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I was standing in water with a stranger from Paraguay who was quickly becoming my friend over blueberry ice cream and travel stories when peppers started coming my way. Reds, greens, big ones, small ones floating along the river. Too fast to be rescued as they bobbed along. “There’s one!” I grabbed it and held it like a precious jewel. Yes, I had a treasure in my hand, a bright green pepper. I was determined to catch another. “Don’t do it. You can’t get it. Your going to slip,” she said. But I was determined, and that is how I lost my pink flip flops in the river floating along with the reds and the greens far far away.

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I walk along side a world I do not feel I fit into. Sometimes I think I am a foreigner in my own body. I have never really melded in quite right, a little too much or too little this or that. I live in a world of utopian ideals which when burst too many times lead me to be a bit grouchy at the world retreating within my shell to regroup. “Why don’t you just cooperate?!” I often cry out in frustration shaking my fist at an unknown source. I find the most peace in watching trees, and I feel like they are my friends waiting for me to die some day so I can nourish their roots and become part of them growing towards the sun. Human life seems small and unimportant to me when I look at myself as separate from everything in the world, but when I start to see my connection to the trees, birds, nature, the universe, I begin to feel an important part of a beautiful whole.

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(Photo borrowed from Naomi Hattaway)

When you are a traveler you do become a bit of a foreigner to those who choose to stay put either in the places you came from or those you go to. You are a rebel to the normal flow of things. You can connect, but you will soon also detach, and when you settle, you will be changed from the person you were, a foreigner in your own home town or to the place you end up. I recently read a blog post by Naomi Hattaway titled I Am a Triangle and Other Thoughts on Repatriation about ex-patriots and travelers being triangles in a world of circles and squares. It clicked with me this idea of me being a triangle. I like all the different shapes we make, the characteristics that make us each unique.

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I enjoyed the company of interesting, thoughtful people from all over the globe this week opening my mind to new reflections and perspectives and reminding me to enjoy simple things like walking barefoot with a pepper in my hand. One of the most enjoyable moments for me was sitting over a homemade dinner with three girls from such different cultural backgrounds from me, from Paraguay, China, and the southern United States, which might as well be a different country when comparing it to the United State’s northwest where I grew up. Each of these girls were so beautiful and thoughtful, and they shared a night with me that reminded me why change is good. Opening up to change is learning at light speed, and as an old couchsurfing friend used to say, “Beth Ann, you are on the fast train.” So here I go again…I am hopping on the train.

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I have never been much of a fútbol (soccer) or sports fan because I find games boring to watch on TV. I love watching from the stands, but here in Honduras, you feel like you are in the stands when you watch fútbol. People dress in soccer shirts and paint the colors of the flag on their cheeks. Blue and white flags are waving from cars as they go by. Even if you don’t have a TV, you can still follow the game by listening to your neighbors. You know if you hear them scream “Goooollll!!!” you can expect some fireworks to follow.

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I was lucky enough to spend a day visiting my Spanish instructor at her new home exploring their land, learning about the trees and plants that sustain them, and enjoying good food. I discovered giant lemons exist the size of cantaloupes, and I came home from a relaxing day amongst plants and good company to make fresh-squeezed lemonade. This family takes such pride in their land, and I could spend all day learning about it and being amongst the nature. Honduras is so rich with resources, delicious foods surrounding you waiting to be enjoyed and providing breathtaking scenery with their lush greenery.

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I had a lovely couchsurfer from China visiting, and I was so proud of her getting up and dancing even though she was nervous as it was her first time salsa dancing. She was a beautiful, sweet, insightful, and a blast to have around. One of these days our paths will cross again.

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Día de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, was a lovely celebration of remembrance and gathering at the cemetery. Sadness and mourning were replaced by the joys of eating traditional Honduran food, listening to live music, and passing the time in good company, showing respect for the dead by living.

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What would Halloween me without a nymph and a phoenix? Pre-party…We saw some of the best costumes that night…My personal favorites were the piñata heads. 🙂

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Before I left for Honduras, my niece copied the following poem on paper for me and said,”Auntie, this is a poem about you.” I found it tucked away in my journal today and felt gratitude in reading it as warmth filtered through my window during the afternoon light. I wanted to share it with all my fellow friends who are wanderers, the people I have met through random encounters and couch surfing who for a moment painted the world for me in a different shade than I would have picked. I have learned so much from you all and your adventures and continue to.

