You are not lonely if you like the person you are alone with.
Mom (looking at my Instagram): Why are you always alone?!
Bestie (calling from Barcelona): This Andrea is speaking 100% from her heart, where is the one who plans her life with post-its and excel sheets?
Time is not money because it never returns.
I feel good about starting the next chapter of my journey: going home
International Maralal Camel Derby? O que é isso?
The friendly Brazilian guy I had just met while hiking Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro was curiously looking at the camel logo of my flashy red T-shirt. It couldn´t help smiling. Just a few weeks ago in Nairobi I had had the exact same reaction when another backpacker first told me about the African camel derby over breakfast.
Sim, é verdade! This August I participated in a camel race in Kenya
You came in 4th in the amateur race and won 200$? Tell me more.
Rio´s famous Christ the Redeemer statue was covered by the clouds, and I was in no rush to take my selfies. Just like Lominjira, my vain racecamel that was in no rush to cross the finish line on the last 300m of the race and instead chose to enjoy the applause of the hundreds of Samburus, Masais and expats who head ventured to Maralal for the weekend.
So you just rocked up in Maralal and rented a camel…
Pretty much. I could hardly find any information about the race beforehand and tried my luck by arriving at the beginning of the Maralal festival weekend. It turned out the amateur race was taking place that Saturday morning. Everything was well organized, I paid the 80$ registration fee and got myself a camel that would be cheered on by my camel handler all throughout the 10km race.
What do you mean “you camped with the camels”?!
Camping with the camels was actually less scary than rolling out a sleeping back next to a cocky kea in New Zealand in February or camping with the hippos in Zambia last year. People don´t seem to know they can camp at the Yare Camel Club that organizes the camel derby, so I was the first one to pitch my tent there and only had to share the campsite with the racecamels.
“In my life before traveling the world” would I have imagined that I was going to earn money by taking part in a camel race all by myself in Africa? That I would sign up for a language course in Rio de Janeiro and end up telling people about it in Portuguese? That there was now a hilarious camel calendar available in Kenya with my picture on the cover?
Just like the Brazilian guy up on that hill today, I doubt I will see anyone who any of the characters back in Maralal again: neither my racecamel Lominjira; nor the friendly festival organizer who got me one of his fastest camels; nor the friendly Kenyans who shared their photos and videos of me after the race. Apparently, I keep having the most memorable moments when I least expect it. The camel derby was one of them, and I am grateful I still have a few more highlights lined up before heading back to Europe.
Life is what happens while you´re busy making other plans. Just enjoy the ride.
I first visited Chilaweni in the summer of 2015 in order to renovate the local primary school. Our team of Quest Overseas volunteers was supposed to put in bigger classroom windows so that the kids in the last rows would be able to read from the chalkboard; copy the content of the text books onto the classroom walls; and paint a world map to make up for the atlasses the school lacked. Hundreds of dark-brown children´s eyes constantly observed every movement I made and any step I took was accompanied by someone yelling “Andrea” until I waved back at them. I didn´t realize until after leaving Chilaweni in tears that these African kids had changed my life forever.
In June I was happily swinging above the hill tops of Ecuador when Quest reached out to me again for another project in Chilaweni. I meant to explore the Brazilian Amazon next, instead a few weeks later I found myself on a plane to Africa where this year´s team was to build a community kitchen and the first playground in the area. I met Denis again, the headmaster of the primary school, who told me that things hadn´t changed much since last year: the school´s funds were very limited and there were only a few textbooks available; children were not able to take notes in class, because their parents couldn´t afford exercise books; as a result, too many kids still had to repeat the same school year.
After having enjoyed living my dream for the past 16 months it was time for me to give back. Education is the key to making our world a better place and I figured the Chilaweni Primary School was a good place to start. Little money goes a long way in Africa, and small changes can leave a big impact on a small community like Chilaweni. I learned it would only take €1.000,- to buy writing material & the text books of the most relevant subjects.
