Soothing, yet unsettling. Infinitely mysterious, vast, immense, however familiar. The sea rocks my dreams but also leads a main role in most of my childhood’s nightmares. It travels throughout the world bathing our souls and our bodies and our memories and our futures, and it never ends. It never ends.
The sea brings you to me and leads me towards you. Every time I immerse myself in it, you are there with me. However we choose to call it, the sea, is just the sea. Loving brave waters that heal minds and kill bodies and hold the ashes of those who will never return. The sea is life. The sea is love. The sea hides our fears and, sometimes, it makes our dreams come true. Sea, let me forever sail you.
Sitting on a borrowed window ceiling facing Broadway: everything’s shaking. Must be the subway passing under my building. Or maybe it’s me. But no, it can’t be. Because I feel such peace despite of the hundreds and hundreds of passers-by that walk, not at a slow pace, never at a slow pace, towards West Houston, towards Bond Street, towards Bleecker. That’s New York for me: an endless source of energy that most find stressful and some of us breath quietly while our hearts skip a bit. Or two.
Under my borrowed window ceiling I can see it all. I can grasp it all. The top of the biggest and most majestic buildings are within reach, so close; so unimpressed I am by them, yet so incredibly thrilled to be part of their history. Gigantic blind windows look at me and I look back at them trying to imagine what’s happening behind them. Trying to rebuild pieces of history, the pieces of the history that made of SoHo, my neighbourhood, what it is today.
Gentrification is the keyword. Some call it the SoHo effect. It started here, and it expanded all over the city and out of the limits of the island, reaching Brooklyn, reaching Williamsburg, reaching the world. Or maybe not yet.
First came the workers. Then came the artists. And the junkies. And the filth. And the decadence. And the 70s and the 80s opened those windows, those incredibly huge windows for the world to see them. And the Bohemians lit, photographed, painted, poemed and sang and made love to a million and one fire scape ladders.
Give way to the riches now.
Aliens and Nationals that don’t know better bump into each other on the turmoil that’s Broadway while the savvy navigate the little streets and get lost in their beauty. A bit tainted, true, but somehow immaculate in the perception of the those who have a soul.
Superficial as it is, tacky is it can be, loud as it shouldn’t be, appreciated for the wrong reasons, SoHo can be, IS, a refuge for the tormented souls and the appreciative types. And I know, I know the best corners to observe it without being pushed into the follies and the simpleness engraved on the asphalt, on the shop windows, in the models and the actors and the megalomaniacs and the mythomaniacs.
I know SoHo. SoHo knows me. And we miss each other.
New York is my impossible love. The most attractive, magnetic, mesmerizing yet toxic of the loves I’ve had. The one who excites me the most, the one who makes me suffer the most. The incessant liar, the constant soul-batterer. The most interesting, the funniest. The one who makes me cry the most; the one who makes me laugh the most. The one I never manage to forget no matter how hard I try. The one I always used to go back to whenever I was clueless. And the one I always end up running away from. Supposedly forever, each and every time.
Málaga is my steady love. It is the kind of mature, safe love that doesn’t quite manage to stir my soul, but that succeeds in giving me peace. Málaga is the protector, the provider. It never disappoints me, it never hurts me, it never tells me lies. It doesn’t give me much in terms of adventure, passion or liveliness. It is not gale, but gentle breeze. Málaga is bliss. A golden cage of soothing waters and healing suns. It is always there for me no matter what.
And Madrid… Forever on the borderline between familiar and stimulating. Always in the reserve. Waiting for me to pick it, while I also wait, wait for it to pick me. But life always pulls us apart. Madrid is my remote love. Always my first choice when my other lovers fail me. Fascinating Madrid. The only one of my three loves that manages to make me feel strangely at home, yet incredibly full of vibrant energy. Madrid. Not impossible at all, but maybe just improbable for now.
And so, while I wait for life to push me into the arms of the one love I really want to be with, I keep dancing back and forth between my schizophrenic lover New York’s disproportionate appetite and Málaga’s humble security that keeps me anchored to the land, to reality, to my roots.
I have a ring that I always wear on my little finger. It’s worth nothing: my 12 year old nephew made it for me years ago, and for that sole reason, it’s my favorite accessory ever.
I’ve lost it a million times. But, so far, I have always managed to retrieve it. Always. And whenever I come across it in the bottom of my backpack, on the corner of a shelf, inside my toilet bag, on the basin, wrapped around my scarves or trapped in the lining of an old coat, I somehow feel complete again. Without it I’d feel naked, under construction, out of focus, unfinished.
I have a ring that I always wear on my little finger. Sometimes I even manage to wear it on my ring finger, though it doesn’t reach the end of the phalanx, but I like to wear it that way. I have lost it a million and one times. Actually, I don’t even know where it is right now. But I know I’ll find it again. I always do.
I met Blanca when we were both 4 years old, and we basically have been in each other lives since then through good and bad, happy and sad. And right now we are, as well as really good friends, temporary roommates. Until I move back to New York, that is. But as well as a great friendship, Blanca and I share something very important that makes our relationship even more significant than it already is, and that is our common passion for travels. Blanca is a flight attendant. So she travels. A lot. Which makes her, not only a really great roommate (because she is not here most of the time, ha!) but also a very interesting person.
Though she travels for work, it wasn’t until 2005, a difficult year for her, that she decided to take a trip completely on her own for the first time. “My sister got very ill with breast cancer, and I went to Thailand with a really good friend. I was depressed, I was very upset… After a few days together in Bangkok, my friend left to go to Sidney and I stayed in Thailand alone for about 10 days… I really needed to be on my own. I travel for work, but on that occasion I really wanted to do it alone because when I am away, I am on my own a lot, but it’s not the same as actually doing everything on your own: having to book hotels on your own and be on your own all the time. I loved it. I had a great time. I met loads of people. I traveled all around the country and it definitely helped me feel better.”
