hiking with a viking, or life is like a hula hoop

It has been a very crazy summer and there is so much I want to talk about! Where to begin? With Pennsic 42, the most epic two weeks of the year? With my discovery of the meaning of life? With a chance encounter and my new friend?

How about this.  It will all make sense in the end, I promise, but getting there…well it’s always an adventure, right? I’m going to start with the fortune cookie I got on Day 2 of Pennsic Set-Up, when Janeen and I brought dinner back after our final town run.  The fortune cookie said “Talk is cheap, barbers give it away free with haircuts.”  And that cookie really made me sad.

I thought about my Granddad (a barber) and all the great talks and advice he gave to generations of customers over the years.  When he passed away I made sure my email address was included in the obituary because I wanted to hear stories from strangers about what a great person he was.  And man those stories poured in! I am pretty sure if you asked them, they would tell you that it was the talks more than the haircuts (though those were great too) that kept them coming back time after time.   And in today’s technologically stifling “connected” world, the ability to have a decent conversation is a dying art.  Talk isn’t cheap, its priceless!

The next two weeks at Pennsic really reinforced the priceless-ness of real communication.  I’ll be honest it was a little sad this year because many faces in our guild were missing due to severe illness.  We felt their absence.  I had hoped the somber tone would result in more evenings spent together under the communal big top tent, as we all drew strength from our  community.  What a strange community it is. The guild, which was formed long before I ever showed up, is a collection of vendors who wanted to work together to make their part of the marketplace beautiful and engaging.  The vendors became friends, some of whom see each other regularly, and some of whom only see each other for those two weeks each year. And yet despite the gaps in time, or maybe because of the quality of the visits, strong friendships were formed and kept.  I know that I personally consider the girls, daughters of original vendors, some of my closest friends on the planet, any time of year.

But I digress.  I do not want to make it seem that Pennsic 42 was a depressed or deflated Pennsic.  There was much laughter and many happy memories made.  I can’t begin to describe it.  But there were lists.  Sheets and sheets of silly things said and done.  Late night talks held over jars of Apple Pie, and later night adventures had with Celts, Mercenaries, Sicilian Travelers, and other strange and interesting new friends.  It was a refreshing and healing sense of connection and community after the crazy chaos of the previous month on the road (see Moccasisters Unite).  I wish I had pictures to show you, but someone cough*cough**Amber* kept all the good prints.

Oh here’s a good one:

Sunset on Battle Road while the Camelot Guild plays drum head frisbee.
Sunset on Battle Road while the Camelot Guild plays drum head Frisbee.

By the time I got back from Pennsic my Wanderlust was really starting to kick in.  Like Pennsic, I’ve realized that traveling is a bit of an escape for me.  I get to see amazing new things, and have some really wonderful moments with complete strangers.  Right on time, a travel angel came into my life.  I think this was my first American travel angel.  I met this travel angel at the Best Buy in Liverpool, NY.  I had taken the van in to finally get the radio replaced, and when the technician, lets call him Jack, was finished we realized that the van only had one working speaker! At least I have one I joked.  But Jack, after chatting for a bit, offered me the gift of sound.  He had extra speakers that would fit, he said, would I like him to put them in?  Um, YES Please!

So the next day I found my self winding down Route 48 South towards Jack’s house where I spent the afternoon in his drive way handing in ratchets and wrenches and talking about everything from Vikings, to survivalists (Jack is a Prepper, which was an extremely interesting and eye opening discovery), to woodworking and gun-smithing, to travel, and to Zen and the art of Hula Hooping.  That was my favorite I think.  “Do you like the ying yang?” he asked me, referring to the Taijitu symbol hanging on a cord around my neck. “Yeah sure, of course. Balance of opposing forces is always good, right?” When he pressed further I had to really try hard to verbalize the way I felt, and I came up with “I like to dance with the hula hoop so balance is a good thing.”

When I dance with the hoop it is a sharing of energy. Sometimes I stand still and the hoop swirls around me.  Sometimes I move and the hoop stands still, and sometimes we move together.  It is the same with energy: sometimes it moves around me, sometimes it moves through me, and sometimes it moves with me.  With the hoop sometimes I explore how long I can keep the hoop moving around me before I fall or drop it.  With balance I can move many different ways for a long time. But without balance I just fall over and that’s no fun.  So that is why we need opposing energy and balance in our lives. Because it is more fun to dance than to fall down.

