Rumble in the Jungle

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We were hopelessly lost in translation. After retracing our steps several times through the jungle trails on the mountainside adjacent to Nauyaca Waterfall, and after several hard falls due to the misty rain, which slicked the trails, our directions in English and Spanish just weren’t matching up anymore.

We should have learned by now that “short-cuts” in the jungle were actually non-existent to foreigners. We hiked back down the steep mountainside, continually grasping the skinny, mossy trees for balance. We took off our shoes and waded through the base of Nauyaca Waterfall. Exhausted already, we trekked out of the park only to walk over a mile in the wrong direction in attempt to get to the casa de Jeffrey. (Travel tip: when asking directions, DON’T point your finger in the direction you think you need to go; if the person doesn’t understand, they will just point their finger in the same direction and nod.)

Now we were the farthest and most opposite direction from home base we could possibly be, and we had stopped talking long ago to conserve our energy supply, which was dwindling quickly. We had no mediums of contacting anyone; alas, we had no choice but to take the dreaded two-hour trek back the only way we knew.

Dark comes quick in Costa Rica; the cotton candy sky teasingly dimmed down faster and faster. The scenery proved different on the way back; the rain had demolished our trail, and as each step pulled our feet into an abyss of caramel-colored mud, we honed the mindset of being creatures of the jungle.

However, even if our trail was unidentifiable and indistinguishable, the five, flavorful personalities that made up our group were far from. Robin, the buff African American woman made up her mind that if she ever made it back to civilization, she would hail the first taxi, and it would take her to the airport. The Gringo, me, reverted to survival mode, by keeping my head down, my mouth shut, and my eyes focused on the path in front of me.

Vicki, the Slovenian, power walking at an insanely inhuman rate, urged us forward by exerting terse commands in broken English: “HURRY FAST! YOU STILL YOUNG!” Salah, the Moroccan provided comic relief with his klutzy almost-falls, and Frank, the Mexican, pulled out his large trusty flashlight and provided a central light, which would keep us all close in its circumference.

For the next two grueling hours, our spirits and physical capacities were beaten down and pulverized by the Costa Rican jungles.

Finally, we began to recognize the outskirts of the property we were staying at. Straining our eyes in hopes of seeing something familiar, we saw the beautiful silhouettes of our tents, and the instantaneous jolt in our energy became apparent.

In the community house, we sat around the red auburn table and toasted to our survival with mugs of smooth Trapiche Wine.

There was something primitively comforting about not having electricity; the warm glow of the candles in their wine bottle holders created the gentle ambiance we needed in order to recharge ourselves.  The mellow light lit the gentle, relieved expressions on my amigos faces, and the screened-in room allowed us to be completely present to the soft murmur of insect voices outside.

We kept recounting our adventure in broken bits of myriad languages.

And though we couldn’t understand each other completely, that’s what gave this night a hilarious, soul-striking charisma. Our over the top gestures and frantic words facilitated more miscommunications, which exponentially increased our rages of laughter.

We imitated each other’s actions during this stressful situation where true personalities had crept in. Each time Vicki started to talk, the rest of us stood up and pretended to crack a whip while mimicking her stern commands.

Devious smiles continually crawled up to our ears, and when our mouths opened, we unleashed laughter in deafening cracks of joy with no hint of restraint. I threw my head back to let out another shrill cry as I madly stamped my feet on the ground. We doubled over, our throats unleashing ungodly sounds, and we spend the hours of the night unsuccessfully gasping for more air. I saw the sting of breathlessness come over everyone, and our cheeks kept rising to scrunch our glossy eyes into crescent moons. My core burned, and my eyes filled up with tears, which involuntarily leaked down the side of my face in moments of unadulterated delight.

We doubled over, tripled over, and quadrupled over with laughter as we feasted on tamales. And not one of us shared the same culture, and we obviously could not speak the same language, but ohhhhh could we laugh.

There we were, the African American, the Mexican, the Moroccan, the Slovenian, and the Gringo. It may seem inappropriate to categorize so hastily, but tonight we demanded of each other to claim our differences. The jungle wouldn’t thrive without it’s distinct birdcalls, monkey howls, and insect noises. Similarly, our cultural backgrounds, experiences, and skin colors mingled to create an electrifying presence, which streamed through us and comfortably embraced our souls in profound rapture.

In this cosmic crescendo after a rumble in the jungle, it was then and there at the auburn table when we decided that we had made up the diversity in the jungle tonight. After all, we are all creatures in this jungle of life.