"I think I was always meant to travel" reflects Blanca after taking a sip of her latte "I come from a family where everyone travels. My eldest sister, for instance, has lived in Australia for almost twenty years and she has lived in many other countries as well. She’s always been a great inspiration for me. But not the only one. Traveling has always been a major thing in my nuclear family." "I am a very sociable person, so I really love meeting new people and hanging out with them" she carries on, "but there’s something special about being alone in a new city. The sense of freedom more than anything else, the opportunity to be whoever you want to be and do whatever you feel like doing… That is priceless… No strings attached with the place or the people you meet along the way whatsoever."
Meeting new people is definitely one of the perks of traveling on your own. But what about finding prospective love interests? “Love stories whilst on the road? There’s been a few…” recalls Blanca. “But there’s only one that’s been interesting. Anything else… well… there’s been a few.”
“I have lived in England and in Australia” continues Blanca reminiscing with a smile. “Living abroad is absolutely recommended. Every single person should, at some point in their lives, live in a country that’s not their own. And it’s even better if you don’t know the language or the culture is different to what you are used to. Learning a new language or learning to appreciate a new culture makes us richer, more complete.” Her face grows somber when I ask her if she ever felt insecure on a trip. “Only once” she recollects. “Funnily enough, it wasn’t in a third world country or anything like that but in England. I was staying at a friend’s flat, but he was in Scotland. He had a flatmate. I was in my room but my suitcase was downstairs. Suddenly I heard some noise and went to see what was happening. Then I saw this guy, my friend’s flatmate. He was very drunk and apparently hurt. He was bleeding badly, and I wanted to help him, but obviously didn’t want to touch him so I was looking for a pair of gloves while asking him if he wanted me to call an ambulance. He refused almost aggressively and started yelling at me. I then noticed he had a knife in his pocket. I freaked out and went outside, called the police, waited for them to get there, grabbed my stuff and checked in a hotel.”
A million and one great stories, she has. One of them includes two handsome hitchhikers in Calgary, Canada. “My Aussie friend Ali and I were cruising around. We had rented this massive car and were on our way to Lake Louise when we saw these two really cute guys who were hitchhiking. I was driving and it didn’t even cross my mind to stop, but Ali was like -come on, stop, they’re really cute!- So we stopped and picked them up. They sat on the back of the car and we were all speaking English but at some point I began feeling really uncomfortable and wished I could say something in Spanish to Ali but she wouldn’t have understood, of course. So I then began throwing puzzled looks at her. She must have picked up on what I was thinking because, after a while, she looked at the guys straight in their faces and asked them directly: -You are not going to kill us, are you?- We all ended up laughing about it and no one got hurt.”
Independent, positive and jovial, Blanca considers that traveling is, above all, “a means of freedom.” “I love going to places that I don’t know. I love getting lost in different cities. I love meeting different people. I love different cultures, different accents… Yeah, I love traveling. And there’s just not a single place in the world I wouldn’t go to. Because you never know. Take Bahrain, for instance. I remember the first time I had to go there for work: I wasn’t happy about going at all; I honestly thought I’d hate it. But you know what? I loved it. I had a great time there.”
Asked about where she’d be right now given the chance, she eagerly responds “Cape Town. Or Brazil!” And as for ideal travel companions, she coyly replies “you, of course!” (Why, thank you! :)) and, well… ideally ideally? Someone I were in love with. Hypothetically, that is!”
- Yes, we can overcome anything except death itself.
I had been dozing whilst reading on the beach, and this rather unwelcome conversation had trespassed its way into my dreams. It was taking place between a young mother and her son, who couldn’t have been more than seven years old, as they both collected shells along the seashore. The child’s rather sorrowful expression softened on hearing the words from his mother that, for now, there was nothing to worry about.
Now, as I make my way through New York’s financial district; walking the perimeter of Ground Zero, where seven years ago the Twin Towers stood tall, I am reminded of that same conversation that had awoken me with a start and had made me smile that day on the beach. Although now, there is little to smile about. If truth be told, I am not only thinking of the almost 3,000 people who lost their lives on that fateful 11th of September 2001. As I pay my last respects to all those men and women who went to work that sunny, late-summer day who had no way of knowing that those would be their last moments, I cannot help but think, too, of the first time I came to New York, some months before the terrorist attack. Still weighed down with all my luggage, fresh from the airport, he brought me, eyes covered, up to the bar on the highest floor of the South Tower. The sun was sinking and Downtown Manhattan lay before me shimmering, golden, inviting… This vision was nothing like my expectations of a raw, white, grey and black winter; of looming buildings peering out with suspicion and mistrust; of monstruous claustrophobia and vertigo-inducing concrete and glass forms. As I watched the night fall over a Manhattan bathed in gold and white, all of a sudden I saw her, looking back at us. From that height I could just make her out: a dot, a small speck of Pantone Green the size of a little tin soldier, in the middle of the river. The Statue of Liberty. The archetypal emblem of New York, the first vision that would have met the new arrivals from Europe; those immigrants arriving on the shores of the New World on ships in search of opportunity, with little more than a pocketful of dreams and a need to start again from scratch. At that very moment I decided, without realising it at the time, to begin a love affair with Manhattan and with the person who was standing by my side. My love for Manhattan has endured; the other fell away, as did the towers that witnessed its inception…
Lost somewhere along the self-indulgent lanes of melancholy, I end up, quite without realising it, on bustling Broadway. The city compels me to wake up, it throws me from the false idyll of the past; it pulls me, with a jolt, from a place that, to be honest, I would rather not have gone back to. Still rather bewildered, I notice that everything carries on as normal around me, as it did scarcely an hour ago. Irate drivers honk their horns, as if this would make all the other cars simply vanish; disorientated tourists, wrapped up in their huge maps, bump into lamp posts; brokers vociferate into mobile phones. Somewhere, from amidst all of the clamour, I hear the chirping of a bird. And then it comes to me: if we can overcome anything except for death - just as that wise mother had said to her son - we will, of course, never be able to replace the loss of all those people who fell victim to that horrific attack. But battered buildings and broken hearts? Yes, those things, we can overcome.
