Tag Archives: explore

The Most Important Lesson Travel Has Taught Me

I’ve learned so much about the world while travelling, it’s impossible not to.  But for now I just want to tell you about the number one thing that has been reinforced, again and again, by every meaningful travel experience I have had.

When you spend an extended period of time outside of your normal routine, exploring, taking in wondrous sights, and discovering the astonishing variety of life that exists on our planet, it shifts your perspective on things.  You realise that there is so much more out there.

The view from Poon Hill, Nepal

The view from Poon Hill, Nepal

It isn’t just the endless physical possibilities you now know exist.  More significantly, it is the depth of peace and the overwhelming feeling of aliveness you discover.  The world becomes a so much more enchanting place, and you have a much deeper appreciation for all of it.

Monkeys in Hampi

Monkeys in Hampi

It can be difficult to balance this new found sense of wonder with day to day life in a 9 to 5 job back home.  I struggled with it several times after returning from long trips abroad.  I needed the money, (mainly so I could go off and have more spectacular adventures!) but, more that that, I needed to slow down and enjoy the small pleasures in life.

I could no longer deny the importance of my day to day experience in the hope of experiencing more peace in the future.

I unequivocally had to live for the now.

This brought with it a whole heap of challenges, but my shift in priorities also led me to discover so many wonderful things that I wasn’t open to before.  I got into yoga in a big way, I became a qualified massage therapist, I started making my own jewellery, I picked up my guitar again after years of neglecting it, and I even began writing songs.

I've now turned my jewellery making hobby into a business.

I’ve now turned my jewellery making hobby into a business.

Now that I knew how much peace and beauty was available to be experienced in this world, I had to find a way to ‘live it’.  To only have access to this seemingly magical realm when I was on holiday from real life was an impossible thought to bear.  I experimented, failed more times that I could ever manage to relay to you, and gradually found more and more of this peace that I had been looking for, exactly where I was.

Someone tweeted the other day, and I forget who it was or the exact words, something about creativity being a “scavenger hunt for the soul”.  Those 5 words really stuck with me.  It certainly does feel that way sometimes, but my god it is worth it!!!!

Finding the treasure at the end of the rainbow!  Photo:  Iguacu Falls, South America

Finding the treasure at the end of the rainbow!  Photo: Iguacu Falls, South America

When it was just the shortest moments of peace, following so much of the absolute opposite, I feared I had chosen the wrong path.  However, I must have known somehow that things would get better, because I kept trying.  The more I learned how to get my monkey mind to cooperate and tune into my heart’s longings, and the better I became at expressing myself creatively, the more profound and longer lasting the feeling of inner peace was.

So I continue on my journey, collecting pieces of myself along the way.  But now instead of desperately searching, I go wide-eyed in wonder on my quest, knowing that really, all of it is me.  I have learned to live in the moment, content with where I am, amazed at where I have been, and excited for where I am about to go.

Ushuaia, the 'southern-most city in the world'.

Ushuaia, the ‘southern-most city in the world’.

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Why I Travel

Travelling brings me a sense of wonder, awe and enchantment.

Varanasi, India

Varanasi, India

When my only objective is to explore, I am in the present moment and everything feels ALIVE. I slow down and absorb every detail of my surroundings; the colours, the smells, the sounds and the FEEL.

Scene from window of train just outside Cairo, Egypt.

View from window of train just outside Cairo, Egypt.

With fresh eyes I see beauty in everyday scenes that, in familiar surroundings, I would likely pass by without a second look.  I am mesmerized by the most ordinary aspects of life in a foreign land.

Travelling teaches me to find contentment in the here and now; not waiting for anything, just living fully and completely.

As well as the magic experienced in the simple things, there is the profound impact of experiencing nature in all of its immense glory.

Iguacu Falls on the border of Brazil and Argentina.

Iguacu Falls on the border of Brazil and Argentina.

There have been moments I will remember forever, and places that stir up ancient memories that surface from deep within.  Memories that don’t belong to this life, but to a time when a connection with nature was ever present.  Now, during precious moments in a contrasting age of separation, the beauty of this bond can be perceived.

