*Z* is for Zanzibar (And the end of the Alphabet)


Z is for Zanzibar (and also for Thank Z Lord I am finally done with the alphabet!!)

I think that Zanzibar has to to be the more obscure place I've ever visited.  I mean, I thought I knew poverty, I thought I knew way-out-there, but for real...this was way-the-frizz-out-there.  Not that I didn't like Z'bar, it's just...well, I don't know, it evoked a different feeling than any other place I've been in the world.  A little wilder, a little more more intense, a little more gritty.  But, god the beauty.  The mad beauty. 

The whole damn place just felt ancient.  And poor beyond belief.  But, the nicest smiles you've ever seen and I still think about going to a spice farm on the island and how blown away I was seeing actual spices at their root.  All on one huge farm in the jungle.   In fact, I still think about loads from Zanzibar.

I still think about the fantastic minty mojito I slung back at Mercury's on the beach after almost having a heat stroke in the dusty hidden alleys of Stonetown. 

I still think about meeting this kid who was volunteering in Africa for the Peace Corp and loving life and then, when he heard what I did (worked in film and TV), he thought that was the coolest thing ever (and I thought what he did was the coolest thing ever). The grass is always greener, I guess. 

I still think about snorkeling on a tiny, tiny sandbar in the middle of the ocean.  And, being surrounded by huge jellyfish and almost losing my shit. 

I still think about tasting my first beer in forever---it was a Kilimanjaro and it was so big, and so cold.  I drank it with grilled lobster that the boat crew whipped up on the beach. 

I still think about my buddy Abdi, a charming young kid who followed me around Stonetown (he showed me all the truly local spots to get amazing food) til we became best of buds (we still keep in touch to this day). 

I still think about the amazing slash of stars across the sky every night that I could see from my little patio at my hotel. 

I still think of the icy cold rose-water infused washcloth I was handed the second I got off my sweltering little hopper flight from S. Africa.   

I still think about sailing on a vessel that was used for slave trade hundreds of years ago...and noticing that the boom and the mast were made of tree branches.  Big ass trees.

I guess I still think about Zanzibar all the time.  Will I ever return?  Dunno.  But, these things...these things, they stay with you forever--and you can remember them with great clarity.  That is the whole point of travel for me--the more out there, the fonder the memory.  The rougher the terrain, the grander the tale. 

Funny, I was just in LA for 3 months.  Don't remember a single thing about it.

*Y* is for Yebo


Y is for Yebo

I woke up this morning thinking about South Africa, about San Miguel de Allende, about Yelapa, about Bali, about Baja, about sailboats, about my trailer, about SCUBA diving, about new projects, about deadlines, about unchartered territory, about Spanish, about the whole of Central America, about frappe's, about everything in the entire world, it seems.  And, I quickly became overwhelmed.  Then, I went on a walk. 

When I got back home, I scooted out the door almost immediately to go get a frappe (the best in Chicago is at Ennui, fyi)---just to take the edge off of all the choices roaring thru my noggin'.  And, that's when I said "Yebo."  It means "yes" in Zulu and it was the word I used the most when I was in South Africa.  Yebo is the universal answer to all things fluid.  I love that word.

The reason I bring it up is because  I just felt like saying yes to everything flowing thru my mind.  Not--maybe next time.  Not--hell no.  Not--who knows when I'll get to that.  Not--where in God's name did I come up with that.  Just yes.  Yes to it all.

Thank God I have the opportunity to live the life the way I do. To have opportunities fall out of the woodwork (and the mad energy to create my own).  To think big and clear.  To have experiences that will live with me forever. 

Just--yebo, yebo, yebo.   Holla~

*X* is for X Marks the Spot


X is for X Marks The Spot (or X is for the land that does not eXist between Wales and Yemen)

So, after much deliberation (and an almost yes to Yelapa, Mexico), me and my PURE team have decided that the next PURE Pilates Retreat (January 27-February 1, 2009) is going to shake down again on Isla Mujeres.  It's just the perfect place to head toward the end of January for a feel-good retreat.

This time were doling out some Spanish 101 classes, snorkeling over on Isla Contoy (an uninhabited bird sanctuary), volunteering at two different places on the island, and eating our way through another awesome cooking workshop with the locals (we must make ceviche again).   We're also going to do a foodie tour of the island, totally rockin' it Fatcake-style.  It will be a PURE escape from another crazy long winter, so...