Note: This text was written some time ago after a stroll around the Ground Zero site. It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years already…
I went to San Francisco for the first time on July 2010 after a too good to be true stay in the wonderful city of Seattle. I have to admit that my first days in San Fran were a bit dull, probably because I was mentally comparing both cities, and they are nothing similar. But, as luck would have it, on my very last day in the Californian city, I met this wonderful Australian who made my visit more enjoyable than it had been up to then. Shame we didn’t meet before. Bianca is one of the travelers who you want to hang out with all the time. Not only she is positive and up for anything, but also fun and funny, independent and silent if there’s nothing important to say, talkative and enthusiastic if need be… It was truly sad not to be able to spend more time with her.
We had a conversation about traveling with friends as we were walking towards Sausalito on the Golden Gate, and she confessed that the first time she did so, it was a bit of a disappointment. “I travelled with a friend through Europe and didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would have. I think we weren’t good enough friends to travel together and so we didn’t know we weren’t that compatible together. I didn’t think I should compromise what I wanted especially since I’d work hard to afford the trip.” And that’s when she decided to start traveling on her own. ”I’ve always been happy in my own company I was really keen to see how I’d go on my own. I straight away loved it. I love that feeling of independence, of not having to negotiate with someone and base my wants around others who have different ideas about the trip. I feel so free and in complete control when I travel on my own and I love that I now know I can rely on myself and do it.”
As the optimistic and rational person I have the impression she is, Bianca goes through life with her feet on the ground and considers that every experience we go through, whether good or bad, always throws us something we can learn from. She is also the kind of person who tries to enjoy life fully, but never forgets that, when traveling solo, one always needs to be somewhat on the alert. “I’m a pretty stable person and studying a science degree I feel as though I’m getting better at making logical and practical decisions not ones based on whim or emotion.” ”Being safe is really second nature to me now” continues Bianca, “it’s part of my routine. I think if you’re a sensible person and you stay aware of your surroundings then there’s no reason you can’t be as comfortable as you are when at home.”
(Give me a minute here, I am taking good note of the “not making decisions based on whim or emotion” part.)
For the cheerful Australian, traveling on her own is simply pure bliss. “I feel empowered, independent, and ecstatically happy. I feel like I’m on a constant high while I’m travelling. My whole self feels lighter and I feel like I can’t help smiling the whole time I’m overseas.” She just learnt that she is going to spend 6 months in the USA as part of her studies programme, and she is beyond thrilled. “I have to admit it’s easier when there’s not a language barrier. In America I don’t feel like an ignorant tourist who doesn’t blend in.” So what happens after that? “After I finish my degree? We’ll see… I wouldn’t mind working overseas.” But for now: “travelling is my single main driving force in my life. Meeting new people, discovering new places and things so different from my world and having unimaginable experiences are priceless. I’ve never felt as good as I did when I am solo travelling. It gives me a hunger for life and I’m more motivated and enthusiastic when I come home. It refreshes and revives me and gives me a new outlook.”
As any good solo traveler, Bianca considers the experience as part of a reinvention process. “When travelling, there’s no one around from home that knows you and expects you to act in a certain way, you can be whoever you want when you’re abroad and there’s no one to explain yourself to. I don’t mean completely changing your personality but you can allow different facets of your personality to come through in different situations and this can be really invigorating.”
"Travelling has definitely made me more open-minded" concludes Bianca. "I enjoy seeing how other people in different cultures live and what is important in their lives. Even though I was raised in different settings on another side of the world, the fact that we all have things in common and are all living and working and trying to find happiness is pretty cool. I think travelling has to broaden your perspectives and your all experiences help you grow and change you for the better. (…) I am sure I was always meant to travel and travelling opened my mind to who I really was. It has given me energy and hunger for life and its experiences and as a result I’m happy with the person I am and are continuing to become. It has brought out my confidence and appreciation for life and I feel I become a better and better version of myself everytime I travel. (…) I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t travelled and I’m so glad I took that initial step that started this snowball of every trip getting better and better. The people, the places, the events have all contributed to me, left their mark on me and I couldn’t be more grateful or happy.”
I met Mareike on my second day in Chicago. We were both staying at the same hostel room and woke up to the sound of a Chinese woman crying loudly. Neither of us knew what was going on, and as sad as the scenario seemed, we ended up laughing about it over breakfast. It turned out she was just homesick, so no biggy there. In any case, Mareike and I went out to explore the wonderful city together along with the friends she had made at the hostel, and that, without a shadow of a doubt, made the experience far more enjoyable, if that’s even possible. Because by the time I met them, I was already in love with the city by the lake. It left me speechless. It leaves me speechless.
Coming from a family of architects, my love for beautiful constructions has always been there. There’s something magical about wandering around tall buildings, feeling cocooned by them. Rather than making me feel smaller, skyscrapers empower me, leaving me full of energy. But Chicago is not just Architecture. It is an astounding metropolis, magnificent and funky in equal parts. Full of really good cafés, great restaurants and unpretentious venues. It doesn’t quite blend with its surroundings: somehow it doesn’t seem to belong to the geographical spot it occupies; so foreign amongst the Midwestern cornfields.
