Culture

The time I took ten students to the war-torn region of Kashmir and they loved it

The time I took ten students to the war-torn region of Kashmir and they loved it

Have you ever been on a trip that you knew was so special: every detail seemed divinely delivered, every moment one to journal about, every vision worthy of an Instagram? This was the sentiment possessed by all involved in our trip. Lazy nights spent huddled around the fire were coupled with songs or thoughtful talks about travel. Even in moments where the students were out of their element, up before dawn, freezing, or pushed to their physical limits on hikes, they were still so engaged. The usual shyness of students in need of filtering questions through their teachers to the guides dissolved after a half hour on the ground. The students loved Ashika.

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A journey back to north India, a mind running in place

Though my steam was running low by the end, the students and I agreed that the trip was a bit of a mental recharge to engage with where we were living. I spent many hours chatting with the students about their upcoming first graduation ceremony, gender inequality in India, and traveling solo as a female around the world. I pretended to be a guru in a cave on the train, accepting students into my lair (joining me in my double seat) for questions about life and happiness. My answers were usually, "Write about it!"

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After three weeks in India, I finally feel like I'm traveling.

After three weeks in India, I finally feel like I'm traveling.

Flickers of lightning are faint but always to the left of my aim toward the horizon. They provide an additional layer of drama to my nighttime ride home from the city of Hyderabad. I booked a taxi with the help of a Hindi-speaking friend, someone whom I quickly and liberally offered my trust purely on the grounds of intuition. Hair still wrapped from a previous motorbike ride, I hope it helps me evade any potential disturbance I've been warned about, regardless of how secure I feel with being in a taxi at 8pm in the countryside. My iPhone low in my lap, I text my new friend to say that my limited Hindi and our common ground of "right, left, and straight" have brought me back to where I'm living for the next four months.

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Photoblog: Sundays in Buenos Aires make the whole week

Photoblog: Sundays in Buenos Aires make the whole week

For over a month, I've been sinking my claws into Buenos Aires, Argentina. Within the first two weeks, I found an apartment with a new roommate/co-worker in the beautifully-located barrio called Recoleta. Its coordinates in the city as well as decor and baller terrace(s) cause me to internally chant: I'm not worthy!

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Adios, America. It's time for new places and fresh air.

Adios, America. It's time for new places and fresh air.

It's time to navigate away from Indiana again. The school year is starting, and I'm about to move to a country I've never visited. Come Tuesday, I will have some new students, new co-workers, a new home with someone else's furniture, and a new culture to study...thankfully in a language I'm already comfortable with. Last year's school locations of Ecuador, Thailand, and Germany look to be replaced by some diverse locales, all brought to you by the letter "B".

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My global kids romp through four countries in five days

My global kids romp through four countries in five days

Some of my students called it "the best five days of their lives." That kind of statement carries a good load coming from kids who visited the Galápagos, the Amazon rainforest, and the Bavarian Alps this year alone. At the end of the academic year, my students were given the great opportunity by the school to live out their own Amazing Race through Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Austria.

I went along for the ride.

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Photoblog: Details of the hipster haven that is Berlin

Photoblog: Details of the hipster haven that is Berlin

Ten days ago, I descended into a brisk, foggy day at TXL, equipped with a new currency, my crusty old travel backpack, and a vague awareness of my new home's coordinates. In the time since my arrival, I've gotten familiar with the suburb of Kleinmachnow and explored my neighborhood on foot. Yesterday was my first wander around downtown Berlin, camera in hand. I've started my three-month exploration of the city at a popular hub, roughly the Williamsburg of Berlin: Rosenthaler Platz. Here are just a few moments.

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One meal inspires three months of memories in Thailand

One meal inspires three months of memories in Thailand

I keep mentioning to our students that this phenomenon occurs constantly, with no warning, regarding foods, flavors, experiences, and beyond. All of a sudden, we're okay with what we formerly weren't (and of course, the opposite is always possible). I'm inclined to believe these mini-epiphanies are more perceptible on the road where they can be constantly questioned.

