A moment lived in Australia by Ben, a traveller from the USA

I’m sitting in a softly-lit, rustic- styled and aptly-named pub – Clay Pots – in St Kilda, Melbourne, VIC, AUS. I’m here alone, and there’s a pitcher of Czech Pils sitting on the bar in front of me. A dissonant but bouncy Eastern European Gypsy Folka sounding tune plays from a conspicuously out of place iMac behind the bar, and, to my left, a blonde woman in her late thirties and a long sequined skirt dances by herself. A model gondola paces slowly back and forth below the exposed wooden rafters above me, accompanied by a languid, mechanical whir. The smell of hot mulled wine hangs in the air, lending the already cozy atmosphere an intimately exotic thickness.

My general impression of “backpackers” (so en-quoted because of their apparent propensity to travel not with backpacks at all, but with multiple duffles or large, rolling suitcases packed with everything from hair dye to high heels to suit coats to chef’s knives (no, seriously)) in Australia is that they ultimately seem to do very little of anything at all, save for consume heroic amounts of cheap wine- self-consciously but appositely monikered “goon”- and smoke vast miniature armies of bone-white hand rolled cigarettes. How these listless legions fund their endeavors in such an outrageously expensive city I am sure I don’t know. Some of them do work- as laborers or dishwashers, waitresses or delivery people. But for the most part, they seem to be very preoccupied with the idea of looking for work, and very nonplussed with the project of finding it. This sort of psychological dissonance seems to manifest itself in their traveling itineraries as well, because when they do move around, and they occasionally do, they seem to drift from destination to destination, falling into ruts they can’t tell don’t dissolve with the changing scenery, drinking and partying their way through a foreign landscape they interact with and appreciate in ostensibly only the most fundamental and instrumental and necessary way. The morning hours at the hostel are the hours of the walking dead; they belong to the early workers, the hungover, the still drunk, and the rudely-awakened-in-a-public-space (these latter typically constituting a subcategory of ‘the still drunk’, it probably goes without saying).

The music has been changed by the dancing woman to a hiss- heavy and presumably ancient recording of a prayer-chanting Hindi guru. She ebbs and flows with herself, hands raised and twisted, feet occupied in an opiated rhythmic shuffle that seems entirely unconcerned with the pace of her swaying hips. A very drunk old man holding a plastic liter bottle half full of what appears to be bourbon sticks his head in the door and, for a long captivating moment, rambles fast and drunk and incomprehensible about his love for music. His face withdraws into the night with the slam of a door and the light tinkle of a bell.

Which, if I’m being honest, is not to say that I’m doing too terribly much of anything at the moment either. I seem to have found myself caught in what may be the definitive post-capitalist tension:

that irresolvable place between needing to make money to travel and explore and be active, and on the other hand working tirelessly (ok, not tirelessly- I’m exhausted) to earn that money, and living like an ascetic to save that money, and so but then having very little time or energy to actually enjoy the money that I’m working so hard to make, and ultimately finding myself feeling very conflicted and depressed by the whole arrangement, which arrangement is of course entirely of my own design and more or less the purpose of my visit to Australia- to earn more travel money, that is-, because, when it comes down to it, what am I doing here if I’m not willing to spend the time and the money to explore this new continent and all that it has to offer? I am all too aware of my historical propensity to just sort of put my head down and bull through all sorts of existential-and-work-induced miseries for some distant and long-delayed financial red cape of a reward, a reprieve at the end of the gauntlet; after all, that’s how I funded my trip from Portland to Asia. I worked my ass off for the better part of nine difficult months to afford my escape- and it was in no uncertain terms an escape-, which of course also then leant a serious psychological fuel to my flight. I wrote before I left that I had a clear idea at the time of what it was I was escaping from, but not what it was I was escaping to. That seems to have changed. I now no longer have an idea of what it is I’m escaping from, either. I only know that it is shadowy and persistent and likely intrinsic to myself. It’s like I’m running through the dark in a dream- chased by something unknown but presumably insidious, running towards something unseen but hopefully sheltered, and burdened by the extreme heaviness of limb and viscosity of time that are hallmarks of dream-panic-flight.