Mareike loved Chicago too. She traveled to several US cities, but the Windy City was definitely a soft spot for her. Both for the wonderfulness of the place itself and for the people she met while exploring it. Traveling alone made her feel “SO free. Really free for the first time in my life. Just to get up and see what the day brings… that’s unique. I felt like an independent woman, and I felt I could achieve anything in life. Anything.” "It was the right time to travel for me" she recalls "I had been wanting to do something like this forever, and finally, last October, everything fell into place. Someone gave me the chance to do little interships in each one of the cities I was planning on visiting, so that was perfect!" Born and raised in Germany, where she works as a hairdresser, traveling around having the chance to intern in different salons meanwhile, was like a dream come true for the very friendly Mareike, who despite of the crush she was, little by little, developing on solo traveling, called her boyfriend every single morning. This trip "made me realize that I really want to marry him and have children with him… one day."
The main purpose of her trip was reinventing herself: “I had to decide in which direction I wanted my life to go, especially business-wise. I had quit my last job, had some savings, a boyfriend who supported my dreams and a strong feeling of wanderlust. For me, it was very important to do it on my own that time around.”
As for feeling insecure while on the road, Mareike claims to not have had major incidents. “Just this one time. I arrived in Providence and it was already dark. I had only about 12 dollars in my pocket, and my credit card wasn’t working, so I couldn’t pay the cab driver. My motel was in Massachusetts, and the driver wouldn’t budge for less than 30 bucks. So I checked on googlemaps and saw I could take a bus relatively nearby and walk about 3 miles to my motel, but I didn’t know where the bus stop was, and I didn’t want to ask anyone and make obvious I was a foreigner. Suddenly, this old lady comes out of nowhere, asks me if I am lost, and offers me a ride after hearing my story. She was incredibly helpful, and also took me to a bank where I could use my credit card. She was great!”
"Traveling inspires me so much. Somehow, I feel like the experiences you collect and the people you meet along the way, make you who you are. I am an open-minded person, but traveling definitely has made me even more open-minded. Also, when I travel, I like to know how people live in their cities, what their dreams are… And a very good way to do this is by tasting their food!"
The Pacific North West is famous, amongst other things, for having exported a distinct coffee culture phenomenon to the rest of the US. Major Northwestern cities like Seattle or Portland are packed with independent roasteries that, not only offer the most amazing and delicious specialties, but also provide a refuge to keep ourselves warm in the endless hazy rainy days. Hearty havens for the mind and the soul, these cafés are usually crowded with individuals sipping their beverages tardily, folks working relentlessly on their laptops, small groups discussing relevant issues in hushed tones, people reading, people writing, people lost in their thoughts…
I was not surprised, therefore, when Kris told me that her main reason for having traveled to Portland was that she wanted to open a Coffee House in Vegas and was there to explore the area where it all started. Smart move. But her tour around the area, –she was going to Seattle after Portland- was not just a mere business trip: “I travel purely for the enjoyment of new experiences and a bit of freedom.”
Slightly shy at first, Kris admits that traveling has made her become a different person. “I tend to be more out of my box when I am traveling. I feel like I have to live it up and make the most of my experience when I am on holiday. When I am at home, I feel like I am constantly stuck in routine.” “Traveling makes me feel alive” explains Kris, with passion. “It makes me marvel at different cultures and different understandings of life and what it can be. Traveling also inspires me to live more simply. I love to travel and I choose to use the money to see the world and create great memories instead of buying tons of more things I don’t need.”
Kris had the chance to live in Vienna, Austria, and would not hesitate in living abroad again. “Unfortunately” she claims, “I have never been able to work and travel yet. I have to work through the year in order to travel!” She also toured around Europe by train and was adventurous enough to hitchhike in Germany with a friend. “Sometimes it stinks when you are a female, because it makes the opportunities of bad things happening a bit more likely. I choose to exercise caution when I travel and always be discerning of the situation.” When it comes to food, though, “I don’t often eat what is typical. That is a bit more adventurous than what I want to be.” “You have to be open minded to want to travel; at the same time, it makes you become even more open minded” she reflects. “I try to understand things about the country’s culture. I am not really great at learning languages, but I attempt to learn too. I will talk to people even if I can’t understand them because of a language barrier but I think it is helpful to know body language. It makes the differences easier. So I try really hard to understand when someone speaks to me.”
But as much as she adores traveling on her own, Kris loves the idea of sharing the whole experience with good friends. “You never know how great your relationship with them is, until you add the stress of travel. My friends are flexible and spontaneous, fun and creative. It always makes for the best stories later.”
I met Mirna in Portland, Oregon. She was actually the first person I talked to there (if we don’t include the homeless woman who gave me the finger as I was walking towards the hostel from Union Station). Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota 18 years ago, she had just arrived from Hawaii when I met her, and had plans to stay in Portland for a few days before going to Seattle on her way home. Despite our age difference, Mirna and I had two things in common: our love for music and a strong case of wanderlust. And so we clicked immediately.
Mirna is now in College, but when I met her she was taking a semester off to travel. The way she put it, it was both a circumstantial and a conscious decision. “I didn’t get into any of the colleges I wanted to get into until the last minute. Then I got into Loyola Marymount University. I had planned on taking a trip to New Zealand through the National Outdoor Leadership School during my first semester, so I deferred admission and was set to begin at the spring 2011 term. I wound up unable to afford the trip to New Zealand, but I had already taken the semester off, so I decided to take a trip on my own instead to celebrate a new chapter in my life.”
That was Mirna’s first trip on her own, and though she admits that she was a bit nervous at first, “once I set foot in the airport and felt genuine freedom for the first time (in my entire life), I was completely at ease. There’s something incredibly calming about being fully in charge of yourself. I definitely had a traveler’s high the second I checked in for my flight.” Freedom. A big deal when you don’t have it. Or, when, for whatever reason, you don’t feel you have it. “When you’re traveling by yourself, you have the freedom to do whatever you want at any given moment. I always felt like I was on the verge of something exciting. Everything was new.”