Let´s create my first crowd fundraiser!
Putting together an online fundraiser isn´t rocket science, but being located in a remote village did add some challenges to it. Luckily, I was supported from all sides. A family that did have access to electricity let me crash their living room where I painfully uploaded my photos of overcrowded classrooms. My friends back home kept reminding me of why I was putting up with long-drop toilets and bucket showers once again. A couple days later the fundraiser went online
The response on Facebook was overwhelming! Anywhere from Australia to Europe, people got right on it and only the first ones actually made it on time to support my African community from their living rooms and offices. Within 3 days we reached 101% of the fundraiser´s goal and already two days later Sam, the owner of Bookmate, welcomed Denis and me into his store in Blantyre on a Saturday morning to order 400 text books (104 English, 104 Maths, 104 Chichewa, 41 Science, 36 Social & Environmental Skills, 8 Agriculture).
On Monday the first school books arrived at the Chilaweni Primary School. Two days later I went to town to extend my visa and stopped by the stationary wholeseller to spend the remaining funds on writing material. When Sam gave me a lift back from Blantyre to deliver the remaining text books, he was surprised to see how I filled up the trunk of his car with 1.440 pencils, 1.300 pens, 1000 exercise books, and 192 rulers. Back in Chilaweni Denis jr. and the other kids helped together to store everything in the school until it would reopen in September.
In a nutshell, it only took one week to fundraise, purchase and deliver the school books and writing materials to Chilaweni. For the first time in the history of the primary school there will be a text book lying on every school table; every student will be able to take notes in the lessons; more kids than usual will pass their exams, hopefully. While I am still amazed by how little time and brainpower is needed to make an impact in a developing country, and I am grateful I was able to be part of it.
Thanks so much to everyone who helped the children of Chilaweni to come one step closer to achieving their dreams!
While I am waiting for my next couchsurfing host to finish work and meet me, I quickly pass all stages of just another culture shock. I have a hard time believing that I spent the last week trekking and sharing a tent at -10º between green valleys, countless alpacas, snow-capped peaks, and blue lagoons.
A few days earlier my friend Jette and I had called up Hernan, a local guide who lives 2km outside of Tinqui, the start and end point of the Ausangate trek. Hernan doesn´t have email (yet) and solely relies on references to capture new customers, so we were lucky to find his phone number (984134098) published on Tripadvisor.
After a 3-hour-10-soles bus ride from Cusco Hernan picked us up at the main square of Tinqui. I was able to rent hiking poles and a warmer sleeping bag from him, and we agreed to to do a 7-day-tour around Ausangate with a detour to Rainbow Mountains.
(In retrospect, Ausangate incl. Rainbow Mountain can be trekked in 5 days).
As much as I enjoy being in the city and all the comfort that comes with it, it´s escapes to nature like this one that make my RTW trip truly inspiring. After two chilly months in South America I am craving the heat and tropical climate, but I still haven´t had my share of trekking in Peru. Next stop: Huaraz!]]>
Two days in the Valle Sagrado quickly turned into two weeks. If you take the time to let the Sacred Valley work its magic on you, you will find out that it is not only a collection of inca ruins scattered around a beautiful valley. It´s also a spiritual place where travelers experiment with traditional medicine to release negative energy and emotions; a hospitable place where I became a frequent guest of a retired expats who specifically rents a separate studio for couchsurfers; a peaceful place where an indigoneous local took me on an adventurous walk off the tourist trail…
… and also the place where I “coincidentally” happened to be on time for a meditation retreat held by the Spanish Institute for Mindfulness that allowed me to gain gain deeper insights into mindfulness and happiness, some of which I would like to share here.
First remark that our zen buddhist Dokusho Villalba made us write down in our notebooks when we set down cross-legged on our meditation mats:
The ultimate goal of life is to be happy.
We learned about buddhist values and dove into the philosophical theory behind mindfulness.