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Where Sunshine Fairies Go

The sunshine fairies cannot rest,
When evening bells are rung.
Nor can they sleep in flowers,
When bedtime songs are sung.

They are such busy fairies.
Their work in never done.
For all around and round the world,
They travel with the sun.

And while you’re soundly sleeping,
They do the best they can,
Of painting cherry blossoms,
In faraway Japan,
The poppy fields of China,
With blossoms bright and gay,
They color on their way.

And all the happy children,
In islands of the sea,
Know little Ray O’sunshine,
Who plays with you and me.

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Resistance: You would think after three months of traveling, the leaving part would be easier, but I still find it difficult. I want to stay in Belgrade, and the resistance to leave has never been stronger. As I looked to the rivers from the top of Kalemegdan Fortress, snow all around me, everything screamed inside of me to stay there. Just a week ago, my desire to go home, see family and friends again was overwhelming, but now that I have bought a return ticket, I feel panicky. I want to stay here. I ache to remain, but I look back at my whole trip and know that I felt this in every place I have been to a certain extent, and if I hadn’t moved forward, I wouldn’t have found myself in Serbia. Continuing on my journey allowed me to meet new people, gain deeper perspective. Yet, I feel a sense of exhaustion. When can I be still? When will I feel satisfied that my current location is where I can lay down roots? I thought I wanted to be in Oregon again for so many reasons, but the reality of going back is terrifying. I want to jump off this plane right now, to forget I spent money on any tickets and become anonymous in this city that feels so like home to me. How can one’s identity be so torn between two continents? I have felt a foreigner in the USA ever since I knew other countries existed. The feeling has only become stronger as I have aged. How does one ease the restlessness of wanderlust? It is all-consuming at times, this desire to be somewhere else. If I lived in Serbia, would I begin to feel it in a month, two months? Inevitably it would return, this desire to be free is so intense. But this plane is taking me somewhere else, to Rome, my first foreign destination so many years ago, and from there, home. Normally, I would rejoice to return to this city I always come back to, but it means the end of my journey, and I cannot bear the thought of return now that it is concrete. This conflict within me feels like insanity at times. There is a part of me that always saw myself traveling with someone, a person who was as free as me, but grounded me in their constant presence while exploring, an adventurer who suffered from wanderlust as I do, that could understand it and encourage it while giving me the companionship and understanding I miss when I leave those I love behind. I realize I am in the same state as before my trip with these feelings of being caged. I am a bird who thinks it should be a tree.

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Seeing Rome through another’s eyes is the new perspective I need right now. It feels like I am seeing Rome for the first time as well. Her child-like delight becomes my own. It was meant to be, my returning to this place. No matter how many times I come, it still feels like exactly where I am supposed to be. I end up here every time I come to Europe whether I intend to or not. It was the first foreign city I ever went to, and it holds a special place in my heart. When I think about my return here, the phrase “All roads lead to Rome” comes to mind. How true this is for me. Perhaps, here I will find what I am looking for.

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I came to Rome to meet with another couch surfer who has also been traveling around Europe, to swap stories and experiences. Sadly, the fates did not feel our time to come together was now, but I am sure we will meet some day. I connected instead with a girl around my age at the hostel I stayed at, who also has been traveling for some time by herself. In many ways, it was even better to exchange travel stories and experiences with another female than with the man I had intended to meet with. Women share things that men cannot always understand. She helped ease my sadness after leaving Belgrade and was a beautiful presence to explore ancient ruins with. I also ran into a man from Egypt and spent the day with him walking to the Pantheon and happened upon Trevi Fountain with wishes to return to Rome again.

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While here, I was able to catch up with an old friend from high school wandering through the Christmas market in Piazza Navona in the rain, reminiscing about the past and catching up to the present. Two hours felt much too short to discuss the six years since we last saw each other. Every time I have come and seen her, it has been like time hasn’t past, and we can enjoy each other’s company. Our life in high school was so long ago.