Often when I’m travelling, unexpected situations lead to the most wonderful experiences.  When the stifling heat in Marrakech forced us out of our bedroom to sleep on the roof of our hotel, I had no idea it would be so nourishing and inspiring.  Calls to prayer reverberated around us from all over the city, coming together with the dark night sky and thick warm air, to form a protective blanket around us.  Magic was quite literally in the air.  I woke up with the sun, a new person, with clarity about my path in life.  I knew what I valued and vowed to live more in harmony with this great force of peace.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

I have shared so many extraordinary experiences with special friends, old and new, knowing that we felt the same joy.  Travelling with good friends, spending 24 hours a day with them, dissolves all social boundaries and leads to spectacular amounts of fun.  These times have brought me so much happiness, and to begin to describe them here would turn this short post into a novel.

Along with this peace, wonder, contentment and connection with nature, travel provides the opportunity for something that is even more valuable to me.  Adventure.

I sometimes suffer from quite debilitating anxiety.  If it weren’t for my love of adventure, my mental state could be a LOT worse than it is now.  I still have my struggles, but knowing all the crazy things I have done (and survived!) really helps when I’m having a crisis of confidence.

I’m not what you might call a dare devil.  I have a healthy amount of caution, but my desire to experience new and exciting things has put me in some pretty hairy situations on more than one occasion.  I could do without adventures like being stuck halfway up multi-pitch rock climbs, or escaping The Great Fire Of 2012 in Laos; but they have taught me how much I can actually cope with.  I’ve overcome my fears sky diving and bungee jumping, and survived many a minor accident while testing my boundaries white water rafting, handstanding in inappropriate places and riding mopeds on potholed roads.

White water rafting in Peru, just before we flipped over and smashed my face on the rock!

White water rafting in Peru, just before we flipped over and smashed my face on the rock!

These things are all great learning experiences (some more fun than others!), but it’s the feeling of limitless possibility that being out of my comfort zone brings me that keeps me coming back for more.  Whether I’m looking out over a new city from a tall building or viewpoint (one of my favourite activities), trekking through beautiful unknown landscapes, or pushing my physical and mental limits, adventure to me is about possibility.  That is what I find so exciting.

When I do something out of the ordinary, I experience a feeling of expansiveness, and I know that there is so much more to explore and do.  I know that I am capable of so much more than I thought I was, and my heart longs for the next adventure.

View from the Baiyoke Sky Hotel, Bangkok

View from the Baiyoke Sky Hotel, Bangkok

 

 

 

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The Amazon Left Me Wanting More

The main reason I had wanted to travel to South America was the Amazon rainforest.  It had captivated my imagination since I was a child.  To me it was the ultimate destination for an explorer, and it has been in my heart for as long as I can remember.

We travelled by land for hundreds of miles to the city of Manaus in Brazil, the main departure point for visiting the jungle.  As I drifted in and out of sleep on that epic bus journey I became very aware that the air was changing.  As we descended gradually into the Amazon basin I could feel the increase in pressure and humidity, along with a less tangible sense of the mystery of this giant forest.  The anticipation gradually built over the coming days as we arrived in Manaus, booked our tour, and began our journey slowly by boat up the river.

Amazon

 

Despite my dream to visit the Amazon I knew very little about it.  I had images in my mind based on various nature documentaries and things I’d heard, none of which really matched up with my experience.  The upside of this was that there was so much that was absolutely amazing and completely unexpected about my trip into the rainforest.

We swam with pink river dolphins, which were more aggressive than you might imagine such a graceful creature to be.  They have sharp little teeth and weren’t shy about using them.  I politely waded waste deep in the murky water with the strange beautiful creatures, not wanting to appear ungrateful for such a special experience, while they head butted me and tried to bite my legs!  It’s a delightful memory though, and I think I prefer it over a more laid back dolphin encounter!