As for her love interests whilst on the road, Mirna relates “Oh god. I actually met a couple of pretty cool guys, one from Los Angeles (a super cut surfer) and one from Australia (a super cut snowboarder with a nose ring and the hottest accent I’ve ever heard. He put me in the friend zone pretty quickly after leaving though. Calls me “dude” and “man.”) but we were all traveling. Vacation love is short and intense and it passes just as quickly as it comes.” I’m gonna have to agree on that one too, Mirna.
To my question about her dreams of living/working abroad, Mirna replies: “I haven’t even BEEN abroad yet. But I do think one of the most valuable things we can do in our lives is expose ourselves to different cultures. I just need to finish college first.” If given the chance, “I would love to work to empower women around the globe.”As much as solo travelers tend to idealize the freedom that being on the road provides us with, the fact of the matter is that, sometimes, it gets a bit tough. “Most of the time on my trip I was happy and comfortable. There was a night in Portland, though, when I totally lost it. I think most people come to the realization at some point in their lives that they are all they’ve got. What I mean is, I realized I was the only person who had any bearing on my life. It’s a very healthy, freeing thing, but it’s also isolating, and it hit me very suddenly. Lots of tears. But that was the only time.”She confesses she would be scared of hitching a ride with an unknown person. “Mostly just because being a girl and doing that freaks me out. There are some seriously creepy dudes out there.”
“Traveling is a way for me to experience new things,” concludes Mirna. “I’ve come to realize that I’m sort of addicted to change. I’m at an age now where I sort of like who I’ve become so changing myself isn’t as exciting as it used to be. Changing your scenery and exploring something totally unknown brings adventure into my life the same way being a kid did. Seeing things you didn’t know existed is inspiring. Meeting people you didn’t know existed is inspiring, too. It shows you just how vast the world is and how many paths your life could take.” “I just know I like to travel, and that I’ve changed a lot over the course of the last six months. Some of that is because of the traveling, and some of that is because of the new independence… I think.”
Kelly was born in Tasmania, Australia, 26 years ago. Merely 10 months ago she was engaged to be married and ready to settle down in her hometown. Somewhere along the way, however, things changed dramatically, and the engagement was broken.
But Kelly did not give grief a chance. In fact, she decided to kick life in the butt instead and, along with her best mate Bronya, they took a plane to LA and started an adventure that would take them all around the USA and Central America in 4 months. “I tend to run away from problems!” admits Kelly, laughing. I met them in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Their positive spirit and their vitality immediately blew me away and brought the much needed balance to an otherwise strange scenario. Because New Mexico is, to me, a strange place. The air is thick there, almost immobile. Unstoppable clouds, always in motion fighting with the impossibly quiet everything else. Golden stones, river of life. Unnatural light; destruction lurking. Love/hate. Life/death. Bizarre energy.
Meeting good people is, without the shadow of a doubt, one of the things that really keeps us grounded while on the road. Kelly takes this statement a bit further: “meeting people is one of my main motivations when travelling,” she says. It works both ways, though. Because, ultimately we choose to travel solo to reinvent ourselves. "Depending on who I’m with and how long I have been with them for”, explains Kelly, “I tend to want to go off for a bit by myself, or stay back and read a book… I like to be balanced and collect my thoughts, it becomes too tiring to be talking and making conversation all the time.”
Kelly and Bronya
Being on the road “feels completely natural to me. As soon as we landed in LA we met some more Australian people and went on a road trip to Las Vegas!!” Kelly recalls. Their trip was an adventurous one. They hitchhiked all the way from LA to Miami and met “really cool people, and ended up going to some cool places,” and, funny enough, only felt at unease once, and not precisely while hitching a ride, but while riding a Greyhound bus… “Soooo dodgy!”
"Travelling is so inspiring" states Kelly, proudly, "the people, the food, the places, the good times and the bad times, the smells… It is moulding me into this person I am liking more and more: I have really found myself, and am becoming stronger in my personality.” Does traveling make you more open-minded, or do just open-minded people understand what traveling is about? ”I think”, she reflects, “the more you travel the more open-minded you get, but you have to start off with the guts to be open-minded in the first place!”
As for finding romance on the road, Kelly confesses “yes! I fall in love way too easily… I met this guy from Israel while I was on an island off Belize in the Caribbean. He was shot three times when he was in the Israeli army, once in the head, so he is missing an eye and has to wear an eye patch. He is only 27 and has the most amazing outlook on life, very forgiving, and has seen so much. Meeting him really changed my life!” It wouldn’t be a love interest, though, the one she would choose as a traveling partner next time she hits the road. “I’d love to travel with my brothers” she says, before adding “and I’d love to work and travel. And also to live abroad. I am just waiting for my opportunity.”
Beyond life, beyond death, beyond reason... Always love
We need it. Want it. Feel it. Sometimes fear it. Loathe it. Deny it. It’s universal. It’s not rational. It cannot be measured or quantified. And at times, it hurts. It is within ourselves. It is immortal.
I just want to be there When we’re caught in the rain I just want to see you laugh not cry I just want to feel you When the night puts on its cloak I’m lost for words don’t tell me All I can say I’ll love you ‘til the end
I put my foot flat down on the floor I took it as far as I could I took it down there to Sheridan Street by the dark wood Late at might when I want you I lock you in my room I know a thing about darkness I know a thing about lovers Lovers want the moon Love goes on anyway!
This time I’ll leave you as the one that you love The taste of your lips and the true meaning of love Your beautiful smile all bent out of shape Is this the road to heaven that you wanted to take? Come on baby don’t you want to feel love? Have I left you too long waiting for the feeling to come? Another kind of lover holds my baby today Crush the tissue to break the fall Let’s get lost and feel warm tonight Hit by another and feeling it’s right It’s all over tonight
Hear my cry, lover of mine No tear in the eye or fear in my mind The forest is thick and you don’t recognize We parted our lips and we reached from inside In a wide open field, we know we can feel, awake and unreal Off to nowhere, off to nowhere
They enjoyed life
They say it fades if you let it love was made to forget it. I carved your name across my eyelids, you pray for rain I pray for blindness.
