How I seized the opportunity to leave my job to travel full-time

During the last two years I touched all seven continents as a solo female traveler, I saw the whales feeding in Antarctica and I jumped in 3 Celsius degrees cold water at Deception Island, I trekked beautiful places in Patagonia and I walked on a glacier, I saw the happiest people on Easter Island and the famous moai, I gazed at the clearest sky in Atacama desert and climbed an active volcano at 5600m altitude, I visited the surreal Uyuni salt flats and I rode a bike on the Dead Road in Bolivia, I flew with a hang glider over Rio de Janeiro, I jumped the highest bridge bungee in the world in South Africa, I visited villages in South East Asia, I was amazed in Japan, I jumped the highest swing in New Zealand after trekking for 8 days and much much more.

How I got the wanderlust bug (forever!)

By 23 years old I had never visited other countries except for Romania, I had a horrible job which I hated, and I was studying a Master in Applied Geophysics which was a complete disappointment and a waste of time. One day I wrote a friend of mine who was studying in Paris asking him to buy me a book I couldn’t find in Bucharest, L’ecume des jours by Boris Vian. After studying 11 years of french in school I’m at least able to read a book in french. But he said no, he doesn’t want to buy me the book, I should come there and buy it and so I can visit Paris too. And that was a good incentive for my first trip.

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From my little salary I bought a ticket with a low-cost company and I went to Paris, and as cliché as it sounds, I completely felt in love with the city and the experience of wandering alone in a foreign country. After Paris, I traveled to London to meet a someone I was in love with and visited Budapest to watch Roger Waters in concert. But my salary was too little to travel as often as I wanted. Until one day when I decided to quit and I applied for the job I was dreaming about in university.

Sailing the seven seas

At the beginning of 2012 I went to Geneva for the interview and I lived one month in Paris to be trained to use the software the company was using. I was going to work with a helicopter and I had to pass survival tests in order to do that. I was processing data on a seismic research vessel with projects around the world which got me on the beach in the Carribean, crossing Panama Canal, seeing wild reindeer in Norway, visiting the Faroe Islands and also seeing the Northern lights two years in the row. Also, I was working in five weeks rotations, meaning that after working hard for five weeks I had other five weeks for myself, for traveling. That’s when I went to Peru for three weeks and when I participated in a photography tour in India. Little by little I wanted to see more of the world and to spend more time visiting the places where I had the crew changes instead of just scratching the surface.

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This is not a story about quitting a job I hate, but about having a good job but wanting something else from life, about seizing the opportunities and following my dreams.

On the Labor Day in 2014, the vessel was anchored 1km far from the Bahamas in order to do the crew change with a small boat. I could see the beaches of Nassau and I imagined how wonderful would have been to be there. But although the vessel was taking me to amazing places sometimes I couldn’t even touch them. So I decided I have to see the world closer. Those days I was reading all sorts of articles and blogs about traveling and beautiful destinations around the world. And when the opportunity came to terminate the contract with the company I didn’t think twice. I took the salary package and I withdrew all my pension funds from Luxembourg and went traveling.

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“Never did the world make a queen of a girl who hides in houses and dreams without traveling.”
― Roman Payne, The Wanderess

Deciding to quit and go traveling was one of the most liberating things I ever did, now I could see the world on my terms. It was hard to pick the places to see and to set a budget so I decided not to make a very detailed plan and go with my feelings. Also, after checking few “round the world” tickets I decided not to buy one because that would restrict my freedom and I couldn’t change the places to visit. I wanted to start as soon as possible but first I visited my brother in Italy, my sister in Germany, I went to Moskow and broke up with my boyfriend and I participated in a photography tour in Prague. Finally, I decided for a place to start and I bought a one-way ticket to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, the place from where 90% of the trip to Antarctica take off. Also, I decided to travel alone, and that gave me even more freedom and challenge.

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Patagonia chilena

Antarctica to New Zealand

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu

I chose to travel from Antarctica to Alaska stopping in each and every country on my way there for as long as I had money left. I decided to go to Antarctica first because that was the most expensive part and also the most surreal one, although I didn’t plan it in advance and I took a last minute deal from Ushuaia.

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Mikkelson Bay in Antarctica
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Torres del Paine in Patagonia
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Hang gliding over Rio de Janeiro

After many months on the road and also a small break from travels when I went home for my friends weddings I decided to postpone the idea of Antarctica to Alaska and see other cultures from other continents although I hope one day I will continue from where I left. My travels took a different direction and for the next half year or so I traveled to South Africa, South East Asia, Japan and New Zealand.

Follow your heart and your dreams!

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs

Before starting my travels I was getting passionate about photography and I was participating in photography tours in India and Europe in order to learn more and practice. During my travels, I became more and more passionate about it and I learned a lot. I like most to photograph people but also nightscapes and landscapes. I have now lots of stories, photographs, tips and pieces of advice ready to be put in front of those who are passionate about traveling and photography.

To wander is to be alive!

“A person does not grow from the ground like a vine or a tree, one is not part of a plot of land. Mankind has legs so it can wander.” 
― Roman Payne, The Wanderess

There’s no better day than today to start making your dreams come true. To decide to do what makes you happiest. If you have a passion follow it! The world is big and is amazing so take your camera and backpack and go wandering!

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Bucegi mountains in Romania
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On top of Lascar Volcano in Atacama at 5600m altitude

Inspiration for the travelers – what I watch

I started to make this list while traveling because while speaking about the movies I watch and the books I read people were asking me for recommendations.

I put together here documentaries, movies, biographies about nature, different countries, history, politics, travel, physics, photography, online business, self-improvement and many other subjects I’m interested in or passionate about.

This list is about documentaries and movies, books list to follow. Far from being complete, I will update it from time to time with new doses of inspiration.

Documentaries

Planet Earth (a BBC documentary: poles, mountains, fresh water, caves, deserts, ice worlds, great plains, jungles, shallow seas, seasonal forests, ocean deep, the future): eleven episodes, each of which features a global overview of a different biome or habitat on Earth. This documentary is so beautiful, a pleasure to watch. I learned about different places I didn’t know before and a lot of facts about our wonderful planet.

Home: our planet from formation until nowadays with the goods and the bads but ending in a very optimistic way.

Samsara: it was filmed over five years in 25 countries around the world. “Samsara explores the wonders of our world from the mundane to the miraculous, looking into the unfathomable reaches of humanity’s spirituality and the human experience. Neither a traditional documentary nor a travelogue, Samsara takes the form of a nonverbal, guided meditation” says the official website.

Baraka: explores themes via a kaleidoscopic compilation of natural events, life, human activities and technological phenomena shot in 24 countries on six continents over a 14-month period.

Into the Universe With Stephen Hawking: a look at the entire universe, from the Big Bang to the end of time.

Atom (quantum physics): a 3 parts documentary about the discovery of the atom, the minds behind it, the possibility of parallel worlds where different versions of us might exist, the discovery that the empty space in not empty at all, but seething with activity.

Particle fever: a documentary about the experiments at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva. The film follows the experimental physicists at CERN who run the experiments, as well as the theoretical physicists who attempt to provide a conceptual framework for the LHC’s results

Encounters at the end of the world: a documentary about the surreal Antarctica and about the passionate people spending their time studying this continent. All sorts of characters and stories, and at the end of it, you will search for jobs in Antarctica. At least that’s what I did.

Touching the void: made after the book with the same name the movie recounts the story of a successful but almost fatal climb of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. I saw it many years ago, and I found it very inspiring. Whenever I watch mountain climbing documentaries I take it as a story about following your passions.

White Carpathia (Romania – British producer, 4episodes): this is a documentary about the Romanian Carpathian Mountains, made with the purpose of increasing awareness about the natural heritage in the Carpathians in order of protecting it.

Thrive: what on Earth will it take? : weaving together breakthroughs in science, consciousness, and activism, THRIVE offers real solutions, empowering us with unprecedented and bold strategies for reclaiming our lives and our future.

Kymatica: “Will you make the tough choice to make personal changes for the benefit of all or allow the collective end of mankind to pass with a faint whimper?”

Earthlings (food industry): using hidden cameras and never-before-seen footage, Earthlings chronicles the day-to-day practices of the largest industries in the world, all of which rely entirely on animals for profit.

Fed up (food industry): an examination of America’s obesity epidemic and the food industry’s role in aggravating it

I am: is an utterly engaging and entertaining non-fiction film that poses two practical and provocative questions: what’s wrong with our world, and what can we do to make it better?

Human: a collection of stories about and images of our world, offering an immersion to the core of what it means to be human. I think this documentary is a must see, it is so touching.

