I am on the train from Madrid to Málaga. There isn’t a quiet car and I’m hearing ding dong, a steam engine blowing, a harp, da da da da dunt, birds chirping. It’s an orchestra. Oh wait! It’s a life filled with the beat of cell phones. Train travel is the same in every country. A car filled with passengers is like a theater stage lined with musicians and actors clinging to their big moment.
Art work along the promenade in Málaga, Spain
Alas, I arrive in Málaga, a region in Spain known as Andalusia or the Costa del Sol. Andalusia bridges the gap between Spanish culture and its North African Islamic neighbors to the south. The Christians conquered the Islamic Moors (of Arab and Berber descent) in the late 15th Century and built a church in every plaza to prove it.
Málaga has a population of about 600,000 people and relies heavily on tourism, commerce and technology. It’s an active port town situated on the Mediterranean Sea. Tourists from all over Europe flock to Málaga for sunshine and beaches and “la cultura” of Spain especially those from Germany and the United Kingdom who beg the sun gods to take pity on them.
View of the Port of Málaga, Spain on the Mediterranean Sea
The Málaga beaches are not Spain’s most beautiful as they are rocky and the water isn’t the clear aqua blue of Italy and Croatia but they are clean and worthy of a splash or swim. There are plenty of restaurants and accommodations to cater to tourists or you can take a morning or late afternoon stroll along the promenade. When you tire of the saltwater, hop on the City Sightseeing bus or explore the Picasso Museum. If you are feeling adventurous, hike up to the Gibralfaro fortress of Málaga for 360-degree views of the city. It’s the best way to get a sense of the city’s modern and historic architecture and vibrant coastline. Eat some Iberian ham, sip on vino blanco or tinto, feast on fried calamari and take your siesta on the beach until it’s time to get up and eat again.
The Cathedral of Málaga
Málaga is filled with fun shopping, splashy new buildings and narrow alleyways. The historic district provides an opportunity to get lost and find a restaurant or store off the beaten path. Outdoor cafes and ice cream vendors crowd every street. Skip the siesta for an afternoon and explore.
Seeing lions, cougars, elephants, zebras, giraffes in their natural habitat
Devouring dulce de leche and falafel
Watching the most incredible sunsets from Table Mountain, South Africa and the middle of nowhere Botswana to the mountains of Petra, Jordan and over the Mediterranean in Tel Aviv, Israel
Spraying my room, bed, clothes and entire body with bug spray
Dressing up as Cleopatra
Finding coffee in Tanzania
Visiting four continents and 14 countries
Taking tango lessons
Learning to salsa
Showering after my Mt. Kili climb
La Cabrera, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Starbucks, Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt
Rocking until 5 am in Buenos Aires and Tel Aviv
Thinking a lion was going to eat me. Thank goodness for the grazing zebra
Visiting a hospital in Arusha, Tanzania
Horseback riding in the Andes
Walking along the Indian Ocean in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa
Shopping for boots…daily
Meeting all the wonderful people who changed my life for the better
ANOTHER CHAPTER COMES TO AN END
I left New York City on November 18th. It took me six weeks to remember I didn’t have a job and another six months to realize eventually I would need one. It’s been an incredible journey with memories to last a lifetime. For those of you who have shared in my adventures, my last chapter is for you. You have been my greatest fans cheering me on and pushing me forward when at times I wanted to call it quits. Many of you have asked the following:
Why did you take this trip?
What did you learn?
What’s your favorite place?
When are you coming home?
Where are you now?
I hope I’ve answered those questions somewhere along the way but in case my long-winded responses were not enough for you, here goes:
I am fortunate. I am blessed. I am independent. I am lucky. I am not brave. I am not crazy. I did not run away from anything or anyone. Travel for me is my greatest love. It’s my passion in life. At 35, I figured I had time, money, and a natural break in my career.
