Category Archives: Inspiration

The Sun in Lisbon

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 terra se 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 

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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.

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Constellations

 

The more that I explore this vast and mighty planet, the deeper I find myself rooted in the common ground of humanity. Each journey down a new path fuels my fourth chakra by time spent with those along the way.

 

I believe in acceptance. I believe that the things that divide us are issues based in fear and ignorance. As a child I was exposed to diversity with a side of apple pie. Romanticizing the unknown was what freed me from the gravity of suburbia. Compared to most parts of the U.S., New Jersey and New York have always offered a metropolitan mix of cultures, but many people never seized the opportunity to learn about their neighbors. We were all the parts of a well-oiled machine, disassembled and placed side-by-side on the table. Normalcy and comfort glazed over our blissful lack of awareness. Still, this fascination called to me, thirsting for exploration, knowledge, and connection.

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Currently, I’m working onboard a cruise ship, sailing the seas for a second six month period of time. I first embarked early March 2016 as an American and left that fall a Global Citizen. Through those first six and a half months my family grew in size and diversity and offered me deeper connections to a world outside my own. There are roughly 1500 employees on this vessel and with only 58 of us being American, it was the first time I had ever truly been a minority. Suddenly I was living with people from almost every continent, social, economic, and religious background making our bubble like a floating UN. I have never seen a place where everything just worked.

 

Down time onboard is often spent communally in designated crew areas. Crew members shoot the breeze with others, rapidly evolving relationships from strangers to friends/lovers/family. These seemingly small experiences blessed me with a refreshed love for humanity all over again.

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During my time here I have strengthened my ability to listen, which I believe is one of the most important qualities to possess. Fundamentally, we all want to be heard. When you give your undivided attention to another person you are not only fulfilling their social and emotional needs,  you’re also gaining a broader perspective without even trying. By being a silent listener. I have strengthened my inner empath, stepping outside of myself and into the experience of the sharing soul. This ability is a completely golden opportunity in itself. Carrying that out into the world continues to help me meet people where they are, in the timeline of their own life experience. These magical abilities don’t even stop with the human race. Strong listeners and empaths are able to extend their influence out to all other aspects of the conscious world.

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When you are not exposed to the world outside your front door, it isn’t always easy to figure out who you are. Through this experience and my travels since, I have become more deeply connected to my core identity. There is a certain confidence and fearlessness acquired by diversifying your circle. By challenging the limits of my comfort zone I have been able to really cultivate these qualities, trusting in my own ability to understand what I need to thrive, based on who I am. I was stifled by my safety net for so long that I seemingly changed completely to those who knew me before. In reality, all I had done was uncover layers of disguise and years of expectation from my true self. Shedding the extra skin was just as liberating as it was to travel across the world and back.

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So here I am on my fourth month of contract number two, an evolving human who can confidently say that I am constantly falling in love with the human race. I continue to bond with as many people as possible, both onboard and on land, to expand my heart’s pallet. We bond over passions and art forms and we push past the small talk early on. We embrace similarities, respect differences, and let the armor fall to the ground. When I return home again I try to bring these moments with me allowing them to free me time and again from the gravity that once felt crushing. We all keep searching for our little piece of freedom but what we can easily forget is that freedom grows from an accepting heart. Open your arms to the world and the world opens its arms to you. We are points in the universe connected by invisible thread, a mighty collection of stellar lines creating the most beautiful constellations.

Written by Allie Pizzo

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108 Sun Salutations

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.)

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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.

before and after

 

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!

 

How to do a sun salutation
How to do a sun salutation
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In Search of Orion

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.

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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.

Watching the sunrise in the Atacama Desert, Chile
Watching the sunrise in the Atacama Desert, Chile

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.

Valle de la Luna, Atacama Desert, Chile
Valle de la Luna, Atacama Desert, Chile

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.

Paragliding for the first time - Iquique, Chile
Paragliding for the first time – Iquique, Chile

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.