“If you fast forward and think what will our future generations be ashamed of, one of the things I would be ashamed of is how we allowed poverty to exist on this planet for so long when we easily could end it.”

“Because if everyone had food at home we could think. So, we could be poor, but have the intelligence to be able to go ahead.”

BBC 3 documentaries with Stacey Dooley: a British journalist investigating the impact tourism has on poor countries, the economic crisis impact, the refugee crisis, and many more subjects you don’t get to see very often traveling. She investigates what is behind the tourist attractions. And I think is very good to know it, to see things from a different perspective and be aware of the impact you can make on the places you visit.

Movies

Tracks: very inspirational solo woman’s 1,700-mile trek across the deserts of West Australia with four camels and her faithful dog.

Wild: one woman’s 1,100-mile solo hike on the Pacific Crest trail undertaken as a way to recover from a recent personal tragedy.

Maidentrip: such an inspiring movie! 14-year-old Laura Dekker sets out on a two-year voyage in pursuit of her dream to become the youngest person ever to sail around the world alone.

Into the wild: after graduating from Emory University, top student and athlete Christopher McCandless abandons his possessions, gives his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhikes to Alaska to live in the wilderness. Along the way, Christopher encounters a series of characters that shape his life.

127 hours: the story of a mountain climber trapped with the hand under a boulder while canyoneering alone near Moab, Utah.

Finding Vivien Maier: this one is for those passionate about photography, but not only. A documentary on the late Vivian Maier, a nanny whose previously unknown cache of 100,000 photographs earned her a posthumous reputation as one of the most accomplished street photographers.

Gandhi: a biography of Mahatma Gandhi from his early days in South Africa until his assassination.

Mandela: long walk to freedom: a chronicle of Nelson Mandela’s life journey from his childhood in a rural village through to his inauguration as the first democratically-elected president of South Africa.

Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan: recounts the early life of Genghis Khan who was a slave before going on to conquer half the world in 1206.

Once we were warriors: “it opened the eyes of cinemagoers around the globe to an unexamined aspect of modern New Zealand life. Director Lee Tamahori’s hard-hitting depiction of domestic and gang violence amongst an urban Māori whānau was adapted from the best-selling Alan Duff novel.” Not very easy to watch but revealing a certain aspect not easy to see when traveling to New Zealand.

Rapa Nui: tenuously based on the legends of Easter Island, Chile, this story details a civil war between the two tribes on the island: the Long Ears and the Short Ears. A warrior from the ruling class falls in love with a girl from the lower class and must decide on his position in a time of great civil unrest. The ruling class is demanding larger and larger Moai (stone statues), a task which the lower class and the island ecology are more and more reluctant to provide.

Jobs: a biography about Steve Jobs which I find very inspiring because it shows how much he believed in himself and in his dreams. A true example that everything is possible.

Forrest Gump: the story of Forrest Gump, a low IQ but good hearted man.

“Forrest: Momma said there’s only so much fortune a man really needs and the rest is just for showing off. So, I gave a whole bunch of it to the Foursquare Gospel Church and I gave a whole bunch to the Bayou La Batre Fishing Hospital. And even though Bubba was dead, and Lieutenant Dan said I was nuts, I gave Bubba’s momma Bubba’s share. And you know what? She didn’t have to work in nobody’s kitchen no more…”

Oktober sky: the true story of Homer Hickam, a coal miner’s son who was inspired by the first Sputnik launch to take up rocketry against his father’s wishes.

“O’Dell: God’s honest truth, Homer. What are the chances… a bunch of kids from Coalwood… actually winning the national science fair?

Homer: A million to one, O’Dell.

O’Dell: That good? Well, why didn’t you say so?”

Enjoy and feel free to add suggestions in the comments! 🙂

17 amazing travel photography tips I learned while traveling solo around the world

At the end of 2014 I had the life changing opportunity of leaving my job in exchange of a salary package which I decided to use for a trip around the world. Ever since I traveled in India with a photography tour I became more and more passionate about photography. By now, I already photographed on all 7 continents, during rains, snows, very cold or very hot weather, in dusty environments, I carried my camera when trekking to shoot amazing landscapes, even on top of mountains for breathtaking astrophotography, I captured portraits and moments otherwise gone.

Traveling solo around the world I discovered the passion for photography and travel and as I saw how they go perfectly hand in hand I decided to start over from scratch and build a life around my main passions. I dream about building a community of creative people passionate about travel photography and story-telling through photos.

“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.” Ansel Adams

So here are the photography tips I learned while traveling solo for last two years:

1. Learn how to use your equipment before starting your trip: you don’t want to get in front of an amazing landscape and just try to figure how your camera works and how to make your settings. Some people buy all sort of new equipment and accessories before traveling just to be sure they have everything they need, but most of the time is unnecessary. If you feel like buying a new camera for a trip, get familiarised with it before boarding your plane. In any case, always have a copy of your camera manual saved on your phone.

2. Don’t take too much equipment in your travels: I think about photography equipment in terms of a triangle of the compromise between the way you want to travel, the type of photography you want to make and how much you can physically carry with you. Of course, during my last years I experimented a lot, inclusively going to the limit of what I could carry, having two cameras, 4 lenses, one tripod, and so on. And ultimately, I decided to travel light with one full frame camera and one lens with a polarising filter, 5 memory cards, one extra battery and one shutter release cable.

3.  Always take more shots for the same subject and never delete many of the shots during the next days: many times we shoot a subject once and when we see later the photo we can figure a better perspective or composition, but it’s too late, the moment is already gone. Also, we can take many photos but then delete most of them after because we think they are bad. That’s a mistake, a photo may appear bad to you today, but if you look at it after few weeks you may have a different opinion.

4. Wake up early, be it a place that gets overcrowded at day, be it a place in nature with beautiful sunrises, the morning hours offer you some of the best opportunities for great photos: this worked perfectly for me when I woke up super early one morning in Bangkok to photograph the Buddhist monks on their morning alms walk and one of the photos from that morning was chosen for an exhibition. The best natural light for photos is during the early mornings and evenings.

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Morning alms in Bangkok

5. Make backups of your photos, at least in one place and at least once per week if it’s not possible more often: this is simple, you don’t want to lose your photos. I carry a hard drive with me in my travels and whenever I have the chance of good wifi I upload my work on my cloud account.

6. Keep your equipment clean, dry, protected: one of the advantages of using one lens is that you won’t get dust on your sensor while changing lenses. Consider buying a dry bag for very wet environment and always clean your lenses. Although you can later edit the dust spots why spending time doing that instead of forming the habit of keeping them clean?

7. When taking photos of people don’t be shy but be respectful: I missed so many opportunities of beautiful portraits just because I was too shy to ask. This was a skill I learned on the road, because I really wanted to capture stories with people, with their cultures and smiles. There are places where people are really happy to be photographed and places where they are offended, you have to be aware of their culture, their reactions and respect them if they refuse you.

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Vietnamese woman in a village near Sapa

8. When the sky is clear you better stay up late: one of my favorite things to do is night photography. Clear skies are not everywhere, so when you are lucky enough to experience starry nights with clear skies in nature you should capture them, don’t let those chances go.

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At 2505m altitude, Omu Peak, Romania – no tripod used

9. Always have your camera at hand: you might have a heavy camera and not be very inspired some days, but worse then that is not to have the camera at hand when you need it.

10. If your camera is heavy use your backpack straps to keep it tight to your chest: this was so helpful for me as my camera is really heavy and my neck and back were in pain so many times. The backpacks have those chest straps and although inspiration to do that came late it was such an amazing change, as it’s making the access to the camera much easier and much more comfortable.

11. Try different perspectives – turn your back at the most photographed subject: this one is tricky. But remember, fortune favours the brave. Of course you want to photograph the subjects you saw on postcards or on internet, the landmarks and from the most famous angles, but is so rewarding to find a different perspective and create an unique photograph.

12. Be a storyteller through your photos: the most beautiful part of travel photography is the ability to tell a story of the place, of the community, situation or person, to capture a momentary reality from the life of one person. Away from the photographic cliché of mass tourism which I dislike very much, a good photographer can serve as example and recommendation of responsible travel, where you learn about cultures, customs, traditions, but also the reality of war, conflict, and poverty. Also, make photos people will want to see many times, not just once, and without a story to make them dream is hard.

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Young lady weaving in a village on Inle Lake, Myanmar

13. Show realities not noted otherwise: don’t look where everybody looks, go away from the crowd, walk the streets and capture subjects you haven’t seen on other photos or media. Behind the nice church might be an opportunity to tell a story which will show more accurately how is the life of that town or city.