The speakers took much longer than Jack anticipated to put in, so we pushed off our hike in the woods until the next day.  His woods were great; good run through the trees like Pocahontas woods.  We found cool mushrooms and talked more about life, the universe, and everything.

A caterpillar on a mushroom! Where's his Hookah? Where's the White Rabbit?
A caterpillar on a mushroom! Where’s his Hookah? Where’s the White Rabbit?

“You really are a traveling fairy.” Jack said at one point. I had to agree with him, at this point I can really say travel has made me who I am, and I like who I am so I’m going to keep with it.  Which made it so interesting the next evening when I finished a book called Time by: Eva Hoffman.  One of the last paragraphs of her book really took all this meaning of life stuff that had unintentionally been percolating all summer and brought it to a frothy boil.  I’ll quote her now:

“We do not all have to be poets, but if we do not want to live meaninglessly, then we need to give ourselves over sometimes to the time of inwardness and contemplation, to empathy and aesthetic wonder.  We need to mull and muse, to reflect on our experience and interpret it, to perform on the level of our life narratives those acts of autopoiesis which apparently happen outside our intention or ken inside the brain’s neurological pathways. We need occasionally to go with the flow.”

In the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy , Douglas Adams says that the answer to “life, the universe, and everything” is 42.  The problem is, no one thought to ask what the question was and so little was solved.  But I’ve realized that for me the meaning of life IS that moment when one laughs and says “Well what is the question then?” The meaning of life is the conversation that ensues. And later, the time spent thinking about the new things learned or realized because of that conversation. And then later,  the moments when you get to share those new realizations with other humans and the cycle continues.  Life is a spiral. It is dancing with a hula hoop. It is shared energy and balance.

At least, that’s the best I’ve  been able to come up with so far.  What about you?

With love and curiosity, intensity and enthusiasm,

Aeri

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a very coleman thanksgiving

I know it’s a little late, but I had such a wonderful Thanksgiving this year that I just have to share it!

What's on the burner now?
What’s on the burner now?

I spent Thanksgiving in Todd Mission, Texas with my good friends Noelle and Al.  Noelle is another wonderful traveler who is touring the country with the most delightful little vardo in tow. To find out more about her story, you should really visit her blog- A Life Fantastic.

This was our first Thanksgiving as “adults;” and by that I mean, we weren’t with family, watching the game with the men, wrestling with cousins or dogs, and waiting for our grandma/aunt/mother to ring the dinner bell.  We were the chefs! Well, Al and Noelle were the chefs. I brought a case of beer, some carrots, and an eager appetite.

When I arrived I was first greeted by Tiny Puppy.  Cooper, a seven week old Australian Shepherd, is a tiny grey ball of cute.  A few more steps and I was in the living room: a tarped over space between their amazing vardo and their kitchen tent, complete with fat white Christmas lights,  an outdoor carpet and a camping couch.  There, I was greeted by Noelle and Al and given a culinary tour.  The warm scent of cinnamon and nutmeg filled the air around us.  “That would be the pies.” Noelle said.

Pies?

This thing can heat like a convection oven! See the tiny pies inside? Yum!
This thing can heat like a convection oven! See the tiny pies inside? Yum!

Pies.

With only a Coleman two burner propane camping stove, and a toaster oven they put together a complete Thanksgiving dinner.  I’m talking turkey, stuffing, gravy, corn, carrots, cranberry jelly, rolls, mashed potatoes, AND home-made pumpkin pies.

All of the Things!
All of the Things!

I have a feeling that these two are amazing cooks anywhere, but they really proved that those little stoves are good for more than reheating Spaghetti-O’s and re-hydrating space food.  While the pies continued to bake in the toaster, Al prepared the turkey with fresh herbs and spices.  Then, while the turkey cooked we used the stove to make creamy mashed potatoes, buttery corn, fluffy stuffing, brown sugar glazed carrots, and gravy. Sorry gravy, ran out of adjectives. The scents shifted tantalizingly through the spectrum until finally the turkey was ready.  The rolls were thrown into the oven for a moment while the turkey basked in it’s own juices.  And then, only then, did Al deem Things Ready.

Cutting the roast like a pro.
Cutting the roast like a pro.

And boy was it good! It was amazing!

It was the best way to spend an evening with friends.

It drove home once again how thankful I am for the opportunity to live the life I do, with all its travelling. And it gave me a new chance to be thankful for good friends and warm homes, whatever the home may look like.

