Thursday, June 15, 2017

My Favorite Travel Experiences

Let me preface this by clarifying something: These are my favorite experiences while I was doing my round the world backpacking trip --- NOT necessarily my favorite places in the world.

An experience could be just that - an occurrence... or a moment... and could have nothing to do with the place I'm in. 

Well... could... not that it didn't.

It was hard to choose because I really had some of the best times of my life while I was doing this round the world backpacking trip, and there were so many moments worth mentioning. I wanted to put more, but I consolidated it to about 10. It's still a lot - but all worth it, I promise.

If you've been reading this blog from the beginning - get ready to be nostalgic. If you've just stumbled across this blog - then get ready to have your mind blown. :)

Here it is...

10 of my Favorite Travel Experiences (in no particular order)

*Click on the titles to read the full stories behind these moments

1. George's Heroic Rescue - Rio, Brazil

On my last post about my worst travel experiences, I talked about how my friend, George, who was still practically a stranger back then, saved me from what would have been a horrific Couchsurfing Experience. To recap: after finding myself in a very compromising position with my Couchsurfing host - George swept me off my feet and offered his home to me, a stranger, with no questions asked... which basically restored my faith in humanity. His kindness kept me going, realizing that there is still genuine goodness in this world. He is why I love traveling to begin with! Meeting people like him!

2. The Japanese Tea Ceremony - Tokyo, Japan

How many of us could say they've been dressed up in an authentic Kimono and served authentic green tea by actual Japanese tea masters in Japan? I had such a fun time feeling like Mulan while I was being dressed, and I was so impressed by how delicate and graceful the whole ceremony was. 

Please bring honor to us... Please bring honor to us...

The Japanese Tea Ceremony, I felt, was an exact representation of Japan: Traditional, simple, beautiful. I was so sad to get out of that Kimono, but will always be grateful for the time I spent wearing it, drinking this wonderful tea.

3. The Wall At Gubbio - Perugia, Italy

While I was volunteering at a small, posh, bed and breakfast in Umbertide, I had made a special friendship with 2 of my fellow volunteers - Eduardo and Riccardo. On one beautiful, sunny day, our hosts gave us their car for the day to explore and enjoy our time off. We ventured out into a small walled city, Gubbio, and just hung out and spent the entire day there. We stopped walking for a bit to take a break, and we sat - literally on the wall of Gubbio, overlooking  the beautiful country, and basking in the sun.

The three of us spoke about how similar our stories were... quitting our jobs to explore the world and explore ourselves... Trying to find our bliss. Eventually all our hearty chatter turned into transcended silence, as Riccardo played an Italian classical song, aptly called, "The Journey" on his phone.

Three strangers - turned good friends - on an old historic wall overlooking a field in the blazing sun- right smack in the middle of nowhere, Italy - enjoying life and each other's company. It was then that I realized how content I was with who I am, and with where I was at that point in my life. I was just there, completely present, and insanely happy. It was - the very definition, of feeling infinite.

Eduardo, Eartha, Riccardo = Love

To this day - I think about that wall and remember... that that feeling is what everyone should be able to experience, at least once in their lives. And I will forever be grateful that I did.

(*Editor's Note: My article - "Finding My Bliss In Italy" is still one of my favorite blog posts. It's not as popular as the others, but it's one of the ones where the words truly flowed from my heart)

4. The North Island Road Trip - North Island, New Zealand

At the first leg of my trip, going around New Zealand was the first time I was actually completely alone.  I had rented a car to drive a completely foreign land, all by myself, on a right hand drive car (read: completely opposite of what I'm used to). This experience was special because this is when I truly felt like I was out of my comfort zone. I was scared, yes... But I think this was also when I found real courage.
I drove through a high and dark mountain during a hail storm in a tiny car, literally thinking - "I could die here, right now..." but being okay with it, because I was just ape-shit happy I was out in the world, doing what I really wanted to do... Instead of being stuck in a cubicle. And I was in New Freaking Zealand... I just had laser eye surgery a couple months prior, and my eyesight was just beginning to heal. I remember thinking that everything started to look like it was in high definition, which even heightened my experience further. The country is just so devastatingly beautiful, I was constantly out of breath, even if my jaw was on the floor from awe the whole time.

YES. This is a photo I took after the freaking Hail Storm! I know, right?

I was so in tune with the Universe, I kept feeling like I just knew I was on the right path. It was amazing... and I can't wait to go back to explore the South Island the second time around.

5. Impromptu Snowboarding in Sierra Nevada - Granada, Spain

I was in Granada and I had no idea there was even snow! When I found out that Sierra Nevada was basically not even an hour away from the hostel I was staying - I was determined to snowboard up there, no matter what!

And so at dinner in the common area of the hostel - I announced to anyone who would listen that I was going Snowboarding in Sierra Nevada the next day, and asked if anyone was interested in going with me. One of the girls who just arrived said - "I'd go! I just don't know how..."
"Well..." I said, happily... "I happen to be a very good trainer! Buy me a drink and we're even?"
"Done deal," she said! And off we went!I love it when things like these work out... It was almost too easy :)

It was so beautiful up in the mountains, she turned out to be such a great student, super fast learner, and after about an hour of training in the Bunny Slope - she was up there with me doing Black Diamond runs! Ah-may-zing!

This was a completely unplanned event, we had a wonderful time, came back to the hostel exhausted but soooo satisfied.

