New News is Good News – Update on Portland and Seattle

I was quick to judge Portland. Flying in a weekday morning, trudging about town with my luggage on a grey, wet day…. It was unfair of me to assume that that was Portland at its peak. First of all, my host in Portland was above and beyond generous and friendly. I was remiss to skip over that detail. Once the sun came out and the weekend came around, I was introduced to a whole other side of things. There were people and smiles and not everyone was a drug zombie! People were being tourists and performers, and walking around was very pleasant!

That weekend, I was invited to travel with a girl who contacted me out of the blue to go to a music festival on a farm in the middle of Nowhereville. Without hesitation, I accepted! Boy, that was a good decision. My host, Kelsey was right on my wavelength. As a vegan herself, she knew where the good eats were! She took me for some modern Indian fusion food (is that a thing?) at a place called The Sudra where I ordered jackfruit vindaloo and a samosa! This nicely portioned collection of sides was really well priced, really good, and made my tummy happy!


Tummies full, we continued up and up and up into the forest territory. Kelsey and I talked and clicked pretty much the entire trip, something that is very rare for me. I felt right at home with her and she seemed very happy with me. As a more experienced camper, she had stocked her car with every hammock, tent, sweater, and delicious/healthy snack a person could want. I think I would have died in that forest without her! Though, the farm at which we arrived, Turning Earth Farm was as friendly and pleasant as can be! We spent 2.5 day camping, dancing, listening to music, playing with fire, and hugging various farm animals. Honestly, that is all I ever want from life.


There wasn’t any opportunity to be bored at this event, either, which is surprising! Drum circles, folks on all sorts of wavy gravy drugs, checking out the music and the creek and the artists… it was truly a thrill a minute. In the evening, it got chilly, but there was a tremendous fire and the kids sat around making s’mores. I’ve never made a s’more, but the kids had a blast! Their mother would tell them to only eat three, but I assured them I wouldn’t say a word if they stuck an extra one or two in their mouths.

The stars were outrageous, which always gets me. You just don’t get that kind of starry, starry night in Manhattan, now, do you? Which meant lots of tripping and stepping on pokey stuff due to the darkness, but it was a perfectly fine trade-off in my book! Some of the guests also were living there as a work trade situation, some for months at a time. The two owners of the farm are young, really laid-back folks who just create beautiful things, farm, and take it easy. Everything about the place was as pleasant as can be!

My last two days were then spent with a lovely guy named Henry in another trendy part of the city that seemed quite suburban, but was a quick drive away from an area full of bars and restaurants and all sorts of trendy people and things. Henry was the sweetest human being and we also bonded quite well. In case you don’t know, I use Couchsurfing for my host-finding needs, by the way. If you’re smart about it, it’s very safe and can lead to wonderful adventures!

Unfortunately, however, the next day I had booked a bus to Seattle. This was exciting, but it was also before I knew how lovely Portland could be, which means I did not get to see and do and hang out as much as I would have liked. But I did have a nice cup o’ tea before heading off! Thank you for your patience with me, Portland, I am sorry I judged you so quickly.

Then the day came for my bus ride to Seattle, huzzah! I heard it was busier and more focused on IT than Oregon, but I did not know what to expect. Enter Pike Market, Space Needle, and more good people. Though, in this case, I stayed with friends that I met on the internets. Without having to buy a lot, I was able to see the outside portion of various tourist traps, enjoy the market, and live the simple and slow life.

As quick-paced as it was for the West Coast folks, things were still a touch slow-motion for this New York chick! The market was really nice, though! Particularly nice at the end of the day on a weekday. The market closes at 6, so I was wandering around at 5.30 PM. Coming across a bakery with vegan options, the cashier informed me that I could purchase two muffins for $5 (normally, $5.50 a piece). However, when I mentioned that they only had one vegan muffin left, she said that they’ll just throw it out, so I can have it for $2. It would have been amazing if she had given it to me for free, but I was hungry and craving a cheap muffin at that point, so I went for the banana chocolate chip muffin from Cinnamon Works. It was big and delicious and didn’t taste like it was sitting in the glass counter all day. Yum!

Staying with a friend near the University of Washington campus, I got a wonderful mix of nature, bike path, and then walking down to the more busy area with lots of funky shops, as well as easy access to all the buses and light rail! The ticketing system is a little odd, beware. I had an “Orca Card”, but you have to tap it on the way in and the way out, so they have security walking through the trains, occasionally checking to be sure you tapped. I only “forgot” to tap a few times, I promise! It’s a very straight-forward path, though; one train, about 10 stops, and you get to the main, busy areas, everything is walking distance from there.

My friend and I were able to get to concerts in Ballard and a vegan pizza place and various other fun adventures, including the Gay Pride Parade on Capitol Hill – a funky and gay-friendly area with more shops, bars, and restaurants. There was also a steam punk distillery and Theo’s chocolate shop with lots of free chocolate samples, many of which were 70% cacao and dairy-free. WIN!

We saw the troll under the bridge, the gum wall, and explored Sculpture Park. All free and randomly enjoyable activities! Yeah, the gum wall is exactly what it sounds like. At least a block underneath the Pike Market where the walls are just covered in… you guessed it- GUM! Chewed gum, at that!

Yesterday included camping in a national park near Mt. Rainier. That was beautiful and peaceful. Another Couchsurfing host/driver/friend drove the 1.5 hours with me, a dog, and a map, and we just found a wonderful spot, explored a bit, and enjoyed nature. Don’t get to say that often in Manhattan! We also did some yoga which really added to the experience. Not *real* yoga, because that’s awful, but just the deep thinking and breathing sort. We last about 6 minutes and then continued splashing and sunbathing with Pinky the dog.

I still have a week left of my trip and, while I am sure the thrill will slow down (or not!), I still expect to get visits from more friends and see and do more. After all, I could go to the same place repeatedly and still find new things or hear new stories. It’s endless joy and pleasure if your attitude is in the right state, and this state happens to be Washington!

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Is Portland weird or just sick?

The people spoke and I heard them, they told me that Portland is weird. As a weird person, it was assumed that I would fit right in and love it. So, I had to investigate.