14. When people sit on your way try to use this to your advantage: due to mass tourism there are some places where is impossible not to capture people in your photos, especially when you don’t visit early. Try to use this in your advantage searching for unusual perspectives.

15. Don’t rush – there are places where you won’t come back again, if you are inspired and have ideas don’t waste the opportunity: if you rush to make a photograph because you know you don’t have time there aren’t many chances to make a very good one. Sometimes photographers are lucky, but most of the time you have to imagine the composition and wait for the right moment to press the shutter, you have to try different angles and perspectives, or different settings. If photography is your number one priority and you travel mainly for it then you can plan to go to a certain spot, and you can plan the best times to shoot.

16. When trekking or climbing mountains don’t leave your camera behind. Actually, never leave your camera behind: the camera is heavy, the backpack is heavy, but the effort is worthy when you can photograph the starry night sky, or the sunrise over the lake near your tent.

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Torres del Paine, Patagonia

17. Take candid shots: sometimes when people see your camera they will pose and it might ruin the story. While for portraits best is when people look at you, there are situations when the candid shot is the best and it adds life to your photography.

The world is full of stories waiting to be photographed, just take your gear and go out! I hope this comes as an inspiration for you!

“A journey, after all, neither begins in the instant we set out nor ends when we have reached our doorstep once again. It starts much earlier and is really never over because the film of memory continues running on inside of us long after we have come to a physical standstill. Indeed, there exists something like a contagion of travel, and the disease is essentially incurable.” ― Ryszard Kapuściński, Travels with Herodotus

Volunteering in a community in the Bolivian Amazonian Jungle

My first experience as a volunteer, although it was just to photograph the Real Beni community and just a bit of hands-on help, it was by far the most significant experience in terms of culture contact of my trip in South America. My idea of volunteering was different but as I’m passionate about photography I couldn’t say no to this opportunity.

The first thing we did when we arrived at Real Beni was to meet doña Cupertina, our host, the grandmother of almost all the young people from this small community and the mother of Baldemar, the guy who brought us there. We went to find a place to camp, we cleaned the area of branches and leaves, we set our tent and went up the hill, where she had an improvised place to cook, to eat lunch. We cooked food on the fire, fed corn to the chickens and after lunch Baldemar took the boat and went back to Rurrenabaque, where he is running a travel agency, BOA.

So there we were, me and Katerina, curious and a bit overwhelmed. Katerina found this opportunity for us to volunteer while she was searching for a place to paint. She’s an Argentinian art graduate traveling and painting in exchange for board and food and sometimes money. I met her at the hostel in Rurreanabaque and as I was telling her I want to do some volunteering and to have more authentic experiences, and as she saw I’m passionate about photography she thought this opportunity will suit me just fine. Baldemar had this idea of creating a different tour in the jungle, one in the community where he was born, where tourists would meet the people, with their traditions and beliefs, with their customs, their music and eat their traditional food. As this isn’t an isolated community and people go regularly to Rurrenabaque to sell fruits and vegetables this idea seems helpful for them and could be a good cultural exchange. Our part in this was to spend five days with the kids, speak with them about recycling and good practices, and photograph them so that Baldemar can make a presentation of the community back at his travel agency where he had some other volunteers working on a website for him.

From the beginning, I was amazed how kind and open doña Cupertina was, always smiling and always calm. She brought us cocoa pods and we ate the skin of the beans and put the beans to dry to be made powder for the cocoa drink. It was the first time I saw cocoa in the natural form, not in a box already processed, so I was really excited. Next days I experienced the same excitement with the sugar cane we chewed, the pineapples I saw in every stage of growth, the yucca roots which I learned to peel and clean and I wanted to eat each and every lunch.

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Later that day we met some of the kids from the community, first timidly but after we spoke a bit with each other they became very open. We watched the sunset together and they showed us their dog Colita. Those days in the jungle there were mostly about them, about the kids.

First night in the jungle we went to sleep early, mosquitos already were feasting from our blood so we searched relief in the tent. But we couldn’t sleep right away as we heard music from the other community across the river. Next day doña Cupertina told us there is a three-day celebration of a catholic saint across the river, where people pay respects and offer gifts at the feet of the saint statue and then spend the evening dancing. One of the things that amazed me in Bolivia was the strength of the catholic belief of the people combined with their old belief in Pachamama.

At evening, soaked in mosquito repellent, we went with our host to the river and sat there under the clearest sky, with faint music and jungle noises in the background. Doña Cupertina sang two songs for us while smoking a cigarette and told us she likes to sing and dance. One of the songs was about a girl from the jungle falling in love with a boy her parents disagreed with. She has to make a choice and although she loves and respects very much her parents she decides to go deep in the jungle with her lover. Years are passing by but the girl is always thinking about her parents and yearns to see them again. I recorded her and next day when I met one of her sons I asked him to listen. He was impressed, had tears in his eyes when he listened and he sang the same song using his flute. As doña Cupertina is the oldest person in the community I imagined the song might be about her, although I didn’t dare to ask.

Later that evening one of our host’s nephews came to the river to take a boat to cross it to the other side. All three of us went with him and I got a taste of a dancing evening in the community. Doña Cupertina was shining and everybody wanted to speak and dance with her. It was a very joyous evening.

First thing in the morning we woke up hearing the ducks picking at our tent and making noises. When we were getting out from the tent the kids were already somewhere around. Every morning we were trying to wake up earlier than them but with little success. We were eating breakfast together although for them was already the second one and the rest of the day was spend together, going to swim in the river, fishing with worms, playing football, playing with their monkey pet. A big part of the beach was planted with beanstalks because sand is a good place to plant them and it was always an adventure to make sure the ball won’t hit and break them. They showed us the school and brought a world globe and I pointed to where I’m coming from and where I’ve been before coming to the jungle.

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Because this isn’t an isolated community usually when the kids are of highschool age they are going to one of the cities at school, live with a relative there or at a dorm. Until then they have a teacher coming at the community Mondays and leaving Fridays. The kids are separated in two intervals of age thus forming two classes. I asked them what they want to do when they will become adults, not many saw themselves still in the community, some wanted to be teachers or doctors. These types of communities will start to disappear across the world, and with them also their traditions. It’s hard to find a balance, pursuing a good education, a more safe and comfortable life but going back to your family community where your life experience might not mean that much anymore, developing a community but keeping traditions intact.

Some afternoons, when resting after lunch and staying in the shade to hide from the sun, our host was showing us how to make artisanal fans from palm leaves to use when it’s too hot, the type she used to blow the wind on the fire when she was cooking. Each day there were 2-3 tourists coming to make sugar cane jus using a wooden tool she had there. She was bringing the sugar cane plants, then showing them how to use it and helping them. In exchange, she got a small sum of money. After tourists were leaving the jus left was ours to share with the kids.

Saturday was quiet as all of the kids were helping their family to pick food and prepare to sell it in Rurrenabaque on Sunday: rice, coconuts, bananas, cocoa, sugar canes, beans, yucca were some of the cereals, fruits and vegetables they sold at the Sunday market. Although they were excited to spend time with me and Katerina the kids had also responsibilities and were serious about them. By the time we were waking up Brenda already cooked for her brothers the fish she took from the net she had set the night before and Mireja was taking care of her younger brother. Life in the jungle is hard but nobody was complaining. Sometimes at night they were starting the electricity generator to watch a movie from the DVD player. One night they watched Titanic, for the tenth time, they said, and I could hear laughter and giggles from the room the entire family used as a dormitory. Outside, the adults were playing instruments singing songs they passed from generation to generation orally. We made a payment to Pachamama that night, Baldemar brother dug with a machete a small hole in the ground where we put coca leaves, alcohol, and cigarettes, all the good stuff. Seems like Pachamama likes all the vices.

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Saying goodbye was hard, we really had a great time there, and although mosquitos were cruel we enjoyed every moment of those days.

More photos from the Real Beni community here .

Highlights of my 2015

I started 2015 with an amazing idea to travel from Antarctica to Alaska visiting most of the countries while zigzaging my way from south to north. It took me most of the year (with some breaks) to get to Bolivia and Brazil and then I decided I want to see something totally different and I flew to South Africa for New Years Eve. It wasn’t a race to get to Alaska, it was a dream, maybe a bit of a challenge, but as money were less and less I abandoned my idea and went to meet other cultures also.

