May 16th, 2017 - 5 years on the road
I hope life is treating all of you well!
Yesterday was the day! I've been mentioning before how I am sending out this newsletter on the 16th of every month as it marks the day I left home to go on my journey. And well, yesterday was my 5 year anniversary! It's funny that nowadays I cherish this date more than my birthday and yet, I almost forgot about it; which is the reason why you receive this newsletter on the 17th. My unawareness of the date or the day of the week is something every traveler is familiar with and it says much about my lifestyle over these last 5 years - 9to5 had little meaning to me, even though I have been engaged in many jobs and activities. When I realized last night what day it was, it was too late for me to send out my gibberish and a glass of Whiskey had my name on it, so here it is, my belated anniversary letter:
I cannot possibly sum up the last 5 years of my journey here and there is no need to. That's what MilesAstray will be one day - an elaborate scrapbook of my journey, if nothing else. But if you fancy embarking on a smaller trip, let me take you back with me to some Miles-Stones (this terrible pun was sanctioned by my editor in chief):
The photo in the header is the very first picture I took on my trip, the day I left, flying west towards the afterglow of a beautiful sunset. I've come a long way since then, a long way in many ways. Back then I had just graduated and couldn't picture myself starting a career. My gap year was my escape, but I never would have dreamt that half a decade later I'd still be out here, slowly wandering the globe wondering.
The initial idea had been to cross South America from Colombia to Argentina within 10-12 months working as a volunteer at the grassroots for non-profit organizations in the various countries along the way. The first month I spent on the tourist trail in Colombia and memorable experiences included being held at knife point, being held by corrupt police but also meeting some first inspirational characters who should be signposts into curious directions. Apart from diverse people, my every step was accompanied by nature marvels and striking societal disparities.
first steps in Colombia
A little more than a month into my journey I started my first project in Ecuador and fell in love with Escuela Katitawa, a small non-profit in an indigenous Andean town called Salasaca. I wouldn’t leave for a year. Everything about the experience captivated me – the people, the work, the fact that I was completely off the beaten track, and having eight volcanoes within sight, one of which erupting every other day. And then there were the two amazing men in charge of it all, unsung heroes and some of the most wonderful humans I’ve ever come across: my good friend Angel and one of my all times idols: Roberto, who I miss dearly ever since he left us last year. Hey I heard your song the other day here in Namibia and it put a wide smile on my face! For everybody who needs a little love in the morning:
Andean vista in Salasaca
Dia de los Muertos
Roberto and Francisca
Pacha Mama erupting
It wasn’t so much the place that changed my life, even though it is certainly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen; it was the narrative I co-authored there alongside many people I encountered and many a coincidence that found me. I could have stayed there for years and it was one of the hardest things for me to leave. But I did move on eventually as I had set out to catch a glimpse of different cultures, lives and places. I made my way down to Lima, where I stranded without a cent to my name left. Little savings had come with me on my trip and after being held at gun point in Ecuador and losing all my possessions, I was utterly broke. But fortunately there were Limeños, who helped me from day one, set me up with jobs and free accommodation. I couchsurfed for some months and worked odd jobs: I separated trash for a recycling project at a green consulting firm, I taught and I led a double life, helping out at an art gallery and volunteering at an orphanage. I even had interviews for sales jobs and modeling gigs, both of which humiliating and fortunately dead end streets.
separating trash in Lima
leading a double life between orphanage and art gallery
I left Lima after six months and made my way to Bolivia with the idea of settling in La Paz. I remember arriving from beautiful Lake Titicaca and being utterly disappointed by how ugly La Paz was at a first glance. It certainly wasn’t love on first sight, but after some days I fell for its quirky charm and today La Paz is one of my favorite cities in the world. I found a lovely apartment, made some terrific friends and started teaching at a language school. They even offered me a job as an interpreter in the presidential palace for a FIFA delegation that was traveling with the world cup trophy. It was one of these rare opportunities that you would never get at home, but at the other end of the world, everything is possible. Without a degree in any way related to interpretation and without ever having done it before, I found myself within a few meters of the president, a day after receiving the notice. That I never got paid for that job is the darker side of the same opportunity-medal that brought me into play in the first place. In the end all these part time jobs were interesting experiences and at the same time struggles, nonetheless mostly beautiful struggles.
my love on third sight - La Paz
working as an interpreter in the presidential palace
After Bolivia a grand road trip and some hitchhiking brought me and some dear folks to the end of the world in Ushuaia, Argentina; how I loved the barren beauty of Patagonia. We lived together for a little while in Buenos Aires before it was time for one of the bigger goodbyes on my trip. A 48h bus ride was my ticket to Brazil where the soccer world cup 2014 soon led to my next goodbye with its off putting price rises and practices.
end of the world in Ushuaia
Ipanema Beach, Rio
After two years of South America I flew to Panama and made my way slowly up north towards Mexico and Cuba. Panama and Costa Rica were a little too Americanized for my taste, but some people, locals and travelers made my time worthwhile. Nicaragua soon became one of my favorite countries and not least because of a fantastic volunteering experience with La Esperanza Granada, which also intertwined my path with some of the people closest to me until today.
