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Globe-Trotter

I live in a world of possibilities and you know what? You do too. No matter how frugal you must be, the hours you have to work and how many hostel bunk beds or couches you crash on to get there... globe-trotting is a reality for those who truly pine to. It's about desire and choice

If travel is what you seek, I sure hope travel is what you do.

Read on for stories of adventure, smiles, fear and friendship. Tips on where to catch dinner, grab a beer or have a traditional Kitenge made can also be found. Blog posts are from past, current and future excursions. 

Travel on, my friends.

Paddling Between Rwanda and the DRC

After visiting many heart-wrenching genocide memorials upon the grounds in which this unfathomable amount of life was lost, our student group spent a weekend on Lake Kivu. Three friends LauraJeremyJoel) and myself impulsively rented a canoe from our lodge for a short day trip. We didn't connect with our academic directors because the plan was to return long before dinner. Breathtakingly spread before us.. were layers of forested hills and various sized islands, all surrounded by the brilliant blue waters of Lake Kivu. As we set off, the destination was quickly and unanimously chosen. The biggest of these distant islands of course.

We switched on and off with the tiresome rowing, enthralled with our mission to reach this unknown and ¿uninhabited? island. Almost three hours into the trip, we snapped back in tune with the sun's position, realizing we weren't going to make it back before sundown. Yikes! Buuuuuut, why turn around now? We had largely misjudged how far off this island actually was. Determined, we agreed to press on and at least reach our goal.

Photo taken when our student group first arrived & were touring our lodging. This was long before I knew we'd journey to that distant island!

Photo taken when our student group first arrived & were touring our lodging. This was long before I knew we'd journey to that distant island!

 

We arrived just before the sun's descent. It was a mighty tall island, indeed. I don't blame my comrades for wanting to quickly climb the steep and thickly vegetated land, but due to a previously dislocated knee cap (another African adventure)... I was unable to join. As they began scaling, immediately disappearing into the brush, I was alone. The waters were safe to swim in near the lodge, but here we were 3 hours "out to sea" in the middle of a huge lake bordering Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Was I really just going to sit on a log and wait for them to return?

Fuck it. I stripped down and swam out from the Island's edge. Floating on my back, weightless, I began to see a large flock of "birds" come around the Island's top edge toward me. How beautiful, I thought. I lay there, the sky turning lovely shades of orange as the mass of flying beings kept growing and growing- still headed my way. Then it hit me. These weren't birds, they were... bats. My smile grew enormous at this realization, as they were almost upon me now. Thousands upon thousands of bats flew over me, some just a couple feet above my floating body. Incredible. No words can describe. Even in my comparable size, I was so small. I was nothing to them. A stranger, floating in the waters of their home. Simply a witness of their nightly flight.. soaking it all in. I was alone, but felt so undeniably connected to something much greater than myself.

Several minutes later my friends began emerging from the forest. The bats had passed and all I could share with them was a quick dip and this story. But something about that moment forever changed me. It inspired a connectedness with life and nature that I'm not sure if I have ever experienced in quite the same way. I had never felt so in tune.. So alive. (This touches on the meaning behind my African tattoo a bit-- "Ibuka" meaning "remember").

Someone was smart enough to bring their phone.. so the dreaded call was made to our academic directors.. telling them we were undoubtedly going to miss dinner due to our current location in the middle of the lake. Whoops. They freeaked out and wondered how in the hell we were going to make it back without light. But, the stars and moon were our light. I remember feeling so safe. Not far into our journey back, someone (I think it was Jeremy) had us all turn around... to witness the red glowing top of a volcano.

Is this real? Yes, yes it is. Life sure is beautiful.

Traveling Can Change it All

American students learning to weave Peace Baskets in Rwanda. 2009.

If you let it, that is. Traveling is stimulating. When the traditional work grind is interrupted and a trip is embarked upon solely for pleasure, beautiful things begin to happen within. Feelings of pure freedom set in; freedom from everyday chores and routines. Travel liberates our souls and opens our minds to a whole world of possibilities. Journeying through life with an open heart and the desire to learn and connect with one another, allows for a vastness of beautiful diversities to be discovered. At the same time, travel also reveals an astounding interconnectedness among people. Freely flowing through a land of unknowns, a realization of our innate adaptability should be acknowledged and appreciated. Every single person has desires, hopes, dreams, fears, pain and joy. But how differently are we taught to deal with these emotions and what hardships have others faced in order to see the world as they do? Travel. And watch, as your own beliefs are questioned and your perception alters. This is when our view on how to live begins making more sense. 