Nonetheless , my 2015 was amazing and here are the highlights of it, in chronological order and described in moments:

1.Antarctica

I woke up one morning with the screeching sound of something touching  Expedition, our ship. It wasn’t morning yet but it wasn’t totally dark either, a new day was coming. I looked on the porthole window both scared and curious and what I saw is one of the most beautiful views I ever laid my eyes on. The icebergs and pieces of icebergs around us, totally different than the day before, the light before sunrise, the shapes and sounds were making everything surreal, and for me that’s how Antarctica is : surreal. He woke up, watched the magic outside, placed a kiss on my forehead and went back to sleep. It felt warm and magic. It felt like being in another world.

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2.Torres del Paine

The third day of the W trekking is mainly uphill at the beginning. And you go up and up and sometimes you look behind and you are amazed. That’s how beautiful it is. And it makes you forget the park it’s like a boulevard with way too many tourists. It was me , and music, and the guys I ignored a bit those days because of the music and the talk I had with myself, completely absorbed by the beautiful nature.

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3.Bahia Inutil

After seeing so many penguins in Antarctica and already passing Punta Arenas I decided to go back and get the chance to see the King penguins. And that day was a bit of an adventure, but a good and memorable one. We crossed the Magellan Strait but one the way back we got a bit stuck, as the waves were too big to cross it back. The view was beautiful, it was so cold and windy, and I was happy I finally saw those penguins and although people were panicking around I felt free and capable of every single thing I decide to do. I was speaking Spanish also, my broken funny Spanish people compliment all the time (except when a linguist told me I speak a medieval Spanish :)) ).

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4.Perito Moreno

Such a famous glacier and such a rainy day. I was in waterproof but 80% wet, that’s how heavy it rained. But if you just stop trying to find the perfect spot, between all the people and all the selfies, just focusing on the immensity of the glacier, on all the sounds of cracking ice and ice falling in the lake, you realize the rain plays also a part in the magic and feeling wet of rain will always remind you of something special. And I smiled . A truly genuine smile. Because the world is amazing.

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5.Fitz Roy

Still my favorite mountain, although later the Amphitheatre in South Africa amazed me a lot. I still have on my retina the image of the mountain, the lake and how we stayed there for two hours and still didn’t want to go back. How we said we will wait just a bit more for the clouds to pass. And they passed few times but it was too beautiful to leave it behind. How cold was the water and how alive I felt.

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6.Candelario Mansilla

This was definitely a challenge and an adventure, 24 km with 24 kg. Took a bus from El Chalten, a boat, got exit visa from Argentina and walked and walked (first 6km painfully uphill), met a guy from USA on the boat, we crossed many little rivers, me full of mud and with wet shoes, he clean like a spring flower because was always behind, all day us and the maps.me app to be sure we are on the track. But when we got closer we felt the trekking and the mud and dust and tiredness are completely worth it because the landscape it’s completely beautiful. Later that evening I ate one of the best dinner ever (as I trekked all day with only 2 boiled eggs and a carrot in my stomach).

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7.Easter Island

Rapa Nui. For me it’s always Rapa Nui and people don’t know what I’m speaking about. Watching sunset during my first day there with beautiful happy people around. On a very tiny beach. Dog trying to eat my camera as I was doing a time lapse. I empathised with those young guys and I felt there are no worries in the world worthy of my attention. Rapa Nui is one of the most magical places I ever saw.

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8. 5592m altitude

I ended up spending almost two weeks in Atacama, each and every day with a beautiful story. But the one I like the most is the one when after struggling to breathe and very slowly climb Lascar Volcano I’m not tired anymore, I’m just happy to be there, the highest I ever got with my own feet,the first active volcano I climb, ignoring the sulphur smell and smiling huge smiles.

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9.Salar de Uyuni

It’s cold, so crazy cold but I want to jump in this immensity of white. So I change my ski trousers and my goose feather jacket with summer colorful clothes and I jump, for this place is surreal too.

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10.Real Beni

Real Beni is the name of a natives community in the amazonian jungle north of Bolivia and although I really love the kids from that community and I fancy the idea of seeing them again, the special moment I have in mind is the one when our host, Cupertina sang to us. She’s the grandmother of all the children I met. At night, near the river, listening the wind and watching the clear skies, with a million mosquito bites, with a million thoughts, I hear she starts to sing and she gets all my attention. She sings a song about love, and choices, about nature and life. I feel nostalgic.

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11. Flying over Rio

More exactly flying over the ocean next to Rio de Janeiro. And turning, and increasing or decreasing speed as my instructor showed me. Freebird. Too short but life it’s made up of moments.

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12.Iguazu Falls

As the legend says:

“Once upon a time, a Guarani warrior named Caroba, who was in love with a pretty Indian maiden named Naipi, took her into his canoe and fled the village, paddling for all he was worth down the Iguazu River.

But Caroba was not the only one who was enamoured of the fair Naipi. She had also attracted the romantic attention of a forest god. When the forest god saw Caroba paddling downriver with Naipi, he was angry.

To try to stop Caroba, the angry forest god made the land under the river disappear. Naipi fell out of the canoe and dropped over the edge. She landed at the bottom, and turned into a rock. Caroba turned into a tree that overlooks this rock. Where the river bottom disappeared or fell away is the site of Iguazu Falls.”

Everybody it’s going back for the train but I linger there hypnotised. It’s not a cliche, it’s one of the most powerful sites I ever saw.

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The brazilian side of Iguazu Falls

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The argentinian side of the falls – Garganta del Diablo

 

 

 

First impressions about Thailand

Only 10 days in Thailand and I already felt all the feelings someone can feel, I felt both loved and not wanted, I felt jaded about love, overwhelmed by thousands of feelings, I fought with the idea that I want to smoke ,I’ve been proud resisting it, thankful when David didn’t let me smoke in my weakest moment, I’ve been curious, I’ve been awed, I’ve been sad and I might have been a bit happy at moments, like always I’ve been grateful to see amazing places and beautiful people, I learned tips from other blogger to help me with my blog space problem and if I started writing again it’s also glad to Luke, I abused Lays, Pepsi and beers but finally adapted a bit more to thai food, I’ve been more patient than I use to be and more meditative than usual (and I’m a meditative person in general), I’ve been bitten by mosquitos on every inch of my body and used at least 4-5 types of creams failing to make it less itchy (including Tiger Balm, they recommend that for everything),  I’ve felt lonely and loneliest, I felt lot of bad feelings and some nice ones, and then I restarted my system.

Probably my first jet lag

I arrived in Bangkok after two long flights, one from Johannesburg to Dubai and one from Dubai to Thailand. In Dubai I changed 5$ in coins for my collection and had a very expensive dinner (I could have bought a nice watch with the money for dinner). Dubai really looks impressive from the sky and now I want to visit it one day and skydive above it. Somehow I see Dubai like a city of the future but it can be also some brainwash from the airport.  The plane to Dubai was almost empty so I had 3 seats for myself but it was too early to sleep. The second one was full so I couldn’t get any rest. In Bangkok first thing to do was to go to get my visa on arrival. Filled papers and realized I need photos (my photos where in the checked baggage) and baht instead of $. After changing money and making photos I queued for maybe more than half hour. Although I stressed a lot about needing dollars to show them I have money for traveling, in the end nobody asked about it, as they didn’t asked about hostels bookings either. I bought a sim card for 15 days with 4Gb data costing 600baht (15euros), withdrew money and took a cab to hostel. Drivers don’t really speak english but my driver told me a lot of things in thai. I’ll never know what was that about. He tried to make a price for me but I showed him the meter and we left. If they use the meter don’t be surprised to pay the road tax at two stops, and 50 baht surcharge for driver. That’s normal, it’s not cheating you.They have Uber too, it’s just a bit more expensive than taxi. There’s also a train but then you have to take a tuk tuk or cab from train station to hostel, depending where the hostel is located it might take longer.

It was still morning by the time I got to hostel and I was so tired. It was too early to check in but I asked them nicely to let me in the room because I can’t keep my eyes open. They let me in and I slept till midnight with maybe one or two short breaks. And then I was awake till morning and then slept till middle of the day and realized something it’s very wrong with my sleep schedule.