We can´t know reality directly. We don´t perceive of things in themselves. What we perceive as reality is in part created by our minds. Immanuel Kant
The map is not the territory. No one can have direct access to reality, given that the most we can know is that which is filtered through the brain´s response to reality. Alfred Korzybski
Our emotional equilibrium is like the ocean. No matter how bumpy it might get on the surface, remember that the floor of the ocean remains calm.
Conscious breathing has become a main aspect of my trip. Unsurprisingly, the mindfulness retreat was all about it.
It´s not me who breathes, it´s the body. It does not represent me, but it´s part of me.
Where do we draw the line between “me” and “the rest”? All conflicts are conflicts created by borders. There would not be any conflicts without borders, because it would all be one.
Nobody can achieve happiness by locking themselves up on a remote island that is surrounded by an ocean of suffering.
Mindfulness is like energy. It´s recicleable, we can regain it if we take time to rest and meditate.
Mindfulness is not an intellectual knowledge, it can only be experienced. Happiness can be achieved through practising mindfulness and being in the moment.
After three beautiful weeks around Cusco and the Sacred Valley it´s time to keep moving! I am grateful to my friend, couchsurfer host, meditation buddies, locals, shaman, zen master, and friends online who helped me to recharge my energy and refuel my solo travel spirit. Ready to take on the 7-day-trek around Ausangate
Are you scared?
I had just gotten off the phone with Antonio, the Chilean friend I had only made 2 days earlier on Couchsurfing, and the only one I could think of calling before 6am. I happened to be the only tourist on the dark sidewalk in front of the “Frontera del Norte” bus terminal in Calama, where I found myself desperately holding on to my big backpack that early Thursday morning. The backpack they had NOT managed to take away from me.
No, I am not scared.
It wasn´t even a lie at that time, I was just detached from my feelings. My chest was trembling, and I couldn´t think straight. I kept kicking my backpack anytime I remembered something else that I had packed into my daypack before I meant to take the public bus from Chile to Bolivia. The daypack they DID manage to literally take off my hands.
But your daypack is right here, isn´t it?
The looks I earned from the bystanding locals ranged from amused to pityful. None of them had moved a finger to help me, and I will never find out who of them was in on it. Probably the smiley woman to my right. No, that totally-different-looking daypack they had placed next to me to distract me wasn´t mine. It would magically disappear again 5 minutes later.
You´re save here, they have already stolen your stuff, ha ha ha!
Eventually a driver offered me to wait inside his bus until it started getting light outside. I sat down next to a group of Argentinian tourists that were clearly entertained by my drama. They had arrived in Calama that same morning, but the driver hadn´t let them off the bus yet, because “it was dangerous”. Why did he make me wait outside? It was much too soon for Argentinian jokes on my behalf, and I moved to the driver´s cabin.
What was in your daypack?
The bus driver was curious. Emm, my GoPro, cell phone, camera, sun glasses, … everything ALMOST. Expect something had felt different that early morning when I, barely awake, packed my stuff and randomly decided to wear my money belt which I hadn´t used anywhere from Africa to New Zealand. What had I hidden away in it? My passport & half my bank cards, thank god! I wasn´t stuck in one of Chile´s most dangerous places.
Do you have a boyfriend?
Seriously? I was still upset two days later when I went to file charges and didn´t expect the police officer to start the questioning by flirting with me. In the police report he wouldn’t even bother mentioning the accomplice who pretended to help me to recover my daypack that morning in Calama. The one who must have been disapointed about me not leaving my big backpack behind when he tricked me into following his buddies away from the bus terminal. The one I´m so glad I didn´t listen to, despite my shock, when he sent me off the other way into a a dark alley all alone. The one I wouldn´t see again afterwards, and that i would fail to describe to the police, just like the others.
I would love to have a boyfriend.