 

And thank you, to everyone who reads this blog. I hope you continue to get as much joy out of reading it as I get out of writing it.

 

Thank you!!

 

~Aeri

Buon Appetite!
Buon appetite!

the border crossing, read at your own risk

Here is the second of my notebook posts. This one was written on September 26, 2012.  Warning: Concerned parents and friends, this might be one of those stories you don’t want to know about.  It happened, it was probably the result of a stupid decision sometime before, but we made it out OK, so don’t  give me any flack for it! Continue at your own risk.

“On the morning of the 22nd we were still in Listvyanka.  We knew that we had to get to Ulaan Baatar, in Mongolia, by the morning of the 24th, so that we could go on an orientation with the Ger to Ger organization before our scheduled trek into the Gobi on the 25th.

To get there we had heard about several options, all involving a return to Irkutsk.  Listvyanka was so small that the only way into and out of it, for travelers, was via marshrutka to Irkutsk, or via a ferry across the river to the almost as tiny Port Baikal. We felt like the three bears deciding between our next travel step, and hoping there was no big bad wolf lying in wait.

The first option, Option A, involved a thirty-three hour overnight train from Irkutsk to Ulaan Baatar.  There was no plascarte (third class) option on this train and second class was running a bit above our budget.  Also, the time spent on the train skirting around the western and southern edges of Lake Baikal is one of the prettiest parts of the trip and not to be passed in the dark.  So we nixed option A.

Option B was pretty nice.  For $33.00 you take a seven hour train from Irkutsk to Ulan-Ude, and then for $50.00 you take an 11 hour coach bus from Ulan-Ude to Ulaan Baatar.  The whole bus crosses the border together.  This is the option we decided on.  It was relatively inexpensive, gave us a day trip around the lake, and got us to Ulaan Baatar on time.

Option C was described as the adventurous option.  The “off the beaten path” option. Take the same $33.00 train from Irkutsk to Ulan-Ude.  From Ulan-Ude, take a marshrutka to the Russian border town Kyakhta (Кяхта).  There, hitch a ride across the border, since walking across is not allowed. The going rate is 100 Rub in a marshrutka, 200 Rub in a taxi, or 250 Rub in a private car.  “It  happens pretty regularly, don’t worry,” we were told.  Once over the border, take another minibus to Mongolia’s closest town; where you’ll pick up the coach bus there for the remaining five hour journey into Ulaan Baatar.  Needless to say, we were not feeling the need to take this risky route just to prove ourselves to the world.  And needless to say, the universe had other ideas.
We started out alright.  We left Listvyanka on the first marshrutka out on the morning of the 22nd.  The night before, we had purchased third class train tickets from Irkutsk to Ulan-Ude on the 10:00 am train on the 22nd.  Our minibus arrived in Irkutsk by 9:10 am, and a tram had us at the train station by 9:30 am.  I even had time to mail a few more postcards before we hopped on the train.  And despite the crying babies, dirty diaper, and crusty “4 days in” travelers in plascarte, we really enjoyed the ride- applauding ourselves mightily for deciding to make this leg of the trek during the day.

Skirting the lake, view through a dirty plascarte train window.

We arrived at our hostel around dusk, and even before our packs hit the floor, we asked to buy bus tickets to Ulaan Baatar for the next morning . “Uh Oh” said the girl at the Ulan-Ude Guest House.  “I can try, but they might be sold out by now.”

“Uh oh!” we said.  No one mentioned that possibility.  Of course, the tickets were sold out.  Did we want to get tickets for the day after? “We just couldn’t!” we said “We have to get to the Steppes! Tell us about this other way.” we said, and they did.  We’ll try it, we decided.

So early the next morning we made our way to the bus station to pick up a minibus to the border for 300 Rub (about $10).  It left at 9:00 am, stopped for a bathroom break and to change a flat tire at 11:00 am, and had us to Kyakhta by 12:30.  There, we were swarmed by cabbies offering to take us to the border for 200 Rub.  “Over the border?” we asked.  “No, to the border” they said.

We were getting no where with them when a guy with two suitcases and a Mongolian passport told us he was going to Ulaan Baatar too, and we could follow him.  I’m paraphrasing of course.  What he really did was wave his Mongolian passport at us and point to it.  We could share his taxi for 100 Rub each (traced on his palm with his finger) and he would get us across.  And so we met our mute Mongolian Travel Angel.  We could not have done this without him.  You “adventurous travelers”, take this as a warning.