Thai food

Traveling you keep hearing these stories about how delicious and cheap is the food in south east Asia. And it’s true, if you are not as picky as I am. First meal was snails from a food stall. That’s how I met parsley or cilantro, a herb I can’t touch or smell. And I might have had a bit of indigestion after, stomach was in pain. I’m not completely adapted to the food yet, I still buy crisps and boiled corn, but day by day I try to eat some real thai food. The salt is very rare because they use soy sauce but I bought salt and I have it always in my bag. I also translated parsley, cilantro and bean sprouts in thai and I show them from my phone when buying food in order to ask not to have those in my food. Everyday I discover something I don’t like but patiently add it to my list and continue trying. As about price, you can pay around 3-5 euro in restaurants and 1-3euro at food stalls for vegetarian or seafood. I also ate 2 crickets, a tiny one and a fat one. Albert and his father, Arnold. Not completely disgusting but still a bit weird. There’s plenty of disgusting things for crazy people to try: scorpions, tarantulas, worms and big bugs. About disgusting, I saw a rat in a restaurant during lunch, it’s so comforting that I don’t eat meat. Beer costs around 1-3 euros, remember that you cannot buy alcohol from shops and some restaurants between 2-5 pm and after midnight.

Most active at night

Because during the day I feel it’s very very hot I prefer to explore at night. There’s plenty of night markets both in Bangkok and Chiang Mai and I really feel safe there. Maybe it’s too early to say how safe is south east Asia, but for the last 10 days I could explore at night, even sometimes alone and with my camera. As walking in the tourist night area of Bangkok, Khaosan street, you can hear tuk tuk drivers asking you if you want to go to ping pong show. I’ll let you search on internet about it, it’s not table tennis. The streets are full at night, both because during the day it’s too hot and also because many people come to Thailand because it’s a cheap place to get wasted. You can have a massage at night outside or inside with 150-200baht (less than 5euro). You can have also cheap manicure, pedicure, haircut and cheap clothes, and cheap souvenirs, and so many cheap things available for you. Which brings me to something that bothered me on few occasions, I can see people bitching about service and quality, and I keep wondering what kind of expectation can you have when paying so little. Just have patience, thai people will smile and say yes even when they don’t understand you. You can easily bargain price for clothes, souvenirs and tuk tuk, but don’t try to get them for free.

To know

I read in Shogun about japanese culture and “save face” – retain respect, avoid humiliation. When I came here I saw it’s applicable to Thailand too. You should keep this in mind: their honor is very important therefore avoid showing displeasure in public, they try to respect you as much as possible, do the same!

You’ll see at airport all sorts of posters telling you to respect Buddha and not to buy Buddha heads. And you’ll see them in different other places and temples. That doesn’t mean nobody is selling Buddha souvenirs at the corner of the temple. As in any other religion you have to show respect, cover your shoulders and knees, respect their rules. In some temples you can use a scarf to cover, in others you have to borrow a shirt from them. The temple of the Emerald Buddha is the most beautiful one I saw by now, and the White Temple in Chiang Rai is the most surreal and interesting one. First one has an entrance fee of 500baht (12euros), seems much but it’s worthy.

The king it’s very important and respected therefore any insult at the king might get you imprisoned. Abstain of stepping on coins or notes also, thai money have the face of the king printed on them.

An idea about costs

I paid for my hostel dorm room in Bangkok 350baht (9euros) and I like it, it’s clean and in a good area, 430baht (11euro) for the taxi from airport , 690 baht (17.5 euro) for the night bus to Chiang Mai ( hostel to hostel), 150 baht for dorm room there, 1400 a day trip to Chiang Rai and 3-4 other places+lunch, 320 return bus ride to Damnoen Saduak floating market, around 40 baht (1 euro) for laundry, you pay separately for drying, detergent, softener, 10baht per page to print, 15baht a soda, 40-50baht a small beer,18 baht a boiled corn, 3000baht trekking to Doi Inthanon, highest peak of Thailand , with a guide, because apparently it’s not safe to do it alone ( haven’t done it although I would have liked it), 10baht to take a photo of the bugs, 50 baht a spoonful of them to eat, 20baht 6-7 quail fried eggs, 290baht a lady boys show ( I almost got to one but decided to stuff myself with food and beers instead).

What I have seen 

I’ve been to The Emerald Buddha Temple and Palace and I loved it. It’s really impressive. I recommend to go there in the morning, and spend as much as you feel to there. There’s also a museum included in the 500baht entrance fee. If you are not properly dressed they can borrow you clothes for free but you have to leave there 200baht which they will return when you bring clothes back. Inside the temple you are not allowed to photograph but I sneaked my gopro there. The Emerald Buddha is very small and positioned very high and you might have trouble seeing it with all the golden stuff around. At the exit of the complex there’s an old man with small cages with birds. You pay and you can release the birds. A mother bought two cages for her daughters. They released the birds and they were happy and the old man was happy too seeing the girls joy. But the joy disappeared when the girls took a look at the birds left in the other cages. There are good people doing not very good things without even knowing it.

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I visited the Damnoen Saduak floating market, really beautiful but one big minus for me. It’s full of snakes. At every corner you can see a guy with a huge snake around his shoulders. You pay and you can take the snake for a photo. You can buy all sort of things from the market, food, fruits, souvenirs, clothes.

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In Chiang Mai I just walked visiting markets, temples, the Lanna museum, the Sunday street market where the streets are closed for cars after 4pm and they get full with street vendors, locals and tourists. I like the bars with live music, they play good covers here in Thailand.

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From Chiang Mai I took a day trip to some thermal springs, to Chiang Rai, to a hill tribe village and the golden triangle where the border with Thailand , Myanmar and Laos meet. The last stop was a temple in a city at the border with Myanmar.

In Chiang Rai there’s a White Temple built by a very wealthy man. He still has plans to build more. The temple is unique in the world, inside has painting about Samsara, the material world, so you can see the two towers, minions, Keanu Reaves in Matrix, and so many other popular figures from this century life. Before entering the temple there’s a bridge and in front of the bridge there are many many hands going up from earth symbolizing desire. You can find there the most expensive “happy room” – a fancy toilet.

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The hill tribe visit was my favorite part of the trip in Thailand by now. They are called Long Neck Karen tribe because they use brass neck coils in order to have longer necks as a beauty standard. They start to wear then at age of 5 and stop adding longer coils around 45. This tribe fled the conflicts in Myanmar and lives 100% sustainable from tourism. They sell scarfs, fridge magnets, and all sorts of souvenirs. There’s also a donation box there. More info here.

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At the Golden Triangle, a small piece of sand island where many years ago Myanmar, Thailand and Laos where dealing in opium, we saw a huge Buddha statue and huge golden gates, we took a boat ride on the Mekong river and stopped a bit in Laos which intrigued me in therms of poverty, as tourists were buying stuff I saw a mother with child in a corner, I saw kids eating under a bridge and washing their mouth with water from river.

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And I know I didn’t had a very busy trip yet but I will come back to Thailand two more times in the next months.

More photos from this trip to Thailand here.

Carretera Austral – the most scenic landscapes in Chile

Chasing sunshine and getting rain

I started this beautiful road from the very beginning (or end) , in the south , after I crossed Lago O’Higgins with a boat from Candelaria Mansilla. After 7 km with a bus I got to Villa O’Higgins, a place I read much about and one of the reasons I trekked 23 km with all my stuff. I knew about many beautiful trekkings in the area and dreamed a lot about this place. I imagined myself taking a nap in the grass with the sun warming my body. But in the 4 – 5 days I spent there it rained almost all the time. Nevertheless the place is really beautiful. And I did a short trekking there because rain is not really melting. There’s no ATMs there but I was lucky and managed to make a deal with the girl from the boat I took from Candelaria Mansilla, she had a POS and took some money from credit card and gave me cash. So I had some money for a while.The hostel I stayed in Villa O’Higgins , El Mosco, is really nice and the people who run it are really helpful and know many trekkings.There’s only 2 buses per week and they go to Cochrane. But before going there I wanted to go to Caleta Tortel.

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Midway to Cochrane is an intersection and from there are 22 km to Caleta Tortel.

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Unesco Patrimonium village and some bad luck

The driver of the bus stopped once and showed us salmons swimming up the river. That was a first for me. After sailing the Pacific the salmons were swimming up the river to get to  a mountain lake where they will lay eggs and die, there, in their birth place.