 

Written by Isabella Millington

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No- Name Hostel

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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When it doesn’t feel right

I recently wrote a post about that sense of recognition and belonging that sometimes accompanies travel. In that post, I said that this sensation is one reason I love to travel so much. It’s one reason I love being alive, really. Discovering places and people and things that make me feel more wholly me, more wholly integrated into this world. It is one of the best gifts I feel the Universe can offer.

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So what happens when the opposite is true?

I suppose I’m lucky in this respect. There haven’t been many times in my life, especially in recent years, when I’ve found myself tangling with someone or something that lies on the other side of the resonance spectrum. It’s not a lack of feeling that I’m talking about here. Neutral territory is something I can move through without much problem. However, when I get somewhere and feel like that place is actively telling me to leave, well, that’s when things get complicated. And I’m currently neck-deep in complications.

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It started as soon as my plane landed in Lima. Now, I know Lima isn’t exactly an inviting city for most people. It’s big, noisy, and dirty. A major city in other words, and as such, not exactly a place that most of the chill, semi-hippy folks I enjoy spending time with like to hang out. The only time I even left the airport in Lima was for a quick smoke, and honestly, the parking lot wasn’t so bad. From an objective point of view. Yet this feeling of wrongness was busy taking root with every passing minute. Have you ever walked uphill, with the wind blowing in your face? Imagine that, on an energetic level.

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After an overpriced but delicious meal at one of the airport restaurants, I made my way to my gate and set up shop for a few hours waiting for the plane. I was exhausted of course, so at the time I chalked up my mounting unease to sleep deprivation and stress. Then finally, I was on our way to Cusco and to my destination outside of Pisac, a small intentional community in the foothills of the Sacred Valley.
Sleep came next. A lot of it. A lot more than I needed to fight the jet lag, in fact. When I was awake, I wandered around the community, my eyes wide open and my heart yearning to feel some kind of connection. ANY connection. I felt none. Not with the land, not with the people living at the community. I knew a few of the ‘family members’ from some time they spent in the United States the previous year, but by and large, I felt utterly adrift.
I’ve been here a month, having almost left at least half a dozen times, and I feel only slightly more connected and integrated than before, purely by virtue of getting to know some individuals more.

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Still, the land itself leaves me uncomfortable. It’s beautiful, don’t get me wrong. For me, however, it’s a purely objective beauty. The more I experience this area—the culture, the music, the food—the more this sense of GTFO settles in. Maybe this is a remnant of a past life experience as well. When I went to Hampi, my soul sang. When I arrived in Peru, it began to cry. Is there healing to be done here? Or am I truly just not suited to be here in the first place?
I realised, as I was searching through my photos for this post, that I’ve been reluctant to even take pictures while I’ve been here. I have very few photos of the landscape and almost none of the people. That, in itself, tells me a lot.

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By the time you read this, I will have left the community to explore other parts of Peru and South America. Away from the mountains, away from the rain, away from the expectations and obligations (real or imagined) of the family here, perhaps I will find something that speaks to me.

 

Written by Sarah Hirsch

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City Of Shadows

Every so often in life we all find a person, a place, or an idea, that makes us fall so deep in love we are blinded to all of their faults and shortcomings, creating a picture in our minds of complete perfection. This false ideal is unsustainable and fragile, eventually shattering and more often than not, leaving us broken-hearted and lost. For me, that was place was Barcelona.

Barcelona. One of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, the home of Gaudi and his brilliant architecture, the capital of Catalonia, and one of the most interesting cities I’ve encountered in Europe. From the wide open beaches of the Barceloneta and the gleaming high buildings of the Port to the rambling cobblestone streets of El Quarto Gótico and the fairy tale gingerbread houses of Parque Güell, the city is full of magic and mysticism. Barcelona is not simply a modern, fun, and vibrant city, it also has a long, mysterious, and incredibly interesting past.