I like Portland a lot so far. I’m 2 days in and I have seen beautiful nature, beautiful man-made architecture, and generally, have been having a nice time… and walking SO much. My judgment on the weirdness, though?

Eh.

More kilts per square mile than New York and New Jersey, sure. More hairy women and mohawks, I guess. Above all else, though, the thing that stands out as weird and uncomfortable and quite frankly, kind of scary is that it looks like Metho-potamia around here! The high rates of addiction in Portland make it the fourth highest in the US (while being ranked only 27th in population). In Portland, heroin use has risen so dramatically that it accounts for nearly as many deaths among young and middle-aged men as cancer or heart disease. On the bright side, cocaine-use has gone down. Of course, this is probably because everyone picked up meth and heroin instead, but… let’s not sweat the details here.

Turns out, Portland has become a hub in the Northwest drug trade due to its easy access to major highways, rail lines, and airports. Most of the drugs come along the I-5: Heroin, cocaine, meth, and marijuana up from Mexican cartels from the south and high-potency BC Bud and MDMA down from Canada in the north. There are stash houses all over the city… they probably won’t mention that during your hop-on-hop-off bus tour. I didn’t need anyone to tell me about the drug problem, though. After all, everyone in the West Coast drives everywhere! Anyone who isn’t driving is spending all their money elsewhere. You can guess where.

Dealing with the hunched over, grumbling, angry-yet-laughing “street folk” of Portland is not fun, nor is it funny. Amidst the needle exchanges, the Goodwill stores, the career services, and every other resource for the junkies, there is an endless parade of slogged and sad men and women who need money, food, drugs, and more drugs. Not to mention, the occasional flirting, which is just as horrifying to experience and witness as you would think. Hilp!

The mystery remains: is Portland weird? The Naked Bike Ride, free vacuum museum, and the kilts… so many kilts! Oh! And the craft store called Scraps. I’m not sure I can even explain that one. It’s like a craft store meets a hoarder’s closet meets the underside of a teenager’s bed. This town is definitely a promising start to something funky, but is it endearing? Not sure I can say it is. Unless you like weed (and various other drugs) and craft beer… maybe if you haven’t cooked a meal since 1982… or if you prefer your sky cloudy rather than sunny and clear. Then, yeah, Portland is a dream!

On the other hand, the roses? The views and hiking? Climbing the West Hills was one of the most intense and most worthwhile hikes I’ve ever experienced. Everyone was driving up to see Pittock Mansion, but they were missing out on the homes, the nature, the views of Portland… and the exercise! It was a sweaty and amazing time!

I also walked an hour to get to Food Fight! It was the mecca of the meth heads, but it would have been worth getting jumped or shanked. Between the vegan bakery, market, shop, and tattoo parlour, it was a really special vegan moment. Even if you need more vegan options, non-vegans options, and some deliciously nasty street food, there are over 600 food trucks around Portland from which you can choose. You know, the usual suspects of tacos and gyros, but also more nuanced and hip items. There’s something charming about a multitude of food options. I get so excited.

Then there’s Voodoo Doughtnuts, with vegan options, as most places have vegan options. West Coast people love their doughnuts, just add in their obsession with coffee and you’re set.

The book store “city” is a huge part of the city, as well. Powell’s is a 68,000-square-foot book palace. An entire block’s length of extremely organized but also a maddening labyrinth of real, live, true BOOKS. Just like the kind grandpa used to collect. If you’re into CDs and records, there are big shops for those, too. Whatever you’re into, there’s an excessively large place to get it.

If all else fails, Seattle is just 3 hours away! 😉

 

One Month Until Portland, Brudda!

Is it considered a plan if my plan is to have as little of a plan as possible? Plan planned. Done.

Here’s what I’m thinking, kids. Please correct if my opinion is wrong.

June 12th – Fly to Portland, Oregon from JFK at 4.55 PM. If you need to chase me down and proclaim your love for me, this would be the time to do it. Don’t do it. Either the police or I will roundhouse kick you.

Barring any love-related incidents, I will be Oregon-bound by 5.30 PM. Off to the mecca of weird, quirky, outrageous, hip, and all that is vegan. I’ll be staying with a chap named Kevin. Kevin is a 41-year-old male I met on Couchsurfing.com. He describes himself as, “a traveler at heart, I enjoy the open road and travel as much as possible” and says, “I live in downtown Portland, Oregon a beautiful, majestic place to live. You have the outdoors which are beautiful, hiking, biking, camping and the beach are all within a short distance of Portland and I love it.”

His profile says that he has a one-bedroom apartment without any roommates on the 11th floor of a building overlooking West Hills, wherever that is. He offers a comfy couch and a spacious air mattress. His home is located just 8 blocks from Powell’s Books, 15 blocks from Pioneer Square, and 4 blocks from Washington Park, which is amazing (he claims). He seems sane and nice, but who doesn’t on the interwebs? Is he single? I don’t know! And, I really don’t care. Moving on….

During my stay in Portland, I am sure to meet up with some local freaks and check out all the fun stuff mentioned in my other Portland post. However, no one cared enough to point out that I completely forgot to mention Portland’s – if not America’s- very first vegan mini-mart! Are you KIDDING me, people? After all I’ve done for you?? Vegan clothing store, bakery, tattoo shop, grocery store… I mean, this is real. This is not a test. Avert thine eyes, because I will be eating and dressing and shopping and using needles ALL OVER THE PLACE! I should clarify, by “using needles”, I mean injecting heroin. Tattoos are for freaks.

The joy is pouring out of me as thick as a peanut butter, hummus, and tar smoothie.

After staying in Kevin’s lovely home for a week, we will be picking up his 11-year-old son and heading to Sunriver and Crater Lake. What are these places? Where are they? Again, I have absolutely no clue. He’s never been there, his son has never been there, and I will be intruding on their bonding time because I can. Right on.

What could take this trip from old-time hinky dink to tralinka dinka?? After our little road trip, Kevin will be dropping me off in Canby, Oregon to experience Cedar Rock Farm! Oh, yes, the one and only.

Naw, I’ve never heard of it, either. However, for a hard day’s work, they’ll provide some meals, accommodations, and parental figures, I hear. Lord knows I can’t function without real adults around, so that’s a relief.