Going to Caleta Tortel I met a chilean couple, they were going there too. So here we are, all wet, raining heavilly, hitch hiking with all our stuff for 2 hours because there aren’t many cars and the few that were passing were full. We found shelter under a bus stop foyer where one day others in our situation wrote “dedo o baricada” and we laughed thinking we will sit in the middle of the road to make cars stop if needed. When one car stopped and driver said they have only one seat available in the car the couple decided I should better go first. Got quite fast to Caleta Tortel and went to informations to ask about a tour either to glacier or to Isla del Muertos and to ask about a recommendation for hostel. It didn’t went very well. She couldn’t recommend anything but showed me a book with options. And about the tours she said is shoulder season and there aren’t many tourists, so I have  to find a group and then call to the boats, because she has only private phone and cannot call. Alone it would have been too expensive. I went to find a hostel in the rain and stopped to a guesthouse I remembered from the book. It was very basic but I was supposed to stay there only one night so it was fine. Did’t had much money left, only one night of food and accommodation , and no ATM until Cochrane. I went for a walk, the place is very nice, there are no streets, just wooden bridges and wooden ladders. It’s quiet and peaceful, and it’s UNESCO Patrimonium for it’s uniqueness and the foyers made from wood. The experience with the guesthouse was quite weird, I was the only tourist there, it was cold and I had rain in every pore after a week of rainy weather. The woman there was quite weird, but maybe my spanish wasn’t that good. Next day I checked out and read in the sun for 2 hours. It was such a nice, warm and happy sun.

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At the time of going with the bus they said they have to wait for few more people, and that proved to be a bad moment for me, although I found it later. When I arrived in Cochrane I noticed I’ve been robbed. But by the time I noticed and said about it everybody left. The bus was small and didn’t had designated space for luggage, therefore everything was on the backseats and everybody was with the back at their luggage. When we waited for some people I went outside to smoke and some other people joined me. It was only a local woman with her kids there. That’s the only thing that comes to my mind as what had happened. They took the cover from backpack, unzipped the vertical zip, took whatever was closer, zipped and put cover back. I went to the police in Cochrane but they said is useless. So I just had to forget about it.

Trekking 26 km to convince myself to let go

I was so unhappy with myself because of being robbed, and only thought about it. But there’s the beautiful Tamango National Reserve very close to Cochrane. I trekked 26 km all alone and by the end of day I convinced myself to let go. It could have been worse and I will be more careful the next time. And I cannot change anything. I saw there the most clear water ever.

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A chilean guy from the hostel gave me the cable I needed to charge the bateries from my camera. He was my hero. It would have been so difficult to find that cable and for sure not sooner than Santiago.

There’s another nice trekking close to Cochrane but again couldn’t go because you need a car to drive you for 50 km and pick you up after 2 days. Alone was too expensive. And there wasn’t any place to rent camping gear, but someone offered to borrow, so that could have been solved.

Peaceful in Puerto Tranquillo – the best sky of the month

Decided to move north, to Puerto Tranquillo. The drive to there is maybe the best one I had, the landscapes are so beautiful, all mountains, lakes, forests. The Lonely Planet guide says Route 40 is a must in Patagonia, I say Carretera Austral is a must. Route 40 in going through steppe but Carretera Austral is in the most beautiful part of Patagonia.

After quite bad accommodations and many cold showers I went to the nicest hotel in Puerto Tranquillo, not very expensive and anyway only for one night. The trip to the marble caves was so very nice but I think is better to go there with a kayak, you can spend more and better time this way. After the marble caves I wanted to go to a place supposed to be very nice and you can do a nice trekking. I tried to hitchhike for a while but I gave up and went to have lunch. I spend my evening reading near the river. The weather was fantastic.

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At night I saw one of the most beautiful and clear skies and felt a bit sad because I had a tripod with me which I couldn’t use because when they stole from my backpack they took also the mount of the tripod and that’s not a very easy thing to find in Patagonia.

Kind stranger

I waited next day for the bus to go to Cerro Castillo from 11 to 12 and when it got there it was full from Cochrane. So I had to hitchhike for hours, gave up, went to buy something to eat and the lady from the shop called someone and sent me to a hostel where a guest was going with his private car to Coyhaique. Went there and the guy was nice enough to offer me a ride, bit skeptical at the beginning but convinced after he heard I’ve been robbed. Although I wanted to stop in Cerro Castillo for trekking I had to change my plans again and go to Coyhaique because the village seemed deserted, no information office, no place to rent equipment, no tourists. In Coyhaique I went to the national reserve close to town, nice but not impressive. At the bar all the bartenders had t-shirts saying in spanish something like ‘it’s a waste of time to rush in Patagonia’ : “quien se apura en la patagonia pierde el tiempo”. It sounded so true, I had a good laugh and decided to reorganize and take it slow.

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My first kayak experience

My last destination on Carretera Austral was Puyuhuapi. Although is famous for the thermal baths I just let them for the last moment and then found that I don’t have time for it, and also I’m not the biggest fan of thermal baths. You can get there with a bike, I know people who did it and it was nice. Instead, I went to the National Park, trekked a bit and saw a very nice hanging glacier. Another day I rented a kayak and that was an adventure. All started nice, weather was fine, we saw dolphins, but on the way back the weather got bad, sky was grey, wind was fast and lake had big waves. Although I panicked a bit and kept saying “it’s not safe” at one moment started to rain and waves got down and we finally got back to the town and had a good laugh about the adventure during the dinner.

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Dissapointing boat trip

I went back to Coyhaique for 2 or 3 nights because I had reservation on a boat from Puerto Chacabuco to Puerto Montt. The whole time I just relaxed on the hammock and read.

The trip on the boat is better on the other way around, from Puerto Montt to Puerto Chacabuco, there are fiords to be seen but on my trip we passed them during the night. People were very happy with the food but didn’t liked it. Also, I had the cheapest ticket on the boat and my bed was literally on the hall. So I would recommend a better bed/cabin. I heard many good things about this trip but my experience was a bit disappointing. If it wasn’t shoulder season and if it was less rain I would have kept going north on Carretera austral. And that’s the same reason for skipping Chiloe. But one day I’ll go back, in better weather and maybe with a rented car.

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First days in India – New Delhi and Taj Mahal 2014

Photography tour in Ladakh lead by Cristian Tzecu

I was tempted by photography since 2013 when I bought my Nikon V2 mirrorless, but during more than one year I haven’t learned much, my photos were rather boring. At the beginning of 2014 I saw an announcement about this photography tour and I decided to apply for it. I visited Cristian’s page and I enjoyed his photographs. I also read that he’s been several times in India and this was comforting.

I didn’t knew any of the other participants and I met them on my way to Delhi: Cosmina and Andrei in Otopeni airport, Cristian and Ioana in Moscow airport and Alina next morning in New Delhi. All of them are nice people and we spent good time together in India.

“Shock and awe” at the first contact with India

4:30 in the morning – landed in Delhi airport, booked taxi from inside the airport to make sure we won’t be cheated with the price and went outside to smoke and pick the taxi assigned for us. Still dark outside but shocking hot, police with real guns securing the airport and many many people. Although very early the traffic was intense, many trucks with colourful decorations, our driver asking us if we want drugs, everything different from what I knew and awe erasing the tiredness. More than one hour later we were in the same taxi but parked in front of the tourist office. They were saying the road leading to Pahar Ganj, the backpacker neighborhood were we booked the hostel, is closed due to some muslim festivity. And we had to find something else. Many tourists in despair, feeling lost and cheated. Dawn was coming as we arrived at a hotel recommended by the driver, more expensive but no time to search other, not much energy left. I got in my room, put my camera bag on the table and immediately a cockroach got on top of it. The room smelled bad and the bathroom was dirty and smelly. We turned on the AC and tried to sleep. First impressions as I saw so many people living on the streets, bad smell, dirt, one cow crossing the street, monkeys on the fences, we and others feeling cheated, the dirty hotel were that we will have quite hard life there but we are lucky to have Cristian as our leader because he traveled in India several times before. Also I felt very curious and inspired. Now we were in a photography tour and I realized the subjects for photographs were much better than I imagined.

We tried to book tickets for the train to Taj Mahal ( I imagined myself on the roof with the locals) but they insisted we should take something safer, so they booked a car for us and we decided is a good deals as it wasn’t much more expensive than the train but we also had the chance to stop in other places on our way to India’s number one famous spot. All this being organized we went to eat something and to visit the observatory, Jantar Mantar. Rain came and passed as we photographed the observatory and some of the people there. Entrance fee not expensive but very big difference in price between us and the locals. And that’s the rule all over the places we visited, and seems only fair since they earn so little.

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How I started to love India

On our way to Agra, we stopped at Fatehpur Sikri , a complex with beautiful architecture filled with so many people, all of them asking us if we want to take a photo together with them. And then I started to love it. Suddenly phones were out and all our subjects for photos were almost fighting to be the ones to make a photo with them. And this was enough for us to feel confident to ask them to let us take a photograph also. Time passed so quickly and we could barely enjoy the architecture but certainly enjoyed beautiful people. They seemed sincerely happy but strangely serious when photographed.