In these moments. Preferably a strong and tall one. I might have been fine that morning had I not been there on my own. I might not have been struggling with anxiety in crowded places since. I might be able to sleep on night buses without clinging on to my new daypack. But that boyfriend just hasn´t presented himself yet, and life is too short to wait around for him. So for now I keep going, even though I am not comfortable traveling solo again just yet.
Things like that happen to anyone who travels for a long time, this is just a minor setback.
I am very grateful for the empathetic messages and support I received from many friends and fellow travelers after I lost my solo travel spirit. For the rest, I know it´s difficult for anyone who travels neither much, nor far, nor alone, to understand why this incident is still on my mind 3 weeks later. I am not putting my feelings into words here to pitty myself but to finally move one. The point is I am not depressed, because I have to buy a new laptop. Or because I lost several weeks of photos. But because I have a hard time letting go of the sense of calm and trust that had taken one full year to build up and that I consider the best part of traveling solo. It disappeared within seconds that morning on that sidewalk in Calama, and I miss it.
Will you come home?
Not yet. This is not the way I want to end my amazing journey around the world. There are still plenty of gorgeous places to visit in South America, and I know it´s just a matter of time for the negative feelings to fade. Until I learn to embrace the beauty of solo travel again, I will choose nature of cities. I am looking into volunteering options. And I am very excited for my friend Alejandra to join me in Peru for a few days tomorrow]]>
Life is a dance between making it happen and letting it happen. Adriana Huffington
Exactly one year ago I ventured out to travel around the world. When I first boarded the plane to Cape Town I didn´t imagine that it would take longer than a year until I set foot on the streets of Barcelona again. In fact, I wasn´t even sure if I could last longer than 6 months. Without seeing my family and friends, having some sort of routine or stability, calling some place my home. Sure, I had emptied my walk-in closet, left my apartment, given up my job, there was not turning back. But would my wanderlust keep me going all the way to New Zealand?
This journey has taken me a long way since then, both physically and spiritually. My family and friends still mean the world to me. I missed Christmas for the first time, because I was busy building sandmen at the other end of the world. My grandmas are getting older, and I am aware that postcards don´t make up for the oceans that I´ve put between us. Fortunately, traveling in the 21st century no longer means being cut off from home: I was able to finish my work days in an remote village in Malawi by skyping with a Skype call; I could exchange a few words I will never forget with my grandmas on Christmas, because my mom put me (her laptop) on the dinner table. I still can´t help feeling selfish sometimes, aware that nothing can bring any of these moments back.
Life is a sum of all your choices. Albert Camus
I am constantly on the move. Every day I meet new people and say good-bye to them again. I enjoy making fleeting connections with similarly wired people, we click with immediately. Beautiful places touch my soul within minutes. The tasks of getting set up in a new country have become repetitive, even though I am still surprised how little they differ between the developing and the so-called developed world. Traveling has become my routine and knowing that Europe is only a couple long-distance-flights away is as much stability as I need right now.
I know one day I will happily sit down again on what I will call my own comfortable couch. I will enjoy sleeping in my own king-size bed instead of a squeaky bunk bed in a crowded dorm, just like I will be grateful for living in an apartment instead of a used car (actually that´s how I spent two of the most exciting months of my life). But for now, I feel just fine without this comfort. I have gotten used to putting my feet up on another worn-out hostel couch, to lying down on an inflatable mattress at a friend´s place, and immediately feeling at home. The world has become my playground and my wanderlust keeps me going.
How have these 12 months changed me? Where should I start
You look like a hippie! Reunion after 2.5 years with my expat-bestie Brenda in Bali
Stating the obvious: I don´t look the same. I have embraced the travelers look and haven´t worn neiher jeans nor heels in a year. My hair is no longer straight (yes, I finally left my flat iron behind). My weight is still not back to before-Africa levels. My finger nails are healthier than ever before, only my toe nails change color once between continents. My skin always stays slightly tanned, the dark scars from my clumsy accidents might forever mark my legs. Any new wrinkles still don´t keep others from underestimating my age by up to 8 years.