As powerful and life changing as travel can be, not everyone sees vacation time in this light. When on holiday, some wish only to shop ‘til they drop, remain on resort property, or have their photo taken while “holding” the tip of the Eiffel Tower. Others want to see and explore new lands with eyes wide open, absorbing every hilarious and uncomfortable feeling, embracing the unavoidable awkward moments and every cultural difference encountered. Our senses are heightened when exploring unfamiliar places, and to many, that feeling of being completely out of ones element is the absolutely exhilarating part.

Hiking to the Gorner Gorge, Zermatt, Switzerland. 2015.

Getting the most out of travel is all about seeking a relationship with both the land and the people. After climbing straight up a mountain for nearly four hours, there’s a humbling sensation of getting to know that particular mountain range’s terrain and the sheer enormity of it all. Riding in a cable car up to the same plateau or peak simply isn't comparable to the triumphant feeling of finally reaching by hand and foot. It's just so off when you see a girl in a short skirt and high heels being photographed in a remote and rugged region, a glorious natural wonder surrounding her. We automatically ask ourselves, where in the heck did she come from? It's not that I wouldn't take a cable car to a mountaintop, because I definitely would. But, there’s something to be noted about the voyage itself and its role in an overall experience.

The absorption of culture and natural beauty can be incredible, if you allow it. A home cooked meal with a native family or a night out with a group of locals, and the conversations that ensue, may become some of the greatest experiences over a foreigner’s journey. If the realization has never quite sunk in, you are the foreigner when you travel. The locals, speaking their native tongue are not foreign, you are. Learn traditional practices and attempt as much of the language as you can. Not only is it respectful, but can also open many doors and aid in building lifelong memories and friendships.

Give and give off what you wish to receive and the good vibes and great times will come back to you, guaranteed. Meander outside the zone of comfort. Get a little lost. Safely lost. When a traveler is open and eager to learn, they’re bound to see our world in a new, stunning light.

Riding in an auto through Agra, Rajasthan. 2011.

Despite language barriers... love, compassion and gratitude translate wonderfully.  Good travelers build relationships along the way, leaving permanent impressions in the heart. If not immediately recognized, as it rarely is, these impressions change us. 

Open-minded individuals who expose themselves to unfamiliar surroundings and situations return wiser than before. Truly delving into a foreign culture and staying long enough to get comfortable is the key. Life is like a treasure hunt of experiences. We’re searching for simple slivers and priceless fragments of a ginormous and ever-changing picture. The world and all its abundant gems are mind-blowingly beautiful. If given the opportunity to really get out there and see a portion of it, don’t even hesitate. Just do it! And do it right. You won’t ever regret it.

Observations From an Outsider in Switzerland

Sitting with strangers while eating out is common when no empty tables are available. We experienced this in Chur.

Kiss 3 times on the cheek when meeting/greeting each other.

Soft pretzels, aka Bretzels, are a staple. They're everywhere. Bread, in general, too. Delicious fresh baked rolls are even found in gas-station-like convenient stores.

Knowing 4-6 languages is average. There are German, French and Italian regions within Switzerland. And, of course their secretive Swiss-German language is spoken throughout. (;

When you order a cup of coffee, expect a 2 ounce pour (half a cup) with no free refills.

It's hard for Swiss people to meet other Swiss. Most are pretty closed off to their own friend-groups. Approaching a stranger in a bar is odd. In the club, men will dance with men and girls with girls.

Speaking of grooving, expect to have lots of space to dance freely. The Swiss definitely don't touch like Americans do.

Castles and castle ruins seem to be found everywhere. Take a rail throughout the country and you can play a game of I spy castles with your friends.

The Swiss are very proud of their country, as they should be. You'll find Swiss and regional flags waving in the wind all over.

They're extremely pedestrian friendly, here. Anywhere there's a walkway across the street- all traffic will stop to let pedestrians go first, at any time.

Their beautifully old architecture is so well preserved. You'll find a casino within a building that resembles a US state capital and a grocery store on the ground level of the most intricately ornate and colorful structure.

Public transport is the way to travel for locals. The rail system is incredible and so owning a car simply isn't necessary.

More to come!