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And we moved on, back in the car and .. Taj Mahal we’re coming! Arrived in Agra, checked-in, took a shower and went for a walk. We saw Taj Mahal during blue hour and enjoy dinner on the roof with the same Taj in background.

Morning started early because there was a queue involved, and then we spread for two hours inside the complex. Shoes on, off, covered, uncovered, heat, and many people. The story with the photos repeated and some of the people asked us to pose with them.

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I always thought the very famous places are overrated and somehow a cliche´ but, as with Machu Picchu and other famous spots, it was breathtaking. It’s something to see, but also watching the people makes it an even better experience. Taj Mahal wasn’t the main destination of our trip but this was the warming.

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In the afternoon we headed back to Delhi, this time heavy rain wetting our baggage from the roof of the car. We bought a cover and the guys got very wet setting it on top of our backpacks. We had some stops on our way, places with souvenirs and food, is a very common thing that a driver makes a deal with these places and gets a percentage if the tourists he brings there buy something.
Back in Delhi we went to a hostel in Pahar Ganj, left backpacks, went for dinner and I finally made a henna tattoo which by the end of the trip disappeared. Next day we flew to Srinagar, but that’s another part of the story…to follow! 🙂

India

Torres del Paine, Patagonia

Trekking the W – last week of February 2015

Probably the most popular trekking in Patagonia is the trekking in the National Park Torres del Paine. Getting to Puerto Natales, the closest town to the park, you can find lots of turists, many hostels, restaurants displaying grilled lambs in their windows, shops where you can buy dried fruits and nuts (very good for the trekking), and also free lectures about the trekkings.

So there we went, to listen the lecture and get the informations we needed. There’s a dutch girl who pretty much covers all the informations one might need speaking in very good and pretty fast english. We also had a good laugh because she makes lots of jokes and has a very funny way of explaining stuff.

There are three options for trekkings: the W, the circuit and the Q. First is the shortest and the last is the longest. Last two include the W. Most of the people do the W and that’s the one we did also. You have two options to start, from east to west or from west to east, we chose to start from west, they told us are better views from that side. Also you can sleep in refugios (or rent a tent at the refugios), which is more expensive and a bit more complicated since the refugios are less than the camping sites and you have to walk more each day, or you can camp, and in Puerto Natales there’s a lot of places to rent all sort of equipment and is not very expensive. If I will ever go back there I will try to do the Q carrying my own tent, now that I have more confidence and I know it’s not very hard and not very steep there.

I was stressed a lot at the beginning thinking it will be hard, that my backpack is too heavy and so on. The guys carried the tents, stove and gas and I think I had the lightest backpack in the whole Patagonia. Now, after the trekking from Lago del Desierto to Candelaria Mansilla with the 24 kilos backpack and after the other trekking when I bought a tent and camped by my own in Cochamo Valley I think I underestimated myself a lot in Torres del Paine, but it made sense to test my strength when I’m alone and not with a group, not wanting to bother anybody if it’s getting hard.

Basically we prepared for the possibility of bad weather putting all our stuff in garbage bags, we prepared the money for bus, entrance fee and for camping, we rented tents and stove (from Base Camp, the place where the lectures are also, near Erratic Rock hostel), we bought food (mine was actually no food but 20 chocolate bars) and we left the rest of the things at the hostel in a locker (we stayed at Singing Lamb hostel, very nice hostel with helpful staff, locker is 500 chilean pesos per locker per day).

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Early in the morning we went to the bus terminal (15000 chilean pesos for the bus to go to the park and come back) and in around two hours we got to the entrace of the park where we paid the entrance fee (18000 pesos), we had to fill some papers with passport number and number of nights we will spent in the park, we received a map and we had to watch a video about the rules in the park. Some years ago there was a fire set by a tourist which burned a vast area in the park leaving behind charred trees which and vegetation which are not prepared to recover since in that area natural fires don’t occur, thunders being inexistent there. You’re not allowed to smoke on the trails, and when you camp you have designated places for smoking and cooking your food on the stove. Also you have to camp only in camping sites. In the video they emphasize a lot on the fire and it seems maybe weird and we made jokes about it but when we saw the consequences of the fire we understood why is such a big deal.

Next the bus took us to another place where we embarked in a catamaran (15000 pesos) to cross Lago Pehoe to Guarderia Paine Grande. And there we started the trekking, first day only 3.5 hours from Paine Grande to Refugio and Campamento Grey located very close to Glaciar Grey.

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From left to right Cerro Paine Grande, Cuernos del Paine and Monte Almirante Nieto as seen from the catamaran.

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Our first trekking day was cloudy but we got the chance to see the landscape in sunny weather the next day.

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We arrived at the camping site, set the tent, ate some noodles and walked closer to the glacier in high winds and rain. The price for camping is around 4000 per person, they have a sort of place for cooking, quite small when everybody wants to cook at the same time and they have also showers with hot water until 9 pm, but I preferred to see the glacier and then I had a cold but refreshing shower later.

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During the night we had beautiful view of mountain with stars and clouds.

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Each morning we woke up early (for me) but in decent time for the trekking we were doing, had breakfast (coffee and cigarettes for me), packed the tent and go. In our second day we returned at Paine Grande and from there went to camping Italiano, around 6 hours in total. At camping Italiano you cannot rent anything, you don’t pay and you don’t have a refugio to sleep in.

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Up are Los Cuernos as seen while trekking from Paine Grande to Italiano and down is the view of Lago Pehoe from Paine Grande.

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We camped near that river and slept with the sound of the water in the background. I have to say the sleeping bag I had from home wasn’t good enough for that weather and I didn’t want to rent one, therefore I felt cold almost all the time while sleeping,next time I’ll know better. I think a good sleep is very important and I advise to have a good sleeping bag there.

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Day 3 we had probably the best views, we left our stuff in the tent and went with day pack 2.5 hours up to mirador Britanico, enjoyed the beautiful landscape, and 2.5 hours down to camping, packed our backpacks and tents and head to camping and refugio Los Cuernos, other 2.5 hours trekking. That night we had beers and very expensive dinner at the refugio, and for me again cold water for shower although somehow the boys had hot water for their showers. The camping costs around 4000 per person.

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We were warned that fourth day is the hardest and longest one and we mentally prepared for that and probably that’s why it didn’t seem that bad. We left Los Cuernos and headed to Refugio Chileno around 4-5 hours far. From there we went to Campamento Torres , one hour up, also free of cost, as Italiano, also you cannot rent equipment there, but the most important to know is that you have to book it in advance, before starting the trekking or at the registration in the park. From there I went 45 min uphill to the Mirador Las Torres and 45 min downhill back to camping. I was lucky to have good weather and to see almost alone the beautiful view there. The plan was to wake up very early and go there to see the sunrise, but in the morning was raining very bad and I just skipped it.

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Last day we trekked around 3 hours to hotel Las Torres where we took a bus (2000 pesos) to the administration and there we took another bus which we already paid at the beginning to go to Puerto Natales. We saw flamingos, nandu and guanacos from the window of the bus but couldn’t do any photos. The weather in general was very good during the trekking and I think we were pretty lucky about it. The water in the park is plenty and good for drinking. Unfortunately, trekking in Torres del Paine is sometimes like walking on the boulevard due to the great numbers of tourists coming in this park.

All in all I just loved it! Amazing landscapes, nice people and good time spent in nature. 🙂

Surreal Antarctica

Crossing the Antarctic Circle

After two days of flights from Bucharest to Ushuaia, I finally arrived in the southernmost city in the world. Next step was to find a last minute deal to Antarctica and for that, I estimated I should have at least four days to search. It turned out to be much easier than expected, I found a nice last minute deal in my first three hours in Ushuaia. The girl from the reception of La Posta hostel made a phone call and got me a deal and some hours later the agent of Freestyle came to talk to me in depth about it. They work with many companies which make tours in Antarctica, therefore, she knew exactly what are my options. I planned to spend maximum 5000$ but the trip cost me 6899$. I chose this G Adventures trip because of the extended length (13 days instead of 10) which meant more time actually spent in Antarctica and also because of the crossing of the Antarctic Circle.

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The conditions on the ship are much better than anything I ever expected, I was spoiled for two weeks with lots of good food and the bed made two times per day although I wasn’t using it twice, just threw some stuff on the bed which were very soon getting folded and organised. I would have been happy with much less but I guess all the cruises to Antarctica have hotel and restaurant conditions. I shared my cabin with two Chinese girls which got engaged during Valentine’s day.