Life is about choices. I considered buying a condo but then I weighed the pros and cons and figured investing in myself would be the smarter choice. Someday, I will own a house. I may never again have an opportunity to travel freely for an extended period of time—to take a “life break.” Since 6th grade world history class, I dreamed of seeing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Each week we were required to read newspaper articles pertaining to the region we were covering and draft a summary of at least one article –three for extra credit. We all know I completed three. While I hated “current events” (my mother probably disliked them more because she helped every Thursday night), these assignments launched my fascination for the world.
Africa seemed like a faraway land with poverty and war; a place that people read about but never actually visited. Regardless, I knew one day I would step foot on the African continent and find beyond the pictures and words a place rich in history and culture. To say Africa is a beautiful place is one thing; to experience the African music, taste the food, participate in the rituals and to see natural marvels untouched for thousands of years is quite another. I made an effort to learn about the people in each country I visited. I realized I couldn’t live in their shoes but I wanted to experience a snapshot nevertheless. It was my choice to backpack, camp, hike, ferry, bus and take less traveled routes not because I am a glutton for punishment but because it was the scenic route; the route less traveled.
From place to place, country-to-country, I observed the faces of people. Some of their faces revealed great suffering, others sadness but more often than not people greeted me with welcoming smiles and a sense of determination and perseverance unmatched in other parts of the world. Life in Africa is complicated. I don’t know what it’s like to be hungry, to live without water and electricity, to be considered so invaluable that the cattle are more important. I have opportunities that most African’s cannot even imagine possible. I am free. I am educated. I have choices. What the African people need more than anything is to know there is hope, to demand more of themselves and of their leaders and to define their own destiny. I saw what amazing things occurred in Botswana where the government is stable, education a priority and the economy self-sufficient. I met the kindest and most considerate people in Arusha, Tanzania where everyone from the hotel manager to the chef and restaurant crew welcomed me with open-arms; cared for me like a member of their family; and cried with me while I hobbled around the hotel with crutches. There are countless others like Adronis and God Bless who dragged me down Mt. Kilimanjaro injured and my guide Herman in the Serengeti who understands education is the key to success and scrapes up money to educate his two boys in private schools. He says it’s their only chance at success. AIDS, poverty, malaria and corruption are a part of African life but these people will not be defined by illness and tragedy. They are the real story of Africa.
In some respects, I took two very distinct trips. I saw oceans and mountains, seas and lakes, deserts and forests, religious artifacts and burial sites, man made spectaculars and natural wonders. In Africa and the Middle East, I challenged myself in ways I didn’t think possible. I’m a city girl. I don’t like dirt, I don’t like bugs and I certainly don’t enjoy using nature’s bathroom. Africa changed me. I’m confident it made me stronger, more tolerant and wiser. It shaped me in ways I may not understand for years to come. With every passing day, I opened my eyes to a world and to a people often ignored. Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, riding a camel at the Great Pyramids, sailing down the Nile, reaching the top of Mt. Sinai, silently observing a male lion devour a giraffe, praying at the Wailing Wall, watching the clouds blanket Table Mountain were highlights of my African experience. They are memories to last me a lifetime for sure but when friends ask me about Africa I immediately flash to the people. The African people triumph over adversity daily and what they want —what we all want— is to provide for their families; to keep their children healthy, safe and secure; to give them an opportunity to enjoy life not survive it.
After four months of tramping through an entirely different part of the world, I hauled my cookies from Tel Aviv to Zurich back to the United States and then down to my home away from home Buenos Aires, Argentina. My parents assumed I would be back by May 1 but I had other plans. At the urging of my friend Jack, who encouraged me to stay longer in Argentina, I rented an apartment, enrolled in Spanish classes and immersed myself in the culture. I always dreamed of living abroad to learn a language and finally I made it happen.
Making friends is never difficult for me but in Argentina I discovered people from all over the world who were like me. People who worked hard but made travel a priority. We shared a common belief that one must see the world to understand it.