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My last two nights were spent in the company of four guys and two girls I met through couch surfing. They wanted to give me an Italian experience and made me a homemade carbonara, gluten-free pasta meal, introduced me to several traditional games, bought me my first cannoli-one of the best pastries I have ever had (French bakeries watch out!), took me to Trastevere for limoncello and to beautiful lookouts from Pincian Hill above the Piazza del Popolo. They kept me giggling and having fun with their juggling and Zoolander photo shoots. I tried to teach them hacky sack and American slang and failed miserably, as I am not so talented at either myself, but I did teach them “Jebiga!,” so at least they learned how to say fuck in Serbian. I really enjoyed my last European experience; I didn’t have time to be sad about leaving; I could only think about how lucky I was to be with such beautiful people for two days. I love this city so much. Ciao bella!…until we meet again.

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It’s like with a rifle, if you just hold it in your hand, you know it’s the right one, you don’t have to shoot.”~Serbian idiom

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Novi Sad sounds like Christmas. I thought this when I first heard the city’s name. With snow all around me, this image of Novi Sad is confirmed. My experience here reminds me of everything I love about the time leading up to Christmas, from the beginning of December on. Snow, comfort, late mornings, good company, hearty food and indulgent desserts, reflections, dancing, joy, laughter, generous kindness, books you can’t but down, rakija liquor to warm the hands and the heart, so many lovely things. I met some wonderful women in this city. Strong, inspiring, beautiful, independent, and so wise. They felt like my friends back home, and I only spent a weekend with them. They are my sisters, even if not by blood, and I hope we will see each other again very soon. I’ll be working on my Serbian cursing for next time as I found a Serbian swear dictionary online. 😉

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In the Netherlands, my original plan was to visit Amsterdam only, but due to the generosity of many lovely people, I ended up getting to know this tiny little country quite well. Amsterdam is where my journey started with its intricate spiral of canals, inviting lights, and unshaded windows. The warm glow from within homes and businesses invites people to peer in and observe as though those within are not ashamed to show the way they live. I spent most of my time wrapped in a warm blanket drinking tea and having late breakfasts outside of Greenwoods, an English tea room and shop. The spot was right by the canal and perfect for observing the goings-on of this quaint city. Bicyclists rule the road, and the ding ding of their bells as they whir past adds a little dance to the step of those walking ahead. Streets are lined with lovely cafes, restaurants, historical buildings, “coffee shops” (places where marijuana is sold), art and music venues, and unique hole-in-the-wall places. The red light district is full of sex shops and lit rooms with scantily clad women inside. Boats occasionally drift by with families or tourists along the canals. There was an Andy Warhol exhibit of The Last Supper (Pink) in the De Nieuwe Kerk Amsterdam, a church turned art gallery. As I stared at Leonardo da Vinci’s copied work shaded in pink and duplicated, it seemed to me there was no deeper meaning, that really all Warhol did was copy a famous painting that took three years to complete and shade it in pink. I can’t help but think Warhol’s art is really just making fun of how humans are so easily swayed by advertisements and public opinion without thinking for themselves. With that said, he is one of my favorite artists for this reason. He could look at himself and all the rest of us silly human beings and find humor. The highlight of my time in Amsterdam was enjoying some good Chinese food, a scenic walk, and heart-centered conversation with a past wanderer, now laying down some roots here. It is an interesting exchange to see one in the other person’s shoes less than a year later from our first meeting. Ideas discussed then are our current realities which gives us both a certain amount of comfort and satisfaction in our opposite states of being.

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Thanks to the suggestion of a man I met at the Irish Buddhist retreat center, Dzogchen Beara, I next went to Olst where I learned a lot about pounding tires and found a new respect for dirt. Here, I helped build earthships, which are environmentally friendly homes made out of wood, dirt-filled tires, hay, and various other materials, mostly locally sourced and/or reused. Eventually, there will be 23 homes filled with families from around the area who want to build a strong community centered in an awareness of the environment. They aim to be stewards of the land by living in energy efficient homes and growing gardens and trees that will help provide food for those living there and green areas for children to play. The people in this community were inspiring and humorous, and I found I learned a lot from each individual I met. It was great to see kids running and playing in the dirt, waving at trains, and spending time with friends using their imaginations in nature. I look forward to seeing the finished product and encourage travelers, especially those who are interested in eco-friendly building, to stop in Olst and help these wonderful people build their community. You will learn a lot more than just how to build a house. Check out their project at http://www.aardehuis.nl/en.html.