Arc de Triomf
Arc de Triomf

When I first went to Barcelona I was 13 years old. My family stayed in a small flat in the gothic quarter, I remember feeling terrified as we entered through the graffitied and barred door in a dark and silent street. I had just finished reading ‘The Shadow of the Wind’, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, which to this day remains my favourite book of all time, I reread it at least once a year. The book, set in post civil war Barcelona had ignited a passion for the Spanish culture and history in me and I hold it solely responsible for my degree choice. The four days I spent wandering in this incredible city did not quench the fire inside of me, instead, fed it steadily until I made it a life ambition to live there one day.

The following summer, my family hosted a language student from San Vicente, a town very near Barcelona. We became friends and I visited her once a year for the next four years. Every time, I would spend a few days in Barcelona, simply walking and watching, breathing in the city. My favourite method of seeing a city is to in one direction until I hit a red light, then turn down the available route. The grid system of Barcelona is perfect for this. Forward, Stop, Turn. Forward. Stop Turn. Rinse and repeat until done. Now  you’re in a place you’ve never seen before and have no idea how to get back to where you started. At this point, have a beer and contemplate life, before guessing your direction again, and heading back home. These were the times I lived for. I would spend all year waiting for the next time I could go back, not even thinking about other places because my goal was Barcelona. It still is, in a way.

During my A level studies, my school offered the chance to do a week of work experience in Rosas, a small but beautiful coastal town north of Barcelona. At that time, I was working on a project on Catalonia, essentially a detailed political, cultural and historical assessment of whether Catalonia should be independent. In Rosas I had the chance to interview several of the people I worked with, and the week taught me a lot about the history of Barcelona, embellishing the sheer respect and understanding that Zafón had already instilled in me. It also convinced me that if I wanted to live in Catalonia, I would have to learn Catalan.

Beach front hotels, Rosas, Spain
Beach front hotels, Rosas, Spain

The year after, I went back again. This time with my best friend, to visit my friend in San Vicente, and a girl who had au paired in Bath, and ended up staying at her house in the final weeks. This experience opened me up to a new part of Barcelona, the nightlife, restaurants and shopping which before I had stayed away from.

After a few months of travelling and volunteering in Europe the year after I finished school, my sights turned back to Barcelona. The plan at the time, was that I’d move there in April and work a volunteering job until I have managed to find a stable job and flat, and to remain there the following three years for university. This however, was when my plan began to fall apart. I was travelling with a friend, and we had secured a workaway position in ‘The Hipstel’, a hostel in the centre of Gracia. Our flight from Venice, where we had spent a romantic weekend getting lost in the narrow backstreets, landed at midday. Within an hour, we were on the airport bus into the city centre. The fare had doubled since last time I had been and we found ourselves struggling to find cash for lunch as the heavens opened as we arrived in Plaza Catalunya. Our hostel did not remember us. They had no idea about the dozens of messages we had been sending back and forth, and could not offer us a job. We would later find out that this happened at least once a fortnight.

Plaza Real
Plaza Real

Eventually, we were provided with beds and a job in a partner hostel, two minutes away from Plaza Catalunya. Within a two weeks I was forced to find a second job, as the hostel did not provide food as advertised, and the meagre 30 euro salary a week for 40-50 hours work could not even begin to cover the costs of life in the city. Being a not very unattractive British female, who could speak Spanish, I was offered four interviews within two days and accepted a job offer on the Barceloneta. 70, Carrer de Sevilla. Bar Celoneta. What a wonderful place, what an original name. The increase in income meant we were able to live better now, and my experience there taught me how to make 14 different types of sangria, something which has never been relevant since.

Yet again, this time the city failed me. Finishing work most nights after 2am meant that rather than an easy metro journey, more often than not I had to walk home 40 minutes through the port and up Las Ramblas. Every single night, without fail, I would be harassed by drunk men, usually tourists, who wanted to know ‘what a pretty girl like you’s doing out so late at night.’ It got the point within a couple of weeks that I was so sick of having to bat away the advances of idiots, that I would instead latch onto the closest looking normal person when I left work, and make them walk me home. This, whilst wearing long skirts or jeans and high-necked tops, I can only imagine how bad it would have been were I not dressed so conservatively.

