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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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Love That Whispers Smiles Through Trees

I sat noticing only the passing of time
Lost in the chatter of a world unable to be silent and listen
I longed to stand to ease the discomfort of sitting
My body atrophied by lack of motion

Her little heart connected to mine
A pulsating surge of blood
Muscle memory remembered
The love that whispers smiles through trees

Wings reached out
Touching the wind that carries the soul
Stranded leaves floated amongst sunlit dreams
Waiting for death’s release

To return as a tree
Rooted in the knowledge of it is
Strong in the wisdom that it was
Growing steadily towards the hope of it will be

I wrote this thinking about one of my journeys back to Copán by bus after a long flight. I couldn’t stand sitting any longer, and so I stood for the last two hours, my head hanging out the window, truly feeling for the first time a sense of appreciation for the journey that I had so often dreaded due to its length. Looking outside the bus, I could see a different world than I had seen before when I had only viewed the outside looking through dirty windows. The beautiful lush greenery came alive, the rustling of the wind was a steady white noise invoking a sense of peace like running water. I turned around at one point, to look back into the bus I had perceived my prison, and I saw a little girl smiling so completely, so honestly at me that I smiled back, and our two hearts connected. She continued to watch me several minutes, standing in the isle instead of sitting with her parents. Each time I looked back, she was smiling.

One time I searched for her, and she was no longer there, and I felt something missing without her bright, joyous presence. I turned my head to peer back out through the window at the rolling landscape only to see a little heart shaped face looking at me a few windows down with an even more luminous smile, filled with pride that she too was now part of a world beyond the confines of the old man-made bus. Together we smiled at the nature surrounding us, the wind thanking us with its cooling breeze, occasionally looking to each other and widening both our smiles two-fold with the happiness of knowing another was feeling what each of us was feeling, to be so sure that in this moment, we were as humans should be, a part of nature instead of separate within our metal box.

Eventually, we did not look to each other as much. Instead we looked to the trees and mountains, satisfied enough to sense the other presence and wanting to soak it all in. The time came for the little girl to leave, only a few stops before my own, and as she left the bus, she turned to me and smiled again, as did her parents, waving to me as they left. Every few steps she would look back, smile, and wave as the bus slowly pulled away, continuing on its journey, and I would do the same. As she disappeared from view, I felt a part of me was left with her and a part of her left with me to fill the space. Together, we had shared the peace of true being, a moment of pure happiness I would never forget nor would she.

I had my first visitor in Honduras! My lovely sister came to visit me, and it was nice to be a tourist again for a week. I ended up visiting places I didn’t even know existed and learning a lot both about myself and this little town I now call my home. It is hard to believe that it has now been a year since I quit my job, and I have been away from Portland, OR traveling and living abroad for that long. I hope others will come to visit me too!

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The drive from San Pedro Sula to Copán Ruinas.

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The Mayan Ruins.

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Waiting for our bus to the Hot Springs.

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The Spiritual Baths at the hot springs.

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Met a new friend at the hot springs!

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Our good luck charm to start the day off right before we hiked around Copán to all the Mayan sites.

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The first stop on an all day trek circling Copán and visiting the sacred check points of the ancient Mayan city.

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Notorious for my problems with customs, this is before I almost got sent to Mexico and after a delicious breakfast in Guatemala. Turns out at the airport they stamped my passport but didn’t say how many days I could stay, and I almost got deported even though it was an error on their part and not my fault. Just my luck. Good thing our guide was able to work his magic, or I might have been coming back to the United States sooner than I expected.

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Yoga and meditation spot at San Lucas.

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Walking up switchbacks to get an amazing view of the city.

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Our guide’s little helper hanging out in the tree.

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From the top of the mountain.

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Walking through cornfields to return to the city.

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At Rastrojón, a newly excavated Mayan site. Incredible this sculpture is still intact.

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Horseback ride in the night.

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My sister and I having a relaxing late breakfast at Café San Rafael.

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My sister was rather popular with the kids at Casita Copán! It was so special to introduce her to all the important people in my life here, and we spent a whole day just hanging out with my Copán friends and family. It made me realize how far my Spanish has come as I was actually able to translate between English and Spanish for a whole day.

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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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I spent my last day in Serbia walking around Kalemegdan Fortress in Belgrade alone in the snow. On the way there, I slipped and almost fell. An older gentleman saw me, and as we both continued on our way, he kept looking back at me with concern, motioning to the ground and saying something in Serbian. I apologized that I only spoke English. He smiled and shrugged his shoulders. We kept walking in the same direction, and he heard me slip again. I was still standing, but this time he stopped and signaled me to take his arm. I hesitated at first, but decided he looked harmless and linked arms with him. He noticed I didn’t have gloves on and exclaimed in Serbian, obviously distressed that my hands must be cold. I showed him I had gloves in my purse which seemed to ease his mind about the matter. He continued to talk to me, and I think he asked where I was going. So I said, “Kalemegdon.” I asked him where he was going, and he smiled and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, wherever you need me. We continued to the end of Knez Mihailova where he pointed in the direction of the fortress ahead of us. He kissed my hand and said good-bye, and I beamed inside as I waved farewell to this chivalrous soul.

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I was sad to leave Serbia. So many good conversations and good people. Those at Hostel Dali, where I stayed in Belgrade, were like family, easy-going and friendly, always ready to help and share stories. I met fellow travelers who I enjoyed talking to and wandering the city with. My first destination each morning was the Square of the Republic Christmas market where I would buy a bag of sour-sugar gummy worms to share and snack on throughout the day. Serbia was ridiculously affordable for all the things I enjoyed. I treated myself to a sugar scrub, chocolate massage, manicure, and pedicure for what only one of these treatments would have cost in the states. And every night I ate mouth-watering meals in an atmospheric setting I would usually only indulge in for a special occasion a couple of times a year. Despite the poverty here, Serbians make the best with what they have and are incredibly generous. It is my favorite country I have visited thus far, and I am not sure how it has remained hidden from tourists when it is such a gem. I felt a certain amount of pride knowing that I got to experience this beautiful country when so few people have.

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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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