pura vida Costa Rica
contrasts in Panama City
Masaya volcano / Nicaragua
assisting at a public school in Granada (Photo credit: Paula)
In Guatemala some nature marvels made up for money troubles, in Belize I drank from Caribbean sunsets and swam with sharks and rays before I finally made it back to Mexico, which had be a home for me in the past. I was afraid that it would hurt to come back to my paradise lost, but instead it put a big smirk on my lips. It was my gateway to Cuba, where I opened a small window to this iconic realm of people loudly praising their beloved best country in the world, while whispering criticism in the same breath.
Semuc Champey / Guatemala
swimming with sharks / Belize
paradise lost and refound in Mexico
streets of Havana
After Latin America I decided to settle in France for some months and my family came to visit me for the first time in 2.5 years. Twice they came down there to see me, while I didn’t dare to go back home once. It was the strangest feeling and until today I carry it with me – going home would be the end of a journey that has become my life. I couldn’t do it and haven’t done it until today, another 2.5 years later.
Instead I went from France to Asia with a little stopover in Turkey. I tried to find out why everybody loves Istanbul so much and stumbled upon Troy by chance.
finding Troy in Turkey
In Nepal I spent most of my days in Kathmandu with some good people and hiked the Himalayas alone – a cathartic experience that mostly took place in the rain. No wonder I got lost, which could have been a pretty unpleasant twist without two little Sherpa girls leading my way back to the path.
hiking the Nepalese Himalayas
Sherpa girls leaving a trail with blossoms to not get lost
India meant an abundance of micro cosmoses for the senses and with AID India another truly wonderful organization to work with as a volunteer.
stumbling upon peculiar cosmoses
working with AID India at countryside schools in Tamil Nadu
In Sri Lanka I found my first elephant in the wild and a myriad of incredible mountain vistas.
my first wild elephant in Sri Lanka
I’m sure Malaysia has incredible beaches, but I wouldn’t know. I got pleasantly and deliberately "stuck" in Kuala Lumpur, which is one of my favorite Asian cities until today.
KLCC, Kuala Lumpur
In Cambodia I would marvel at temples and endless rice paddies and snorkel with plankton at night. I bought a motorcycle in Ho Chi Minh and drove it across Vietnam and Laos, before settling in Luang Prabang. I met the beautiful people of this tranquil realm and home of many monks, every night when I would come to Big Brother Mouse. My Thailand experience was a bit limited due to Dengue fever and the fact that I truly disliked much of the tourism there, which was oftentimes solely catered to the superficial pleasures of Westerners.
Cambodian rice paddy idyll near Battambang
merging rivers in Vietnam
motorcycle moments in Laos
feverish in Thailand
After a pit stop in Kuala Lumpur I flew to Indonesia, where I wasn’t all that happy with my volunteer work for the first time. Nonetheless I gained some authentic insight into Javanese culture, met some sweet people, got to try a myriad of amazing foods and saw blue lava.
Javanese street life
I decided to celebrate New Year's in Kuala Lumpur and then caught up with friends in Singapore and the Philippines. There I also swam with Whale Sharks and accidently ended up in a celebration of millions. Millions of lights were my favorite thing to see in Tokyo, and the view from TOCHO never got old for me. In Seoul I caught up with a South Korean friend of mine after many years and got to water the melons at her parent’s farm.
exploring future visions in Singapore
stumbling upon millions in Manila
Tokyo at night
catching up with a friend in Seoul
My being in Beijing coincided with the Chinese New Year, which meant that places like the Forbidden City and the Great Wall in Badaling are flooded with countless hued dots in my pictures.
Chinese New Year at the Great Wall
I would leave Asia after a year and for the next 8 months Montreal and its people had to put up with me. I had yet another one of the best times of my life in Canada and if it wouldn’t have been for a scheduled meeting with my family – this time in Spain – I would maybe still be there. But off I flew towards Morocco for a moment and then to Tenerife, where I created cherished memories with my parents and sister.
falling for Montreal
getting lost in the medina of Fes
Family reunion in Spain
I approached Africa from the southern end and my days in South Africa were very varied: I worked with two amazing organizations, Greensleeves and Imagine Scholar, met up with a friend, went on a terrific road trip and saw landscape beauty and desperate social injustices in equal measure.
beauty and disparity
Lately I came across vast nature and little civilization in Botswana and Namibia.
Okavango Delta / Botswana
Namib Desert / Namibia
That’s it - bits and pieces of 5 years in 5 minutes (if you read fast). Soon I will leave Namibia with the following interim plan: doing a story on the Peace Corps in Botswana, seeing Victoria Falls in Zambia, shooting a wedding in Zimbabwe and then making my way up towards Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. But who knows - this journey has been anything but what I planned or expected.