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The hello my friend game – Northern Africa

At the time of this writing (February 2014) there have not been the usual amounts of tourists in Morocco, Tunisia or Egypt – which means for you fellow backpacker, that there are many more “tourist guides” then there are tourists. It is almost impossible to walk down the street as a solo female backpacker without being accosted by several local business men – and I call them business men because they are all business.

pyramids, hello my friend

“Where are you from? Welcome to Alaska!”

It goes like this – you leave your hostel and walk down the street to just go and see the city, or grab something to eat, and in the first 2 minutes you are approached by a friendly, smiling man asking you “Where are you from my friend?” which seems harmless enough right? Yea, then he gently says to you, “Come my friend, let me offer you some tea” – and if you refuse, the next thing you hear is “Oh please, do not insult me, it is my tradition, my way – come please, have a tea with me, I want to welcome you to Alaska” (which is a common joke in Cairo Egypt). If you do agree, what happens next is this man will take you into some shop (usually selling perfumes, art, and a range of other things) and have you sit down while he prepares some tea. After he serves you tea, then comes the sales pitches- and they are good- really, really good. They will try to sell you anything.

When you are a backpacker, not a traditional come to visit a city and go home tourist, you have no intention usually of picking up items that one, you don’t need, and two, won’t fit in your pack anyway. I understand that people need to make a living and can definitely respect this, but after hearing this same thing over and over and hoping that one of them- just one- would actually like to sit and just talk about their city or ask about yours without this ever happening. . . for me, was a turn off. I have learned now to politely ignore these business men and just keep moving on to explore the city without being asked to buy something more, and that when I walk with someone else and not alone it happens less frequently.

There was one time in Morocco where I was taken on a “tour” in which I was promised to be shown the palace, where the Berber people made their handicrafts, and through the maze of alley ways and coffee houses in the old city. On this “tour” what I was taken to was shop after shop after shop in which many different people tried to sell me many different things. After telling my “tour guide” over and over again that I was not interested in buying anything other than the price of the tour to see the city, I finally did buy something – a gift for my sailing mate and his boat. I then told the man that this gift would be the only thing I would buy, and to please show me the city as that is what I paid for.

berber rugs, morocco

In a berber handicraft warehouse – Morocco. Yes, I bought one.

And guess what happened next? The tour was suddenly over- once we got into the car we headed straight back to the marina where the boat was docked. No palace, no nothing that was promised which was quite a disappointment. I later learned that these “guides” are earning commissions from the stores on everything a tourist that they bring there buys, and their only intention is to get you to spend money, not to show you their beautiful country…

Lessons learned?

First, it’s not the time to travel alone in Egypt as a female backpacker apparently unless you want to play the hello my friend game (I was never approached again after I started traveling with Fabrice, a gentleman I picked up at the Dahab hostel who ended up being loads of fun along with agreeing to be filmed for the Spare Some Change Tour. You can meet him here :)

Second, to be weary of “tour guides” when your packing, and do what you usually do and go your own way.

What AM I doing here?
Getting lost in order to find yourself.

This journey began two years ago when I found myself wandering around the jungles in Guatemala. During this time as I camped in the insect ridden, dense forests and I would ask myself, “What AM I doing here?” Remembering times past, the clock slowing ticks forward in a new direction, taking me on it’s second hand ride. I reflect on the former times, when I used to laugh with my best friend, when we used to share our stories of triumph and defeat, our smiles and our tears. All the while, the pain of her unexpected and premature departure still grabbing at me like a spiders web grabs it’s prey, holding me paralyzed as I wait to be completely consumed. What AM I doing here?!?!

The last time I hugged my best friend.

The last time I hugged my best friend.

As the days turn into weeks, and the weeks into months, I found myself in more and more countries exploring, learning, sharing, and thinking. And I found myself asking the same questions, and kept struggling with the same pains. Her death had become my catalyst and had catapulted me into a new realm of possibilities, questions, and perceptions. I was now in a place of constant fear versus courage, of egotism versus humility, of disharmony versus peace. And as I traveled on, an internal battle ensued and I continued to ask myself…

What AM I doing here??

Bearing the winters in Northern Europe, the salty Mediterranean Sea, and the heat and emptiness of the Sahara desert, I searched to answer this question. It is not a question of where I am geographically, but it is a question of the heart, a question of the soul. What AM I doing here? One day when my search seems to be going nowhere, I decide to talk with “GOD” as I know it to be, in a place so silent that the only sounds that can be heard are that of my own breath and heartbeat. I pray for the answers to my questions, pray for the insight I need in order to move forward and seek comfort from this pain. I beg for release, I beg for mercy. Please, I ask… please just take this pain from me so that I may move on.

sahara desert africa

Where I camped alone in the Sahara for several days of silence…

With the stroke of what felt like two hands across my head, it suddenly all stopped. The continuous questioning, the relentless past memories, the crippling pain of loss that has plagued me for the past 20 months. I felt it all just… disappear. For the first time on my journey, I felt completely at peace, I felt calm, I felt centered. I thanked this “GOD”, this universal power that heard my pleas, this something that must have been listening to me and had answered my desperate request. After a few days, I noticed that indeed this pain was definitely gone but I still have not found the answer to my most urgent question. What AM I doing here? It seems that removing the pain of loss was only part of my process. There must be more.

I ask for this answer and I sit silently for three days, fasting, meditating, and waiting patiently. And then, I hear some very simple instructions. Rite, Right, and Write. These three words echo through my mind like a children’s preschool song, playing over and over with a harmonious melody in the background. Right. So I am here to continue my rites (or rituals) of peace within myself, and peace on this planet. I am here to make things right. I am here to write.

