitarist, a tall Danish guy with circular glasses, made the announcement about No Name Free Hostel. I learned that the whole crew that night were from this same tribe. They built this place together in Keri, a quiet piece of paradise on the sea, located just north of Arambol. I knew right then and there that I would be joining the circle in some capacity when the timing was right.
The following week brought the end of my stay in Mandrem. Heartfelt goodbyes and soft tears accompanied me as I packed my belongings and fueled my scooty. With the sun waking up in the Goan sky, I dropped my shades, turned the key, and drove north. I knew my destination but the dull scratching of nerves and anxiety persisted in my guts. Would this group remember me, embrace me, welcome me, love me? Would I feel the same oneness I felt at Seahorse? Am I fun, cool, worthy, happy? All of the things that had bothered me in my past had still been there. All of the questions and fears and shortcomings that had always tortured me have never gone away. But this time, for the first time, I didn’t let my fears influence my decision to live and to be loved. I kept my shaking hand on the gas.
My arrival was a flood of warmth and instant comfort. I was greeted by a tall, skinny Indian man who I’d met at the bar. He had wild, young dreadlocks and all the qualities of an old friend. The next two faces were that of a beautifully ethereal French woman who co-founded the hostel, and a spritely girl from Italy with a buzzing smile.
The little pixie gave me a tour of the grounds with heart-warming pride and enthusiasm. She walked me through what would soon be the cafe, a means of potential income for the hostel which would allow it to remain free for drifters like myself. We talked about the vision of the hostel, about how they want to create a space for people from every corner of the world to come together and express, share, create, learn, and build. The small, eclectic group of founders are pioneers of this new type of hostel and they are currently relying on crowd-funding and generous donations to stay afloat. As we walked through the rest of the land (and they have a large chunk of it) I was greeted by volunteers fixing bunk beds for the shared bedroom, an adorable gang of kittens who sleep in their garden, and artists decorating the walls with colourful depictions of their imagination. The whole place seemed to be alive and everyone could feel it. From that moment on, I knew I belonged.
The rest of my time at No Name is a blur of music, food, and art, complemented by its diverse crew. Some I would see again at the end of my trip only to be greeted as if I had never left, a privilege reserved for the best of friends. Faces come and go and love may blossom in this community by default, but the remarkable thing about them is their ability to embrace each person who walks through the door. When you step on this land you do not feel like a guest in someone else’s home, you feel like family. The knot in your stomach loosens its grip and you feel safe. You feel love.
Written by Allie Pizzo, and edited by Sarah Hirsch.
If you are interested in No-name Hostel, please watch this video to find out more about what they do. They also run a crowdfunding page, if you would like to donate. If Allie’s story about Arambol has inspired you, you can also check out one of Sarah Hirsch’s articles on the town, or about her Christmas spent there.
Anxiety is really hard to write about, as everyone has a different experience. It’s one of those things which can be so subtle that nobody notices until you’re completely overwhelmed, and is also something that almost everyone experiences at some point in their life. I’ve always been an anxious person. Some of my earliest memories I have are of a 3-5 year old me, worrying about something she said or did to upset someone, even if that person never noticed. When I look back at my life, my strongest memories are the fears, the worries, and existential crises which still keep me up at night if I let them. It’s strange then that now, I am capable of catching 9 hour flights and 16 hour bus journeys alone, with only my own mind for company, even if it’s still hard.
Sometimes my anxiety disappears. It will hide itself under the surface for weeks or months at a time, and slowly I begin to feel like a real person again. Other times, my anxiety is so bad it makes me throw up, scream at someone I love, or quite literally hide myself so no one can find me. A single word will reduce me to tears, or a bad attitude will leave me aggressive and looking for a fight. I remember in an old house I used to share with a friend and my boyfriend, there was a huge cupboard, quite capable of hiding a fully grown woman inside covered in coats. It became my refuge when things were too hard. Nobody knew. Sometimes you need to hide from the world, and that’s okay.
Often my friends ask me why I’m shaking. I do it a lot, so much that I usually don’t even notice. During a bad phase I will spend hours of the day quivering like a leaf, whilst on a good day it will only last maybe half an hour and then I’ll be fine. When it first started, maybe at age 14, I had no idea that it could be a symptom of anxiety and instead assumed I was chronically ill. Added to this, certain foods would make me feel so sick to my stomach that I could not keep them down. Many blood tests later, there is nothing wrong with me, at least physically.
