Travel

A good, gloomy day for an existential crisis

Today I woke up feeling like it’s one of those days when I need to have a full-blown IMG_3147existential crisis.

Don’t worry. These rarely last for more than a day or two.

I wish the writing bug bit me more often when I am in a solid, content state of mind. Being solid and content does happen to me sometimes, you know. Unfortunately for my blog readers, it’s my down states that make me feel like I REALLY need to write and get it all out there. Writing to me is what food can be to others. It makes me feel better when I’m down.

Ever since I woke up I’ve been asking myself: What the fuck am I doing with my life? And… Why does it seem like every single person who locks eyes with mine wants to drain my bank account?

When I find myself in this position, I’ve learned to ask myself another question: Well, what would you rather be doing?

Now that question is starting to feel like a trick question.  (more…)

Is change on the horizon in Saudi Arabia?

Only recently did I realize that it’s a country I love to hate. I have a lot of baggage with Saudi Arabia and I so wanted to remain angry at it. But even as I got on my first flight back to the country in around 15 years, I found myself unable to quell the little bit of mounting excitement that I felt about going back.

I first went to Saudi Arabia in the 70s. I went to the 7th and 8th grades there. Before that we lived in the US. We returned afterwards to the States but went back to Saudi Arabia, where I spent my last year of schooling (11th grade) before I went off to university in Cairo, Egypt. My father remained for most of the rest of his life. He only left when his health no longer allowed him to continue teaching at university, many years after the typical retirement age.

My story with Saudi Arabia is complicated. I think I actually liked it as a young girl. During my younger years, I thrived on change. I’ve never been able to relate to children or their parents who worry about changing schools and leaving friends behind. My way of thinking was that my friends would remain my friends for life, no matter where I ended up in the world. Moving somewhere else only meant that I got to make even more friends.

Saudi Arabia was so different from anything I ever knew. But it was an adventure. (more…)

The contradictions within me

What is it about human beings and all our contradictions? 

I’ve been feeling a bit mellow the past few days. A bit itchy. Yes. Mellow AND itchy. I feel down. I don’t want to do anything. But I’m really really itching for an adventure.

Just now, after flicking through my Facebook feed, I thought, “All I want to do is to go somewhere where I can completely distance myself from other human beings.” Yet only 30 minutes earlier I told my husband, “I need to get out and go somewhere where there are other human beings.”

Yesterday I was watching Come Dine With Me on TV. One of the contestants lived in a beautiful old home in the English countryside. She had her own lake in her back garden. So I thought, “I’d love to have a grand old house in the English countryside with my own lake.” The reality is that when my husband and I got serious about buying a larger home, I ended up feeling completely overwhelmed, I couldn’t find anything that lived up to the much smaller house we currently have, and I was the one who decided that we’re fine just where we are. So it was mission abort.

I love beautiful things. I love walking through the shops and looking at all the wondrous things that have been created by my fellow man. Then I look at the price tag and realize there was no way on earth I’d be willing to spend that kind of money on something no matter how nice it was.  (more…)

The cycling fall that was bound to happen

It was bound to happen.

If I was going to traipse around the world, hiking, cycling, marathoning, and triathloning, I was bound to

The day after the fall, making our way to Amsterdam by train instead of bike.

The day after the fall, making our way to Amsterdam by train instead of bike.

hurt myself somehow.

It comes with the territory. You can take as many precautions and reduce the risks as much as possible, but you can’t prevent the inevitable.

Living life is a risk. Sitting in a moving vehicle is a risk. Heck, spending most of your time in a chair in front of a TV or a computer is even more of a long-term risk than any hiking, cycling, gyming or marathoning I might be doing. Do I need to remind you about obesity, diabetes, heart disease and all the other myriad risks of sedentary living?

What was bound to happen? My bike wheel got caught in a tram track—you know, those huge, menacing, gaping linear holes in the ground present in many modern European streets. I fell—my right arm outstretched—and as I hit the ground the first thing I was aware of was that my shoulder had popped out of its socket. The second thing I did was to look behind me and make sure I wasn’t in the way of cars (or an oncoming tram). I wasn’t. I slowly pulled myself up from my strewn position on the road in downtown Brussels and as I did, my shoulder slipped back into its socket. (more…)

The soullessness of city travel

I think being able to climb mountains, dive in seas, and cycle across continents has ruined the typical city visits for me.