Check out Pure Pilates Retreat for all the details!


*W* is for Wander Wisely


W is for Wander Wisely (or as a friend just shared with me: All Those Who Wander Are Not Lost)

I am probably the worst planner ever.  Even when it seems like I have a plan, I have none---well, maybe an inkling.  I'm like the never-ending strung out wanderer...constantly changing things up at the very last minute.  Always on the mad hunt for the next place I want to go to---without even hitting up half the places that are on my mile-long list.  I need to just stop it, I think...but then I hear about a little village in Vietnam or read about a hidden gem in Montenegro and man, I am on it hardcore.

Then, when I'm in a place...things just get worse.  What I laid out in my mind about my travel plans never really splays out.  It's more like--if I'm feeling good and on fire in this spot right now, why end it?  Those moments are so rare, why not just live it and let it take over for a minute? 

I will say one thing, my constant curiosity and fascination with the world is the best way to learn about what the heck is happening out there.  Like, somehow--due to my love affair with Indonesia--I check in on the Jakarta Post (I mean...) every day and get email updates from the Bali news every week.  Or, I keep track of a blog from my fave town in Mexico, just so I stay on top of the local news.  Whole new avenues open up in my mind when I read about what's shaking down halfway around the world, you know?

And, I'm not the chick who goes somewhere anxious to explore all the historical monuments or all the museums and spots the place is famous for.  I get claustrophobic in crowds and can only think of escape.  So, I avoid them all together.  Instead, I try to find the tiniest village, the local food specialty, the dusty trail leading to nowhere and I let those elements guide me.  I go by instinct alone, for the most part--and it seems to always work out for me. 

Maybe I'm over-thinking it all?  I guess all I need to do is keep walking that crazy lost path.  I think somewhere along the way, I will have circled back far enough to run into myself--and find whatever it is I've been looking for the whole time.  What a moment that will be. 

I guess maybe a drink is in order.  Round about right now.  Holla.

*V* is for Volunteer


V is for Volunteer

Last year, I spent a bit of time in a small village on the Indonesian island of Lombok.  The tiny hamlet of Sembalun is at the base of Mt. Rinjani, the 2nd largest volcano in Indonesia and is one of the most off-grid places I've ever been. I had a ball teaching English and computer skills to super-eager kids and adults and when I roll back to Indo this time around, I plan on heading back for a re-group and total follow up to the joy.

After I left, I found out about some little babies in the village that needed cleft palate surgery.  None of the families could afford to get the operations done and I simply mentioned it to a few pals here in Chicago and before I knew it, the money had been donated to get all of the surgeries done.  The cost was less than what most people spend on a weekend out in the big city and when I got these pictures, it was pretty overwhelming.  Literally, a child's life has been totally altered with the transferring of some money and some caring individuals on both sides of an ocean.  I truly believe that people want to give, sometimes they just need a little guidance from someone whose been to the front line and can intimately vouch for the need.

I can't wait to return to see firsthand how everyone is faring after a big-time surgery like this.  If I'd never gone over to volunteer, I'd never have become aware of the need.  You know, you can traipse thru these 3rd world villages--hiking volcano's, snorkeling coral reefs, eating delicious food, drinking exotic drinks, meeting fellow travelers, etc...and never once get into the true grit of the world.  If that's the way you like to roll...but the smartie traveler does it both ways.  Lives lean and good; gives back hard; and then, ultimately, shares the knowledge.

And, once you lend your time and energy volunteering, well...let's just say you're a different person--on the inside, where it counts the most.  Live in a homestay.  Get to know the locals.  Shadow a day in their life.  Play their games.  Learn the language.  Eat the home-cooked meals.  Rise when they do, and crash alongside them.  Travel in their shoes for a spell and you will see the struggle, the joy, the heartbreak, the family dynamics, the simplicity, and the overall scope that makes up life around the world.  The big picture is not just you--your life, your issues, your success, your failures, your insight, your thoughts and demands...that's not what being a global citizen is all about.  The river runs way deeper than that.