Sometimes time and space are just like a giant fast flowing river.  You know just by looking at it that it is to strong for you to swim.  All you can do is focus on where you need to be, jump in, and try to float with your head above water and your feet pointed down stream; praying that the current and the cosmos will get you where you need to go.  This was like that.  When we got into that first cab we jumped into the river.  After that, we were present, but the fact that we made it to Ulaan-Baatar had little to do with us.

In the back of the first cab of our epic border crossing.

Anyway, we took that cab for 100 Rub to the Russian border.  The we got out, put our things in another car that was waiting for people just like us, and waited in line.  After about 20 minutes it was our turn.  We drove to a guard house, and got out with our things. The car was searched and our bags checked.  That done, we waited for the next station.

While waiting, smooth as butter, with confidence and finesse to put the most hardened Baltimore drug dealer to shame, the little old ladies in the car behind us brought over two duffel bags.  Our driver put them in the trunk just as we were putting our own bags back.  calm as anything, as if she smuggles things right under the noses of Russian border patrol every day.  Maybe she does.

When the guards were ready, we drove another 15 feet to the next station, got out again, and presented our passports for inspection.  And you do need at least one registration in a Russian city, even if you never stay longer than one week at each place.  You need at least one, so don’t let your hotels tell you otherwise.

Passing that inspection we drove into no-man’s land.  We had made it half way! We were out of Russia, there was no turning back now.

We passed a dusty barbed wire expanse, and reached the Mongolian border.  Passports? Check.  Drive up, park, into the building, get passports stamped and luggage checked, get back into car and drive through another barren wasteland and out another fence, and viola! You’ve made it to Mongolia.

There were beggars, drunkards, and currency changers thick and slow as zombies in the street. They called in your car window as you slowly drove past, and once you put your window up they tried to open your car doors until you locked those too.  And suddenly, in the midst of all this, our driver pulls over stops, and demands 200 Rub each.  Her job was done. You were in Mongolia.

We pay, get out, and are ushered into another cab by Ghengis, our travel angel.  But before getting in we exchange our remaining Russian Rubbels with a guy who has a fanny pack stuffed with Mongolian Tughriks.  This one is offering a good rate, Ghengis explains.  Transaction complete, we get in the cab and are told to give the driver 3000T each (about $2.00).

Along the way (about an hour drive) Ghengis explains through pantomime, scratch paper, and a calculator that this cabby will take us to one village.  I use the term “village” loosely.  Much like the ghost towns of the American Mid-West, these villages are strips of half a dozen buildings strung in a row with a public latrine on one end.  Anyway, at this village we will pick up another cab, which for 8000T will take us the two hours to the nearest bus stop.  The bus to Ulaan Baatar will be another 8000T.

Communication at it’s finest! This was our scratch pad conversation with Ghengis.

Sure, OK, we nod.  Do we have much choice? Lets just hope there is an ATM at the bus station we whisper to ourselves.  It is about this time that I realize our travel angel is not just signing with us, but with everyone.  He seems to hear alright, but hasn’t said much to anyone.  No wonder he is helping us! Apart from being a kind person, he must sympathize with the difficulty of traveling anywhere without being able to just say what he needs, common language or not!

And thanks to Ghengis, everything did happen just like that.  The 3000T got us…somewhere, the 8000T got us to the bus station, and another 8000T bought us tickets on the 4:00 pm train to Ulaan Baatar (and there was an ATM at the station).

Sandra and I were sitting with our bags in the cafe, after enjoying our first Mongolian meal, when suddenly Ghengis comes running back in, waving animatedly.  His message was clear: hurry! come! NOW!

We grabbed our things and dashed out the door. Our bus was on the move! We ran in front of it, cutting it off at an intersection, and thankfully it stopped long enough for us to throw our bags in the storage area beneath and climb aboard.  The time? 3:37 pm.  Hmmm…buses leave early here? Good to know.

Five hours later we re-emerged from the bus in the Dragon Center bus stop at Ulaan Baatar.  Ghengis, loyal to the end, shared a cab with us to ensure we made it to our hostel safely.  Stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, with smog so thick it burned my eyes and the back of my throat, I was reminded again how much I despise cities- especially developing Asian cities.  Anyway, another hour of traffic and 21,000 T later and Sandra and I were saying goodbye to Ghengis, the Amazing Mute Mongolian Travel Angel (the trip back to the bus station in the morning only cost 7000T, so you can see how expensive slow moving traffic can be).