I was bombarded with stuff (albeit very tasty looking stuff) as I walked through the city - Turkish delight

I was bombarded with stuff (albeit very tasty looking stuff) as I walked through the city – Turkish delight

This is my fourth visit to Istanbul. I remember loving the city on my previous three visits. But that was before my adventuring began. That was before I started learning there was so much more out there.

When I learned I’d be coming to Istanbul on a quick business trip, I made sure to add an extra day to revisit the city I recalled being so enchanted with. It had been several years since I was here and I couldn’t wait to be back.

My disenchantment started at the airport. It was run down in a way that reminded me of Cairo’s old airport. The driver that was arranged to take me to my hotel was some 40 minutes late. He blamed the traffic; just the way Egyptians do. We walked out of the airport and I was hit in the face with a thick wall of cigarette smoke. Does everyone here smoke? I had to cover my nose and mouth with the scarf I had thrown around my neck. I could barely breathe.

At 4:51 AM (I know the exact time because a very luminous alarm clock was lying next to my bed), my hotel room door opened (yes, as simply as that) and I heard someone starting to walk in. “Heeeyyyyyyyy!!” I yelled as loud as I could. “Oh, I’m sorry. Sorry,” I heard a man say and shut the door back behind him. I got out of bed, opened the door, and yelled down the hallway, “How is it that you can get into people’s rooms??” (I never say the right thing in these circumstances). “I’m here for bar lock, madame, and I entered the wrong room. So sorry,” someone replied from two doors down.

I complained the next morning, of course. They said they’d find out who it was and give him a warning and they sent fruit to my room. (Can you see me rolling my eyes?)

To get to Istanbul’s old town, I took a taxi to the underground station, rode the underground and then got onto a tram. I could have taken a taxi all the way into town but I wanted to save some money and I also wanted to experience more of the city the way locals would. I eventually arrived at the marvelous Blue Mosque, took a selfie with it because I felt I had to, and then I walked into the mosque.

It was flooded with people, everyone holding up their cameras to the exquisitely designed domes. (more…)

How the dream of travel can hold you back

Recently, I’ve started wondering whether I’ve played some small part, through social media and blogging, in making some people think that the secret to happiness is to go out into the world on a grand adventure. I also wonder if I might have fallen into that trap myself.

For many years now I’ve been convinced that the thing I’m looking for is not happiness; it’s contentedness. Happiness, I now believe, comes in fleeting moments that we should be grateful for. Contentedness is a sustainable state of being: no matter how bad things get, no matter how seemingly routine and boring, no matter how complex, we can still be content.

Travel and adventure are wonderful passions to have. There is so much one can learn about life and about oneself by going out into the world. Travel and adventure have given me rare moments of clarity of mind and heart. They have made me, I feel, more tolerant of others and even of myself. They have given me so much food for thought about faith, politics, human rights, human potential, and what it means to be alive.

There are some things you can only truly learn when you expose yourself and your “givens” to others and to their givens. There are some things you can only truly learn when you shake the foundations of what you thought were truths. Travel is one of many other ways that allows you to do this.

I say this to emphasize that my aim is not to downplay the role travel can play in finding ways to learn and grow. It just isn’t the only way. (more…)

Getting the Post-Marathon Blues…Pre-Marathon

I’ve long known I have a lousy personality. I’ve written as much many times. In five days I’ll be trying to Barcelona Marathon 2013run a marathon after months of training and all I can really think about is: and then what will I do?

While I was training, I read lots and lots of articles on running. One of the things that really stood out was the amount of material available on post-marathon blues. There I was, hating almost every single minute of my training: the boredom, the loneliness, the freezing cold, the rain, the snow, the mud, the puddles, the pain, the injuries…and there were people out there telling me that once it was all over I’d feel depressed. They were saying that all that training gives the runner a sense of purpose and a routine. Once it’s done, runners feel loss. It all sounded crazy to me. I couldn’t wait for it to all be over.

Yesterday I did my last training run and I already feel a horrible sense of loss. Training for this marathon took over my life for many months. My whole life revolved around my training schedule, my workouts with my personal trainer, and my visits to the physiotherapist. I ate to fuel myself up, iced and stretched to recover, swam to get rid of lactic acid, saunad to relax tight muscles. I put many other activities on the side burner because I needed my weekends for the long runs and non-activity days to rest.

And now it’s all done.