I empty the pitcher into my glass. The dancing woman laughs with a stout drunken man in a leather coat and bowler, his slurred Australian accent lending to his ruddy complexion and jowly rictus a sense of cartoonish vivacity- of his being an over-enthusiastically manifested caricature of himself. His hand alights for a brief, pregnant moment on the woman’s hip, and then he’s off, stumbling out the door waving his leather hat behind him as if to clear the air of his presence before he’s swallowed up by the night. The bartender, a young, black, Frenchman named Pascal, interrupts the chanting Hindi, cutting the tape-hiss of static and replacing it with the warm vinyl crack and pop of an old Mississippi blues recording, and now suddenly the old southern black uncle I’ve never had is sitting in a kitchen I’ve never seen, playing a torpid delta guitar over the sound of bacon and eggs frying on the stove under an open window. The sun is shining. I’m pretty sure there’s pie.

credit photo : Ben

Coming back to my first love

Coming back to my first love

A moment lived in Argentina  by Elita, a traveller from Ireland

What does it come to your mind when someone asks you about child memories? For me, it’s road trips.
My mom and dad used to pack all our bags in the car and we would drive for hours and hours around the country. We would plan the route and enjoy the road until the great destination. These trips were the most amazing experience, almost like a tradition for the entire family. My dad was in charge of the driving and the bad jokes, my mum was the co pilot ready for conversation and preparing mate all the way there, I was in charge of photos and the map and my sister used to ask “Are we there yet?”.

So, as you can already imagine, travel is something that grew inside me since I was a little girl and for that reason, two years ago I decided I wanted to do more of it. I moved to Ireland to experience a new world, talk a different language, make new friends, visit cities I have never been before, eat food for the first time. I came here to live the ‘new’, to live the exciting things my body was asking for after being so tired of routine. The only thing is that all those ‘news’ are now ‘olds’ and my body began to ask for the old familiar so I went back to my city, my family and friends.

I flew several hours to cross the ocean and I arrived home. I was home away from home to meet my family. All the tears of happinness, cuddless, beers, walk around familiar places. I walked around the streets listening to people talk, falling in love again with the accent and the manners like I was a tourist but this time, in my own city. Being together again was amazing but it felt like wasn’t enough so we decided to do a road trip as a family, like the old times. Ok, we took a plane this time so it was like cheating but we went as far as we could to be somewhere new to all of us and we decided the Perito Moreno Galciar was the chosen one.

Now, you probably want to know more about the place. Right? Well, we walked on the glaciar for almost three hours, we took pictures, we felt it so close but no picture can show how insane this place is. Have you ever been in a place so inmense you stay speachless? This is exactly what the glaciar is: INMENSE. It looks like is infinit, the way it connects with the mountains. In between the silence you can hear when it breaks, so loud like a thunder. Falling into pieces like a perfect puzzle on the silver water, waiting there to be part of the lake. Real proof of how nature can be oustanding and leave you in a limbo, just staring at the beauty of being such a tiny thing in this wonderful world.

I went to Argentina to re live the old, to go back to my comfort zone for a few days, my house, my home but I instead I’ve got a surprise from it. I was not fully home, not there nor here in Dublin because once you leave it is hard to feel 100% home wherever you go. My heart is leaving pieces in places I visit and people I meet. My heart is now from the world and home can be everywhere. It is in Buenos Aires with my family, it is in Dublin with my friend and it is here with me wherever I go because once your heart travels, it is hard to stop.

This traveler has a travel blog : The Irish Luck

credit photo : Elita

Painting the light of a better place

Painting the light of a better place

A moment lived in Belgium by Nico, a traveller from Belgium

Come to the sea side it’s been a while. That’s what my friend Julien told me last night over the phone.

10 am I am on the train to Blankenberg, a city on the north side of Belgium. It is a beautiful bank holiday weekend. I told myself “why not” has it is only 2.30hrs away from where I am staying.

I live abroad and don’t get the chance to see him often (maybe once or twice a year).

That day around 1pm I met with him and also got introduced to his girlfriend Belinda. She is from the Philippines, they’ve been dating each other for over 2 years.

She speaks good english and I am glad I can finally see her in person.

Sitting on the terrace of a restaurant Julien is telling me about his trip to the Philippines that he recently took to meet with Belinda’s relatives showing me pictures on his smart phone.

I Quickly understand that Julien went on his own because Belinda couldn’t travel with him as she is a “sans papier” (not legal on the European soil), She moved to Belgium with a wealthy french family from Hong kong being the maid for the children but after 2 years the Belgian state didn’t renew her work permit, so in the event she would travel somewhere outside of Europe or even a normal ID control, she would be sent home with no possibility to come back.

I can really see this is something she is scared about everyday.

That day we had a really good talk about how it is to live with a sword of Damocles above your head and really made me realised how fortunate we are.

Even though she is not allowed to travel for obvious reasons they still manage to cross some borders to go to France or Germany exploring the neighbour countries as she is keen to see what Europe has to offer with its beauty and, there is a lot.