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Video of the Week: World Traveler Intern Highlights

One of my least favorite questions to answer is "What was your favorite part?" Slimming down a trip into the best moments leaves out all the thrills in between and the trip's entirety as a journey, which amplifies the highlights even more. The experience of the World Traveler Internship had an obvious highlight for me: the job itself. Going back to my room at night to write a blog or make a video was fulfilling and affirmed my desire to be a travel writer.

Oh, but if I must tell you what was fun, here are some highlights from Australia, East Africa, India, South Africa, and Fiji.

Video of the Week: Ireland on a Budget

Stay in hostels with free internet. Buy food to cook in the kitchen. Save your money for the pints of Guinness and ice cream you know you want. Occasionally have a pub meal, but remember all the things you can buy with a 20 Euro restaurant bill. And always be on the look-out for fun, free cultural activities that will make you feel like you're seizing the moment. To read my Ireland blogs, click here.

The Love of the Irish

The Irish don't mind frigid waters

The Irish don't mind frigid waters

I once loved Lucky Charms cereal. Back in the day, my mom would only purchase whole grain, non-sugary cereals for our morning bowls, so I would pounce at the chance to grab that box packed with clover and rainbow marshmallows at friend's houses. That leprechaun really hypnotized me with his marketing schpeal. They really were magically delicious. I realized not too long ago that the little leprechaun was the extent of my exposure to Irish culture, that is until I met some real Irishmen (and women) in the traveling community. Thank goodness, because I now find the consistency of the mallows to be rather putrid, and you'd hate to be turned off a country based on a non-authentic food association.

Some white-water kayakers chasing the rapids of the Nile in Uganda. A RTW-er taking a break from overlanding on the beaches of Zanzibar. A woman enjoying some time off while jetting across India. If I were to list all the amazing Irish people I've met in various circumstances, my brain would spin and hurl from overuse. The Irish get out there, and not only are they lovers of fun but make for great friends on the road. As a whole, they're immediately welcoming and seem to understand the comforts and personalities of others quite easily. And when you spend a lot of time away from home, loneliness is often a part of your daily emotional load...that is, unless there are some Irish around.

It wouldn't matter to me what time of year I visit Ireland or what activities I take part in; I would travel to Ireland just to be around the humor and mindset of the people who live there. Sitting in an empty pub, having a pint at the bar, and chatting with the bartender sounds fantastic to me. Falling into a conversation with the man next to me on the bus would probably leave me smiling. And we're darn lucky to be right across the pond from these guys, making it easier to pop on over for a quick break from work to be around a new culture that's impossible not to love.

It wouldn't matter to me what time of year I visit Ireland or what activities I take part in; I would travel to Ireland just to be around the humor and mindset of the people who live there. Sitting in an empty pub, having a pint at the bar, and chatting with the bartender sounds fantastic to me. Falling into a conversation with the man next to me on the bus would probably leave me smiling.

Wild and Sexy Scotland: Day 68

Loch the shape of Scotland

We bolted for the Highlands. There was no stopping us. The bright yellow tour bus resembled the Coors Light Silver Bullet Train in my mind as it streamed like a beast across very green and steadily growing hills. When there was a need to stretch the legs, we stopped in a town that brings to mind the adjectives quaint, cute, and colorful. When our bellies grumbled, pubs and cafes appeared , and never did we leave the big yellow bus door without multiple recommendations for the best food to be had or the best church to be seen. On the bus, it was always learning time. If I were to pack in the amount of knowledge our guide Kyle had about Scotland into my head, surely geometry equations and verb conjugations would shove out my ears. Basically, his brain overfloweth with Scottish facts. He told stories, recounted mythical tales, and even played DJ by orchestrating an eclectic and authentic Scottish playlist. Bus time was never wasted time.