I’m freaking out about the marathon, of course. (more…)

The pros, cons and responsibilities of popularizing adventure

This morning I woke up to the news of ten people dying when two helicopters collided while filming a French survival reality television program. This horrible accident has me questioning, yet again, the wisdom – or lack thereof – behind popularizing highly risky adventure activities through reality television.

Several weeks ago, British television aired a two-part documentary about a British adventurer trekking the length of the Nile River. While on the trek, the adventurer and his guide, at this stage completely on their own, had to walk through territory they knew was under the control of armed men. They clandestinely filmed an exchange in which they gave the armed men some of their gear in order to secure their passage through the territory. Later, in the same documentary, a journalist and his photographer came across the adventurer and asked to join them for part of their trek. Apparently they were heading in the same direction. They were welcomed by the adventurer, who continued on his way to trek by the side of the Nile, during the daytime, in exposed 50-Celsius heat. The journalist got heat stroke. Due to the nature of this particular trek, the emergency evacuation available to the adventurer was hours away. All that could be done was to set up a makeshift shade for the journalist and try to cool him with the little amount of water the group had. The journalist died. The adventurer appeared incredibly sad. The end of the documentary showed a black screen with the picture of the journalist and a nice “In memory of…” And viewers were expected to then watch the second part of the documentary the following week and cheer the adventurer on for the remainder of his journey.

I felt insulted. A man died, in my mind and from what we were shown, directly as a result of this group engaging in unacceptably risky behavior, and I was expected as a viewer to take this in my stride as being normal and expected. I was supposed to accept that the adventurer continued on his trek, continued to film, and continued to enjoy and revel in his own experiences. I refused to watch the second episode of the documentary the following week. Not that it mattered to anyone.

I believe it is one thing for an individual to engage in risky behavior only at his or her own expense. But that it is a completely different and unacceptable thing to take inexperienced people under one’s wing while engaging in such behaviors. Much worse, I believe, is popularizing this sort of activity in a way that undermines the seriousness of the activities involved. (more…)

Travel, a Longing, and the Ultimate Destination

There is a longing inside of me. 

I can suppress it for weeks at a time. But eventually it resurfaces in a way that I can no longer ignore.

There is a longing inside of me.

That longing has shown me how big and beautiful the world beyond my tiny little one can be. It has shown me that within me lies another world the depths of which I’ve barely touched.

That longing has taken me places. It has taught me things. It has pushed me beyond every limit I thought I had.

There is a longing inside of me.

That longing has placed me face-to-face with my fears and anxieties and has told them to go fuck themselves because I’m going to do this anyway.

That longing has shown me how I can be incredibly weak yet exceptionally strong in the same moment.

That longing has made me dream. (more…)

Why I Am Gradually Changing the Way I See the World

My husband and I were at a small junction near the north coast of Northern Ireland and had two choices. We could either take the larger, busier road labeled “Coastal Route” or we could turn off onto a small road going up a steep hill. My navigation device showed me that the smaller road would allow us to cycle closer to the sea’s coast. That’s what settled it for us. We took the smaller road.

Immediately we were lurched into a long series of steep, hilly cycling battles. Cycling downhill was almost more challenging than cycling uphill. The downhill gradients were so steep that it felt like the bike might do a somersault and tumble down the rest of the hill. One uphill climb was so steep and so long that I had to stop to catch my breath. Once I was breathing normally again, I discovered it was impossible for me to continue cycling up the hill. When I tried to put both feet on the pedals, I lost balance. I struggled to pull the bike upwards until I found a gradient that would allow me to get back on.

I had cycled on very steep hills before. These reminded me of that time in France, a few months earlier, when my navigation system and me had a little misunderstanding that resulted in a huge detour up a big, steep mountain.

I knew I could do this. I knew I even enjoyed it. There is a very primal sort of satisfaction that I find in putting every single ounce of energy I have into the movement of my legs. It’s an enjoyable pain. That sounds almost masochistic. It’s not.

We cycled up and down, both of us letting out a very loud “Ahhhhhhhhhh!” when we reached the steepest part of a hill, perhaps thus allowing our own voices to push our legs up that last bit. I have no idea how much time passed at first. It could have been five minutes. It could also have been 30 minutes. And then we saw the coast.

I don’t care how many times I have seen coasts. It doesn’t matter how long it has taken me to reach them: weeks, days, or hours. Every single time I reach a coast by the power of my own two legs I am spellbound. It is as if I am seeing it for the very first time. It is an almost childlike sensation of awe. (more…)