People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.

I walked around downtown Sydney, Australia in April offering Free Hugs. I came across many blank and confused faces as I walked by with my sign held high, but then, there was a bright, happy soul that kicked it all off with the first hug and they just kept coming after that. I will continue to give free hugs along my journey, but thought it was most fitting to begin in the city where it all began.

The Free Hugs Campaign is a social movement involving individuals who offer hugs to strangers in public places. The hugs are meant to be random acts of kindness….selfless acts performed just to make others feel better. An Australian, Juan Mann, began it all on December 1, 2004 by giving out hugs in the Pitt Street Mall in central Sydney.

The campaign became famous internationally in 2006 as the result of a YouTube music video by the Australian band Sick Puppies. In the months prior to this, Mann had been feeling depressed and lonely as a result of numerous personal difficulties. However, a random hug from a stranger made an enormous difference, with Mann stating that “A completely random person came up to me and gave me a hug. I felt like a king! It was greatest thing that ever happened.”

Mann carried the now iconic “FREE HUGS” sign from the outset. However on his first attempt in his hometown, where he returned to find that he was the only person he knew, as his friends and family had moved away, he had to wait fifteen minutes before an elderly lady came up to him and gave him a hug. Initial distrust of Juan Mann’s motives eventually gave way to a gradual increase of people willing to be hugged, with other huggers (male and female) helping distribute them. The campaign has spread to over 100 countries around the world, turning this simple human gesture into a worldwide movement.

If you feel inspired, go out and spread the love with others! Free hugs for everyone!

Excursions to Copacabana, Lake Titicaca and Isla del Sol

Remind yourself that your entire life is a gift full of chances, and unexpected prizes. Though the sun does not shine on us everyday, we are afforded the opportunity again and again to make the very best of what we’ve been given. Your natural gifts and talents are enough to complete your life, by contributing to the universe and to others doing what brings you joy. In this outreach, the universe then delivers back to you what will make you the most happy. We get a healing when we give a healing. We receive joy when we give joy. To give = to receive. Let the Light of the season illuminate the path in front of you, and brace yourself for your bounty ♥

An island named after the entity  which provides warmth and life to everything on our planet is anticipated to be  pretty amazing. With a large role in ancient mythology, some small Inca ruins, nice treks and a postcard setting in the world’s highest navigable lake, Isla del Sol definitely delivers.Ander and I met early in the morning to head down to the dock and catch the two hour ferry from Copacabana. Before I knew it I had my toes in the sand of the beautiful beaches at the northern port of Cha’llapampa.

We had a limited time to make it from one end of the island to the other before I had to catch the ferry back to the mainland at 1:30pm. So we set off on a four-hour hike across the length of the island. So many incredible views and fascinating glimpses into an ancient culture.

We came across an ancient Incan Ceremonial Table, and a labyrinthine temple called Chincana on northern tip of the island. The temple wasn’t the biggest I’ve seen, but it had fun, tiny passages twisting through stone entrance ways into other rooms.  We didn’t get the history of what the temple’s purpose was, but it was fun to explore.

Heading south, we climbed to the island’s highest point. Passing by several locals selling pottery, hats and trinkets. There was also your occasional traveler’s “toll booth”  some of them were legit, others were locals telling you had to pay a small fee to walk down certain paths. We stopped for a quick bite to eat and I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a better view. The breeze was perfect, the snow capped mountains in the distance framed the deep blue water of Lake Titicaca, sparkling under the sun, stretching on as far as the eye could see.  Pictures do not do it justice.Although the hike had taken a little longer than expected, it was a magical place and I thoroughly enjoyed it…. I even had plenty of energy when arriving at the southern port of Yumani! Ander and I said our goodbyes and I set off across the open water with fingers crossed to find a bus heading to Cusco the same day.

I ran to the first bus tour booth I could find. Success!  I was able to book a trip that was leaving within the hour. Next stop, 13 hours to Cusco…then Machu Picchu!! 🙂

Live your daily moments deeply, as they occur…

There are people who can’t see the happiness of the present and think that life was more beautiful in the past. Some of us run to pursue the future. But the future is yet another ghost. Ghosts that take away much of our freedom. You see, the past makes the present and the present makes the future. Be in touch with the present, we are already in touch with the past and the future. We need to live our daily moments deeply, as they occur. This is freedom.

Arriving back in La Paz at 6am I walked down the main road to catch a taxi to San Miguel to “borrow” wifi from a cafe I had visited a few days before. After checking in and letting everyone know I was still alive I caught a collectivo bus back to Ronald’s house to rest up a bit and hang out with him and the 3 other couchsurfers (from Argentina and Brazil) he had been hosting in the 2 nights I was gone. We made breakfast together and sat for a while getting to know each other and enjoying the great company. After devouring our delicious meal we got ready to go explore the streets of La Paz.