Pink river dolphin

Pink river dolphin

The spiders we encountered were less delightful.  The tarantula our guide poked at with a stick until it emerged from its hole was everything you’d expect from a giant furry arachnid built for ambushing prey, but it was probably much more frightened of us than we were of it.  I have much worse spider memories from the jungle.

Cruising through the flooded forest on a tiny boat was a magical experience by day.  We left our big boat on the wide part of the river and ventured into the unknown, between the trees through ever narrowing passageways.  By night, however, going deep into the jungle by boat varied between being a thrilling experience and a downright terrifying one!  As the forest grew denser spiders from overhanging branches that had been disturbed by our boat landed on board.  My friend and I grabbed the torch from our guide and frantically checked each other for spiders repeatedly until the torture was over several hours later.

Baby python

Baby python

On other occasions we saw a sloth, pythons and piranhas, all of which were so surreal, like something out of a children’s picture book.  The large boat was our base from which we explored.  We had plenty of time to relax on board and soak up the sights and sounds of the forest.  Our guide told us there were alligators in the water but that it was safe to swim nearby, so without giving it a second thought we all jumped in and had a lovely refreshing dip in the opaque muddy water, trying not to imagine what was beneath the surface.

We thought he was joking when he called to us to get out of the water because there was a caiman close by.  We got out anyway, just in case!  We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw it just a few meters away from the other side of our boat.

By far the most unexpected creatures in the Amazon were on board though.  A rather eccentric dutch girl, a fellow traveller, had acquired some new born kittens in Manaus.  They’d been abandoned and left in a cardboard box in the street.  She’d heard them screaming and couldn’t bear to leave them.  So the kittens got the jungle tour too.  They even camped with us the night we slept in hammocks in the forest.

These were some of the more memorable and unexpected highlights of the visit.  However, the rainforest I’d seen in films, books and documentaries eluded me.  All the time it felt like we were on the edge of something.  After days of journeying we only briefly touched upon the ancient primary forest.  For the most part we were in secondary forest with smaller younger trees.

Amazon

 

The Amazon with huge trees and a high leafy canopy containing an abundance of life that I had anticipated for so long was indeed real, but I only caught tantalizing glimpses of it.  It was time to turn around and head back down the river to Manaus.  It had been amazing, and I’d ticked off a lifelong goal, but we knew that there was so much more than the tiny part we’d had the privilege to explore.

The trouble is with travel, and I’m pretty sure ninety nine percent of people reading this would agree, the more places you see, the more places you feel like you need to return to.  Unfortunately I’ve got this burning desire to go absolutely everywhere, so it’s going to be a while before I get round to revisiting the many places that have left me desperately wanting to return.

Amazon sunset

Sunset on the Amazon river

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Halong Bay, Vietnam

I went to Halong Bay in northern Vietnam back in 2006, before I became the more cynical seasoned traveller that I am today.  My experience was one of pure adventure and amazement, and my fresh young eyes perceived the majesty of the world we live in.

It was hot there. Really really hot.  My best friend and I were on an overnight cruise in the bay and we’d dropped anchor amongst the tall limestone karsts that jutted out of the water all around us.  Sleeping in our cabin seemed ludicrous given the temperature, so we stayed out on deck. I’m so glad we did, because it was the most memorable experience of the whole trip.  We were under the stars, sitting on sun loungers, gazing out across the water to one of the islands.  Only the outline was visible, but this made it all the more impressive.  Seeing the giant rocky structure rise from nowhere out of the sea was so mysterious by night. We felt like we were in a film set.  It was too beautiful to be real.

By day we kayaked around the islands.  We came across a tiny little sea cave so we went in to have a look.  We soon retreated when we realised there was someone living in there!  I think he was as surprised to see us as we were to see him!

I was fortunate in my awestruck state of wonder to be blissfully oblivious to the pollution and tourist overcrowding in Halong Bay, although reportedly these problems are much more obvious now.  I’m very grateful that I was able to experience the true timeless magnificence of this place of ancient legend and mystery.  These glimpses of natural paradises are still available to us amidst the mayhem of popular tourist spots if we’re open to the experience.

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