There was one night which convinced me I would never be safe living in the city alone. I was talking to two young men after work one night, I had told them I could speak Spanish earlier on in the night but they had forgotten, and we’re addressing me in poor English. Luckily, this meant that I could easily eavesdrop. That’s the story about how I ran home, after hearing two young men discussing how they would be able to take advantage of me.

A dragon statue in Parque Ciutadella
A dragon statue in Parque Ciutadella

I left Barcelona two years and six months ago, after trying for several months to make it work and being struck down at every attempt. The night I left, £500 worth of valuables were stolen, including every single photo I’d taken travelling. I’ve only been back once since then, for two hours.

Barcelona is a difficult city. There is a darkness which lurks under every doorway, behind every corner. A thick smog of shame and secrecy hangs over the city, a city where so much has happened, and no one ever talks about. I love it, and I hate it all at the same time. I am ashamed that it bested me, and I know that one day I will go back, and that that time it will work.

 

Written by Bethany Naylor

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Why I travel a Psychic Journey

There are countless reasons to travel. Each person has their own set. From exploring other cultures to discovering new foods, exposure to new fashions and languages, a desire to not feel settled or tied down. Whatever your reason for travelling, it’s a good one.  

I have plenty of my own, but there’s one I didn’t realise was important to me until after I started travelling: the feeling of coming home.
It’s that strange sense, when you encounter a place or a person for the first time, of having known them before. Deja vu, we sometimes call it, though I think that’s not quite right. A glitch in the matrix, perhaps. The explanation that resonates most, for me, is that whoever this person is, wherever this landscape is, I have experienced it in a life lived sometime far back. Before I was born into this body, in Colorado, I lived countless lives with countless people in countless places. And every once in awhile I get lucky enough to brush up against them.

Temple

Of course, this sensation happened before I ever set foot on an aeroplane. Pieces of those past lives are, I believe, naturally drawn to us. I’ve met people who felt instantly like family, or who rubbed all my fur backwards for some reason I couldn’t elucidate. I felt the connection in Charleston, South Carolina, where I travelled on an ill-fated adventure to meet up with a boy. While the station I found myself in was ten shades of crazy, the city itself broke open my heart and stole a piece of it away forever.It’s a heady feeling, and hard to describe. There’s a comfort to it, like being wrapped in my mother’s arms. A familiarity, as if I’d seen this place a hundred thousand times before. A sense of belonging that defies all rational explanation. It’s a feeling I adore, and I want to experience in my life as much as possible.

I think one of the most striking episodes for me was visiting the elephant stables in Hampi, Karnataka, India. Hampi was built in the Vijayanagara empire when rulers of that area commanded a huge amount of money and power. There are thousands of ruins around the city of Hampi, giant temples and elaborate halls built for the king and queen. The stables are located near the Zenana Enclosure, a secluded area created specifically for royal women. Within the enclosure, you can visit the Lotus Mahal, see the remains of the Queen’s Palace, and the Treasury building where it’s said the queen’s eunuch guards lived. The stables themselves are one long line of stone enclosures, eleven in all, with vaulted ceilings and domed roofs. They are one of the few structures in the area that remained untouched by Deccan Muslim invaders in the 16th century.

Zenena Enclosure

As I walked over the large swath of emerald grass between the edge of the enclosure and the stables, I was struck with a feeling that I’d been there before, many times. I felt wholly and completely at home in my own skin, and in that place. I stood in the huge rooms, pressed my hands against ancient brick, and could almost smell the elephants there beside me. I could almost feel the hay beneath my feet. I closed my eyes and heard the soft rustles of the rope that wound about the elephant’s ankle, tied to the metal hook on the wall.


The barriers between our lives are thinner than we give them credit for, I think. We have these memories, distant and fuzzy and obscured by time and space that sift up through our hearts from time to time. I don’t know if they make much of a difference for this life, but I love the subtle reminder that there is more to my experience than this life’s experience alone.