Yeah I’m looking for you and I know you’ll be found with the parking lot kids, with the loneliest crowd And his heart’s on his sleeve and your hands on the wheel trying hard not to say what you just don’t feel
Do you remember When we met That’s the day I knew you were my pet I wanna tell you how much I love you
The book of love is long and boring No one can lift the damn thing It’s full of charts and facts and figures, and instructions for dancing But I I love it when you read to me And you You can read me anything
To make a mountain of your life Is just a choice But I never learned enough To listen to the voice that told me Always love, hate will get you every time
…Y tu piel es blanca, como esta mañana de enero, demasiado hermosa como para ir a trabajar…
Have you ever sat down in the fresh cut grass / And thought about the moment and when it will pass / Hey man now you’re really living
Sometimes I find myself sitting back and reminiscing
Hang on to the things that you’re supposed to say / Billions of stars that open to your fate… Norway
Don’t be too sure of that What makes you sure of that You went away you can’t come back
Nothing’s happening, it’s all illusion, it’s all illusion, Nothing’s happening, it’s all confusion, it’s all confusion
Many miles we’ve yet to travel / Many lives we’ve yet to know / There’s a road that we must follow / But there’s still time for us to grow
Fool enough to almost be it / Cool enough to not quite see it DoomedPick your pockets full of sorrow / And run away with me tomorrow June
Emergency above, put on your hard hats and invisible gloves What’s going on, I was on the wagon, I thought I was done You have to watch out, when one falls in, another can’t get out
God damn right it’s a beautiful day…
I know it’s getting late / but if you’d like to talk a little more / well, that’s all right with me / I am feeling kinda tired/ But it ain’t exactly beating down my door / no just why could this be? (…) All you’ve gotta do is baby kick off your shoes, and lay down / climb up here with me and let’s forget about sleep, just lay down.
Ha sido tan divertido habernos encontrado / Ha sido tan divertido que me hayas acogido / Ha sido tan divertido habernos disfrazado / Ha sido tan divertido reírnos de lo mismo (…) / No ha sido divertido habernos desangrado / No ha sido divertido mil malentendidos / No ha sido divertido no habernos despedido / No ha sido divertido, no.
Got dirt, got air, got water and I know you can carry on. The good times are killing me. Enough hair of the dog to make myself an entire rug. The good times are killing me. Have one, have twenty more “one mores” and oh it does not relent. The good times are killing me.
I will hold the candle,til it burns up my arm, I’ll keep taking punches, until their will grows tired
You’ve got some charm I must admit, don’t let me wreck myself again, driving to your parents’ just for a visit and I’m sleeping in your brother’s bed…
And how I love to glow. Oh, grace! I’m too open to close. Too much alcohol and few hour calls makes our time worth more. Different records play pretty loud but they never sound the same, different records play pretty loud but they never sound like you.
Si todo va tan bien, si todo va tan bien, ¿por qué este dolor, que siento? Si todo va tan bien, si todo es tan sencillo, ¿por qué este vacío, que siento? Si está bien, si está bien, si es tan fácil, ¿por qué duele así por dentro?
Let’s make this happen girl, you gonna show the world that something good can work and it can work for you, And you know that it will… Let’s get this started girl, we’re moving up we’re moving up, it’s been a lot to change, but you will always get what you want.
Sometimes I feel so happy, sometimes I feel so sad, sometimes I feel so happy, but mostly you just make me mad, thought of you as my mountain top, thought of you as my peak, thought of you as everything I’ve had but couldn’t keep
I’m citrus and summertime And you’re haggis and cider I am California… yeah? The warm friendlier skies Fake tits and the symphony And I’ll be here when I die
For a second there I thought you disappeared, It rains a lot this time of year, And we both go together if one falls down, I talk out loud like you’re still around And I miss you, I’m going back home to the west coast
This strange sound you said I said, You’re not listening or I’m not saying it right, This strange war of promises, Let’s call this a truce, we’ll call it the truth, And it’s strange but not all that strange
Beautiful beat, get me out of this mess, Beautiful beat, lift me out from distress, Sometimes all i want is another drink or another pill, If i could get anything done maybe I’d hold still, I’m trying to levitate I’m trying to leave the ground, Trying to remember when i could fix anything with sound
We may never, never meet again, on that bumpy road to love, but I’ll always keep the memory of… The way you wear your hat / The way you sip your tea / The memory of all that / No they can’t take that away from me
Sous le ciel de Paris coule un fleuve joyeux / Il endort dans la nuit, les clochards et les gueux / sous le ciel de Paris les oiseaux du Bon Dieu / viennent du monde entier pour bavarder entre eux
My new good Belgian friend Ignace and I went to visit one of the most famous haunted houses in Southern Spain, Cortijo Jurado.
Built in the 19th century by the Heredias, one of the Andalusia’s wealthiest families at the time, the building has 365 windows, one for each day of the year, and its purpose was to be part of a grand agriculture enterprise. In 1925, the property passed to its new owners, the Jurado family. It is known as ‘the haunted mansion’, not only for its ghostly appearance, but due to numerous reports of mysterious voices and strange sounds that have been reportedly heard there without explanation. Hum. Don’t know what to say about that. Legend has it that many women aged between 18 and 21 were kidnapped and subjected to satanic rituals in this mansion. A few years ago, some kids conducted a Ouija board session in the house, and claimed to have talked to a 12 year old girl who had been murdered and buried there.
I was looking forward to seeing or sensing something spooky, but all I could do was to admire what once was a magnificent house, now in ruins, laugh at the rather bad graffiti and avoid the rats (well, I’ll have to trust Ignace on this one since I didn’t see any!). :) It was a great day!