Swiss Love

Talk to people. Wherever you go. It's pretty lovely how small the world becomes the more people you meet. Continual connections and newfound similarities with those from different backgrounds and unfamiliar lands proves our ability to relate and adapt.

We're three American chicks, who are now the adopted children of the most wonderful swiss family in the whole of the country. I'm sure of it. The adoption process may have been unofficial, but the love is real. Sarah met Manuele while he was traveling the states... and thank God for that. We couldn't feel any more fortunate this friendship was formed. Not even for the perk of a free place to live for a few days- which was amazing- especially when visiting one of the most expensive countries in the world. But the friendship! What an incredible guy with the most kind and welcoming family. He graciously invited us to multiple outings with friends who generously allowed us to experience a glimpse of an average day in their life. We truly couldn't feel any luckier for having the opportunity to meet such amazing people.

One of our favorite memories of Manuele was when we were having a beer on top of a castle in Schaffhausen. His phone rang and so a normal conversation ensued. Schuyler said, "He sounds SO Swiss German on the phone." And without hesitation or even eye contact, the most Americanized, "Fuck you" came from his mouth... and then his Swiss German conversation continued. At this point we already knew we were friends, but that "fuck you" solidified it. And fifteen minutes later... We hugged goodbye. Although, we wouldn't call it a goodbye because we insisted he meet us later in our travels. It was sad. What a guy.

Just before we left Zurich, our new Dad told us, "If you shout into the forest it will come back to you, so make sure you shout something beautiful... which you girls obviously do, which is why everyone has been so wonderful to you." He also gave us the sweetest book called The Little Prince to read together during the rest of our travels. It's a book about how our creative mind and our view of the world drastically change from childhood to adult life. Though we've only gotten through the first few chapters, it seems to teach the art of preserving these adolescent traits that are fundamental to experiencing a full and meaningful life. Simply amazing.

The interconnectedness of people from opposite sides of the planet is beautiful.

Travel. As much as you can. And don't forget to talk to be people! You never know who you might meet... and who may turn your life upside down. Or right side up.

Arriving in Switzerland... Or should I say France?

Remember me telling you about trusting your instincts? It's always worked for me. If Mom was reading this right now, I'd most definitely be contributing to some gray hairs, but all is well in France this morning! The beautifully singing birds woke us up in full force, long before dawn, which we can't even really complain about. After all, we've just begun a Euro-journey of a lifetime. Who needs sleep? And we can't blame it all on the birds. After being in transit for well over 24 hours, our internal clocks are completely upside down and adrenaline is pumping through our veins. Oh, to be alive... in France! Did I mention that already?

My two lovely American friends happened to sit next to Alvin, a friendly German man who, up until the plane landed, hadn't spoken to them at all. I suppose their foreignness poured out through their midwestern accents because, lucky us, he asked what they were doing in Switzerland and where we were staying. That lead to his reply, "Hm. I think that hotel is in France." ...What? France? Here we were in Geneva, Switzerland, close to the border, but definitely not aware the hotel Sarah booked was in another country! Swiss transport wouldn't take us across the border and the hotel's airport shuttle was no longer running for the night. We quickly and easily discovered all this information because Alvin kindly let us use his phone. Upon receiving this news and seeing the slight panic in their eyes, he offered to give us a ride, as it was only twenty minutes away by car. Many might read this and immediately call us naive and far too trusting, but you simply had to be there to understand. We could tell he was an honest and genuine person who truly didn't care whether we took him up on the offer or not. He was just being nice. And like he said, no one wants to start a vacation off with stress and so many unknowings.

So that was that. He plugged the hotel address into his GPS and in no time we reached our destination. He bid us happy travels and we promised to send him American beer and gifts for his generosity.

We talked about it later and reassured ourselves of the decision to go with him. He hadn't made one comment about our looks or age and didn't seem interested in us in that way, at all. Another big factor was that he wasn't pushy. His disinterest of whether we took him up on a friendly favor or chose to pay for a terribly expensive cab ride was important.

Of course you can't expect to read every situation perfectly all the time. We're human and we make mistakes... and a bad judgement call could be one of them. But this particular decision worked out for us. We said our goodbyes, so thankful to have met him.

Don't go into situations blindly trusting! Our guards are still up and we don't plan on taking just anyone up on a free ride. We know that bad people exist. But Alvin simply wasn't one of those people. A huge thanks to him and his generosity. We made it to the hotel just in time to cheers to Schuyler's birthday! What a way to start the trip.