Like I said, Sandra and I are good, but we aren’t that good.  Without Ghengis, I don’t think we could have made it past the taxis, the border guards, the beggars and money changers, and all the cabs and buses we took that day.  We jumped in the river and washed up on shore this time, thanks to the travel gods, the cosmos, and human kindness.

I owe karma big time.

Сайн яваарай! (Safe travels!),

Aeri

is a sea-faring travel angel a travel mermaid?

Sorry sauna and cider review. Today was so great that I need to talk about it first. Right now.

TODAY WAS GREAT!

I mean, the whole trip has been great, but today was REALLY AMAZING!

I think it started out this morning with a change of attitude.  Or maybe it started last night with my sauna detox and centering, I just didn’t realize it.

This morning I was awoken, again, by the same woman who has woken me up for the last three days.  She was in her mid to late 50’s, and one of those chatty types.  They’re great in hostels, typically, to break the ice and get all the shy kids talking.  I usually love them. I don’t love them when they need to talk about their Danish study abroad at 8:00 in the morning in the dorm room.  That’s how I woke up the first two days. To her nervous laughter and rapid fire chatter.  This morning she didn’t have time to wake me up with chatter, her machine gun snores woke me up at 6:30 am instead.  So I was a little disgruntled and inhospitable when I saw her in the breakfast room sitting by herself.  I could have sat at another table, by myself as well, but that really would have been insulting in hostel culture.  So I didn’t.  I sat down across from her with a smile and took a sip from my coffee.  And to my chagrin I had a delightful conversation about art, fashion, and aging that lasted until I just had to leave or I would miss my ferry to Estonia.  OK Universe. Fine! She was delightful and I was no longer disgruntled.

That alone would have made for a good day.  But wait, there’s more! When I arrived at the docks I discovered that ALL of the ferry trips were canceled for the day, due to rough seas.  Yikes!

Not to fear! There was another ferry, a BIGGER ferry leaving in an hour and a half from the other docks . The docks across town? Yeah, those docks.  “You can make it,” they said.

“OK, I’ll go for it,” I said.

“I’m going there too.” said the woman in front of me.  “If you don’t mind a squeeze, you are welcome to ride in the car with us.  We have room for another.  I think if you try to take the tram you will not have enough time to change your tickets.”

Yep, THANK YOU Travel Angel! Travel Mermaid! Again you are there when I need you  most.  With the help of the Travel Angel and her boyfriend the driver, who happened to be from Estonia and recommended some good restaurants to check out, I arrived at the other docks with plenty of time to get a new boarding pass and stroll onto the BIG ferry with style and swagger.  Or maybe just a little swaying as my top-heavy-backpack-laden self found her sea legs.

The ride and arrival in Tallinn were uneventful, and before too long I had dropped my things at the hostel.  I was out roaming the streets in search of some grub when I wandered past the Opera House.  Just like Helsinki, there was an Opera about to begin, this time Carmen, and this time I was able to get a rush student ticket  in the ninth row for only $5.00!

How, you may ask, did I get a student ticket?  Babson College, my alma matre, does not put an expiration date on their student ID cards. As long as I have to put up with people asking me what high school I go to (yep, about three weeks ago at a festival I was asked not once but twice what high school I was attending) I’m going to take advantage of my assumed student status and rock those discounts at every opportunity.

And that was my super amazing day.

1. New energy

2. New friend

3. Travel Mermaid

4. Practically free fantastic performance.

 

Remember, in travel and in life, the energy you put out is the energy you receive! 

Think Happy!

travel angels can show up anywhere- land, air, or sea!

 

~Aeri

teahehe party

A few days ago I turned 5 years old. Fairie years that is.  We fairies like to take things slow.  I think in human counting it was 25 years old.  That’s quite a bit older. I guess. To celebrate, my friends threw me a tea party and it was WONDERFUL!!!

 

They were so nice and it was so fun.  We had tea, and cake, and coconut macaroons, and cucumber and creamcheese sandwiches.  And there were boys that got dressed nicely, and girls that were so pretty. It was in a wooded, shady, sun dappled glade with a light breeze through the warm summer day.

 

Even though we didn’t technically “Go” anywhere, I wanted to talk about my tea party in my travel blog.  Because it was AMAZING!! I love my friends.  I love that I said “tea party” and they said “yes, absolutely.”