When I started to travel, the anxiety was extreme. Although I would always be having a good time on the surface, underneath guilt, fear, and trepidation were bubbling away quietly, threatening to boil over and destroy the facade I had made for myself. Over time, it got easier. On my first real travelling experience, six months of backpacking and volunteering around Europe, I had my boyfriend with me, and he made everything okay. Although there would still be days where I found it impossible to get out of bed and face a constantly changing life, and I would still be a shaking mess whilst waiting at the airport or train station to move on somewhere new, having that support with me, constantly at my side, holding my hand and telling me -“Fuck it, you’re strong enough, you can do this” – made every day that much easier. We’re no longer together, but his voice of wisdom still lives on every day in my head.
Next, I worked in Rome, alone. Although that time realistically can only be described as the best and most rewarding time of my life, within 2 months of being there I had lost more than 30 lbs. 22lbs in a single month, the first month. I was scared every day. Alone every evening. Lost. Guilty about rewarding a body which my anxiety told me did not deserve the love and care it needed to survive. I worried everyone hated me, I worried that my relationship would fail, and I worried about what the hell I was doing there anyway.
I gave up. I came home. Abandoning what was suppose to be a year of work after only four months, terrified that if I stayed, I might actually die.
So trust me when I tell you this. Anxiety is the evil monster under the bed. Anxiety is the bad man walking towards you on a darkened street. Anxiety is with me, every single day, every single minute of my life, even now, and even tomorrow. And still I continue.
So how can you cope, when you feel like everything is falling to pieces before your eyes, and you’re a world away from everyone you love? I want to try help, I’ve been there, I’m still there, and I’m still travelling.
Build a support network
One of my problems originally, was that when I left the country alone, I felt like that meant I had to be truly alone. I would put off calling my family for weeks, thinking that if I called, that meant admitting weakness. How silly does that sound? Now when I travel, I have my list of helpers who I know will always be there for me if I’m in trouble. Even if it’s just skyping your grandma to find out what’s going on in her life, having regular contact with the people back home helps you to stay grounded. Calling your best friend just to have a chat about some silly thing you did reminds you that people do love you, people do care. I’ve even found that staying in hostels or couchsurfing rather than hotels or Airbnb makes it easy, as you have automatic friends there who just want you to have a good time with them.
Take a moment
When we travel, we rush around the place, trying to cram in as many perfect memories as we can into one day. This is great, but it can leave you exhausted and craving peace and quiet. Just taking five minutes alone every morning can make that much difference. Some people call it meditation, but I just see it as grounding myself in my place in the world, acknowledging my own fears and desires, and slowly letting them go. Another way to look at this could be the opposite, essentially. One of the best tips I got from a therapist was to set out a certain time every day where I was allowed to worry and fret as much as I desire. The hard bit, if anxiety were to surface at another time, you have to write it down, remember it for your later worry session, then cast it from your mind. Harder than it sounds.
Make a list
First I have to admit something. I’m a huge fan of lists. On any given day I have several lists I work from, things I want to do, things I need to think about, things I want to stop and appreciate, or even things I just love so damn much. On a bad day my lists can be pretty negative, but on a good day they give me hope and inspire me to be the person I want to be. Having a list will let you get that little bit of routine back into your life, which although I claim to hate, I secretly crave.
Although travelling without a plan is great for some, I personally couldn’t do it. Finding accommodation for my trips is usually the first thing I do, because as well as giving you the best price at the cheapest hostels, it gives you a little sense of security that if all else fails, you’ll have a bed that night. I’ve met people before whilst travelling who never book a bed until they arrive in the town. I could never do that. I would be worrying constantly that I’d be spending yet another night sleeping in an airport. Before I travel I know where I’m staying, what the place is like, how I need to get there, what time the desk is open, and how much every step of the journey will cost me. If I don’t, I probably wouldn’t catch the flight.
Look after yourself
This is an easy one in theory, although a lot harder in practise. Healthy body, healthy mind, so the saying goes. I’ve found it to be true. Even if you can’t, eat well everyday. Even if you can’t, sleep well every night. Even if you can’t, wash everyday, even if it’s only with a wet wipe. If it makes you feel better, put on some make-up, dress up nice, or wear your impractical high heels for a historic town tour. Do what makes you feel most comfortable, nobody is judging you, and if they are, who needs them?