I no longer feel that attached to things. Instead of hoarding clothes in a walk-in closet, I have gotten used to living out of a 50l backpack. Anything I don´t use stays behind. When my fancy flip flops fell apart before the full moon party in Zanzibar, I got cheap ones at the beach shop. When I lost my Indonesian shorts somewhere around New Zealand´s glaciers, I replaced them with second-hand ones. Yes, I keep taking tons of photos, and it would make me sad to lose any of them. But at the same time I would no longer feel devastated about it. I know I don´t need them to remember how I felt when I swam with stingless jellyfish in Sulawesi or when a hippo scared the living hell out of me in Zambia?
Lost time is never found again. Benjamin Franklin
I have become more selective with whom I spend my time with, and that´s a good thing. I am both an optimist and an empath, a combination which can be draining at times. After everything I have seen on my journey I have little patience left for anyone feeling sorry for themselves over stupid stuff. I embrace the freedom of walking away from naysayers and I have gotten a little better at conserving my energy the few times I don´t. I am getting less frustrated with those who “admire what I´m doing” but have a million reasons to stick to 1st-world-habits that don´t fulfill them. Life is too short for excuses.
All alone? You are so brave! (still makes me smile)
Ever since I can remember my wanderlust kept pushing me out of my comfort zone, but many times my inner child was tamed by daily routine and other people´s opinion. Farther away from home then ever before, my craving for adventure has reached the next level. I am taking on personal challenges that I couldn´t have imagined before like bungee jumping from 134 meters in Queenstown or getting an in-situ-maori-design tattoed on my foot in Auckland. My hands were sweating, my jaw clenching and my heart racing every single time. And then I still went through with it.
Whether you think you can or you think you can´t, you are right. Henry Ford
Constantly switching between different cultures, races, languages, sceneries is overwhelming. I will never forget how frustrated I felt when I ended up in a teenie-dorm in Australia after having traveled around developing countries for 9 months; or how lonely I felt freedom camping on my own after having interrupted my solo travels for the first 4 weeks of my road trip. I might have quit earlier had I not found my way to stay emotionally stable: meditation. I first experimented with meditation upon returning from hiking the Rinjani volcano and at this point it has become a daily habit. Meditation helps me to take a step back and balance my energy before I seek the next adventure.
Would I have prepared myself different for this trip had I known what was to come?
When you try to control too much, you enjoy too little.
I am glad I had taken care of certain preparations. I got my vaccines and figured out the visa situation for my first travel destination. The Austrian in me ordered additional debit and credit cards which came with an additional travel insurance. I don´t pay commission withdrawing money, because I specifically opened an account with a Spanish bank that didn´t charge any abroad. But one thing comes to mind that I would actually do differently now: prepare less & get going! I have learned that my travel route changes constantly; my friends back in Barcelona helped me to file taxes from a remote island in Malawi; I got myself a new passport in New Zealand. Everything can be figured out on-the-go, even at the other side of the world.
Fellow travelers usually assume I am traveling on a round-the-world plane ticket and are surprised to learn I don´t. When I planned my trip, I felt the urge of buying an (overpriced) RTW ticket for the sake of holding on to what felt like a little bit of security at that time. Resisting this urge made my trip so much more special. Not only would it not have saved me any money, but it wouldn´t have allowed me to experience this level of freedom which I couldn´t have imagined before and which I have gotten so used to that I sometimes forget about.
Just go with the flow! Advice from my atheist skydiving master Alfred
Rocking up with my car in the next town, unsure whether freedom camping would get me in trouble there. Getting stuck in an African village, not knowing how I would be able to travel on nor when. Coming from a prudent culture, it took me a long time to embrace the uncertainty of what was going to happen next. I have learned that there is always a way out and the worst situations turn into the best stories. Living in the moment is an important skill that I got to practice quite a bit in New Zealand. I am still getting better at it every day.