So, I travel. I search. And every once in a while, I’m lucky enough to find.

Lotus temple

Written by Sarah Hirsch

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Off the beaten track: Walking in Jordan

We made our way up a track going straight through someone’s olive grove, passing by picnicking families and some very angry dogs. We were slightly confused. Map with instructions in one hand, compass in the other, my travelling companion Mike and I were definitely on the right path of the Jordan Trail. So, through someone’s property it was. After a tense 5 minutes fearing someone might shoot us, we got back to the road just before sunset. We found the forest, and there suitable-looking ground for camping. All was well—until we started hearing the approaching barks of some very angry dogs, then the cries of wolves, human shouting, and gunshots.

This was our first attempt at walking and camping in Jordan: the next few weeks would not be nearly as frightening! Mike and I walked from Ajloun castle, a 12th century fortress built by Salah al-Din’s nephew on the remains of a monastery on a forested hill in northern Jordan, to Orjun, a traditional village situated in a lush valley full of fresh figs and pomegranates. On our way, we casually passed by the 6th century church and pilgrimage site of Mar Elias, as well as an unusual rectangular roofless mudbrick mosque.

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‘Hello! what’s your name?’ excited children ran after us; adults asked us the more sensible question: ‘What are you doing here?’. The Jordan Trail, though far from complete and in need of correcting the logistical issues of going through people’s olive groves, allows travellers to see both the nature and culture of Jordan, beyond Amman, Petra and Wadi Rum, Jordan’s top destinations.
After making our way south, Mike and I reached Wadi Dana, a valley renowned for its numerous birds and ibex. Another opportunity for enjoying nature and culture: our budget hotel (to be far from the wolves this time!) was on the roof of one of the 19th century houses of Dana village. Another sleepless night; although this time because I couldn’t take my eyes off the Milky Way. Though traditional villages of Jordan have mostly been abandoned in the past 50 years, with their inhabitants moving to cement apartments, the locals of Dana keep a strong relationship with their past by allowing travellers to sleep in the village. These hotels are all locally run, and are even at competition with the big ecotourist companies. The villagers let us into the Nature Reserve for free, and were critical of the government-backed organization that charged entry fees to the land in which they grew up.

 

Our footsteps sank into purple and red sand from Dana to Feynan, the landscape was a striking combination of the awesome rock formations of south and the green hills of the north. Gradually, the green disappeared and we were in a fully fledged desert –one that had been used for copper mining in the Byzantine period. A Bedouin on the way thought we looked funny, and told Mike to try riding his donkey. Shortly after politely refusing tea from the Bedouin over and over again, we arrived in Feynan and finally wondered: how are we getting anywhere now? Luckily, a lorry driver was passing by, so we hopped in and told the lie that we were engaged when he asked Mike ‘What are you doing with her?’ — a young man and woman who are travelling together and not in a relationship are still not quite understood in Jordan. The lorry went down to Aqaba at the incredible pace of 45km/hour— with nothing to look at on either side except for endless desert, and the winding music of Mohammed Abdu. I was in a stupor.

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Then we were in Aqaba, and soon after in Wadi Rum. The third sleepless night: not due to wolves, stars, but the punctuated echoes within the still silence. One dog barked; one thousand barks came back in a wave. The endlessness was almost nauseating. And when I heard the echoes of the braying of a donkey –that, my friend, is the demonic sound of hellfire. Once morning came, off we went walking into the true silence of the desert. I was overcome by desire to lie down and live in that silence. But too soon, it was time to return to the city—if for anything, due to lack of water.

Written by Maïra Al-Manzali, edited by Bethany Naylor

To read another article about a hitchhiking experience, read Beth’s post about hitching in France and Spain

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The Aram Bowl Effect

There’s a certain strange kind of magic in Arambol, one of the northernmost beaches in Goa, India. The first time I set foot on its sands I couldn’t wait to get away. This was the first place I’d been after spending nearly two months in the holy city of Rishikesh, studying yoga and philosophy and bathing in the Ganges river.