They came to play. They liked the wings and the silly fabrics and the tiny sandwiches.  They let me feel like a princess whether I was turning 5 or 25.

When I travel I meet some amazing people, people with strange stories and new perspectives. But it has been a long time since I’ve had good friends to ground me at home.  Friends who love me because of my stories, and friends whom I love because of their stories.

 

So this post is dedicated to all my homies.  Who make the return flights worth while.

Thank you, I love you.

 

Aeri

an enlightening bus ride

Essaouira was nice. Warm, sunny, beachy.  I spent three days and $82.78 getting there, being there, and getting back to Casablanca.  The trip itself was uneventful, and not nearly as entertaining as the bus ride back to Casablanca became.

It all started, I think, when I went to the bus station and was convinced to but a ticket for a no-name bus company, despite repeated online warnings by other travelers to take only CMT or Supratours busses.  But the salesman said it was less expensive, and would get me there quicker since it didn’t make any stops along the way. Direct to Casablanca he said.

Well, promptly at 2:00 pm, after waiting in a bus station that reeked of vomit, I stowed my backpack beneath and boarded the bus.  We left Essaouira on the main road, which we just as promptly left.  For the next six hours we traveled along a country highway; past fields of Argan trees, roadside markets, towns with more donkeys than cars, and hovels (homes?)- some of which showed no sign of electricity, plumbing, or even complete roofs.  While we didn’t make any scheduled stops, per-se, we did make frequent stops at unmarked points along the highway for country travelers to quickly hop on the bus.  As we slowed again and again for robed men and veiled women, my aggravation at being mislead by the ticket salesman quickly turned to amusement.

How the Hell, I asked myself, do I get myself INTO these situations? 

Well, I answered myself, this bus left at a more convenient time, and it was a whopping 40 dirham cheaper. At least you’ll get to learn how the locals really travel, I rationed.  Settle in and enjoy the ride. 

And the ride really was enjoyable, once you got over the vicious side to side sway of the bus just barely maintaining it’s position in the road, and being very liberal with its use of the lanes.

Looking out the window at the passing fields and setting sun, I let my mind wander.  I started out wondering at the motivation for travel some of the passengers had.  They looked like they carried their whole world with them, shoved into a few twine-tied boxes. One came on board with a hamper full of tomatoes at their feet.  The only thing missing were chickens in the overhead shelf.

Not for the first time, I cringed at the things most Americans complain about. The “horrible”, “unfair” conditions of our country.  A country where every child has access to a school, a school that will probably feed them most of their meals if necessary.  I thought about the little beggar kids I’d seen in the desert and at the beach.  Where was their school?  I’d willingly pay taxes to maintain the system we have.  That’s what a community is for.  To work together to make things better for everyone.  The US is just one big community.  Sometimes, in search of our American Dreams and individual aspirations I think we forget that.  But then of course the next argument is, “Well, we wouldn’t have to pay so many taxes if we quit blowing people up.”  And thats true too. If our army expenses were smaller, we would have more room in the budget for community building.  Thinking about communities made me again think of the recent protests, protests for more and more things for the people.  Perhaps what we need to protest isn’t for more, but for less.  To use less resources, to stop using resources so wastefully, so that there are some to share with other people. People who still don’t know the comfort of constantly available water, steady heat, or a light in the dark.

I think about the way some people have to live, and I think, “Now, THEY would have something to complain about.” And I’ve never even been to a third world country! Second world at “best” and even those can be considered on the cusp of becoming a first world nation.

Sometimes I talk like a fairy, to disassociate myself and give an unbiased perspective. But today, I can’t remove myself from the culture and community I’ve been fated to represent.

All these things were swirling in my  head as I disembarked from the bus in Casablanca. Before my bag could be pulled from beneath the bus, I saw trash bags, plastic laundry bags (you know the plaid square kind with a zipper), and- yes- live chickens being removed.  So there were chickens on the bus, I thought with absentminded amusement.  Before I’d even gotten my bag I had cabbies shouting at me, offering to take me to my final destination.  I admit I was a bit overwhelmed.  Unlike the Casablanca train station, the bus stop was not well lit, well signed, or comforting to a lone traveler.  Then, out of the blue, another travel angel saved my day. She was a quiet girl with a leopard print scarf wound tightly around her head.  She spoke perfect English.  She had an entourage of several other scarf bedecked women, probably sisters or aunts. She asked if I was traveling alone, and took control (much like my previous travel angel) when I replied yes.  She helped me to a fair cabbie, helped me call my host, and gave me her number- should anything happen on the way.  This much confidence and love for a stranger from a woman suppressed by her nation. Just think how strong these women would be, were they allowed to stand up for themselves!