I don’t know what the utilities will be like, as far as internet access, showers, and such…. Fortunately, showers are pretty optional. I mean, just look at these dirty, smiling hippies. Selling CSA veggies, “coexisting”… disgusting, if you ask me.


After enjoying the farm life for a week or two, I will somehow or another make my way over to Seattle. I may have found someone interested in joining me for a road trip around the West Coast, such as Cali and Nevada, and maybe I’ll even make my way to visit a friend in Vancouver! But that’s all up in the air. Depends on which of my friends want me, which of my friends I can get to, and how much fun I’m having. Obviously. I also have an offer to stay on a boat in Seattle. My new friend Katie, her husband, and their dog Chila all live on a 30 foot Catamaran sailboat. Words I do not understand, but it sounds snazzy. It’s a bit of a squeeze, but it doesn’t get more liberating than the ability to lift the anchor (figuratively) and sail off whenever they wish. Or, since I have a sensitive stomach, I’m more likely going to hop off the boat and go vomit right into the delicious, natural, salty water. Don’t drink the pukey water!

There’s a lot of ifs, ands, and buts about this “no plan” plan, but that’s the pleasure of travel. If I can’t go abroad at the moment, I may as well see as much and experience as much as I can in local territory. If a job arises or some other incredible opportunity comes up, I am free to accept or try it out. That’s what it’s all about! What good is freedom if you aren’t free to enjoy it? Soak it all in, I say! What have I got to lose? Seriously, what? Nothing at all. That’s something for which I can choose to be grateful and I am.

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

I hope you’ll continue to keep up with my adventure and see where this path leads me.
Feel free to share any thoughts, suggestions, ideas, hopes, dreams, money, or ice cream.
Until next time!

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Staying Fashionably Cruelty-Free

How many people can say they have a custom faux fur coat made right here in New York City?

Julia Restoin Roitfeld, the French director and model can.

Drew Barrymore has one, too! Check her out, wearing a beautiful fur shawl sans cruelty….


Alongside Oprah and countless models featured in magazines such as Vogue, Marie Claire, and Vanity Fair, you can add yours truly to the list of the elite sporting beautiful art/fashion/fluffiness by House Of Fluff in the Lower East Side of New York City.

CEO of House of Fluff, Kym Canter and her dream weaving, self-proclaimed “fashion fairy godmother” (and I agree) design director, Alex Dymek are slapping the fashion industry in the face and waking us all up to a purer fashion industry. These visionaries are working toward a future that doesn’t tolerate sweatshops and animal cruelty.

“Fashion Fairy Godmother”, Alex Dymek is sitting center, looking unbearably fashionable

The reality is, millions of animals face maltreatment, torture, and death each year just for fashion. There’s simply no excuse for that; particularly, as more faux options become available. House of Fluff is definitely a higher end option, though. It’s not for those of you working 7 days a week as unpaid interns. You’ll find stoles for sale in the $250 range, while long coats can get up into the $1500 area. Looking glamorous doesn’t always come cheap.

What’s driving up costs? According to their website, “We dye the majority of our products in natural solutions, using plant bark, berries, and flowers foraged locally and abroad.”

Paying workers a fair wage, paying rent for a sustainable shop and creation studio in Manhattan, and using ethical materials just aren’t as cheap as one would hope! What you’re supporting is far beyond monetary worth, however. Not only are the products as cruelty-free as possible, the store itself is made from refurbished goods and old junk, so as to prevent garbage waste. Nothing is taken for granted!

Initially, some of my vegan comrades were skeptical. They felt that wearing faux fur could send the wrong message and imply that fur of any sort is desirable and worth one’s appreciation. First of all, I strongly believe that my business is my business. If someone else misinterprets my actions, that’s not for me to control or for which I am responsible. Also, I rather do the ethical thing unbeknownst to others than do the (un)ethical thing that makes me any less happy. However, I did make an effort to keep the message present. If you look inside my new, ravishing coat, you will notice the message I requested in the lining:

“Do No Harm” AG

The most unexpected benefit of my special, hug-gable, cuddle-able coat? The affect it has on my anxiety levels. Wearing something heavy on top of me, along with the fluff I can stroke, has proven to be very calming and nerve-easing. Normal hoodies and jackets are good for this, but this coat has become my therapy peacock, so to speak.

If you still have concerns regarding buying consciously and kindly, I hope you will rethink the issue. I will not resort to harassing anyone with photos of mangled foxes and claims of dog fur coats. If you’re reading this, you are likely fully aware of the perils of the fur industry. For some, it’s simply a matter of learning how to tell your friends, family, and local fur manufacturers that you’re not cool with the current standards of fashion.

As Vegans First writes:

Let’s face it you are probably not going to introduce yourself as a vegan to every person you meet:
“Hey there nice to meet you, I’m a vegan by the way”.

If you’re looking for an easier way to stay ethical while staying involved in the world, check out their article:
“Getting Past Other Peoples WTF – Socializing as a Vegan”

Veganism is taking over and it’s ready to revolutionize the world… are you?

THANK YOU to the fashion retailers that have gone fur-free:
Armani, Gucci, Old Navy, TOMS, Kenneth Cole, JCPenney, J. Crew, Free People, Ed Hardy, and the list grows everyday! Special shout-out to Vaute Couture, MooShoes, and other wonderful companies that have devoted their clothing to being ethical since day one!

If you enjoyed reading this, please be sure to like, comment, and share.

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It’s the Po’tland life, Son

Yeah. I’m back here because I booked a tripped. Nothing too crazy, but a little crazy. Portland, Oregon may not sound like anything big, but here’s the cherry on top: I bought a one-way ticket. I mostly did this because everyone thinks I am going to love it there. If so, it’ll be really depressing if I have to run home before seeing everything. Besides, you can’t visit Oregon without checking out the surrounding Western states. Think about it, I can check out Seattle and Nevada, maybe even go as far as Colorado or California…. There’s a lot to see and do and lots of people I know and love. Of course, I’ll be Couchsurfing, so I plan to meet up with local strangers and friends and do vlogs in which we cook and laugh and bond and twirl around. Let me know if you’d like to join or host!