This city is so full of life! Packed into a gorgeous mountain valley, the bustling markets filled with every color imaginable, from the  neon oranges, purples and purples on the blankets of the Cholitas, to the bright  yellows and reds of the fresh fruits and vegetables available on every corner filling the paceño street life, little trinkets of candy, money and baby llama fetuses to offer to the spirits….everywhere you turn there is something amazing to be seen! We found a hostel near the San Francisco church to hold my backpack for a few hours and then began the day at Mercado de las Brujas, found on José M Linares street, several streets behind Plaza San Francisco.

We walked in and out of the little shops that lined the streets looking at all of the intricate statues, funny t-shirts, potions, exotic wood carvings, gold, silver, bronze, medicinal herbs, colorful masks and even stuffed fetus of llamas. It feels a bit eerie looking at these lifeless animals displayed for sale, but they are part of a cultural tradition and it is always interesting to hear the history and the purpose behind these traditions. Bolivian masks are an essential part of celebrations, allowing dancers to adopt the personalities which populate the country’s myths and legends. Demons, dragons and angels join representations of real-world creatures like bears and beavers. Most interesting are the masks based on characters from Bolivian history, such as caricatures of Spanish matadors, and African slaves brought over to work in Potosí’s mines. The latter are depicted with bulging eyes and extended tongues — conditions which the slaves, who suffered terribly with altitude sickness, were actually afflicted with.

We ended up in front of the Cementerio Jardines. Crowds entered the cemetery to decorate their loved one’s resting place with trinkets, ribbons and flowers in hand from the florist across the street. Throughout the paths, worshipers and mourners huddled around little gardens, I thought it might be disrespectful to bother them with my camera snapping addiction during this time of grief, so I held off on the photos and decided to take mental snapshots.

The cemetery contains many elaborate marble tomb faces, decorated with statues, in a wide variety of architectural styles. The entire cemetery is laid out in sections like city blocks, with main walkways branching into sidewalks filled with mausoleums.While many of the mausoleums are in fine shape and well-maintained, others have fallen into disrepair with broken glass and withered flowers.

I picked up some fruit and snacks for my upcoming afternoon trip onto Copacabana, or perhaps more recognisable as Lake Titicaca (supposedly the world´s highest navigable lake). I stopped back at the hostel to grab my bag, caught a taxi back to the Cemetario neighborhood to find a new chariot . I could hear the man shouting “Copacabana! Copacabana! Copacabana! I sped up my pace as my monster of a bag bounced against my back, paid 17 Bolivianos ($2.45USD), hopped in and waited for the van to fill with the rest of the passengers for the 3 hour ride to the next leg of my journey. After waiting for 20 minutes I stepped onto the sidewalk to stretch and began talking to a fellow stretcher that was sitting a few seats back in the van. Ander was also planning on visiting Isle del Sol the following day. I gave him my Gypsy brochure and sat back down after the driver yelled “Vamanos!”  I was ecstatic when we pulled out and no one else was sitting in the front row with me! What?!? Space to stretch out and lay down during a trip! It was a miracle!

The beautiful glow of the sunset appeared within an hour of the ride, along with the crushing of the dreams I had of sitting alone…the driver stopped at several bus stops trying to fill up any empty seats and unfortunately for me he succeeded. My short time alone was much appreciated though.

Local transportation is always amusing. I chuckled as we rolled onto a sketchy looking ferry that seemed to be pieced together by a blind carpenter, with minimal floorboards that had nails sticking out everywhere, exposing the midnight blue water of Lake Titicaca underneath.

The streets were packed with people, food and music as we rolled in to Copacabana. Sadly there were no couchsurfers living in the area so I set out in search of Residencial Paris which had been referred by another surfer whom had been here several days before. As much as I didn’t want to stay in a hostel, 40 bolivianos ($5.75 USD) was within my budget and the room was nice so I sucked it up and enjoyed the accomodation. My new friend Ander from Spain was also in search of a place so he booked his stay as well and we set out to explore the streets.

Always living the daily moments deeply, as they occur helps to fully enjoy everything that comes your way.   It had been a long, eventful day and I was happy to have made it back from Uyuni, explore La Paz and arrive to Copocabana all in one piece…Until  next time amigos, hope you all are well!

Karate kickin’ a Dragon in Bolivia – Salar de Uyuni

 Overcome the notion that you must be regular. It robs you of the chance to be extraordinary.