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While at Olst, two people asked me to come to Den Haag to visit them. Here I got to see the sea by bicycle and learn more about permaculture and other ways to built eco-friendly homes. I also discovered hagel slag, which are chocolate sprinkles, and speculaas, which are cinnamon-ginger cookies, all of which you eat in the morning on buttered bread. My first reaction was dismay then delight at having an excuse to eat chocolate in the morning. I think you can put anything on buttered bread here and call it good.

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Next was Breda, where I met up with a woman I had met at Dzogchen Beara. We biked about the city and walked through the forest there discussing many interesting and healing topics. One night we went to a Vipassana meditation where I found myself remembering the beauty in sitting still, which I don’t do enough of during my travels. My friend was a lovely host, and I felt quite cozy sleeping in and savouring coffee in the mornings with her. She suggested I stop in Eindhoven on my way to Germany for the Glow festival, and this led to me staying with some hilarious guys, two from Lithuania and one from the Netherlands, who had me in stitches pretty much the whole time I was there.

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On my train ride to Eindhoven, I sent out some last minute couch surfing requests, not expecting replies, and was rather stoked when I immediately got a reply that I had a place to stay. My couch surfer met me at the station and proceeded to bike me and my massive backpack on one bicycle back to his student house. My mouth hurt from smiling by the time we got to his place; I was quite impressed that we arrived each in one piece. That night I was taken to an international student night where I got to eat homemade food from around the world. After the feast, we sipped Prosecco from a bottle while admiring light displays about the city. Next day, we all slept in quite late to have chocolate sprinkle creations in the morning and an authentic Dutch meal before I left for Germany by carpool. I spent the afternoon getting a few dreadlocks in my hair, swapping idioms, and debunking American myths created by television. As my host rode me back to the train station by bike, my backpack precariously teetering on the front and me on the back,  I felt this was the way to leave the Netherlands in style.

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In France, I indulged in orgasmic, gastronomical delights. Food here is taken to an entirely different level of enjoyment. I frequented Helmut Newcake where I gained experience ordering desserts in French. Here I could stay cozy and warm reading and people watching from behind glass as I savoured gluten-free pastries and café créme. The éclair vanille was flaky and moist with a light, delightful cream center.

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My Parisian friend, aware of my love for reading, took me to a wine bar decorated by books where we were treated to fine wine, flirtatious conversation, and a kiss or two by some charming men. Greetings and good-byes are full of kisses and smiles in France. Two kisses on either cheek are customary and made me blush every time.

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It is common to see dogs with their noses peeking out of handbags and from under tables, or if small enough, from their companions’ laps saying, “Hello!” Men and women are beautiful in a simple natural way like the style of my favorite Hollywood actress, Audrey Hepburn, who very much defined the French look for Americans during her time. At the Hôtel de Ville there was an exhibit titled Paris Seen by Hollywood, which shed light on Parisian stereotypes. With most stereotypes, there are essences of truth, but none can fully describe a country and its people.

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I found that saying “Bonjour!,” “Parlez-vous anglais?,” and “Merci beaucoup.” helped me make friends quite easily, even if I had no idea what the person said in response. Together we laughed at our poor language skills and mimed most of what we were trying to say to the entertainment of those around us. According to researchers, over half of communication is body language anyways.

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I found the French people incredibly welcoming and the setting awe-inspiring. Buildings here are magnificently built, and one becomes very aware how small we are in comparison to the whole universe.

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Shakespeare and Company was my favorite spot, a book store filled with the comforting smell of written works, old and new. People from all over come to this gem to soak knowledge in whilst curling up in little nooks where walls are covered by notes from fellow lover’s of books. You can leave your own words on the walls by using the little type writer at the top of the stairs located in a small hole in the wall that reminded me of childhood days when “I would set-up office” under my dad’s desk and imagine I was working too.

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I found myself drawn to the churches in Paris, my Catholic roots still tugging at my soul. The Catholic church says baptism and confirmation leave indelible marks, perhaps they are right. I sat through a mass at St. Ambroise Church and felt an ache in my chest. Deep inside resides a longing for the community I once felt being Catholic, but beside that lies an even deeper disgust and anger at how religions can be used to rage wars and control people. “With great power, comes great responsibility” and with it most often comes corruption and lies. Religions contribute to society in many ways, especially in their charity to homeless, but their power scares me. I find the most peace in trying to formulate my own opinions from a variety of sources and to always be open to change. I fear stagnant black and white answers because life, in my experience, is more about the uncomfortable gray. Life undefined means we are all responsible to seek our own truth, and that can be a lonely, uncertain path at times, but I find comfort in knowing it is my path.