I liked this adventurous way of thinking and at the same time felt sad to see her being limited not because of her own choice.

In the evening we went for a walk on the beach, the light was magic, feeling like in a William Turner painting with a pale light reflecting on the sea caused by a sky with a sun long gone.

We came back home around midnight, would look at some pictures on my laptop about beautiful places to discover in Europe. It was such a pleasure to see her eyes wide opened with the will to be able to go to such places one day.

I left the morning after. On the train back to my town and met someone with another story to tell.

A guy from Senegal that is also in a difficult situation (I say difficult because he has a huge smile on his face otherwise I would say terrible.)

He told me he had no other way then fleeing his country because he his gay and in Senegal being gay is the absolute shame especially for the family. they banned him to ever come back. He his from a family of 34. The father has 4 wives and his mom had 7 children. So you can have many wives but don’t dare being gay!

He also told me how his life was before. He used to be the owner of two grocery shops and had to trade some piece of land with 450 chickens in exchange of a fake passport to be able to fly to Europe seeking for asylum now as a refugee. But all the way the 34 years old Khadim was telling me his story, he kept on smiling. Telling me that he loves his country but can’t go back as he could even get killed but anyway never be considered anymore. Reputation in this part of Africa is what matters the most and they all know it. Your name and your family can never be put in the dirt.

I have to say, I have huge respect for him and I feel lucky I could be a witness of his story. For having lived myself in Senegal I could also get a better picture of the situation he is in.

What I learned from that is we should never judge people for seeking a better place to live as human being without knowing exactly what the story is, because we would do the same if needed.

I got his number because our train ride was too short and I am sure there is a lot more to learn from Khadim.

I also realised that no need to go far from your home to live a beautiful travel moment.

credit photo:
Kids of Patan

Kids of Patan

A moment lived in Nepal by Pierre, a traveller from Belgium

It was an evening in October 2013, in the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal. I was sitting next to exceptional temples of Durbar Square in Patan (Lalitpur, the “city of beauty”) and was watching the motley crowd , merchants, tourists, vendors of peanuts … in an unreal atmosphere by its sounds, lights, smells … I was enjoying watching the games of kids running between the temples which were to constitute for them their usual field of games.

Yet a moment my mind was completely elsewhere when I thought of my recently deceased parents…I was no more in Nepal at that moment. There was no more crowd around me, no more temples. When I came back to the reality, two of the kids previously playing were just close by. They were soon joined by several other children.  Without revealing the back of my mind, one of the child asked me directly about my parents. He then asked me the name of my Mother…. Her name was Eveline. He then pronounced her name and the other children repeated it several times.  Pronounced by all their little voices, the name of my mom sounded like cristal bells, fleeting as beautiful like sparks from fireworks in the night of Patan… Then the kid asked my Father’s name. His name was Jacques. Again, the children pronounced several times the name of my father which resonated as a cristal. My parents were very present then…The kids of Patan were with me but also my Parents…

The crowd amongst the temples was large but despite their games, these children had noticed that I was looking at their games but also that at one point I was with other invisible persons, far, very far from this world… They had understood who was in my mind. They came and brought back my parents very present in this place that they would have very much enjoyed to visit. Very simply, they had comforted me … After, I asked them a few questions before thanking them and letting them returning to their games. The moment was magical.

An advice: if you pass by Patan, think strongly to those that you loved and maybe also the kids of Patan will come to confort you and make you feel very close to those that you think of.  I wish this to you….


PS: Since then, the earthquake of April 25th 2015 claimed many lives and destroyed many temples, also in Patan … I hope these children were able to escape from it …

credit photo: Pierre
The Variable Sky

The variable sky

A moment lived in Romania by Barry Martin Kenna, a traveller from Ireland

You could have written on the back of a postage stamp what I knew about Romania and most of what I knew was stereotype. A short five day excursion to the heart of eastern Europe brought my friend and I to Bucharest.

It was one of those trips where everything seem to fall into place. Staying in an apartment in the middle of the capital we spent the first day like good tourists doing the walking tour. Whilst familiarising ourselves with our surroundings, we learned of Vlad Tepes or Vlad the Impaler as he was ‘affectionately’ known the muse for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. We met two Israeli girls on the tour also, one confessed that her nickname was The Terminator for reasons still unknown. Dracula and The Terminator on our first day, we we’re off to a great start. The night progressed and we abandoned ourselves to the revelry of the drink and great fun was had by all.