Until you reach further out there than you even thought was possible, how do you begin to know what you are capable of?  What you are made of?  I came back from Indo last December and felt more in tune with my future than ever before.  Of course, life got hectic for a minute (due to the demands of work), but now that I'm "off again"...well, things are starting to clear up.  The murkiness fades and the lights shine again.  At least some of the time...and when I reach out to my pals in Indo and get a whiff of how excited they are to have me back to teach English, or get news of a puppy getting adopted from a animal clinic I volunteered at in Mexico, or hear that a little girl I helped sponsor for English studies now has a great command of the language, well...all the BS in life just fades out and everything is one again.

*U* is for Ultimate Life


U is for Ultimate Life (can it be this simple?)

This is one I ponder and play around with daily.  Am I living my ultimate life?  Or at least taking great magical strides to get there?  I think so.  Maybe some things don't move as fast as I'd like them to, or perhaps I'm guilty of having too many ideas, but hell...at least I throw caution to the wind and bust some shit out.

I was trying to get organized in my head the other day--always more doable with a cold Pacifico--and concocted a nice little blueprint for the next year of my life.  Of course, not a lick of work is involved--well, nothing that pays me cold hard cash, but all the better.  It was, though, a plan full of all these grand dreams and schemes that are the extreme ultimate in my mind.  Lots of volunteering in distant lands; the final creation of my NGO (4th World Love); a documentary or two (very social issue related); butt-loads of travel; the acceptance of my homebase in Chicago (yes, I do love it here); more writing about all the good stuff in life; another PURE Pilates retreat down in Mexico; and I guess just livin', you know?

How to do it all? Well, the ultimate challenge is to do it all with the super-low-fly budget in mind.  Like, could I live on 12k for the next year.  Say, 1k per month. Well, I think I can--if I stick to the plan.  Drive thru Central America; volunteer at way low-cost (mostly free places) that put you up; drink and eat cheap (easy to do in 3rd world countries); keep the credit card purchases way low (hell, what else could I possibly need); use FF miles to head back to Asia; stay in my little trailer in CAmerica--using my solar power when needed ($300 a month if in San Miguel de Allende, free on the beach in El Salvador); there are a trillion other ways to keep the $ out to a minimum. 

That is my ultimate game plan.  Not sure what yours is, but I hope that it's not too rife with mass consumerism, life-long regrets and crazy deep longing for "something else."  That ain't the way to live, man, that's for sure**

*T* is for Trust When You Travel


T is for Trust When You Travel

To me, that is what travel is all about.  A good beaming sense of deep trust.  People are always asking, "Aren't you scared to travel alone?"  And, for real--I never am.  Dunno why.  I think it's because I trust people so much to do the right thing, to feel the right thing, to act the right way...it just makes my explorations even deeper.  I guess I feel like I could hold my own as well---if it came to blows, you know?  Like, Holy Moly! I have been waiting on someone to front me all my life (ha)*

I was on a ferry from Bali to Lombok last November and this cutie pie and I started chatting away (he was a surfer who lived with him mom in a small village in Bali).  We were just talking about life, about travel, about connections and I told him I was starving and craving fried rice.  Now, FYI--the ferry to Lombok is 5+ hours and dead chaos before you get on the boat.  Everyone is keen on selling you something and it feels like you've gone into a sweaty, hellish war before you even leave the harbor.  And, if you don't buy food from them before you roll, you are SOL.

Anyway, once he heard I was hungry, he made his way to the galley and busted on in to make me some food.  I stood in the tiny kitchen and watched him dig thru the fridge, pull out ingredients and proceed to whip me up a meal--with the cooks watching.  I was like, who is this cat? Does he even know these guys?  I guess so, cuz in the end, they were helping him create a fried rice dish just for me, delighted to be involved.  I was pretty stunned that someone would go out of their way like that just to satiate my desire and not even charge me anything.  What do ya want, huh?

But, we just scarfed the dish and shot the shit...and when I got off the boat, he hugged me and told me he loved me.  I just laughed, hugged him back and waved bye-bye.  Love's a big word, son....a real big word. 

But, little snippets just like this make up so much of my solo travels.  Who knows what peoples grand ultimatum is, I just trust them in the end to what I do---just be good.  It's gotten me around the world alone, with nothing but great tales to share.  I simply trust as I'm to be trusted.






*S* is for South African Sunsets


S is for South Africa

I talk so much about San Miguel de Allende, I decided to give South Africa some love.  The country is easily in my Top 3 fave spots in the world.  I loved every single thing about it.