Now, why Portland? I heard about all sorts of magical, WEIRD things in Portland, but a couple of things really stood out. Let’s start with the vegan strip club. Now, this may initially seem absurd, but oh, no, my friends. No, no. Normally, nothing is vegan in a club! Bar food, bar drinks, leather… everything! From the outfits to the props to the seats, normal clubs have leather. However, this club does not.

Sure, it’s a strip club, and Lord knows, one strip club in Atlanta was the only strip club I thought I needed in my life. However, what kind of vegan would I be if I didn’t support the local vegan single mothers and struggling college students? A monster, I would be. Also, the owner of “Casa Diablo” is in a heavy feud with another strip club owner who runs a steakhouse. Everything about this tells me that I should support the clothes-less heroines.

You will also notice on the website (as I just did) that you can audition any day between 4-7 PM. Better hustle if you want a spot. I’m coming, CASAAAA!
… Oh, don’t scroll down after the schedule. Put on some moccasins and a shawl, girl!

Who says vegans are boring?

Next stop: the chocolate waterfall! While I’m fairly certain this thing ain’t vegan, I don’t see how I could not check it out. After all, Willy Wonka is the créme de la créme of filmography. The fountain is located inside a candy shop called ‘The Candy Basket, Inc.’

Judging by the photos, this thing is as tremendous and remarkable as you would hope. Sure, some people would be content with a photo, but not me. If I travel to the other side of the country and I don’t see a waterfall chocolatefall, I no longer deserve to travel. If anyone so much as dare ask WHY this exists, so help me, I will cut off your fingers, dip them in chocolate waterfall, eat them slowly, and never talk to you again, because that’s just hurtful.

“Look, Maw, the stairway to Heaven!”

It turns out, there’s a lot of nudity in Portland, considering it’s not a tropical island or even close to being one. These people just love getting naked and freaky. Guess who’s going to be in Portland just in time for Portland’s World Naked Bike Ride? That’s right, baby! Be there or don’t be bare! Apparently, it serves as a protest of some sort of something? I don’t know, I don’t feel like watching the video. I’m going to assume it’s a protest of restricting one’s body jiggle and glimmer. Portland don’t care! We’re going to embrace all that oozy sweat and have a raunchy cacophony of a skin-slapping good time. Yeehaw!

I suspect the body hair, body stench, and plethora of body parts waggling in the fresh, open, Oregon air will be overwhelming. I can’t freaking wait!

Pardon all the butts in this post. They should call it Buttland. I just hope they pass through Porta-Pottyland during the ride.

Now, I’ll stop joking around and get to the real call of the Portland wilds. That is, the famous soy curl. Legend has it that a single soy curl, invented and sold exclusively in a restaurant named “Aviv” (Note: I have no idea if this is true, but it sounds way more dramatic) has converted at least 2 people to veganism. What is a soy curl, you ask? Good question, I don’t know. Hold on.

“Shawarma soy curls: toothsome little morsels, singing with curry-heady marinade and crunchy edges, served over a heap of french fries drizzled with tahini and spicy green sauce.”

Toothsome! Did you read that? That’s not a word you see everyday. That’s pretty big talk for a little Israeli restaurant in Oregon…. According to one report I remember reading somewhere about something, one person was reportedly seen trying a soy curl and then saying, “They’re like- wow.”

 

 

So… ya know… yeah. Their menu also lists shakshouka, challah French toast, and baklava, among a million other things that I am really, really craving now.

I am now dead. Feed me.

If that’s just not enough reason for you to be impressed, I also have my eyes on a vegan BBQ place called HomeGrown Smoker and this delightful pizzeria called Virtuous Pie. Be ready, guys, I’m coming and I am shoving my money into your dirty, delicious paws.

How.

Dare.

You.

Let me regain my composure. I still want to tell you what’s waiting for me in Seattle. My keys are a little wonky now, after collecting all my drool.

Seattle isn’t known for being “weird”, right? It’s more about IT and coffee. Two things in which I have no interest. Don’t be fooled, though! Aside from more amazing people I know living here, there’s also a Museum of Pop Culture! Who doesn’t love pop culture? It’s so popular and cultured. And just check out the building! It’s like a shimmering mermaid tail!


I’m not sure what’s going on here, but you just know magical things are taking place inside these walls.

One last thing I will mention in this post is something that really touches close to home. As someone who rarely goes into cafes and doesn’t have a cat roommate because they’re egocentric weirdos who need to potty indoors, my life has always been missing something. My clothes aren’t covered in fur, my food isn’t covered in fur, and my possessions don’t end up “mysteriously” broken, on the floor. This is all lacking and I am grateful for it.

However, there’s a cafe in Seattle that can change all of this for me. A place called Meowtropolitan Cat Cafe – don’t ask me to pronounce that – in Seattle offers everything you expect in an overpriced, gimmicky cafe, plus all the cat dander and hair balls! Whether you’re seeking a catfee, a chai meowtte, hot clawclate, or just some old-fashioned cat yoga, like grandma used to do, you’ll get it at this stop. The adorable thing is, the cats are also for adoption! #adoptdontshop Right?

Remember when you and your best friend would talk about growing up and building an entire city for animals and calling it “Animal Land” and then changing your names to something involving your favourite animal and other weird obsessions (i.e. Dog Girl Jane Minnie Mouse)? Well, whoever opened up this place had a dream and probably a business degree, and they made it happen.

Any other cities, states, or favourite spots I should visit in the area?
Want to join me for the road trip of a lifetime?
Drop me an email or comment and let me know! Let’s have a good time this Summer!

If you enjoyed reading this, please be sure to like, comment, and share.

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In the meantime, get satisfied!

 

Coping with Travel Withdrawals

Being at Home and at Peace –
without going crazy!

It starts with acceptance. The trip is over and now you must return to the normal people, food, music, clothing, smells, and sights as before. You think about the adventure and freedom you had; the confidence, curiosity, doubt… the people, the cool spots, the exotic language and styles. Customs and fun you had that you just can’t find at home. Home is good, it’s okay, but it’s not like being on a train in a foreign country. It doesn’t compare to using their confusing money system and being asked about home. It’s like being a celebrity, especially if you don’t look like everyone else. All while you’re learning and sharing and giving and receiving so much.