You know that feeling of dread you get before an exam you fear might go horribly wrong? Well that was pretty much how I felt as I stepped onto a 13 hour bus ride heading to Uyuni to explore the Salt flats in South West Bolivia. It had been over a month since I had to get on one of these grueling bus rides, yet the prospect of seeing the Train Graveyard, llamas, endangered vicuñas, remote villages and of course the world´s biggest salt flats was enough to pull me in, and before I knew it, after many hours of no sleep on bumpy dirty roads I had arrived in Uyuni (high in the Andean plane some 3,670 m above sea level) at 6am on the Independence day of Bolivia. The street was filled with locals dressed in costume waiting for the celebration parade to begin. I pulled out my ticket for my reservation and began searching for the tour company I was going to rendezvous with at 10:30am.

A little woman came beside me and took my hand, smiling at me with her dark, wrinkled face and deep blue eyes, saying, “Desayuno caliente, desayuno caliente” “Hot breakfast, Hot breakfast.”  She walked me to her little restaurant called Nonis with a sign that read “El sabor que nos distingue – The flavor that distinguishes us” and sat me down by the kerosene heater. Four Brazilians I recognized from my bus wandered in and sat at my table. We exchanged many laughs, stories and cultural differences while we enjoyed our omelets, toast, sausage, juice and coffee. We said our goodbyes and exchanged contact info.

I walked to Todo Tourismo to begin my day of explorations. We were delayed an hour due the fact that the driver forgot to get gas and the parade was preventing him to go to a gas station, but everything was fine once we got going.

On the way to the salt flats lies a place that looks as though old locomotives have rolled in to chug their last chug.   This gigantic train graveyard is full of the hollow husks and skeletal remains of long forsaken steam engines.  Uyuni was once an important transport junction, but plans to turn the town into an even greater railway were stopped early in their tracks. Construction on the network began in the late 19th Century but were abandoned before work was completed, leaving the train lines to fall into disrepair.
While wandering around I heard several voices shouting my name in the distance. A big smile came across my face when I saw my Brazilian buddies again. We walked in and out, up and down all of the locomotives taking pictures.  The rusted and disintegrating train carcasses are thought to date from early 20th Century; mainly imports from Britain, which controlled the development of Bolivia’s railway system.
Dust storms and the unforgiving sun eat away at the shells of these once proud mechanical masterpiece; but it mainly the salt winds that have had the most corrosive effect. This wasteland is the cemetery where Bolivia’s once proud locomotives have found their final resting place. After riding to the Graveyard with my two new Belgium friends that were taking a 3 day tour, I was moved into a new vehicle with 6 other travelers that were on the one day tour. Together we were the “around the world group” from France, China, Brazil, Argentina, Spain and USA. I hopped in and away we went.
No matter how fast we drove it felt and looked like we were not going anywhere. An immense, flat vastness of 1200 sq km of salty sea. The plains stretched on and on with beautiful blue mountains surrounding the edge of the Salar to add dramatic interest.  Finally we arrived at one of the Playa Blanca (a hotel completely made of salt…pretty amazing) to stop and take a few photos. Out front of the hotel sits a little memorial to the world where visitors can place the flag of their country. Sadly I did not see the US flag flying nor was I carrying one with me to place on the memorial, but it still made for a nice photo.
Luckily my group was feeling pretty adventurous and were willing to go along with all of my  cheesy photo ideas. (it’s a lot trickier than it looks.)  I pulled out my tiny toy dragon I had been traveling with for these exact photos. Laughing and joking we kept running around trying to get in proper position.
After playing around for 30 minutes or so, we hopped back into our all terrain vehicle to continue on to Isla Incahuasi aka Fish Island because of its shape. The rocky island is covered in cacti, a surreal sight amongst the vast white desert. Some of the cacti are up to 1200 years old! I walked around in awe of its strange beauty. Along my hike I encountered several llamas wandering about and were eager to strike a pose for the camera.
All in all it was a beautiful day in a strange land of salt with many friendly faces. I headed back to the bus station for another 13 hour ride back to La Paz and called it a day. If you ever get the chance to go take it! You won’t regret it 🙂

Bienvenida a Bolivia! Taking your breathe away…literally

One of the best ways to nourish your soul is to seek out and do the things that totally absorb you in happiness, things that call to you… things that fill you up. It’s important to balance your life with the things that MUST be done AND the things that we do simply because of the joy that comes with it.  Life is meant to be enjoyed, not merely endured. There are simple and small things that we can do that will refuel our souls. It is different for everyone. For me it is travel. We all need to make time to do these sorts of things if we want to live meaningful lives. You will be better at everything that you MUST do if you take time to do what you LOVE to do.
Don’t get sucked into the falsehood that taking time to nourish your soul is selfish and futile. It is ESSENTIAL! It doesn’t take anything away from anyone…it only adds to the goodness that you already have inside of you. Do something that puts a smile on your face…just for the sake of doing it. Little miracles will happen….promise ♥

