One Year Already?
How did that happen? I’ve been out of the country for a year already? I don’t even know what to say. I don’t feel like I’ve been gone for that long. I swear I was just at home packing my bags, gathering my documents, and hoping everything would go as planned.
I didn’t know what to expect from this journey I felt like I needed to embrace. A year ago today, had you asked me what I was looking forward to most, I wouldn’t have been able to answer it. I had plans, I made a bucket list, but honestly I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I wasn’t sure where I’d end up, what I’d see, what I’d experience.
With little expectation, I decided to put my travels into the hands of faith. That if it felt right, then I’d know I was exactly where I was suppose to be. After all, I was just beginning to write another chapter in my life. I could try and try to write it perfectly, but sometimes I had to let things just happen to let my story write itself. To inspire me, to remind me why I was doing all of this in the first place.
And now? A year later, I can say my favorite memories are not the ones on my bucket list of places to see or things to do. Nor are they the ones I planned, but the ones that I happened to stumble upon by being somewhere at the right moment, the memories that took my breath away, that made me cry or laugh, and made me believe that magic truly does exist in this world in the most simple ways.
For those of you who have followed, joined, and met me along my journey, thank you. To one year abroad, here are my top 10 experiences:
1. Spinning under the Eiffel Tower in Paris:
After London, I was anxious to get to Paris, mostly to see the Eiffel Tower. When I saw it for the first time, it was at night sitting there brightly. Sparkling like a series of stars grouped together. It kept us mesmerized, it drew us in. The closer we got, the bigger it got and with all amazement we were in awe. The excitement grew on our faces, we finally felt like we were in Europe. With some bargaining skills, I talked this guy down into giving us a bottle of champagne for 5 Euros. My friends and I popped the bottle open, champagne erupting like a volcano, us laughing and spinning under the Eiffel Tower. I looked at Scotty as I took a sip of champagne and said, “now this is magic.”
We had just finished dinner and drinking Sangria out of a watermelon. As we sat there in a circle talking about what had happened, what was about to come, and what was happening right now, the sangria kicked in. There was something about Corfu that made our minds go crazy or maybe it was a full moon. When it darkened, I asked Scotty if he’d like to go to the beach with me to hear the ocean. Happily he agreed. On the way to the beach we had to go through this path that was in between two fences draped with plants in total darkness. When we walked through it, these little glowing dots started to move around illuminating the path. Chills ran through my body, the sound of the ocean filled my ears as it touched the little Greek Island, and my brained filled with disbelief of the moment I was in. I looked at Scotty and once again I said, “this is magic.”
3. Eating gelato in Verona, Italy:
Silly? Maybe. We had just gotten to Verona, the first town we finally stopped at in Italy. Our guide wanted to show us the poetic love between two people that ended with anything, but a happy ending. We went on a hunt for Juliet. As we walked through the labyrinth alleyways, Khalia and I found ourselves to be lost amongst the sea of people that would make it even more difficult to find where we were.
On the search to find Juliet or shall I say our way out of being lost, we gave up as we saw this line moving inch by inch into a shop. Curious, we looked through the windows and saw gelato being scooped into cones. Our mouths watered, the fear of getting left behind diminished, and soon we began to also move inch by inch into a shop that would please my taste buds like no other.
I wanted something classic, I wanted something Italian, I got to the counter paid for two scoops, and handed the lady my receipt, “pistachio porpavore.” We grabbed our gelato, walked out the door, then proceeded to walk to find someone familiar so we don’t get left behind. I licked the pastel green gelato, stopped, and enjoyed every moment of heaven a simple dessert brought me to. We never did find Juliet, but we did find romance in the gelato we ate bite after bite.
When I found out I’d be heading to Switzerland, I just knew that I wanted to do my first skydive here. I had this whole picture in my head of how it was going to feel like, what I was going to see, and what scents I’d pick up along the way down.
I’d feel anxious, a bit excited, and terrified at the same time. Maybe I’ll talk myself out of it and not get on the plane. Maybe I’ll scream or faint as I take the jump. I’d close my eyes and then I’d open them only to see the Swiss Alps below me. There would be blue skies with white fluffy clouds hugging the mountains. Green fields covered with farmlands, thousands of trees, and cows grazing by a barn. I’d see birds flying around the lakes and streams with a cottage right next to it. The cold breeze would kiss my cheeks as I quickly fell and within a moment I’d blink my eyes to find myself back on the ground.
And you know what the best thing was? It was exactly how I pictured it. It was an imaginary dream, that I thought I’d only see in books, but it came true and it made me feel alive. It was the moment where I thought I could fly. The moment I finally felt a part of something bigger than myself.
When I was a girl, one of my favorite Disney movies was Aladdin. I always thought that he lived in this make believe world, that it was the sort of magic only the eyes of children could see. That was until I went to Morocco and wandered into the Medina in Fez.