Needless to say, coming home from travel is heartbreaking. Not always immediately, but it gets worse the more time goes by without it. I’m going on 3 months since my last trip abroad and I feel like I gave up heroin or hugging puppies. I feel mentally sick. Anxiety attacks, insomnia, sometimes my appetite is increased, sometimes it’s decreased, and the world feels empty. Depression from lack of travel sounds absurd to some people, but it’s a real thing for the seasoned traveler.

Of course, there will be more travels and “being home is a journey in itself”, but… you know… it’s not the same. It’s not easy. Especially with the marketing tactics online! It’s designed to look like everyone you know is ALWAYS traveling. You’re the only loser who isn’t sunbathing in Jamaica in January or playing with monkeys in Thailand. Plus, all the airline deals and contests that come automatically since that trip you took 8 years ago. They just keep coming and you keep clicking them and salivating. Is that just me? I salivate over the thought of seeing what games are played in South Korea and what they eat for breakfast in Ghana.

Plus, the fantasies are endless. Maybe my job will require me to live abroad for 6 months or my long-lost cousin in Costa Rica will invite me to stay for the Winter!  Not because I hate New York, not because I am sick of my family, or need a break from reality, I just love who I become when I go away. It’s not someone I can access while I’m home. It’s all about the mystery and potential for what can occur in a distant country, or even just a different state than the one I’ve lived in my entire life.

Not having any trips planned is my promise to myself now. For the sake of staying put until I have my job set and stable, in order to appreciate my situation, and to save up money for a grand trip, eventually. All valid reasons to wait, but it feels like the wait will never end. For what am I awaiting? There’s nothing ahead or next! Wake up, eat, walk dog, work, go to the gym, walk dog, eat, sleep. It’s an actual circle of the same activities. Forever. How do people live this way?

Fortunately, I know it won’t last. Fortunately, I know how to enjoy each day. I know how to slap myself in the face and realize that there are worse problems, bigger battles, and there is so much more time to do and see everything I know I will do and see. There’s not a doubt in me. Of course, if I die tomorrow, I’m out of luck, but you can’t have regrets if you’re dead…? See? Who says I’m not optimistic!?

You, traveler, if you’re also hurting bad to travel at a time when it’s not an option, keep your eyes on the prize. Focus on why it’s so important and how you can keep things spicy in the meantime. Yell at whoever or whatever is preventing you. Get mad, be honest, don’t settle, otherwise, you’ll get used to the safety of your home bubble and never get back out there. Just don’t compromise your current safety and comfort out of frustration and impatience. There’s no sense in throwing everything away out of spite and rage.

As much as I want to burn down my apartment, give the middle finger to my responsibilities, and run away, there must be something bigger that awaits me. A long-term success or accomplishment. At least, that’s the mantra I’ve chosen. No one is intended for mediocrity, but many of us accept it. If you’re not willing to accept this, then there is no other option, you will be part of wonderful things. And believe it or not, there’s more than travel to experience all the world has to offer. There’s more good you can do, right in your own country or city or town. Seriously, don’t let the airlines convince you that you need them to “live”. Your life in your personal movie, you’re the star, whatever you do, it’s going to be worthwhile.

 

Why I Hate Being Vegan

I hate being vegan, but have been one for a long time. I’ve also avoided too much sugar, too many carbs, and any soda, for much of that time. On top of that, I don’t order delivery or eat out very often. One might go so far as to say that I am a HEALTH NUT!

Kinda. I mean, I just don’t want all that extra salt and oil in my body; just wriggling about in my intestines. My bowels and bladder are very special to me, I don’t let just anyone down in there. One time, I let a doctor put a camera in my whats-a-come-n-a-go, and boy, did I regret that. We’ve tightened security since that incident.

          They’re gonna be like, “Why do people hate vegans!?

Now, being healthy is important, of course. People who say they aren’t worried about their health are basically just saying, “I’m okay with slowly destroying myself.” That’s not me. But, I also wouldn’t say my diet is necessarily healthy. I basically choose one or two vegetables and eat them all day, e’erday for the entire week.

The gym is also a big part of my life, but that’s for other reasons. I stop lifting weights as soon as I notice more muscle than with which I am comfortable. Also, most people don’t want to be morbidly obese, but that’s a combination of health and vanity. The reality is, I’m just eating the stuff some random people tell me to eat, claiming that I will be better off for it. I choose to listen to Dr. Merkinderfloofer instead of listening to my body. Why? Because Dr. M has credentials on his name tag that impress me, THAT’S WHY!

I’m an idiot. To be fair to myself, we’re all idiots. Which is not to say that all nutrition as we know it is blooey, but it is to say that we are receiving mixed messages all the time. Statistically, this means that some of the contradictory “facts” cannot be true.

Such as:

Listen to your body and only eat my product!
Don’t listen to your body, it’s stuck in Caveman mode.
You don’t need veggies, you need powders and pills made in a factory!
Drink milk from a bean, but don’t feed your kids peanuts!

Ya know, sometimes I just hate people. Including myself. These tidbits of advice turn me into a bully! After a week of going to the gym and eating right, if I eat a little extra tofu on a Saturday night, I have a long night of self-deprecation ahead.

I know what you’re thinking, “Tofu? You naughty girl!”

The stupid thing is, it doesn’t even give me the results I expect. On television and Instagram, the people with the most self-control and discipline are the ones who fit into Barbie dresses, sparkle like a unicorn fart, and have the energy of character from Dragon Ball Z. Not me.

Unicorn version of me (@kumik00)

People have told me I seem light and energized, implying that it is due to my eating habits. They ask me if I feel healthier since becoming a vegan. First of all, no. Second of all, was I just a dense, fudge brownie previously? Besides, I switched over a long time ago, what do I remember? I can say, though, every day of my life, I feel gassy and sarcastic.

My attention span is still crummy, my memory is still lacking, my skin is still pre-pubescently bumpy, my hair is Art Garfunkle-y, and my fashion sense is still questionable, at best. Not much has changed in all this time! I’m no better at commitment or algebra, and I still can’t do a cartwheel. What has improved, my friends, is my impact on the world… and my ability to tell others that I am morally and ethically superior.