Visiting Bolivia is a unique experience. Arriving in La Paz at 4am,  I made my way through Bolivian customs after obtaining my $135 visa, exchanged $300 USD and ended standing out front of the airport in search of an official cab with “AEROPUERTO” on the door (my host warned me to avoid any other taxi to avoid being kidnapped.)  Such a beautiful view as my cab made it’s way down through the snow capped Andes hillsides covered in shimmering lights of the city below.  He rolled through stop lights and intersections like they were yield signs, but I arrived at my destination in a timely manner.I arrived to my host’s house at 5:30 am, dragging my feet to the gate I was greeted with a hand written sign that displayed my name and the smiling face of Ronald. He welcomed me, showed me around the house and introduced me to my bedroom. Barely holding my eyelids open I said “buenos noches” and went to bed.

The sight of the early morning sun hitting the terracotta houses stretched up and around the surrounding mountains was gorgeous.  Ronald asked if the altitude was affecting me, other than feeling like a 500lb. person being short of breathe when I climbed the stairs, I was feeling pretty good. It only takes a few hours to notice the differences at high elevation when coming from a lowland or coastal region. The air at high altitudes has less of everything: oxygen, pressure and humidity. It may surprise you how much your body misses these simple elements. (When traveling to high altitudes be sure to acclimate your body to avoid and sickness) We whipped up some eggs, tomatoes, freshly baked bread and tea to start off the morning.

Setting out to explore the city we hopped in a mini-bus/taxi bus with a teenage boy sticking his head out the side window shouting out bus stops at the speed of a silent auction dealer. Making our way towards San Miguel we passed several traditional Cholitas waiting for their bus to arrive. I was warned that locals usually ask for pay to have their picture taken or are superstitious of it affecting their soul/spirit and it is always polite to ask first before snapping away.

There is something very appealing about a city that has such a buzz. There is an air of enthusiasm about the local inhabitants that consists of more than thirty native ethnic groups. The city itself doesn’t need much time to take in, but you should plan your stay according to sights that you’d like to see. Two of the biggest attractions here are the touristy area known as ¨the witches market¨, where you can by any number of souvenirs (authentic or otherwise) or something a little more unusual like a llama fetus may tickle your fancy, either way I don’t think you’ll be disappointed and the death road bike path that I plan to explore when I return from Uyuni.

Half the fun of walking around the city is trying not to get run over by crazed motorists. You can spot dancing zebras (people dressed in costume teaching children how to properly cross the intersections with stripped lines, also known as zebras)

You can also find entertainment in the items being sold in some of the street stalls, it kind of makes you wonder how on earth they make any money selling all of these knick knacks and how many people make such purchases walking to work in the morning. Some more bizarre examples included a stall of only brightly colored shoe strings and safety pins, the seemingly 90 year old lady selling screwdrivers, and the man with a whole stand of padlocks, any and every size you could think of. There are plenty of useful items as well, snacks, hygiene products and newspapers but its always fun to find the unusual items.

We wound in and out of the city streets, visiting Plaza Murillo, the top of Killi Killi to view the city from above, Calle Jaen named one of the most beautiful streets in La Paz, known for its famous, haunted ghost stories, San Fransisco Church in the city center

The next day was an adventure to El Valle de las Ánimas (Valley of the Ghosts). We got our empanandas and were off! It looks like something that you’d see out of Lord of the rings.  We trekked through these amazing vertical pillars of rock as the wind whistled through the canyon. You feel as though you’ve gone back in time. as you pass tiny Aymara settlements where life hasn’t changed in centuries.
With each step deeper into the valley and further up in elevation I could feel my heart beating faster and my breath shortening. We climbed to the top a peak for a nice view and a little snack break. It was a perfect day for a hike. The sun was shining brightly, there was a nice breeze blowing with the aroma of lavender filling the air.

This cute little guy was chopping down these plants that resembled mate, but he said it was to heal your a soar throat/couching/allergies and he was collecting them to sell so he could make money for his family. As I mentioned earlier, be prepared to pay to take pictures of locals, my pocket full of change was not good enough for this woman. She threw it on the ground and reached her hand back out to me for something of a little more value.

Coming back into town as the sun set we met with a group of friends for Dinner at Las Piratas and ended the night with some fun stories and a lot of laughs.