First two and half days onboard Expedition were about lectures, drinking in the evening while listening good music played by one of the guys from the expedition staff, bird watching, pretty bad weather and meeting new people (most of them quite seasick) while sailing the Drake Passage.

Getting closer to Antarctica we started to see icebergs and ice floating in the ocean, beautiful landscapes, antarctic wildlife and soon I started to feel like I went to another kind of world. The wildlife was very impressive but what I liked the most were the icebergs and the ice floating everywhere, the mountains covered with ice and snow, the amazing skies and the moody weather. Every day was different from the other day, every day brought new and amazing experiences. It was so very easy to forget about myself and just live the perfect moments I had there.

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The fourth day we had our first zodiac cruise around the Melchior Islands, we saw seals and one chinstrap penguin, birds and whales. Later in the afternoon we made our first landing on Antarctica at George’s Point where lives a big colony of gentoo penguins and seals. Spent there one or two hours and made hundreds of photos.

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On 13th we passed the Lemaire Channel in beautiful weather and amazing landscape. It was so hard to go from the deck inside the vessel. We also saw lots of icebergs and whales.   

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Next we set as a target to cross the Antarctic Circle and so we did on 14th February around 1 a.m. We celebrated with champagne and good music.

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Due to bad weather we couldn’t do our two landings as planned south of the circle so we  were forced to turn and go back north. That day was a day of lectures and organising photos. 

Our next destination was Petermann Island where we saw a colony of Adelie and Gentoo penguins. Before that we had a long cruise around the island and we saw seals swimming while  around us were a lot of amazing icebergs.

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In the afternoon we went to Paradise Harbour, an amazing place where we went a bit uphill to see the wonderful view and we went back down sliding. 🙂 Antarctica was much warmer than I expected.

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Although we were waking early every morning it was always exciting and different. We saw whales feeding at Cierva Cove and an island of whale bones and Gentoo penguins at  Mikkelsen Harbour.

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Last day in Antarctica was a special day, the very last thing we did was the polar plunge at Telefon Bay, Deception Island (the water was 3 degrees Celsius and my polar plunge was around 3 seconds and after that I thought for a while that I’ll die because I couldn’t breath properly).

We watched chinstrap penguins at Bailey Head in the morning and after lunch we walked on the top of the crater at Deception Island. 

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It’s two months now since I’ve been there, in the most surreal place I’ve ever seen. When I think back about it the first thing that comes to my mind is a morning when I woke up because of a weird noise and looked on the window and saw in the almost morning light the icebergs around and one very close which was actually scratching the vessel making the loud noise. It was so beautiful and surreal, it’s the most special moment I had there. I keep saying it, wildlife was amazing there but the most impressive for me were the icebergs, the ice around and the mountains covered in ice. I thought I will sleep every night early because the people on the cruise weren’t very young but actually I had lots of fun in the evenings and drank lots of shots which I didn’t find on my bill ( later I found out that the bartenders were advised to be generous with the backpackers to keep them happy). I even sang “Don’t let me down” from Beatles although I’m the worst singer ever.

Because all the plans we made for landing the next day were strictly dependent on the weather and always subject to change I’m sure I can go again in Antarctica and see something different. When I decided to go there I thought is once in a lifetime and probably I won’t ever have the money to do it again, but now I dream about going back one day and one thing is for sure, if I’ll go back I’ll have better photos. 🙂

From the confusion of coming back home to the happiness of being back on the road in one year

One year ago (more exactly on the 12th of May) I arrived back to Romania after traveling uninterrupted for 5 months and with interruptions for a year and a half. 2014 was a wanderlust factory with travels in Peru and India, with the 3 peaks challenge in UK, with my work taking me to USA, Faroe Islands and Norway, and my last trip at work seeing the northern lights for many many nights during the 5 weeks on the boat, with travels to Italy, Germany, Moscow and Prague. From the beginning of the year to the middle of it I grew an idea in my head, that I want to travel the world and either skip a trip or take a sabbatical year. When you wish something first you have to imagine it and the universe will harness the energy to take you there and find means for you. Mid year I got whispers about the opportunity to take a salary package and leave the company. I wrote an email to the management to tell them I want to take the money and one to my friends to tell them I want to make a round the world trip. 

After few months the company granted my wish and terminated the contract. I didn’t took the round the world trip but I designed one changing many plans and finding flights deals. 2015 started with a cruise in Antarctica and an idea of a trip from Antarctica to Alaska, which I abandoned at the end of the year, after traveling to Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Brasil and Uruguay. Spent Christmas with family in Germany and by New Years Eve I was in South Africa. After a month there I traveled to South East Asia for few months, Japan and New Zealand. 

And then I came home. Although the meaning of home is quite different now for me. I came back to Romania. Moneyless, actually already in debt, with 10 kilos more, with all sorts of dreams and no certain idea about what I want to do and how to get to support myself, while doing something which makes me happy, is ethical, according to my values, makes a difference and pays enough for me to travel and follow my passions. I still don’t have a certain idea. While traveling, every time I was thinking about what to do when finishing money and coming home, I was getting frustrated and tense and I was focusing on something else, delaying the moment when I had to make real decisions. But somehow I had this feeling that something great will happen, something good is coming my way. 

On my flight to Romania I was so happy. Sad to leave New Zealand but happy to take a break from hostels and have real good sleep, my room, privacy, to see my family and dog, to speak and party with my friends, to eat all the delicious romanian food, to trek those beautiful romanian mountains. 

My first morning home I woke up and it was bliss, it was quiet and the light coming in the room was so beautiful. The smells, the birds outside, mom smiling, dog on the back for me to scrub her belly. Bliss. 
The next day I had the reunion with my high school colleagues to celebrate 10 years since we finished school. And I was looking forward to it and I was happy to see my colleagues, many of then first time after graduating high school. Just that my dress was too small for me now, with 10 extra kilos. And my colleagues were asking me what will I do next. Obviously, with good intentions and looking forward for my adventures.

For me, that day started a long story of frustration. I had just one beautiful relaxed day home. And too many months of being sad, frustrated and then depressed. I had a good job opportunity, actually a real help which I’m grateful for, but after two months I left because I couldn’t do it. In my mind was all this amalgam of thoughts that I don’t want to stay in one place, that I couldn’t focus, that I was unhappy, that I wanted to do something else with my life. Then I decided to visit my sister in Germany. She was a generous host for more than a month but I became restless and went back to Romania. I got the TEFL certification to teach english as a second language aiming for Japan or South Korea, but couldn’t find a job there because they want natives or people with experience. I felt very frustrated because I spent the money for the course for nothing and that I should have known better. Meanwhile, I hated the way I looked, I was broke and preferred to stay inside the house instead of meeting people. 

I had an interview for a tour leader job in Norway and one for a volunteering project in Iceland. None of then chose me. And I became less confident and accused myself of being too introvert, of saying wrong things. I was trying to build something and I found so many obstacles. Most of them mental. Just had nowhere to look for an example and no moral support. For a while I made a plan and I was just waking up early, trying to be productive and exercising. I started to eat healthy but then Christmas happened. All the 5 kilos I worked so hard to lose were back.

And then one day I decided to go to Lisbon, to volunteer in a hostel for 3 months and after to walk Camino de Santiago, something I wanted to do since long ago. And that was the best decision I took in an entire year. Because I became again happy, hopeful and started to love myself again. I lost 8-9 kilos, but most importantly, I got to know my body better. I met inspiring people and made connections and friendships. 

You have to take two steps aside and look at things differently and then they become clearer. When I was down I was consuming myself for allowing me to be down. To be confused, slow, sad, uncertain, to feel different than expected, to say no when everybody expects me to say yes, to leave when expected to stay. I was so good at making myself feel worse. And also to keep all inside. So I had to go back traveling. To see everything from a different perspective. 

This is actually a happy story. Time flies so fast. My last year was a year of struggle and lessons. And I still don’t have all the answers, nor a solution for my financial independence. What I have is more peace. And more strength. I learned to accept myself more. To not put myself down so easily. To breathe. To have way less expectations. To be less stubborn but firm in my quest. To care less what other people think. Not to let people increase my frustrations or put theirs into me. Not to expect suport from people around when they will see just their perspective. To accept things need time to settle. And I need time to find my way. There’s no shame in not having all the answers. 

"A journey, after all, neither begins in the instant we set out, nor ends when we have reached our door step once again. It starts much earlier and is really never over, because the film of memory continues running on inside of us long after we have come to a physical standstill. Indeed, there exists something like a contagion of travel, and the disease is essentially incurable.” ― Ryszard Kapuściński, Travels with Herodotus