Nothing lasts forever and in a few months I will find myself on a plane back home. For a long time I have dreaded the moment when I would “return to my old life”. To an office routine, to 1st-world-conversations, to places that don´t inspire me. For a long time I have wondered how I will feel when this amazing journey comes to an end, but different to a few months ago these thoughts no longer worry me. For one year I have proved to myself that I am able to adapt to a dynamic environment full of life´s surprises. I am confident that many beautiful moments will be waiting for me even after this dream is over.
To be honest with myself, I know I am not going to “return to my old life”. All the places that I have connected with, all the people who shared their secret to happiness with me along the way, have turned my world around. There´s just no going back to where started 12 months ago. I know will let go of some habits or even friends, actually I already have. Does this worry me? Not that much anymore, because it will free up time to take on other habits and meet like-minded people, both of which excite me.
South America is the last stop on my way back to Europe. I have had an amazing year, and no words could describe how grateful I feel to live this unique experience. Not every moment of my journey has been a happy one, much less an easy one. But I wouldn´t want to change a single thing. Every experience has helped me to grow, to enrich and inspire me on some level. I have never felt as alive as today.
20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn´t do than the ones you did do. Mark Twain
It had been raining for days in the adventure capital of New Zealand. The hostels in town were fully booked, so I kept busy refreshing my search on booking.com and move accommodation every day. Figuring out my next travel stops and chatting with the girls in my female dorm helped lift my spirits up, but I seriously struggled to recover my happy-self. I needed a serious energy boost.
This morning I got up early before the rain set in again in order to bungy jump down 134 meters from the Nevis bungy pod. OMG!
And how could I have refused to purchase the video of my epic first bungy jump?
I loved it!!! Not quite the 30-second-free-fall I enjoyed skydiving above the Namibian desert, but this time there was nobody attached to me. It was just me, standing on the edge, taking a leap of faith and jumping head first. All solo.]]>
Should I visit Raja Ampat, the most exclusive Indonesian tourist destination?
9. You are just really not into shark selfies.
Which place has been my favorite on your RTW trip so far?
Life at home revolves around 2 things. No. 1: DEATH.
Did you know that Toraja families keep the deceased at home until his funeral?
You might find it even more surprising that there are plenty of tourists who put up with endless bus rides all the way to the middle of Indonesia´s second largest island to trek around the hills and ricefields of Batutumonga or to take their selfies in front of our traditional graves.
Our people believe that you can take possessions with you in the afterlife. so in order to avoid grave plundering they used to hide the dead in elaborate caves. Not so their toddlers.
The remains of babies were actually buried in trees so that they would continue to grow. And then there are the Tau Tau.
That´s what we call the wooden effigies of the dead that used to be put on balconies in front of the graves. Many Tau Tau were stolen, so people just keep them at home nowadays.
Highlight no. 2 of Toraja: ME! And my fellow buffaloes, I guess.
In your country you guys might fill your garages with fancy cars and bikes, but here buffaloes are the status symbol of every family!
Just look at the Tongkonan, our traditional house. Even the shape of the house roof looks like my horns.
People here treat me with respect!
The same can´t be said about other animals, like the roosters. Wanna know what´s their (last) highlight? A fight in somebody´s backyard where they can call themselves lucky if someone bets on them.
Not to mention the pigs, just listen to their whining. These fellas even get sacrificed wedding.
Yeah, I am different!
Buffaloes don´t do weddings; we are the heroes of the true Torajan highlight, the funeral (told ya that death is a big thing here).
10 years have gone by since that lady died and her family has saved up ever since to afford the elaborate ceremony. Her son died in the meantime, and they invited a thousand people to their joint funeral ceremony which lasted a full week.
Even tourists are welcome – just bring a stack of cigarette pack and you will be invited to join the party.
Yeah, lot´s of eating & much else going on at a Toraja funeral. Traditional dances, parades, bull fights,…