The following day we heard tell of a festival that was taking place called the Rokolectiv, with the opening event taking place in Ceausescu’s Palace, the largest municipal building in the world, so we were told. The building is impressive of course, but there is something sad about it once you know the historical events which gave life to it. We entered the queue and I began to people watch and I must admit at this point that the Romanians are a beautiful people; everywhere you looked you felt as if you were privy to a fashion shoot or a movie scene. We stepped into shot and the night unfurled full of incident.

It is the next day which I recall most fondly. Slightly worse for ware we made our way to the next event of the festival, a music event, in an old warehouse on the outskirts of the centre. The music was a mix of electro, traditional and international music, something to cater for all tastes. At the back of the warehouse there were some rooms designated for art installations. It was here we met the Daniel, Ligia and Aleksandra. From a short discussion we realised that Daniel was a movie director of note that my friend knew of, Ligia was an Artistic Director and Aleksandra was a singer. A singer, “I must hear her sing” I thought, my friend instantly on the same page told them I was a traditional singer in Ireland, a white lie, but I could carry a note. They said there was a park nearby and we could go have drink and maybe sing a song.

I said I would start and sang Peggy Gordan a Scottish traditional song which seem to go down well, not only with our new friends but passers by who stopped to listen. When Aleksandra started to sing everything around seem to fall silent, she sang a local traditional song Trece-un nouraș pe sus (Little cloud passing by). Her voice would shame a nightingale and any aftereffects from the previous night dissipated with every note. The next song she serenaded us with unknown to her at the time was one of my favourites, Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat. It is hard to describe the feeling that experience had on me but as Aleksandra told to me later ‘I’ve always been amazed by coincidences, and bowed to the way they can restore my faith in people, in singing, in how connected we all actually are’. I couldn’t agree more.

Cer Variabil

In the variable sky we see life unfold.
Clouds, lights and waves of energy;
The untold influence on what we see.

Were I to be a wiser man,
Less subjugated,
More educated,
Would I know why we see what we see.

To say I do not fear death would be a lie,
I love life,
I love the variable sky.

credit photo: Barry Martin Kenna
Cigarette ?

Cigarette ?

A moment lived in Bosnia and Herzegovina by Joseph Alexander, a traveller from Ireland

Excuse me – Cigarette?

I turned to see three faces staring back at me, one of which belonged to a body holding out a cigarette for me. I paused for a second before switching on, accepting the cigarette and thanking him.

I was sitting on a train moving between Sarajevo and Zagreb. I was still in the Bosnia section of the trip and was occupying a carriage with three men who had got on at the same station as me. I had initially offered them beers as a conversation starter but they had declined. They didn’t seem keen to speak so I left it at that and began writing about Sarajevo. What an incredible city with a tragic history. I was travelling around eastern Europe in order to better understand the breakup of Yugoslavia. I had consumed documentaries and articles about it but being there was a totally different experience. It was far more visceral. The people I had met were incredibly open and warm, gracious and humble. I was moving on after three days there and vowed to return as soon as I could. (I was back in less than a year. I haven’t met anybody yet who hasn’t felt the city get a hold of them.)

The three men were all distinctly different and had a very relaxed dynamic, laughing often and constantly making jokes at each other’s expense. The man with the lightest skin, and youngest, spoke the best English. It was he who gave me the cigarette. He told me about how all three were studying agriculture in the University to get a better understanding of how to maximise profit on a farm. As the landscape whipped by the window, I could see people working the land by hand. They were all using tools – no machinery was in sight. Sunlight was fading quickly yet the people in the fields showed no signs of letting up.

After a few minutes of conversation in broken English I was asked what I was doing in Bosnia. I replied that I was travelling. Quizzical looks formed on their faces; how do you mean, what for? Travelling to see the country and just for experience. “I wish I could have that opportunity” was the response I got. A few minutes later, the train began slowing down and the men gathered their things. As we pulled into the station they offered me handshakes and smiles. I watched them amble off as the train began to move on. We were in a small, rural station about an hour from Sarajevo. This was their daily commute to try and improve life on a farm used mainly for subsistence.

I have never felt as privileged as I did that day. On the one hand, it was a fantastic experience speaking with them but, on the other hand, I felt a little lost as to what travelling really means. It seemed an extravagance in that moment to move so frivolously whilst the people I encountered and would speak of later as characters in my stories toiled in an economy set up against them. As time has passed those lingering feelings of guilt have faded and when I think of those men I remember fondly their easy laughter and the courtesy they had extended to me. My appearance in their carriage had definitely confused them and yet they were very open and friendly, sharing their food and drink.
Sometimes travelling is a bewildering process, confronting us with situations that challenge what we think we know. It’s at moments like those that I think of these lyrics:
Life is hard, life is beautiful
Life is strange, and life is unusual

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