As the landscape got cooler, we began the side trips. The Battle of Culloden was apparently one that determined the fate of our future countries and cultures. Kyle explained the brutal slaughtering of the Jacobites as we stood on the very soil that soaked up the puddling blood. You can do nothing else in such a spirit-filled presence but wander solemnly and imagine mass fatalities occurring on this, currently, luminous land. Eerie.

After having a little cultural reenactment by a traditional Scottish clansmen (man, those clothes must have smelt rugged), Kyle made it possible to take an optional boat ride on the Loch Ness. We boarded as skeptics, thinking we were only there for the scenery and to joke about water monsters, but I returned to solid ground with squinting eyes and an odd sensation that I believed what the sailor aboard was telling us. There really may be a monster, or perhaps 18, in the Loch Ness. There's some pretty eerie "proof" circulating on the down low.

Day two pleased me to no end. The castle from the movie Entrapment?! Get outta town! We walked around what was once majestic, then terrorized and knocked to the ground, and is now rebuilt to its original splendor. Eilean Donan Castle is one famous little stack of rocks at the merging of three lakes, and I oggled the rooftop, trying to envision Sean Connery dropping his whiskey glass into the swampy abyss.

And with a subsequent visit to the Isle of Skye, I was then rocked by colors: slate blue ocean, yellow-green hills, pale blue skies, grey and mossy stones of yore. This day reminded me I see the Highlands permanently stuck in some medieval period, where stones are primary building materials, blood is shed in the most brutal way, and the oldest of English vocabulary is necessary for conversation (though Highlanders usually only spoke Gaelic). It's funny to think where we get these ideas, to suspend a culture in a time we never really knew or witnessed firsthand. I guess Scotland lends to it with the preservation of its medieval castles (as does Florence with the Renaissance architecture or my grandma with her 70s style furniture). We all reminisce about the good 'ol days, I guess.

I was never untouched by the view out the window. The soil of the hills held stories I'd cringe hearing, and the clouds were ever-present to keep the landscape new and changing. Glencoe was no exception to the beautiful Highland rule: this spot on the Earth is towering and begging to be hiked. And when a leisurely drive around the open land brings you past cows with teenage boy hair, you can't help but think the Highlands are hilarious. One may even call them Wild and Sexy.

Why it will be a while for India: Day 28/29

Indian man at the temple

Imagine an alternate universe that’s accessible by easy flight. A Mars or Twilight Zone with roaming holy cows, instant disease upon the consumption of food, toilets seemingly nonexistent, and pimped out buses roaming the streets. And imagine this place has so much of great appeal: colors, spices, drinks, music, dancing, people, animals, mountains, beaches, and this list fails to find its end. The journey is costly, but the destination is not. And it is nearly impossible to find a side of this culture bland…in any way. India is a place for me to find beauty, tragedy, and examine what is “necessary”. Many destinations make sense to the Western mind (I was instantly down with African and South America), but India for many leaves us cowering or flailing or blinking our eyes repeatedly, trying to figure out, “Why?! Wah-wa-wah-WHY?!” This shock to the system is harsh and often welcomed enthusiastically by travelers jones’ing for something refreshing.

This is one of the reasons why I won’t be coming back to India for a while. I have to preserve the Subcontinent as something unknown and confusing, keep it in mind as a throbbing, spazing, flowing, technicolored fantasy world that is possible to traverse and experience in reality. To be all knowing about the ways of India, I fear, would be to take the mystery out of this world. It’s the constant quest for knowledge with the joys of an infinite library.

I spent my last days in India hanging out in the ‘hood of Pahar Ganj among the novices, the immigrants, the locals, the travelers who never left, the familial frequenters who find the area comforting…and I knew I wasn’t any of them. I had my friends and the necessary haggling skills. I was stained by henna and dirt, sweating from every pore. My physical presence was in Delhi; my soul was not.