The note...

The note…

After I return to the village close to this incredible place of silence, I remember the postcards and notes that were given to me as keepsakes two years ago to take with me on this journey. Until now they have remained gently wrapped in plastic and placed in a inconspicuous spot deep within my backpack. I decide to finally read through these beautifully written letters of encouragement and empowerment and my heart starts to beat again. And then it stops. Out of the stack, a post it note falls out that is stuck to a photo of my best friend who is no longer roaming this planet with me. On the paper are the words. You must rite, right, and write.

Cheryl Marie Mickens. RIP my snow angel and soul sista

Cheryl Marie Mickens. RIP my snow angel and soul sista

 

As the tears begin to flow I look into the night sky and give thanks to my friend as now I know that she continues to be with me, even though I can no longer see her. This long journey has returned me to my home. The home within, the home that stays no matter where I go. It is said that people who take off to travel around the world are either running from something, or running toward something. For me, I think it would be both. I was running from the grief, the pain, and the realization that life could end up unexpectedly being very short lived. I was also running towards something – an experience, a clarity, a way to find my true essence, my purpose in this human existence.

 

I do not know what the future holds, but at least now I have the answer to the question – What AM I doing here? Traveling has given me so many lessons, so much insight into the world, and into myself. For it is when you leave everything that is familiar, and venture into the unfamiliar, that you find your truth.

 

 

OneNomadWoman nominated for the Liebster Award

Melissa’s first blogging award!A nice and loud shout out to Spirit of Enzo tweeter at @spiritofenzo and blogger at SpiritOfEnzo  for nominating me for a Liebster Award, my first blogging award.The Liebster Award is an online award given out by fellow bloggers to new bloggers with under 500 followers to congratulate them / highlight their blog. It is a great way of networking and introducing new people and sharing ideas in the community and having a bit of fun.The Rules

Thank the blogger who gave it to you.
Answer the eleven questions they ask you.
Nominate eleven bloggers with less than 500 followers.
Ask those eleven bloggers eleven questions.
Let those bloggers know that they have been nominated so they can continue the chain.

So Spirit of Enzo, here are my #liebsteraward answers;

1) What host and/or templates do you use for your blog?
I use Gator hosting and the WordPress platform for my onenomadwoman blog, but I also use Wix for an additional site that I have created. The template I chose was the adventure theme.
2) What travel experience most changed your perspective on the world?
Traveling through Northern Africa (Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt mostly) has changed my perspective on the world more than anything else. I have had many perspective altering experiences, but wandering through these cultures have really opened me up to different ways of living, believing, traditions and more. Although I still don’t fully understand it, (being from Cali and all) I am more open to others from this part of my trip.
3) What/Where was your most memorable overseas meal?
Most memorable meal overseas. . . I guess that would have to be the fantastic food found in Turkey. The Ottoman kitchen really knows how to please every bit of my palate. The flavors are so varied and diverse, and the attention to this is incredibly satisfying.
4) Should reclining seats be banned on aircraft? ( @bemusedbackpacker posed this and I am fascinated)
I think not. :) Reclining seats are a god send after a long day of travel, or an expected long flight.
5) You can go on a three month trip tomorrow, where?
I would start in India, pack through Nepal, on to Thailand, Phillipines and Indonesia, down to Australia and then New Zealand.
6) Top five cities visited (not lived in)
1- Istanbul, Turkey
2- Prague, Che Republic
3- San Pedro, Guatemala
4- Cairo, Egypt
5- Nassau, Bahamas
7) Which are better books or e-books?
As a traveler, I would have to say e-books because they are lighter ;) but when not traveling, I prefer an actual book in my hands… something about the way it feels and smells – I just like that better.
8) Top 3 brief pieces of travel advice.
1- Read my “travel tips” on my blog for the essentials.
2- Plastic bags are a great idea. Keep individual items wrapped up in case of rain, leaking of toothpaste or other goo that’s in your pack.
3- TRUST that everything will be amazing and don’t let fear consume you.
9) Have you ever been robbed travelling?
Robbed of my conditioning, my attachment to material things, and my insanity thank god! Hahaha of my few possessions? Never.
10) Souveniers, essential or to much trouble to carry / post?
My souveniers are my memories, and the photos and videos I share with the world on my blog. As a temporarily permanent nomad, my pack weighs in at 50 kilos so, not only do I not have room or the ability to carry the unessentials, the material things don’t interest me much anyhow. I prefer the connections I make with others people and spaces.
11) Photos, remain digital or printed and put in albums?
All of my photos are currently digital as I am still wandering about. If and when I do decide to settle however, a nice hardback photo album with the top pics should be arranged somehow.
My nominations are:

My questions are

1- What has been your favorite travel destination and why?

2- If you could only carry 5 things in your backpack, what would they be?

3- Do you have any funny communication gone wrong stories from your travels?

4- Hostels or Camping. If you had to chose, which one and why?

5- Craziest thing you have ever seen while traveling.

6- Your greatest lesson learned from travels so far…

7- Where have you met the most hospitable people on your journey?

8- How much time do you devote to maintaining your blog/social media each week?

9- Have you found ways to reduce time spent on your site yet still remain productive with the content and reach? If so, how?

10- How do you fund your travels?

11- Top 3 pieces of advice for anyone considering being a traveler/blogger.

Thank you and I look forward to reading your answers soon! Please tweet me @onenomadwoman when they are ready so I can learn and share more about you and your adventures! :)