The honest to Moshe truth is, I hate that I can’t try exotic foods around the world. I hate that I can’t just close my eyes and pick a bakery. I hate that people feel a primal and carnal urge to attack me, debate me, and question me because of the things I choose to not eat. Most of all, I hate that I can’t live life without constantly dreading the cruel reality behind everything I eat, buy, and do.

But Jesus Christ on toast, I STILL DO IT! Because I am aware and capable enough to make an effort. I look for ways to help and improve the cause with good intention, rather than dragging it down and not bothering to fix it. I want to figure out what’s best and what’s right and do it, no matter what I must surrender or put up with in order to do so.

If cutting cheese (heh heh) or steak from your diet is really so dreadful, and you feel it is worse than torturing and killing animals, by all means, you do you. I can’t convince anyone to do anything. I certainly am much too lazy to try. Just don’t expect me to sit there and laugh at your anti-vegan jokes while you try to get in the way of our efforts and progress.

Every issue requires a sense of humour. No matter how serious and dark, I can laugh along with you. People who take life too seriously are the types who hold in burps and turn them into overzealous YouTube comments. As for me, I can make jokes about anything! Joking comes after action, though. Once there are no more animals suffering in the name of your comfort and luxury, that’s when we can step back, burp uproariously, and joke about vegans.

It’s not so much that I hate being vegan, it’s that I hate that I have to be vegan.

Learning about the dark side of humanity

It has been over 2 months since my return from my big trip abroad. I was expecting to stay for months, if not years, but New York called me back again, as did my family and friends. Only being away for 2 months, I guess it’s hard to say I really got to know Israel any better, but I did see a lot and hang out with old friends and eat some amazing foods! Then I went to Cyprus, where I stayed with an amazing group of young men who immigrated from India. On the final leg of my trip, I had to survive long, overnight layovers in Europe before finally landing in Morocco.

At each stop, I did my best to leave a positive mark, to make friends, and to work with children, animals, and refugees who were in need. These were moments from which I gained and learned so much! I think the experience that touched me the most, however, was during my time volunteering with the Eritrean Women’s Community Center in South Tel Aviv. Most people are not aware of the arduous journey single, refugee mothers must take on in order to escape Eritrea into a safer land. Nothing about the trip is safe, though, and safety isn’t guaranteed once they arrive in Israel, either.

   
Unfortunately, due to xenophobia and traditional beliefs, even the Israelis can quickly become fearful and hateful of these people. Not only because they are different from themselves, but also due to commonly being overrun and attacked by immigrants who come from nearby countries. Because of this, whenever there is crime or destruction, the Eritreans may be blamed. The community center itself was broken down, poorly constructed, had faced a few acts of vandalism, and was littered in garbage, barbed wire, miscellaneous clothes items, and I even came across a used condom in the backyard where the children played! Despite being warned that the children I would be meeting would be energetic, stubborn, and wouldn’t even understand English if I tried to stop them, I found the kids delightful!

Sure, their mothers were too busy and exhausted to help them adjust to the customs and etiquette to which we are familiar, but they were warm, sweet, and trying their hardest!


The saddest thing is, so few people know what these small families must endure in hopes of reaching the Promised land. Personally, I had never even heard of Eritrea prior to coming across the center and becoming intrigued. In response to the kindness and knowledge I gained from volunteering here, I would like to do my part by teaching my readers more about the plight of these women and their children. Occasionally, the women would also have male partners, but many of them were abusive, so the women were happy to separate from them.

Let me start by explaining why the Eritreans became refugees.

WHY:

The country of Eritrea is a repressive dictatorship. The U.N. described the situation in the country: “Crimes of enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture, persecution, rape, murder and other inhumane acts – have been committed as part of a widespread and systematic campaign since 1991 aimed at maintaining control over the population and perpetuating the Eritrean leadership’s rule.”

Tens of thousands of Eritrean men and women are held in arbitrary detention in appalling conditions. This could be for calling for reform, practicing an outlawed religion, or trying to avoid mandatory and indefinite military service. Not only are there official reports of forced labor and sexual violence during this service, but I heard it from the women, themselves. They were called into service at 18 and were to serve, often as domestic slaves until they were too old, were replaced, or died from torture and maltreatment.

Many Eritrean women flee the country to avoid child marriages, sexual abuse, or exploitation in the Eritrean military. Unfortunately, smugglers and human traffickers take advantage of this “market”. During their journey to Israel, thousands of Eritrean men and women were held in trafficking compounds in the Sinai Desert in Egypt, until their families could pay ransom for their release. Hostages were subjected to brutal torture including electrocution, mass rape of women and men, and branding. The New York Times, CNN, BBC and many other news outlets have covered in detail this brutal treatment of Eritrean refugees in the Sinai desert. When given work, the tasks would be torturous and make one wonder if death would be preferable, such as cleaning up the blood from past prisoners. It would be nearly impossible to find a single refugee who had not experienced or witnessed rape, torture, and/or complete lack of basic necessities.

WHAT

As of now, there are about 7,000 Eritrean refugee women in Israel. All of them lack access to basic services, including healthcare and welfare.

Of course, this causes all sorts of problems with population control within the tiny country of Israel. While the government intends to grant most of these people refugee status and grant them the ability to work and have the rights of a citizen, the rapid rate of new entries makes this a huge task. Very few of the refugees have been kicked out, but majority live without legal status and in constant fear of being returned to Eritrea or worse, Sinai.

This is why the community center exists and persists. Not only do they offer babysitting, but also education for the mothers, in which they learn about Israeli culture, what rights they have, how to complete forms and applications to become a legal citizen, and therapeutic services and support. They are also given assistance in finding work, dealing with dangerous spouses, proper childcare, and even a program in which they teach them how to do beauty care and make money.

HOW (you can help):

The first step I would recommend is to read and learn and know as much as possible. Until you know the reality these people face, you cannot even begin to realize how important our help is. Of course, once you know, not everyone can fly abroad to help in person, here are some other ways you can help:

Keep updated: Newsletter
Keep in touch: Contact
Keep donating: DONATE
Offer to house/feed families in need: Host an Event    OR   Diaper and Food Distribution
Volunteer or Intern: Volunteer or Intern

Thank you!

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My Travel Secret EXPOSED!