This is not a place for me to be but to remember like a past life and wonder if it really was. And one day, when I make that fantasy ride back for whatever demanding purpose, I’ll be floored once again, uncomfortable, and in need of the necessary transformation to deal with the organized and beautiful chaos of India.

I brought my recently finished book to my friend’s shop and exchanged it for a beautiful, purple scarf; this wasn’t really customary, but I think they wanted to do me a favor. With a telling hug, I knew, as did India, that I’d be a while. On this endless path, I’m learning where I don’t belong, and through the eventual process of elimination, I’ll soon find where the chaos makes sense to me.

Feeling Balmy and Looking Skyward: Day 22

Chowing at the Sikh Temple

The extent of my knowledge on Sikhism stops at the turbans. That’s pretty sad, which is why putting on a headscarf, washing my feet, and walking up the steps to Bangla Sahib, the Sikh temple in Delhi, was an experience I happily embraced. Red, beautifully woven rugs covered the marble floor completely, and we slinked towards the back, attempting to be discreet, our backpacks bumping into shoulders and blocking the views of those behind us. Within seconds, we were offered a silver bowl filled with a brown, slick, floury, sugary substance that the man scooped into our open hands. It was an offering to be consumed. It wasn’t half bad. Every once in a while, I feel unwelcome and bothersome when checking out a foreign religion, thinking they find this intrusion either disrespectful or amusing and certain that I’m breaking about twenty-nine rules of their godly law. Fortunately, the practicing Sikhs in the room didn’t seem to really care we were there. It could have been over-exposure and the fact that they get lots of tourists following their motions every day. Whatever the case, I basked in the breeze of a hundred ceiling fans and enjoyed the peace of the room that overcame the chaos of the city outside. I couldn’t understand a thing, but being among so many calm presences was satisfying.

A little volunteering of your time in the temple’s kitchen scores you a free meal of lentils, vegetables, flatbread, and other goodies from the Sikhs. And so, we enjoyed. With full bellies and soggy fingers, we then headed to the massive mosque adorning Delhi’s skyline: Jama Masjid.

It was at this religious destination that we felt we were wrong for being there. It was our bad for hanging out in the open prayer area, but the stares were ceaseless and intense. A thick line between them and us was evident. The architecture was imposing and magnificent but hard to appreciate when hawkers nearby were more interested in making us pay for various services and goods than letting us be a part of the moment. And it’s probably necessary to add the heat of the day made us ever-so sticky, which isn’t conducive to a positive attitude towards being a spectacle. But we remained there, with our borrowed coverings billowing in the subtle breeze, hoping to reap from this monument a feeling of awe. If I had any visceral knowledge of Islam at all, I’m sure it would have been a moving experience. I’m not putting Sikhism vs. Islam here, as I really love both followers, but these were two very different experiences and ones I found amusing as an onlooker.

India, Shock with Awe: Day 20

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The last time I left India, just eight months ago, I related the effect the country had on me to a scruffy, irritating, acidic kiss from which I recoiled…and then later longed for. As the horns screamed around our taxi from the airport, I turned to Chris and said, “Home Sweet Home.” He nodded.

This place, upon first impact, is not exactly this easy to embrace and appreciate. In fact, the heat radiating from every passing vehicle and the sun was blistering. Dust already covered my face. The passing vistas revealed some atrocious living conditions, but having already been here on a combined three trips, we were aware of what to expect and how things work in the Subcontinent.

I asked Chris, “If this were your first time in India, what do you think you’d be in shock of right now?”

From this started a sporadic conversation of things that described the crazy differences between our American understandings and the realities of India.

  • The modes of transportation spanning from cars, bikes, and auto rickshaws to camels, horses, and the occasional very hot elephant.

  • The near absence of road rules and the organized chaos of traffic flow.

  • The smog that covers the entire city and reflects back in the eye as blinding light.

  • The smell: a mix of feces, incense, flowers, chicken coups, dirt, trash, spices, delicious food, bonfires, and a few other things indiscernible.