I was so grateful for her help, and somehow humbled I almost cried in the cab.

I don’t have any more answers for the world than I did before my bus ride.  I wish I did.  Or maybe all I can wish for is to be as confident and loving as that leopard print lady had been.

And the rest will follow.

~Aeri

my travel angel

Morocco!!!

So far, Morocco has been everything I expected Istanbul to be. Or at least Marrakesh has been.  Warm, vibrant, energetic, colorful.  The markets are still filled with handcrafts and ethnic goods, rather than Chinese imports (or if they are imported, they do a better job disguising it).  The dry air is warm. The weather, sunny.  Walking through the narrow streets of the Souks, one could be in 2011 or 1911, it’s hard to tell with the donkey’s pulling carts of fruit or bread, being led by robed men with thin  leather sandals.

I actually landed in Casablanca on December 7th, and found my way to Oliveri’s Cafe, the meeting point set by Ali- my couch surfing host.  Too much? Let’s back up.  For the Moroccan leg of the journey I was hoping to couch surf or stay in hostels.  In Casablanca, however, there were NO hostels! Or I correct myself, there was one- Hostel International- but it was booked full for the night of my arrival.  Luckily I found a friendly couch surfer who would have me.   From the airport, as per my habit, I stopped at the information desk when I landed.  The resulting events encourage me to list “stop at the information desk upon landing” as an important travel tip.  The attendant recommended the best way to get into town being to take the train (40 dirham) and then a cab (which shouldn’t cost more than 20 dirham).  At the train station cabbies offered to take me to my final destination- for 70 or 80 dirham.  I was insistent with my 20 and eventually found one who would take me for 25.  At the cafe, I met Ali my host.  We met, hit it off, had some dinner, etc. General good time with new people stuff.  The next day I toured Casablanca, particularly enjoying the beaches and experiencing the Atlantic Ocean from the other side.  That evening I took the train to Marrekesh (for only 90 dirham/$10).

While trying to hail a cab back to the train station, I met my first true travel angel.  You’ll meet them, when you most need them and least expect them.  Mine was not “angelic”.  She was not tall and lean with golden hair and a white dress, sprouting feathery wings like an over grown pigeon.  What she WAS was friendly and quick to smile, with curly brown hair.  She was a little chubby, and was wearing a long  black sweater over black leggings with grey boots. She was standing on my street corner, waiting to be picked up.  I asked her if this was a good place to hail a cab to the train station.  I must have looked inexperienced in the ways of hailing a cab in Casablanca during rush hour (which, of course, inexperienced I am).  She took my hand like a child, and began to hail down each cab that passed, asking if they had room for one more to Casa Voyager (the station).  She was patient. She stuck with me.  Each one that said no, she would return, take my hand, and smile.  One dozen, maybe two dozen later (I lost count) and finally success! She put me in the cab, made sure the driver understood, and than stood on the curb and waved while we drove away, like a mother whose child was getting on the school bus for the first time.  I smiled and waved back, knowing that without her help I NEVER would have gotten a cab on time.  So, thank you travel angel!  Thank you! My tip from this experience is not to find yourself a travel angel, but to leave plenty of time to get to the station. It’s rarely a matter of “just” hailing a cab, or hopping on a bus, even when you know where you’re going.

Once in Marrakesh I checked in to the “La Casa Del Sol” Hostel, right off the main square- Place Jemaa El Fna.  I had booked it the night before using hostelworld.com.

That was last night.  This morning I woke up, ready to explore yet another new city.  But the results of that exploration, should be, I think, a story for another day.

Cheers!

Aeri

 

get off the beaten path

The last few days have been stunning.  That’s why the message of this post is to “get off the beaten path.” It’s impossible, or rather impractical to plan out your entire trip before you even leave home.  You just can’t know all the great stuff to do in a place, even with all the internet research in the world! The best way to find the good stuff is to just ask around– ask the locals, ask the travelers, ask Everyone! And stay flexible.  If you like it somewhere, stay there for a few days- don’t rush it.  Tour around. You’ll feel it when it is time to move on.