On the flip side, if you need a day in bed, take a day in bed. Don’t feel bad about it, you owe nothing to anyone. On my first day in New Orleans I didn’t get up until 5pm, and then parked myself on the sofa with an aspiring actor for five hours watching NCIS and drinking cheap champagne.
Suffering from anxiety makes everything in life harder. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t explore the world at your own pace, seeking refuge when you need and excitement when you please.
If you’re struggling, there are a lot of resources you can make use of.
When you travel alone, you travel light. The only expectations you have to worry about are your own. The only plans and desires you must navigate are your own. The only arms wrapped around you when you lie down to sleep at night are your own. (For the most part, hey?)
When you travel as a couple, things get both more and less complicated. You have someone to split cab fare and hotel rooms with. You have someone to engage with in conversations about everything and nothing. If you’re lucky (like I am), you’re travelling with someone who has all the earmarks of a best friend.
Last year I undertook my first big, solo, overseas trip to India. I spent five months there, more or less on my own. I made friends during my travels, of course, and spent time on the road with them. But at the end of the day where I spent the night, where I went next, were my choices—and mine alone—to make.
I ended up in Arambol Beach, Goa, for Christmas. It was the perfect place to be, I think, for so many reasons. Being a Portuguese settlement, the catholic influence there is relatively strong. That fact didn’t quite sink in until I turned down an alley one day and found myself stumbling upon a huge, glittering nativity scene built by children out of found objects (what some people might call trash).
On Christmas Eve I was invited to a live show with a few bands I’d never heard of, at a sweet venue called Twice in Nature. If you’re ever in Arambol, search it out. Great food, perfect ambience. I wasn’t into the first act that night, so I took off for a while in search of food, letting the streets of Arambol guide me, as I had so many times before. I finally landed sat my favorite egg sandwich place and found myself having some of the most delicious (and spiciest!) fish, cooked up by the owner for a couple of his friends for the occasion.
After dinner, I went back to Twice just in time to see Anna RF start their set. When I decided to go to the show, I had no idea I would leave that night with a new favourite set of musicians. I went right up to the stage while they played, dancing my heart out. Several power outages and turns of events later, I found myself onstage, in the dark, surrounded by the band, going absolutely mad with my body. When the power finally came back on, I was breathless and elated and drunk on magic.
This Christmas was a radically different experience. First, I am in Peru, which is NOT India. Second, I am traveling with my partner, which shifts dynamics dramatically.
We spent Christmas Eve in the beautiful, white stone city of Arequipa. A forty foot tall Christmas tree graced the Plaza de Armas, off to one side of the enormous cathedral that dominated the square. Nearly every store—including pharmacies and gas stations—sold panettone, a sort of fruitcake like baked good oddly popular in Peru. Advertisements saying one thing or another about Navidad dotted the city.
After wandering through the city and indulging in a really good dinner at a Mexican restaurant, we headed back to the hotel in order to watch Nightmare Before Christmas. It has been my tradition, for well over a decade, to watch this movie every Christmas Eve. When we discovered our stolen copy was in German, we abandoned the idea. For a second, I wondered why I wasn’t struck with the loss of it. Then I remembered—2015 broke my tradition, and I hadn’t even noticed until a whole year later.
I can’t remember what movie we settled on, but I do remember falling asleep pretty fast. Then, at midnight, loud booms interrupted my sleep. I came awake with that feeling you get as a kid on Christmas morning: all of the sudden awake, and anticipatory. Steven moved next to me, and together we came up on our knees to peer out the window above our bed.
Fireworks. Everywhere. From the farthest edges of the city to the street behind our house, people were setting off fireworks. Not just bottle rockets and sparklers, though, These were full-on, probably illegal in the United States, light up the sky fireworks. While we could only see a small slice of thecity from our window, it was still magic.
I guess that’s what it comes down to, for me. My Christmas in India was about as different from my Christmas in Peru as it could have been. Solo versus coupled. (Largely) Hindu versus Catholic. Beach town versus desert city. Raucous versus chill. The thing they have in common, though, is magic. In India, I was free to make whatever choices I wanted, whenever I wanted. I was not free, however, to take the hand of someone I love and enjoy those choices together.
I’m not saying one is better, or worse. I tend not to believe in distinctions like that, especially when it comes to personal experiences. They both had beauty, in their ways, and pain, in their ways.
They both had magic.
Written by Sarah Hirsch
On the highest of mountains and the lowest of places