  • The brightly colored sarees, Sikh turbans, and fully covering clothing in +40 degree Celsius heat.

  • The red, rotting teeth edging most open mouths.

  • The roughly one inch space between our taxi and all vehicles surrounding ours while moving at 40mph.

How is a place so rough to our senses so lovable?

India. Over one billion people can’t be wrong.

Why I’m coming back to Fiji

Why I’m coming back to Fiji

Yes, people are wonderful all over the world, and we often forget how helpful and open those we meet in transit can be. But there’s something about the Fijian mindset and attitude that makes your heart long to weave fern mats for your home on stilts and play a muddy game of rugby with your village mates during a golden sunset.

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Back to Sugar City: Day 11

Driving by First Sunrise in Fiji

At 4am, I arose to pack my bags over a sleeping six year-old. At 5am, I pulled my bags onto the billiard table and waiting for the call to the carrier. At 6:30am the mosquitoes claimed victory over my right leg as we crawled up into the carrier, which would take all the volunteers and a scattering of locals down the mountains into the city of Sinatoka. We waved goodbye to some sleepy and sad faces. The village was in our wake. When we hit asphalt, I pulled my Blackberry out so fast, I nearly elbowed the girl next to me. One week without internet made Lindsay an anxious girl. How sad. But once we boarded the bus to Lautoka in the city, I peeled myself away from facebook notifications and twitter updates to hang with Abel in the back, listening to my iPod and his favorite song on repeat (My heart will go on by Celine Dion...seriously). The speedbumps sent us flying into the air and crashing down with a back crack and big laughter. The open windows threw my hair around in a frenzy. And the views never let up from being awe-inspiring.

After a week of sharing kava bowls and receiving a rough nutritional spread, I acquired my first WTI travel bug...and not the good kind. I didn't feel much like hitting the bar hard with the other travelers, and instead Abel invited me to hang with him at his brother's house in the city (since Abel came back with us to work for his future school fees for two months).

Brother Elia's house shook from the little pounding feet of two children, Kenny and Faresa, both male, cheeky, and energy-packed. While dinner cooked in the kitchen, I received playful slaps from the two year-old, Kenny, that got me right in the kisser. He had a face smeared with his earlier dinner, and a laugh that meant mischief and ulterior motives. He was, in a word...hilarious.

Abel and I ate together a meal of noodle soup, village taro, and pig skin, and because of my subtle uncertainty with devouring slippery, jiggly pig, Abel sensed I was disgusted and began to beat himself up. He spoke only one or two words during dinner and nearly cried for being a bad host. I felt awful that I couldn't scoop the pig skin into my mouth feverishly, which would have been the only thing that would ease his worries, but I reassured him over and over that I loved the meal...I was just not as hungry as he was. Those from the villages in Fiji have such an innate desire to care for you, and when Abel thought I wasn't receiving a meal up to my normal standards of apparently royal feasts, he grew upset with himself. Had he only known how happy I was to still be soaking up village culture and company, he wouldn't have felt so sad.

The long meal drew to an end, and Abel went outside with his brother to pound some fresh kava for a small savusavu, or welcoming ceremony into the new household. Meanwhile, I created games that broke through the firm language barrier by making sounds with my mouth, creating rhythms of slaps and punches in the air to be repeated, mainly just doing anything that would entertain two kids who would quickly turn to violence if bored.

Abel and Elia welcomed me into their Lautoka home, and after a few bowls, I lounged by the mother of the household to gab about the boys. Her abilities to predict their next moves and behaviors was stunning.

"Next they are going to play a slow love song and start blinking for longer periods of time. That's the difference between men and women kava drinkers: we throw on the party tunes and gab while the men want to wallow in sweet songs and fall asleep. We're more fun."

As the rest of the Madventures group was bouncing around Ed's Bar, I was glad to know I was still connected with the village I just left behind. It made sense to be there, and it was yet another moment I cherished in the moment and beyond.