Or is it? What to do when you are going for a few months to a place where seasons change as quickly and often as Madonna’s outfits in a show?
Well, the answer is… I don’t have an answer. But I always try to bring less than I actually think I am going to need, and I never regret leaving things behind. I am sad to be leaving New York for a while, but I will be back in the summer! Meanwhile I am enjoying my last day at my very beautiful and very tiny apartment… I will really miss it… And I will dearly miss all my friends here, and this beautiful city, and even the cold weather! Yes, I will.
It is really dark and rainy outside, but I am having a great day packing, listening to Wild Nothing and sipping coffee… Looking forward to catching my plane tonight though! My beloved Europe is merely hours away! It’s kind of heartbreaking to be in love with so many places at the same time. Do I want to live in Europe? Do I want to stay in the US? I am torn… But for now I have to go back for professional (and, if you must know, financial) reasons, so be it. I love you, New York friends, but as a few people have been telling me lately, -I am not even gonna bother to miss you because you always manage to make it back!- So true.
See you in few months, lovely New York, no matter what, I will always be coming back to you…
How many songs have been written about this city? How many poems? How many books? How many films? And yet, however many we have seen, however much we think we know the city by sight or by sound, not even living here do we cease to be constantly surprised by it. Sometimes favourably and sometimes unfavourably, let’s be fair.
Not long ago, somebody who had lived here for some years asked me how a person like myself - of a more or less fair-minded disposition, essentially thoughtful and caring: a good sort, broadly-speaking - could love a city like this so much? A city so cruel to its less fortunate inhabitants; so blind to social injustice; so unstoppable in its zeal to be richer, greater, more powerful, no matter how many bodies have to be climbed over to get there. And yes, it is true: and I have asked myself the same question.
And I think the answer is that New York is a city full of dogs whose barks are worse than their bite. The city is not as cruel as it appears from afar. And, just like with dogs, as long as you show no fear you have nothing to worry about. Sure, it is still part of a country that is basically a corporate conglomerate. And it is still the financial capital of the world. And of course things can be very superficial here. Clearly there is also cruelty, inequality and injustice…
But there are two sides to every coin, and New York has a multitude of good things going for it. Really good things. The bad things do balance out my otherwise completely giddy passion for the city; but whilst I don’t close my eyes to them, I’ll still take them along with the good.
I’ll take the New York whose lights by night make my heart soar like the dawn light of an early summer day over Málaga. I’ll take a New York whose tall buildings cocoon me and make me feel, not smaller but much, much larger; freer. I’ll take its insatiable sirens; the interminable din of the street, that, like the city itself, never sleeps; the venting steam from the underground boilers. The people who talk to themselves in the street, who dance by themselves in the street, who sing to themselves in the street .
The people who use their mobile phones to air their annoyances to all and sundry, not only the poor soul on the receiving end, but everyone else within earshot as well. I’ll take that New York, that asphalt microcosm where we all live together under the false pretence of individuality. Because, despite being a large city, it is only, after all, a small piece of the earth - that said, it is one in which you can find everything under the sun.
on the sunny side of the street… leave your worries on the doorstep… Wise words, Armstrong!
Well, I don’t know about the doorstep, but I did definitely leave my worries on the train from Chicago to New Orleans. The minute I arrived I knew there was a reason why I wanted it to be the last stop of this trip. This city is (despite the tragedy that’s still relatively breathable) amazing, pumping, magical, full of music, fun and beautiful! What else could I have hoped for?
Treme, or the birthplace of Jazz
Any alligators around? Wake up!
Other than the fact that my hostel felt like a shelter for battered women and that a psycho threw Cari and me out of the room (literally) in the middle of the first night, I have no complaints. Even that part was fun! I am longing to go home now though. Tomorrow. Yes! New York HERE I COME!
“Take a moment from time to time to remember that you are alive. I know this sounds a trifle obvious, but it is amazing how little time we take to remark upon this singular and gratifying fact. By the most astounding stroke of luck an infinitesimal portion of all the matter in the universe came together to create you and for the tiniest moment in the great span of eternity you have the incomparable privilege to exist.”—Bill Bryson
I stink. Literally. I took a train from Seattle to Chicago on… when was this? On Monday, that’s it. Okay, so the train was supposed to take 45 hours. Not too shabby. BUT… alas! All sort of things happened. Initial delay of the train on its way to Seattle first, then engine problems (eventually fixed), then frosted tracks (eventually… melted?), a lost child (eventually found)… You name it. So 62 hours after I left Seattle here I am. Good God, 62 hours. Do you know how many things I could do in 62 hours when NOT on a train? Well, I started a book in Seattle and I finished it this morning, so now I don’t have anything to read for my train to New Orleans. Sweet! It was an adventure though. And when you wake up to a view like this…
…You know that you have nothing to complain about whatsoever. Montana is SO beautiful.
So yeah, I stink, I wasn’t joking. And I look like utter crap. I’ve noticed a couple of women eyeing me suspiciously in the bathroom while I was brushing my teeth. Men, on the other hand, couldn’t care less. Why is it that men always talk to you when you look your worst? It’s just funny… I haven’t showered in three days, have slept on a train wearing the same clothes for three nights in a row, and yet, I have managed to get a few compliments today. Really?
8 hours to play in Chicago. Since it’s Thanksgiving Day though, all the streets are totally empty and everything is closed. It’s been nice though to be able to walk around, admiring the beautiful city in the sole company of the buildings and listening to music.
1 hour left now. Waiting to board my train at Union Station. There’s this woman sitting on a table across from mine eating sunflower seeds and cracking up at the very interesting conversation she is having with herself. I am outta here.