It was the type of organized chaos that you learn to appreciate. Entering the Medina was a piece of cake, it was leaving that was difficult. It’s a place where you get lost and not being able to find your way back. Markets and donkeys filled the streets. People walking, gathering for prayer, and bargaining with you along the way. Time stopped, the noise was still, I was in a movie, but I was the only one moving.
“Come with me, my house is on the top of the hill,” as he grabbed my hand. Tired and exhausted, I looked for Justine to see if she was behind me. We walked up a pathway that led us to a cobbled stone staircase and a maze bringing us up to this apartment that would soon change a piece of me.
We went through the door and the first thing Miro did was bring me to the window. “I have something to show you,” as he gave me a smile that took my breath away. He opened the wooden covered windows and with a grasp for air, I couldn’t breath. The moon and the stars reflection hit the surface of the ocean in front of me. I closed my eyes, the smell of the salt filled my lungs, and the waves crashing against the sand played soothing music to my ears. I opened my eyes and couldn’t believe that I could see King’s Landing lit up in the darkness. My eyes watered and I whispered to myself, “I can’t believe this is real life.”
7. Bioluminescent Plankton in Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia:
“Let’s go guys, the bar is closing. The lights will be off, lets go see the plankton,” I said as I took my final shot of the night. A group of us had a plan, that if we went into the ocean at night we’d have to stick together so no one gets left behind. That plan failed as, I disappeared into the dark sea surrounded by tiny planktons illuminating with blue radiance.
A group of guys from India panicked because they couldn’t find me. They went to search for me on land. They grouped together a search party to find the crazy Alaskan girl who got lost at sea. Despite how worried they were, I could see it all unfold from the ocean and smiled. Maybe I should have told them I was safe, that I was fine, but it amused me that people I just met cared.
I could of eased their minds, but I was too caught up in a world I didn’t know was real. How could it be? Every time I moved or touched the water, it would glow. Was I on Earth? Was I alive? I didn’t know how to process the moment, but I wanted to enjoy every moment of it peacefully without distractions. After all, I wasn’t out there alone. It was truly a magical moment and after 3 hours of playing with these glowing sea critters, I thought it was time to come out of the dark.
8. Sleeping with Lions in Botswana:
The night was still, well except for the wild elephants that were anxiously looking for water at the Elephant Sands campsite. Sandra and I got into our tents to end the night, as we had an early morning ahead of us. Wiggling into my sleeping bag, I finally laid my head down and started thinking about what we had done that day. My tent mate sound asleep, I closed my eyes and that’s when I heard it.
A sound I found familiar. A roar I didn’t want to believe I heard outside my tent. For a moment, I thought I was just imagining it, until I heard the roar again. “Oh my God, it’s a lion,” I thought to myself in disbelief. My nerves ran up my spine, the hairs on my arm stood up, and anxiety filled my face. I tried to hide further in my sleeping bag. Lions roaring and elephant screams filled the still night, waking up anyone who was sound asleep. Terrified, I laid in my tent as still as I could, not making a sound.
I never slept that night. The moment the sun came up and I heard breakfast being made, I got up and finally walked to the bathroom. When I got back to my tent, there were lion tracks surrounding our campsite. There was two of them. “Only in Africa,” I sighed as I realized it wasn’t a nightmare, it actually happened.
At 6am I pulled my shoes off and decided to climb the dune barefoot. The sun was just coming out and the soft fine sand was cool below my feet. I’d have to climb this fast before the sand heats up under the sun’s rays. I was mesmerized by the orange-red dunes surrounding me. The way the sun rose, it added nice shadows and contrast to the dunes.
I felt like an Arabian knight lost in the dessert somewhere following the trail of footprints ahead of me. Some of them blown away by the wind, covered, like they were never there. I lost my breath this day, nor did I want to leave. I climbed to the top and just sat there, a loss of words. Never in my life did I think I’d experience a moment like this. I felt at peace with the world and for once, with myself.
I’ve been longing to see where the two oceans meet before I left Alaska. I thought it made for a romantic story. The first time I ever saw two oceans meet was when I was in South Africa at the Cape of Good Hope. I thought the views were stunning, but I ran out of time and couldn’t fully embrace what the two oceans meant to me.
That was until I went to Cape Leeuwin with my friend James when I got to Australia. Now this moment is one I’ll never forget. Not only did I find a good friend in him, but he ensured I started my new Australian adventure with a wonderful beginning. He never failed me that day. We made the drive from Margaret River to Augusta and climbed to the top of the lighthouse, where you could see where the two oceans meet: The Indian and Pacific Oceans.
After the climb down, I sat on the ground and leaned back onto the lighthouse. I faced to the sea, put my head phones on, and started listening to the audio book describing the history of Cape Leeuwin. The wind picked up my hair and made it dance. I sat there silently for thirty minutes and watched the ocean meet each other. Crashing towards one another with such excitement like they haven’t seen each other in a long time.