People I meet on my travels always bashfully make an effort to find out what fancy shmancy job I’ve acquired that allows me to travel so much. This is a fair question. As someone who has tried to find out the secret of the nomadic lifestyle and those who travel blog for a living, I have had the same question. Unfortunately, the answer I hear is always the same, “Anyone can do it!”

Eh?

Agadir, Morocco

Can everyone simply quit work and dedicate their lives to moving from country to country? Does it not take a special place of privilege in order to acquire this level of freedom and access to the world? I refuse to be another big mouth who states that you can do it or anyone can do it and you should just ditch work and do it. Because you probably can’t. I know I can’t. Not yet, at least. So, how do I blog from Europe one day, post on Instagram from Africa the next day, and fly to North America in time for breakfast?

Avocado, peach, and orange juice in Morocco

Following a search for “travel blogger” and “how to travel for a career”, I found that nearly every article deemed this lifestyle very possible, no matter what your circumstances may be. There are people who will say that there are no excuses, that every person is capable of living this way. I doth protest such claims!

I present to you the 100% truthful and real answer to this question of the ages. From my experience, of course. I am able to travel so much because…drum roll, please… I have a lot of financial assistance from my family!

Who else is stunned, shocked, and aghast? No one?

That’s the facts, though. I work and study and do my part in this world, but I am able to save up my pennies because of the lovely people whom birthed me and work hard to help me out. I am able to save half of my money for the future and half of it for travel. Work a little, spend a little, save a little.

While I am sure you have now thought of 10,000 words to describe me and you’ve judged me, hated me, and contemplated the universe without people like me, I am well aware of why you dislike me. Trust me, I dislike me, too. We are on the same team. Often I feel shame and embarrassment. Oh – not because of the money thing, I’m just a mess. Remember that time in high school? I’ll save that story for another time.

I am exposing the man behind the curtain because you may now see that the smiling photo covers up a truth. You should not feel as if you are wasting your life and your time; as if you’re missing out on something better. The secret is, most world travelers I’ve met don’t know how to adjust to the normal life. They struggle to fit in or put the pieces together, so they ran away. They hide from the path most people must take.

Some OJ in Tel Aviv

NOTE: I speak in a very general sense. Many travelers work hard and have families and struggle as much as any other individual. These people are not spoiled, lazy, or outcasts. These people contribute to society in a grand way and I am grateful to them for sharing the world with the rest of us. This is not me, though. This is not everyone. I’ll even say, this is not most people.

Because of this, I feel it is very important to use my travels not only for myself, but also for the benefit of others. I aim to use stories and photos to share my experiences with those who are unable to travel. I also use this time to learn, volunteer, and give to others. In return, I have received so much more from my experiences than I could ever give back; the kindness of others is overwhelming at times.

Working at a farm in Hamra, Jordan

It is difficult to write on this topic without sounding naive or idealistic. To put it in very 2017 terms, I am full of “white privilege”, with a heaping side of “millennial syndrome”.

Lazy Chapati on the beach

I have held off on writing this for some time out of fear and self-doubt. Out of discomfort and this aforementioned shame. It is a weight with which I constantly battle. I know, WOE IS ME! But the question remains – do I stop traveling and following my passion? I suppose I could take on a 9 to 5 job and dream of weekends full of stress-related boozing. Maybe I’m just ignoring a plausible option of balancing life, work, and travel. Maybe I’m just lazy.

Of course, suggesting that you find yourself in a situation of financial dependence is not advice. It is not helpful or meaningful wisdom. As a matter of fact, if the option arises, I strongly advise you to fight the urge to accept. Rather, what I suggest is that you and I learn to take in the wonders of what we have readily available. Flying to the Middle East may not be an option for you. A week in Asia may not be so feasible. However, this does not mean that the fun must end. For me, New York City is in the palm of my hands. Otherwise, I can see the Grand Canyon or bike around Portland or dance in the rains of Seattle.

Taghazoute, Morocco

Adventure does not ever die, it transforms. It can look like an attractive stranger in a cafe or an unfamiliar language. It can be an unwritten poem or jogging for 10 more minutes than last time. Trying a new restaurant or simply taking the long way home. The moment we submit to “boredom”, we have given up an opportunity for something new and interesting. Often, those are the greatest experiences. They force us to open up and see life in a new way. No day need be uneventful if one starts the day with the intention of accepting whatever comes along.

So, how do I find adventure and see the world each and every day? Remember, time is never insignificant. Every day is the final step until the next one. There is joy and opportunity in a much-needed nap or dancing in the aisles of the supermarket. Listening to a stranger’s story without looking to impress them or change their mind, without waiting to share a tidbit about yourself. Sometimes it’s about allowing a moment to pass in silence or skipping that next shot of whiskey so you can witness the night through clear eyes. Accepting your own reality and embracing it is as good as any hike, photograph, or voyage. The mind is an incredible tool, use it to your advantage and the world is yours!

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Cyprus: A Love/Hate Story

“Ranada? You know Ranada??” He kept yelling these words at me. I held back tears of frustration and embarrassment and responded, “Sir, you literally just watched my plane land. I am new here, I don’t know anything.”

All I knew was that I needed the 417 bus towards Kiti. I was told to tell the bus driver to let me off at ‘Coffee Island’. I figured ‘Coffee Island’ must be the local nickname for a popular spot. After yelling “Ranada” at me a bit more (which I later learned was Cypriot-accent for “Larnaca”, the city I was in), I finally just got into the bus and trusted he’d tell me when to exit the vehicle. About 15 minutes later, he shooed me out without another word or any interaction.

Not seeing any such “Coffee Island” around me, I asked several people for directions. How do I get to this mystical land of coffee and creamer? The general consensus was that I walk “over there” and “maybe turn somewhere”, then I should “ask again”.

Oh.

Long story short, I found ‘Coffee Island’. It was a chain coffee shop and I was at the wrong one.
Another long story cut short, I had to wait 5 hours. At this point, my intended host had no idea where I was. He insisted that I find out my location, despite having told him my address, city, and the telephone number several times. Finally, feeling defeated, I texted another guy who had offered to host me. I would have to wait another few hours for a friend of his to pick me up, but at least they knew the wonders of Google and were willing to use it to locate me.