Photo credit to my good friend Rachel Leibowitz.

Nauyaca Waterfall, Costa Rica. January, 2012.

The Travel Syndrome

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I have had an undying urge to travel and see the world since I was a little girl; I have a rare condition,which I have coined ‘TS’: Travel Syndrome.

I’d estimate that less than 5% of the population is born with this syndrome. Although it can be prompted at any stage in life, by any event, I find that the most extreme cases are commonly those who have been affected from a young age. People who possess this pleasurable affliction understand that this severe wanderlust fully occupies the mindset and lifestyle.

Common Symptoms the TS may include:

-Getting antsy and anxious from being in one location for too long. TS-er’s may never experience the joys that accompany being in one place for an extended period of time; the sea of sights to be seen in this world are far more inspiring and rewarding for us than witnessing the changes of one location overtime.

-Not missing people while traveling. While traveling, we have an engrained mentality that it’s vital to be present to every experience with every vein in our body; to be able to successfully take it all in, we easily abandon our feelings of attachment to those at home. Were not heartless, we just won’t miss you.

-Never wanting to settle down. We are highly disturbed by this type statement: “He makes me want to settle down.”  We like to completely disregard the stagnancy that accompanies socially prescribed dreams of settling down. The ‘American Dream’ is a horrifying account of average people being sucked into…settling down.

-Embracing the dirt factor. Lets face it, true travelers aren’t afraid to get dirty. With hours of trains, planes, and automobiles, we have learned to embrace the grunge that eventually plagues the body after extensive days of travel and adventure. No, I haven’t showered, but thanks for asking.

-The ability to feel at home, no matter where we’re at. We are able to maintain a strong sense of self while abroad; in fact, our personalities are often enriched while traveling. As the Haitian motto encourages, Konstwi ak sa nou ye kote, we are continually building who we are, where we are. Our ability to relish new, different things ensures that our homes are quite literally where our hearts are. Paul Theroux, one of my favorite writers, so deftly writes: we are homesick most for the places we have never known.

-An unrelenting optimism, even in unfortunate situations. To put it bluntly, things never go as planned. But, our unnaturally optimistic outlook allows us to know that the new twist of events will turn out even better than what we had planned in the first place. The missed train can lead to a new friend who has an alternate idea for an action packed day. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

-Repulsion at the ‘common tourist.’ While traveling, we do not like to associate with ‘tourists,’ no offense. Those of us with TS are able to quickly mingle our way into the culture, lifestyle, and hearts of the people inhabiting the visited country. It may be a brash mentality, but we see ‘tourists’ as shallowly skimming the surface of countries with eyes only for famous monuments. Mass barriers of language, culture, clothing and customs don’t stop TS-er’s…. we delve head first into the culture. We have mastered body language techniques and quickly pick up on cultural gestures and language bits in order to facilitate communication to skivvy our way into the bubble. Quick, Hide! An American tourist with a video camera! Maybe we can blend in…

Other side-effects may include:

-A keen observation eye, and acute awareness

-A strange affinity for airports

-Uncontrollable independence

-Frustrations of people not understanding what we crave

-The sparking of an even greater urge to travel upon arrival at a new location

-Being able to fit the next phase of your life in a carry-on

-Hours of depression and emptiness upon arrival back “home” from travels

-The source of your pride is a little blue book with stamps.

-Having non-blood-related family members all over the world

-Being accused of making up stories. No, really… that happened.

Having an easier time falling for places than people

-Accepting that it’s not a phase; it’s a lifestyle. You can’t fake it; this action packed life requires constant planning, a genuine dedication to other cultures, and the ever-occurring onset of a new adventures.

Us TS-er’s were born equipped with an unparalleled open-mindedness. We serve as innate ambassadors for the world who are always building relationships that withstand all time zones. It is our passion and our duty to see though new lenses while roaming large lands and simultaneously sifting through small world connections.

Call us what you want, wanderers, voyagers, trekkers, explorers, rovers, itinerants, drifters, journeyers.We are activists and avid acceptors of this world, capable of taking on radically different perspectives at any given moment. Our experiences have ushered profound spiritual, mental, emotional, and social growth.

We carry the burdens of this world on our shoulders; as I return home, my steps become a little slower, as if my body is weighted down from playing the role of witness. Sometimes, we have seen too much. Paradoxically, I often feel lighter too, as if the sights I saw somehow set free a part of me that was caged before. Either way, rest assured that we use our new found knowledge ferociously to activate positive change in this world; as clichéd as it sounds, we will do everything in our power to make the world a little better.