There are 13 million people in Buenos Aires. While I didn’t meet them all, I received an incredible welcome from my teachers, classmates and other locals who shared their life with me on a daily basis. In doing so, they changed mine. I learned to slowdown, to see things at face value, to appreciate the beauty of each day. I studied Spanish, danced the tango, consumed vast amounts of beef, sipped wine, biked through parks, climbed a glacier, hiked Iguazu Falls and more importantly celebrated life. Living in Buenos Aires was awesome for lack of a better word. It’s considered to be the Paris, Rome and New York City of South America. I contend it’s better but if only they could please clean up the dog poop.
The Argentine people are strong and determined. They have endured hardship and instead of waiting for change they take to the streets and fight for their rights. Argentina is not immune from corruption or poverty but in Buenos Aires I felt the sincerity of a people who demanded more from their government and believed their troubles of the past were the basis for a secure future. There were certainly things that drove me nuts, for example, change. Money is a problem in Argentina. No one has it and everybody wants it. I met many people (college educated) who worked 2-3 jobs to survive. They struggled but they never complained. I learned much from them. To my teachers, neighbors, and new Argentine friends you are truly an inspiration. I miss you already.
I finished my travels in Chile, which was nice because it gave me a chance to reflect on the last eight months. It is true I am sad to leave the world of travel behind. Every Friday when we said good-bye to a classmate, we used to mourn their loss. They had to return home…back to reality. Something none of us wanted to face.
When I left the USA, I didn’t know what I would encounter. I wanted to “see the world” but I wasn’t entirely sure what that entailed. I had already visited other countries and how would this experience be different? Letting go of my career, my friends and my family was tough but it opened doors for me. When Jill and I departed at the Johannesburg airport and I stood there without a plan, it was the first time in years I truly felt alone yet free. I quickly understood the path before me was unknown and I was ready for the adventure. As I traveled through Africa, the Middle East and South America, I realized my life is privileged. I have a loving family and friends who shape my life for the better. This trip wasn’t a vacation. It was a learning experience. I learned to trust in the kindness of strangers, to accept my surroundings and to be at peace with myself. The world is small and it gets smaller each day. Be kind to it. Appreciate your loved ones and take time for yourself. You only get one shot to make the most of your life.
I am “home” in the USA. I’ve already enjoyed a hot shower, fresh laundry and two home-cooked meals. Sometimes it’s the little things you miss the most.
To be continued…
Richie and Yasmin, England
Otte Family, Luxembourg
Jeri Wade, USA
God Bless, Tanzania
Entire staff at the Arusha Hotel, Tanzania
Pilot Tom, USA
Janet Keller, USA
Arie Rubenstein, USA
Bruce and Harriet
Elisa Franzo and her family, Italy
John Weadick, Ireland
Paddy and Allan, South Africa
Stella and Terry, England
Christine and Matt, Canada
Jenni and Margaret Kline, USA
Geri Sadek, USA
Laura and Jim Ross, USA
Tim Allen, USA/Argentina
Katherine Thonvold, USA/Argentina
Karen Downey, Australia
Gustavo Chamorro, Argentina
Ursula Leal Capria, Argentina
Anna Achenbach, Germany
William “Steve” Jackson, USA
Daria Saharova, Germany
Ash Dawson, England
Gabi, USA/South Africa
Barin Darnew, USA
Janine and Erik, USA
Ecela Language School, South America
My friends at Pilates and Starbucks
Pia and USA/India
A special thanks to Jill Straus, my travel partner in crime and Maria Brijeski and Pam Manz who visited me in Argentina
To all of you who kept tabs on me, encouraged me along the way and responded to my Facebook updates, many thanks
To Landra Bickley, my Argentine sister, it was certainly a wild ride. Espero que bailes tango y comas muchas carne sin yo. Quiero todos detalles. Te extraño
Jack O’Donnell who served as tech support and a constant sounding board (via email). I’m sure you are happy to have more time on your hands. I’m still writing the book.
Thank you to my parents who despite their concerns pushed me to reach for the stars. Your support is unwavering and your love is the reason I take chances in life. It was time someone had as much fun as Patrick.
Besos, abrazos y muchas gracias a mis amigos en Argentina