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While at the Paris Seen by Hollywood exhibit, there was a magazine opened to a page that was an advert for a movie filmed in Paris. What caught my eye, however, was unrelated to the exhibit. On the other page of the 1921 magazine, was an advert for Palmolive titled, “Would Your Husband Marry You Again?” I began reading out of curiosity and was mortified by the very obvious misogynistic undertones, “Fortunate is the woman who can answer ‘Yes.’ But many a woman, if she is honest with herself, is forced to be in doubt- after that she pays stricter attention to her personal attractions.” It blatantly is saying that to hold on to a man, a woman must have this product, instilling in her an idea she is not worth keeping around unless she stays beautiful by his standards. How nauseating, but even more so when I realized that post-feminist movement women are still allowing these types of media to drive how they interact with men. The anti-female sentiments are still there, just less obvious. I feel lucky to have the opportunities I do as an educated American woman, to be traveling around the world by myself as I am. In 1921, I probably would not have had this opportunity. That being said, we have a long way to go before we reach any kind of equal state. Patriarchy is still happening and keeping women from reaching their full potential, the difference is women in America can do something about it in the twenty-first century by speaking out against the misogyny that still is rampant in society, by working towards a world that respects, not men, women, or race, but human beings.

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Voting was an adventure. My missing ballot was the cause of great panic amongst, not only myself, but several French people I conversed with, but it led to a nice visit to the American Embassy in Paris where they were kind enough to fax my vote for me. It was nice to be greeted the morning after the election with “Hooray Obama!” emails from several of my European friends as I left for the Netherlands. I was a bit ashamed though to realize just how much more up-to-date Europeans are on world politics than most people I know in the USA.

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In my teen years, I found myself walking my dog through the local cemetery and reading under its trees. I enjoyed wandering the pathways and looking at the gravestones, imagining the stories of those buried below. I wondered how they died and if they were still loved, missed or forgotten. I would pick flowers and place them on lonely sites. I remember one in particular because below the stone was a baby whose birthday was the same as mine. I stopped at this one frequently. She reminded me of my own mortality, that it was just luck that I was above the ground and she was below. At Pére Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, I saw lovers holding each other tight on benches, admiring the fall colors of the trees shading dead bodies; a lonely widow hobbling up and down steps with flowers and a bucket of water; families clearing away broken glass; others gathering with tears and laughter in courtyards to wave goodbye to loved ones, a procession of black; and confused tourists holding maps and cameras up in front of their faces while stumbling about seeing everything and nothing at the same time: “Honey, according to this map Van Morrison should be right here.” “Do you know where Oscar Wilde is? I can’t seem to find him.” “Hey everyone, it’s the Adams Family! You be Cousin It; I’ll be….” I found the contrast between the living and dying rather lovely to observe.

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Versailles was incredibly large. The grand halls of the palace, surrounding gardens, pools, farm houses, and estates would take a week to properly wander through. I focused on the retreat of Marie-Antoinette with its quaint little living spaces and cream/lavender tower overlooking a pond of Koi fish. I found the trellises guiding visitors along pathways to be enticing and was one of the last to leave as the sun went down.

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Mont-St. Michel Abbey was my introduction to the French coast. A mirage in the distance, a great spire reaching towards the heavens, it barely looked real, and one doesn’t truly believe it is until you are walking amongst its spiralling walls lined with cafes, restaurants, and souvenir shops. This paradise, an island surrounded by water at high tide and a death trap of quick sand at low tide, has been a great fortress, prison, and sanctuary over the years. A village with an abbey at the center. If I were god, I would want to reside in this heaven of fairy tale dreams.

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Catching up with a fellow couch-surfer and now very dear friend in her own city was the best gift of my travels to France. At the beginning of the year, we met and found ourselves on similar paths and have grown together as travel companions, adventurers, and seekers. The conversations were inspiring and paired with lovely settings, delectable delights, the occasional cigarette with wine, dance workouts, watching movies, meeting her lovely friends, trying not to chop off fingers while making squash soup, giggle fits and other silly antics, and most certainly chocolate!

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