We have the Travel Syndrome. 

                                                                                            Picture from

Protest GPS: Fight to Get Lost!

“I’m lost…” With the onset of brilliant technology such as GPS, will important expressions like this disappear? While GPS proves to be extremely practical, does it distract from the natural flow of our lives?

GPS fails to take into account the most important part of the destination: the journey. My growing concern for ‘the journey’ stems from 3 inappropriate messages that GPS seems to promote: 1) There are no mistakes to be made when traveling 2) There is only one path to take to get to your one destination 3) Don’t veer from the path.

I have a problem with any piece of technology that makes me feel guilty for making a mistake; the obnoxious voice that articulates, “recalculating” makes me feel as if I just made a horrific life choice, and oh wow, I hope I can get back on track.

GPS tells us the nitty-gritty in clean, precise steps in hope of alleviating every possible future frustration of getting lost, but I have this strong feeling thatgetting lost is an important experience. It provides us with a more memorable journey, which fosters appreciation for the destination.

Going off the map can be a beautiful thing.

“I’m Lost!” quite frankly appears very frequently in my speech. Although this phrase may be associated with freak-outs, sketchy hotels, discomfort, distress, anxiety, or all of the above, these temporary feelings are eventually overpowered with feelings of perseverance and persistence as you begin ‘the journey.’

The unique, getting-lost-induced feelings of perseverance and persistence may be coming to a sad ending.  Luckily, my generation has experienced the gratifying, slap-your-hand-on-the-steering-wheel-in-excitement sensation of finding the way once again… but will our children never know this moment?

Unfortunately, as we stop listening to ourselves, and start listening to the GPS voice with an easily changeable accent, we relinquish the art of getting lost.

Even if the English accent GPS voice is seductive and entertaining, who’s to say that the GPS voice isn’t still subconsciously in our heads when were not listening to explicit directions? Should we really listen to people who constantly tell us that we’re going the wrong way? No. We were born with intuition for a reason. As the universe would so righteously have it, many times the ‘wrong way’ can lead us on an inexplicable adventure and an even better destination than we were headed for in the first place.

Navigating unfamiliar territory is not just for the average explorer, but a metaphor for something we all must do in many situations in our lives. To do so, we need to command the ability of listening to ourselves, and not the outside voice. When the cross GPS lady, whose voice we now recognize as the only correct option, says, “Turn right,” this not only silences our own voice, but curbs our own sense of wander and inhibits our intuition and curiosity. What if I went… Gasp… LEFT?!

She wouldn’t have enjoyed that snarky remark… I don’t think the GPS lady and I would get along in real life. She’s insta-killjoy in a box. If it’s not her cantankerous, straightedge personality that bothers me, maybe it’s her cultivated fun-sucking capabilities. Now, what I wouldn’t mind is a GPS that would instill a sense of adventure in its listeners. Instead of turning right, please stop the car. GET OUT. Take a little trek on this beautifully hidden trail to your left …don’t forget to take time to appreciate the scenery around you. *GPS lady locks car until the passengers have completed their challenge*


I’m a believer that half of the joy of adventuring is figuring out how to get to a location yourself: read a map, look at a compass, have a friend read you directions from the passenger seat. Bottom Line: if everyone is listening to computerized voices in order to get to specific, on-the-map destinations, …

 nobody becomes trailblazer.

Getting lost paves the way for blazing trails in new and foreign locales. And honestly,the times I have been lost with friends have made for frustrating, yet hilarious situations that always seem to pull us closer together and provide me with a renewed sense of determination and fierce problem-solution skills that I don’t normally whip out. GPS completely obliterates the bonding experiences and life lessons of ‘getting lost’. Maybe GPS should get lost too…(no pun intended)

Practicing saying it… “I’m lost” Again… “I’m lost…” I believe its one of the few, beautiful phrases that makes you equally powerful and powerless at the same time. Saying it is not giving up, rather sending a divine, cosmic message, which the universe is sure to intercept. Admitting to being lost gives you duel capabilities of taking hold of the situation and letting go simultaneously.  And when one is lost, one is constantly in that sweet, unknowing spot, undeniably on the brink getting back on track.

 The next time your planning on using a GPS, I challenge you to turn it off. Experiment, be apart of the journey; even if you get lost, you may end up finding a new favorite coffee spot or captivating nature lookout.

 While in route…

 Protest GPS: Fight for your right to get lost!