In a few hours I will be traveling from La Paz, hopping on a 13 hour bus ride to Uyuni to explore the Bolivian Salt flats. I will be away from electronics for a few days, but get excited for some fun picturesamigos, hope you´re all well!

Live simply, love generously, care deeply, speak kindly ♥

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all…. in which case, you fail by default. Live simply, love generously, care deeply, speak kindly.
Never let the odds keep you from doing what you know in your heart you were meant to do. You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have. In life you’ll realize that there is a purpose for everyone you meet. Some will test you, some will use you, and some will teach you, but most importantly some will bring out the best in you. Many get confused between my personality and my attitude…. My personality is who i am, my attitude depends on who you are. It’s not that life has been easy, perfect or exactly as expected, but I just choose to be happy and grateful for the experiences that I have regardless of how it all turns out.

Anything less than mad, passionate, extraordinary love is a waste of time. Surround yourself only with people that are going to lift you higher. There are too many mediocre things in life to deal with and love shouldn’t be one of them. Whether it is a friend, family, strangers or the love of your life, put all of your heart into every relationship you have and everything that you do. When you stop and look around, Life is pretty amazing, so why not make the best of it with the ones that you surround yourself with?

I am sitting in the JFK airpot in New York, New York waiting to get on the plane to La Paz, Bolivia reminiscing on the past months and realizing how quickly it has all gone by. If you are a regular follower of my blog you’ve probably been wondering how in the world I went from Madagascar to California?  Well, there have been several stops in between (South Africa, Singapore, Argentina, Brazil and North Carolina)  and many many stories and experiences that I am in the process of typing up and posting for all of you. Unfortunately wifi was a bit scarce at the last few stops and I am obviously a bit behind, but I will be filling in all of the blanks shortly, promise 🙂

For now I will give a brief synopsis of the last month in pictures. I decided to come home (Charlotte, NC) for a quick visit to surprise my brother for his birthday, celebrate the 4th of July and my birthday, eat as many Watermelon Milkshakes from Cookout as possible, see friends and family and have a few adventures in the States.
I will come back later to describe each adventure in detail, but for now there are tiny descriptions on each picture (when you hover over them) In order of how they’ve been taking place.
There were a couple of nights out to dance it up at the Silent Disco at the Pavilion in downtown Charlotte. Tons of glow-sticks, fun music played through wireless headphones, bubbles and dancing maniacs. Silent Disco has swept the nation with it’s unique concept of wireless headphones providing the music direct from the DJ to the fan. No loud speakers needed! Rather than using a speaker system, music is broadcast via an FM-transmitter with the signal being picked up by wireless headphone receivers worn by the participants. Those without the headphones hear no music, giving the effect of a room full of people dancing to nothing. Often two DJs compete for listeners. Silent discos are popular at music festivals as they allow dancing to continue past noise curfews.

July 4th was filled with fun on Lake Norman. Jet skis, cookin’ out with Crystal and the gang and then we moved over to the Cornelius area to hop on a pontoon to get a little closer to the firework action.My birthday consisted of a relaxing 2 hour road trip near Asheville, NC to explore Bradley Falls. Such a beautiful place. I love being out in nature, it soothes my soul.
Then there was a 3 hour road trip to Lynchburg, VA. The scenery, hosts and company were absolutely lovely. Had quality girl time with Catherine and Lauren. Painting nails, giving Annie a haircut, sharing stories and visiting a fun bead shop to pick up a few items for future jewelry masterpieces.
From Virginia, drove back to Charlotte to hop on a plan to San Clemente, California. Spent a few weeks catching up with several east coast friends that I haven’t seen in a while and explored the coast of California…plus a few day trips squeezing in the mud caves and a road trip to the Grand Canyon…a lot of road trips during the last couple of weeks!
Yung, Pedram, Dan and I wandered around the  San Clemente Ocean Festival eating cotton candy, snow cones, admiring the old woodies,  hanging with Ariel & King Triton and hunting sand crabs under the pier.
Yung and I went out on the open waters with Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Safari. So many great  up close and personal encounters with whales and dolphins.

Drove up to LA to meet Dan for breakfast at the Original Pancake house and get Yung to the Airport. Then met up with Jennifer for some girl time exploring the city.Hopped back on a plane to Charlotte to present at The Queen City Soup for Project Art Aid.
Ran into a few friends and was reminded about “the Happening” ….only the greatest event in Charlotte on a Thursday night! Was so happy to see all of those creative minds!  Hoopla hoopin’, Break dancing, painting, drawing! Fun times with fun people 🙂

It’s been fun, but now I’m Bolivia bound! Heading back down south for more adventures!  Will post more soon. Sending lots of love & light to all of you ♥

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