The insanely stunning jacaranda trees (J'burg looks just like Pacific Palisades, fyi); the rooibos tea lattes I slammed all day long; the people and their always genuine smiles; the rolling countryside; the sunsets that are out of this world; seeing the Big 5; the outta-nowhere rainstorms; the history and how how everyone was in tune with their countries bones; the all-out addiction to soccer; the pubs full of the most lovely men in the world; the friendships created; the kiddies and their smarts; having copious amounts of drinks on the deck at the Westcliff; the random little neighborhoods with all sorts of quirky restaurants and shops that remind me of Soho or the East Village; learning to drive on the other side of the road; pretty much all of it.

I still have so many FF miles, this has got to be a return trip set up again for next year.  Gotta go, gotta go.  I would love to drive from S. Africa all the way up the coast to Mozambique.  Another Quest, I see....



*R* is for Recipes (what a boring word)


R is for Recipes (or lack thereof)

So, turns out I'm addicted to my newest creation-orzo with whatever the hell is in the fridge.  When I tell you that this is the exact meal I am looking for when I go out (the flavors, the texture and the scent) but never get, I kid you not.

And, it's so simple to make.  All you do is boil up some orzo in vegetable stock.  While that is happening, saute up some fresh peas in butter.  After about 5 or 6 minutes, toss in some chopped cherry tomatoes and some fresh spinach.  Once all is done, mix together and top with a crumble of herbed goat cheese, sliced avocado, fresh thyme, fresh mint and a swizzle of olive oil.  Salt and pepper, of course.

I've made it the past three days and I still can't seem to get enough.  For sure you could toss in whatever veggies you have in the fridge and it would all be the same...I think the ultimate key is the swish of really good olive oil, the fresh mint and the hit of goat cheese.  It's awesome warm or cold and trust me, there will be no leftovers by the end of the day--you just keep going back to the fridge scooping out little mouthfuls. 

And, by the way, I am terrible with following recipes.  I just like to create.  With enough butter and salt, all is well.  But, food is the ultimate transport into another country.  Since I've been back in Chi, I've had Mexican, Persian, Georgian, Italian, Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, El Salvadorian, and Cuban.   And, for real--instant connect with another lifetime, another place and another culture. 

*Q* is for Quest


Q is for Quest (er)

This photo makes me so happy.  Mostly because I can remember the exact moment it was taken with such great clarity it makes my heart swim.  In that instant, not a soul (that I knew) had any idea where I was (a small island in Indonesia).  I coulda disappeared just like that...or just simply never returned home. 

I was on a break from a volunteering stint and had hightailed it on the back of a moped with my new friend, Royal, to this super hidden waterfall in the middle of absolutely nowhere.  We were the only two people there and all we did was scamper up rocks, practically drown underneath the waterfall, smear sulphur all over our entire bodies and laugh hysterically. 

Just a little moment in time that was totally full of pure joy.  I guess they are rare.  At least for me.  So much time is spent coming up with new QUESTS that it makes me wonder how I get a single thing done.  Just outlandish shit...I mean, I saw a photo the other day of someone climbing the wall of a bone dry waterfall and immediately I thought...well, great....that is what I need to do...travel to the most off-grid places in the world and track down all the DRY waterfalls.  Then climb them.  I got obsessed for about an hour, did loads of plotting and then, slowly realized that there are trillions of them in the world and I simply don't have the time.  I'm much too busy drumming up other BS in my silly little head.  But, I was happy as a clam for that one hour, diving into something totally new, researching the hell out of it  and eventually eliminating it all together.  Even though it had just been added to my MST list, it felt awesome to strike something off.  Bloody christ...

Anyway, the point of that rant is this:  Quests are good.  In fact, they are brilliant.  No matter how ridiculous they seem, they always leave me craving more, striving for more and in the end, just a little bit smarter.  I have a list a mile long...some will get done (drive to the Darien Gap, start an NGO)...some will never see the light of day (can't tell you those*) and some get struck off the minute I dream them up.  But, man...what would one do without such nonsensical baloney filtering thru the mind? 

I mean...hunt down and scale dried up waterfalls in remote hideaways around the globe.  Who thinks this madness up?  Well, I guess it sounds like a ball...haha!  And, just like that the thing is back on the list (or not)~~