This is how my experience in Larnaca, Cyprus began. It was hot, I was sweaty, and the people were total jerks. Not a strong start, but I am a firm believer in second chances. When I found out my host for the week was an immigrant from India who worked as a cook at a local hotel, I felt all would be well. When he took me to his home, a little place located inside the hotel, I figured it couldn’t be too bad! Living with an Indian chef, taking it easy by the pool, and not having to spend a cent? All good things.

Soon I realized a few things, however. My chef host had no intention of feeding me anything beyond a salad made up of chopped lettuce, tomatoes, and a ton of olives. I also learned that my host, his roommate, and I would be sharing the apartment – a single bedroom flat with a broken sink, a broken toilet, and the wake up call of 10,000 tiny ants crawling all over me.

On my first day, I quickly discovered that there was NOTHING to see or do nearby, either. With my hosts at work all day, I was an abandoned island upon this island. Oh – did I mention that traditional Indians don’t use toilet paper? I began to hate Cyprus very quickly.

After 3 days of sitting next to the pool, listening to elderly British people rant about racism and why they eat meat despite knowing the cruelty of it, after sitting next to a woman who yelled at anyone who asked her to please put her top back on, and after 2 nights of being up until 4 AM because my lonely host couldn’t stop talking, I was on the brink of going the homeless route. It was warm out and no one was stealing my things, why couldn’t I just rough it in the streets for a few days?

Finally, the olive that broke the camel’s back was the night my host decided to touch me while I was sleeping. For those of you who know me well, you know that my face is a sacred temple. Anyone who so much as releases a splash of spittle upon my porcelain-esque facial epidermis is at risk for bone breakage.

Meanwhile, back at the hotel, my host made the fatal mistake of hovering over me as a I slept. Pretending to be asleep, I tried to remain passive. I tried to be an appreciative and open-minded guest, as he crawled over me and began to whisper weird mantras of love into my ear. My skin wrinkled as I inhaled his cigarette and curry stench, feeling him inch his face towards mine, his weak arms beginning to tremble as he supported his body weight over me. I remained silent. But the moment I felt his fingers wrap around my chin and turn my face towards his, I felt as though my trigger had been pulled and I flung the palm of my hand unto his face, along with the most tremendous rage tantrum I have ever had in my life.

The lecture that followed was epic. Nothing was lacking or left out. Life, love, and the pursuit of happiness. Quotes from Dr. MLK Jr., Anne Frank, Muhammad Ali, Don Rickles, they were all there. I am not sure if my inspirational speech or the blow to his face were the root cause, but next thing I knew, I had my host in tears. Well-deserved, sloppy tears.

He explained that it was all a misunderstanding. I explained that if he ever touched me in my sleep or any other woman ever again, he would find himself with a face resembling broken pottery. That was the end of that. Plus he talked a lot less, so I think this was a healthy learning experience for everyone.

The next morning, I contacted the friend of my host who had initially picked me up. He seemed nice, he seemed normal, and he seemed to also think my host was crazy. Next thing I knew, I was still in the same sleepy town, but now I was staying near the beach. My roomies were 6 dudes and 1 woman from India whom all share the single bedroom flat. They welcomed me with open arms.

Not only did they welcome me, they treated me like a princess! Doing their best to speak English and include me and making sure I was comfortable and fed and had everything I wanted. They taught me some Hindi words and showed me how to make chapati. We laughed and partied and even rode motorized scooters around town. Most of our communication involved repeating ourselves several times, then giving up, smiling, and nodding. I was in Heaven!

They work very hard all week, yet at the end of the day, they make a fresh dinner by hand. Meals of okra and aloo (potato) and cauliflower and plenty of dairy-free margarine. Two of the roomies don’t eat any meat and no one eats beef, so my eating habits were respected. They are Hindu Sikhs whom respect their elders, their religion, women, and everyone they meet. The kindness and love is tremendous. Worlds apart, yet they feel like old friends.

The other day I told them,
“You know, I was really hating Cyprus at first. I wanted to leave immediately and never look back, but meeting the right people made all the difference.”

They corrected me – “Meeting the right INDIANS made it different!”

They were right. Cypriots are not nice people.They don’t yield for pedestrians, they give useless directions, they get impatient and yell at you, and they have no time for pleasantries. We went food shopping one day and put down our groceries for just a moment. Within that moment, someone picked it up and left. Although the cashier was nice enough to leave her stand and get the manager (which didn’t help much), she was also the only cashier. All the customers were glaring at us.
Native Cypriots are not here to make friends.

Many people were mocking this elderly woman.

On the other hand, when I met more friends of my hosts, they invited me into their home. We sat in their beautiful garden and they insisted I drink tea. They also wanted to feed me (mind you, it was 1 in the morning) but I had just eaten. We all were invited to treat their home like our own and it was like we were old friends catching up. I have never experienced such hospitality. My heart melted.

I wasn’t in Cyprus, I was in India. India felt like home. No! Actually, India felt like the place I dream of going when I am home. They even gave me the nickname ‘Gudiya’, which means ‘doll’ in Hindi. swoon!

If I could make one wish for the world, it would be that we could all treat each other as these lovely people treated one another. With complete, unconditional love and compassion. Oh, in case your cynical mind is wondering, the females were just as kind and inviting, so don’t get any ideas.

When I think back on Cyprus, I will remember being yelled at and I will remember the sand that resembles used cat litter. I won’t forget Coffee Island or the feeling of unfamiliar fingertips on my face, but there’s more to the story. What will really forever stay with me is the kindness of strangers, feeling loved in a country that lacks love, nights of Punjabi music blasting throughout the tiny apartment, and sitting on the ground next to 6 flat, hard, thin mattresses, kneading the Hell out of chapati dough.

I may want to forget the fact that fitting in meant using my hand as toilet paper, but even that part will be remembered with laughter. Especially when you know that you also have to cook and eat with that same hand. It’s you, chapati, and a single spoon. Good luck….

Soy meat and aloo with chapati

Cyprus, you can go die a painful death, but let me keep my happy, little Indian family.

If you enjoyed reading this, please be sure to like, comment, and share.

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In the meantime, get satisfied!