So how has my latest “unplanned” trip gone? Smashingly, of course!  We left Istanbul on a bus for Çanakkale, a port city on Turkey’s west coast.  The next morning I went to the ancient city of Troy. You’ll need an imagination, to appreciate the expansive “city” which is just a collection of foundations and ancient rock walls now. But it was wonderful to be somewhere so ancient, and still being excavated currently.  I  touched a 5,000 year old wall!  I mean just think, the human race has only really been around for a little over 10,000 years; and that wall has been standing for fully HALF of it!  Far out! And bricks and mortar are still a popular method for building construction. Sometimes people are so slow to evolve. hehe.

Anyway, after Troy I spent some free time in Çanakkale, waiting for the bus to the Cappadocia region in the center of Turkey.  Çanakkale was really an unexpected gem.  They had a cute town square, warm weather, and beautiful restaurants and pubs along a waterfront (the Aegean Sea). 

Seaside veiw from my café seat

In no time we were on the bus to Kayseri, the big town on the edge of the Cappadocia region.  I have to say, bus travel (while totally necessary at least once!) can be entirely unpredictable.  Luckily, long distance buses in Turkey were fantastic. They were new, large coaches with plenty of heat.  This trip was not very crowded and Maree and I each had a row to ourselves with space to stretch out and sleep- which was really good considering the bus ride was 16 (yes, SIXTEEN!) hours long.  My longest ever ride yet. When going on a long trip like this, consider timing as well. We left in the evening so that we rode through the night.  This is good for several regions: for a budget traveler you can include a night’s lodging in the price of the ticket, and for the time conscious traveler you don’t waste daylight stuck inside.

Arriving in Kayseri in the morning, we were refreshed (well, excitedly energized  at least) and ready for an adventure. Our first mission: find a place to sleep for the night!  A few minutes work in an internet cafe and we found a hostel for 20 TL a night in a town called Göreme.  Works for us!

Now, I have to tell you.  We chose to add Cappadocia to our tour for one very important reason: the caves!  Called “fairy chimneys” by the locals, these strange landforms were made by volcanoes ages ago.  The local tribes moved in, and carved out elaborate cave homes in the cliffs and chimneys.  Many local people, while having moved away from the original caves, still build their houses backed up to caverns.  The hostel where we stayed was a cave hostel, and our room was a stone cavern.  The beds were even nooks carved into the living wall!

Totally Cool Right?! I’m that second nook on the right. :D

We could really settle into this town for a few days, with limitless hiking in the beautiful surroundings, and local crafts to experience. And we did just that.  Almost as soon as we could throw the bags into our rooms, we were out on a trail.  We explored up and up and found ourselves in a vineyard at the top of the plateau.  This region is also known for its wines, which I  will be sure to experience and report on- purely for the reader’s benefit of course.

The Fairy Chimneys of Göreme, Turkey


The next day, today, we started with a trip to Avanos, to visit a sixth generation pottery shop.  And boy-o was this some pottery shop! The owner showed us the facilities, explaining the process.  They collected mud from either the riverbank (for red clay) or the hills (for white clay).  They process the clay so it is ready for throwing.  The potters use either an antique foot spun wheel, or an electric wheel. Then we were shown the painting room, where each pot, plate, and bowl is hand painted by local artists.  The detail and craftsmanship was just stunning. One painter was working on something different from the other artists.  It was explained that he was doing some modern art pieces.  I was blown away by the thought that this family could maintain the work done by their family for generations, yet bring in modern influence to keep the art meaningful, present, and fresh.

Lastly, we were taken to the finished pieces showroom.  Every traveler should be prepared for this moment.  At least once on every trip you will encounter the thing that sucks you inThis was my thing. You may think you have a perfectly planned budget, you may even be perfectly keeping to your perfectly planned budget. But then, without warning, you’ll find that thing that sucks you in.  Really, you should plan for this too in your budget. My thing sucked me in was a collection of 7 bowls and 2 cups.  Including shipping it totaled…well suffice it to say, I blew my budget for this day and for several days after.  But it was worth it.  When you find that thing that sucks you in, let it.  You only live once, and you’ll probably never be back to the place to “buy it next time.”

Just looking at those bowls makes me happy. Which is a good thing considering I won’t be able to afford to put much food in them for a while!

So, to recap, my two important travel tips for today are:

1. Get off the beaten path, and

2. Be prepared for the thing that sucks you in.

Whew! Good night!

~Aeri