I have yet to meet a more indecisive and at the same time more impulsive person than me. Holy crap. Why do I do these things? I guess I decided when I started this trip that I was going to follow my first gut instinct no matter what, and well, that’s what I have been trying to do so far. But, come on…
Ok, so I am in Seattle. –But you were in Austin!- You’ll think. I know! This is the kind of stuff that makes my friend Virginia call me Nutty Libra…
So anyway, on my second day in Austin I woke up and it didn’t feel right to be there. When I was in Portland I thought about going to Seattle for a few days, but decided against it because at that point I was going to travel just for 20 days, and so I headed south instead. But surprisingly I kept thinking about Seattle when I was in California, then in New Mexico and then in Texas. I had already booked my train to New Orleans for the next day and was actually enjoying Austin a lot. The hostel was great, the people incredibly warm and nice (special kudos to H, Da and D for giving me a ride to the hostel from the Greyhound station, such lovely people!), the city, beautiful. BUT. But I hadn’t written a word in days. Nothing. I felt completely uninspired and, I felt that I needed to go back north to find my inspiration again. And so I did! Mind you, it wasn’t an easy decision process. With me it usually NEVER is.
Back at the hostel in Austin after a lovely day wandering around, I started looking for tickets. Just to see… I told myself.
- M: Hey, how was your day? What are you up to now? - Me: Hey, it was good! How about yours? What did you do? Do you think I should go to Seattle? - M: What? - Me: Yeah, I don’t know, I have been thinking about it all day and… I am looking for tickets. I am crazy, right? You are making a face. Oh, you think I am a total nut case, right? Right? - M: Ermh, no, no, it’s cool, if you want to go to Seattle, go to Seattle. - Me: All right, so that’s it, it’s decided, I am going to Seattle. Hold on, but it doesn’t make any sense, I am in Austin. Ok, never mind, I reaaaally want to go, so I am going. I’ll deal with the rest of the itinerary later. Right, I am going to look for tickets.
- Me to J: Hey, do you think I should go to Seattle? I mean, New Orleans is just a few hours by train, but I don’t know, I have been thinking about going back to Seattle for a few days now and I got this text from this cool girl I met in Portland and she is there, so it should be fun. What would you do if you were me? - J: You are crazy. - Me: I appreciate your honesty! Now, really, what would you do if you were me? - J: Well, if that’s what your gut instinct is telling you then you should go. - Me: Really? But I feel bad skipping New Orleans… - J: New Orleans is not going anywhere. - Me: True. Ok, ok, so how about this… How about I go to New Orleans, spend a few days there and then fly out to Seattle from there? That should work, right?
- M: So, what’s the plan then? Found good tickets? - Me: Yeah, but I don’t know now… Shouldn’t I go to New Orleans since it is so close? This is kind of ridiculous… - Me: Hey, E, what do you think? - E: Mmpffff. - Me: Okay, point taken. - J: So, what’s the plan then? - Me: Give me a minute.
One hour later - Me: Nope. I can’t find good tickets from New Orleans so I think I am going to fly out tomorrow from Austin, and screw New Orleans, I’ll go before my rail pass expires. - Me: Oh, no, no, no, hang on, I am going to go to New Orleans and then I’ll see, I really shouldn’t be buying a plane ticket to Seattle on a whim, I am on a budget. And then there’s the stupid catholic guilt factor, I feel horrible for changing my plans. No, I will stick to them. - Me: But there must be a reason why my gut instinct is telling me to go to Seattle, right? If I don’t go I’ll never know! Hum. Let me check for tickets again. There was this really cheap one on Expedia. - Me: This is SO. STUPID. I was in Portland like a week ago. Why didn’t I go to Seattle then? It was RIGHT THERE. - Me: Anyway. I am sure there’s a reason. So I am going to go ahead and book the ticket.One hour later… - J: You know what you need? You need to go out and listen to some live music to clear your head, let’s go out! - Me: Cool! No, wait, I need to sort this out first, give me a minute.
Two hours later
-Me: Where’s J? - E: He left ages ago. - Me: Shit.
Austin friends, if you are reading this, thanks for your patience and for coping with me. :)
Seattle is as beautiful as I remembered it. It hasn’t been the same this time around though… Ok, so the fact that there are maybe like 15 people staying at the hostel and that it’s freezing out doesn’t probably help, but it’s also… well, this past summer in Seattle was just too good. Impossible to recreate. I met the most interesting people and had really sweet experiences. And for some reason I started enjoying writing again, which I hadn’t for a few years, so you could say I regained my inspiration in Seattle. Not to mention that the weather was gorgeous.
This time… Well, it’s been interesting; I had fun and I made a few good friends. But it has definitely been a more laid back and less inspirational visit. So why was my gut instinct telling me to go to Seattle then? I don’t have a clue, but all in all I am glad I am here. It’s been a nice break from jumping from train to train, and it’s nice to be able to forget about the backpack for a few days. Not to mention how great it felt to catch a plane for a change!
I really love Seattle’s immense landscapes, the cafés, the people are really nice (definitely not as nice as in Portland though!) and there’s a bunch of things to do and good shows to catch pretty much everyday. BUT. (Why is there always a but??) I think it’s quite a dangerous place for someone like me. I’ll explain. Remember that Garbage song called Only happy when it rains? I used to love that song. And I totally got it. Well, I was really young back then, (well, okaaaay, not that young!) so I don’t feel the same way about things now, but at times I do tend to gravitate towards melancholy… Sigh. So the thing about Seattle is that it’s a very melancholic city, and it can suck you in. It’s got lots of energy, but it also feels kind of stagnant? (Does that even make sense?) I can’t really put my finger on it, but that’s how it makes me feel. I guess it gives me the right amount of tragedy I need to be creative, but it also makes me happy because it’s so stunning… So maybe the balance works? Nah. I definitely need some sun now to recharge my batteries… I am from the south of Spain, people!