Arambol is not Rishikesh.

When I walked along the beach that first night with my travel mates, taking in the clash of music from the cafes and the lounge chairs strewn across the sand, it was hard not to just turn around and hole up in our shack for the night. Which, to be fair, we eventually did anyway. The next morning we beat a fast retreat, heading for the sleepy beaches of Gokarna, and I swore I’d never go back.

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Fast forward a couple months and many emails between friends later. It was early morning as I stepped off a local bus and trundled to the nearest cafe for a cup of coffee and some internet. I had a contact from Rishikesh looking forward to my arrival. A place to stay, a person in the know, and a promise of a week or two, max, of Arambol before undoubtedly heading elsewhere.

Except, Arambol is a place that doesn’t let go easily. That first night, I think I escaped by the skin of my teeth. My second venture would not be so short lived.

My friend took me back to the room we’d be sharing so I could get settled. Like many rooms in India it consisted of a thinly mattressed bed, tile floors and little else. Just my style. I grabbed a shower while he cleaned, sweeping the floor from a squatting position with a thatch brush. It was a vision of him that stuck in my mind, this young Himalayan mountain boy in Goa for his first time, the voice of his mother still loud and clear in his ears, making sure he keeps things tidy. So far, I thought, Arambol is okay.

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That night, when the techno music started in the bar across the street, then the cafe down the street, then the Israeli party pad catty corner to our building, I realized I might have bitten off more than I could chew, but it was too late. I was hooked.

I spent part of that night on the rooftop overlooking one of the main drags, very close to the beach entrance. Directly below my perch point was the Om Ganesh grocery store, a perfect spot to grab booze, smokes and snacks at any time, day or night. I cannot think of a better place to people watch. Russian women dolled up in heels and bustiers, vacationing Indians with a little too much to drink, hippy kids with dirty feet and straw hats they made themselves, they all made an appearance. The streets of Arambol are rarely quiet, and never boring.

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For those who want big parties, Vagator Beach is a better bet. However, I wasn’t into great crowds of kids hopped up on Molly. What intrigued me was what I could find in Arambol itself. It’s a very small town, when you get right down to it. Everyone knows someone, who knows someone, who knows you. And everyone’s got an opinion about everything. Sure, the option exists to stay insular if you’re traveling with a group, but I find no joy in that. Rather, I wanted to get out, experience, explore.

I attended my first sweat lodge in Arambol. It wasn’t life changing, by any means, and my more recent experiences with this type of medicine have been a lot more edifying. But where else can you find a white guy from Arizona, his Goan fire tender, and a group of people from all over the world gathering together in the backyard of a cafe to sweat and sing and pray?

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Arambol introduced me to the philosophies and followers of Osho, an Indian mystic with a rather controversial approach to spirituality. One of the cafes hosts a series of Awareness Understanding Meditations (AUM). Essentially, there are about a dozen steps to this meditation. In each stage you fully embody a particular emotion/state of being. Sadness, anger, forgiveness, sensuality. Part of that embodiment is expression; participants roam the room, and when they make eye contact with another participant that expression is engaged. Anger: you scream at one another. Forgiveness: hold each other’s hands, apologize, hug. Sensuality: a solo or partnered dance steeped in your sexiest output. It’s extreme, draining, often uncomfortable. And for days after I had people telling me I looked years younger. Yet I could never quite bring myself to go back, it was so intense.

On Christmas Eve I danced onstage with Anna RF during a blackout at one of the biggest cafes in Arambol. It was just me up there, until the band moved their instruments from the larger stage to my smaller stage, and we rocked out until the lights came back.

I fell in love. I fell out of love. I had my heart and my ego bruised, and I’m pretty sure I did some bruising of my own. And every day, every single day, I woke up thinking This is the day I leave Arambol.

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Written by Sarah Hirsch, edited by Bethany Naylor

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