I love this experience because it was totally unexpected, unplanned, but completely worked out - like they always do in the end. It was nice to have a little break from the whole backpacking trail and venture out into the snowy mountains just to have fun.

6. The Scottish Highlands Bus Tour - Scotland

I've always said that Scotland is my favorite country in the world. After this tour - I basically sealed that statement forever, locked it down, and threw away the key. I am obsessed with this country! The MacBackpackers Bus Tour we had was made epic by our tour guide, Graeme... A kilt-wearing true blue Scot, whose heritage runs deep in his veins. He had stories and fables and legends for days... His passion flowed through his words - made me want to pledge my allegiance to Scotland and take a knee!

Castles and Mountains and Glens and Faeries and Rivers and more Castles. It was like a fairy tale come to life - with amazing tour mates to boot!
I love Scotland forever!

7. Ayahuasca - Cusco, Peru

Of course, Ayahuasca. My mind-altering hallucinogenic encounter with Pacha Mama. I went to Cusco to take a 3 day Ayahuasca retreat to go through this intense experience, in the hopes of achieving clarity... To know what to do with my life as my round the world journey was coming to a close.

Because of this, I've known what it's like to die and be reborn. I've been put in touch with the universe and my own divinity, and everything... EVERYTHING became clear after ingesting this drug or medicine or brew. It changed me completely... And once you've gone down this path of enlightenment - there's no going back.

It was because of Ayahuasca that I decided to take a leap of faith yet again, and move to Brazil. Apparently, it was something I knew I wanted all along - I just couldn't see it because of my fears. This is probably one of the most monumental and noteworthy things I've ever done - not just on this trip but in my entire life.

8. Volunteering in Huaycan - Lima, Peru

What really led me to Peru was the opportunity to volunteer at the organization called The Light And Leadership Initiative. As a volunteer, I taught English as an after school program to these underprivileged kids in the poorest section of Lima. I lived in a volunteer house with 11 others, the fiercest, most kind-hearted people I've met, right in the middle of the little Huaycan community.

It was just so rewarding, being allowed to be a part of this organization that helps out this much... And I was so excited to be able to contribute my skills and talent, to benefit these beautiful and sweetest children who were just so eager to learn. I fell in love with these kids, the organization, and the simple lives we all led back in Huaycan. Even if I was only there for a short while, the experience was so special, that Peru will always hold a soft spot in my heart. What an amazing organization - and how lucky am I to have been a part of it...

9. On Calling Brazil Home - Sao Paulo, Brazil

When I moved to Sao Paulo after my Ayahuasca "visions" told me to go back to Brazil, I didn't know what to expect. I was broke, running on credit, and had no idea what I was getting myself into. But the stars aligned right from the first day I got there. I was surrounded by good people, I found an apartment after 8 days, got hired by 3 different companies as a "Freelance" English teacher (read; Under the table), and acquired 4 private students. I knew I was there for a reason...

It wasn't without its struggles though... I had to learn a little Portuguese to get me by because people hardly spoke English. It was a little expensive over there that I was living from paycheck to paycheck. But what the hell... I was living in Brazil and I lived like a local! Ate their food (more like devoured), used their public transportation, tried to dance the samba, pretended I was interested in football, and towards the end - got mistaken for a local Brazilian! I've made it!

It was great to experience life in Sao Paulo. I felt like I truly blended in, was so blessed to be constantly surrounded by such bright lights - amazing people, literally friends that I will have for life, and I will always think of Brazil as one of my homes...

Surviving in Brazil was something I consider to be one of my greatest achievements. I had nothing when I got there... I completely relied on blind faith and pure determination that I was going to do my best to make it work - and it did. I worked my butt off, but also felt like something cosmic was helping make doors open for me. I was being guided (as I often felt like I was during this adventure) by an invisible force... And as incredibly cheesy as this may sound -- I really think that it was the force of love that made things so great for me. The Universe knew that I summoned all my courage to be there because I was following my heart.

It was in Brazil that I realized that what my friend, Maui, told me was true: I really DO bloom where I am planted. If I made it there, I can make it anywhere. :)

10. The Shanti House - Borzonasca, Italy

My short stint of volunteering at the Shanti House completely shaped my Italian experience. We had Italian guests (who are more friends than guests, really), Italian owners, an authentic Italian cook (with a moustache and a permanent cigar on his mouth), way up in the mountains in the small little village of Borzonasca, away from civilization. Seeerrriously... can't it get any more Italian than that!?

It was my first volunteer experience via Help Exchange - and is probably the best, too. So many things happened at the Shanti House, from discovering my inner Italian, to being featured in a documentary, to having a little Italian romance, to being a part of this huge Italian family (who, to this day, still asks me to go back there).

When I think of Italy, I think of the Shanti, and our many nights filled with food, wine, cheese, great music, friendship, passion and love.

Italy is not Rome or Venice or Florence. 
Italy is a very small little commune in the northwestern part of the country, in the province of Genoa, up in the region of Liguria. Where the earth is lush and the wind is fresh... The heart of Italy is in the Shanti... and my heart will always be with them.


That's 10! It has been such an awesome journey... And it's exciting to think that there's so much more to look forward to. 

I really wanted to add a lot more to this list... But I guess that's the beauty of keeping this website running... You can always just poke around my blog archive and see for yourself.... Then you can let me know which stories you liked best. :)

I realized I've frequently been looking back on the stuff that I've done in the past... My glory days, so to speak... I think maybe it's time to start talking more about the things I have been up to as of late...

Until next week :)