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14 apr201814

365 days of freedom, beauty, truth, and love

Guatapé, ColombiaGuatapé, Colombia
I don't really celebrate my birthday, nor do I celebrate birthday of any "gods", but I decided I will always celebrate the day I have stepped out of my comfort zone and took my life into my own hands again.
During my 10-year spell on the British land I said many times how quickly time had flown. What was even more surprising is that not a lot was happening most of the time due to my workaholism but the feeling of time escaping through my fingers was still present. 

It's 18:45 here in Colombia, which means in the UK it's 15th April 00:45 - exact time when I boarded my bus to London at Durham Bus Station. Today marks exactly one year since I left my cozy house Edward, my job, my village, my friends, and decide to embark on this journey. Has the time flown quickly? Oh yes, thousand times yes! The difference is the amount of happy and memorable events that happened during that time. 

Let's start with some stat crunching as my desire to play with data has not changed but is still unfulfilled : )

365 Days on the road
5 Countries
25 Cities/towns/villages (those I just passed by do not count)
9 different places of living 
55.63% of my savings spent (which is within my calculations of lasting at least two years :) )
12 airports visited
many many new friends I will always be grateful for making my life better

I still remember like it was yesterday: packing my life onto a van that took my precious Dynatron to Poland, and next day closing Edward for the last time, leaving New Brancepeth, and spending last few hours working at Spot White, last game of snooker, last shot of Tikki Fire rum, last conversation with Ann and the crew, and then going to the bus station in Durham to wait for my ride to London. After 6-hour drive during which I could not sleep a wink I made my way to the Gatwick Airport. After 10 hours I was in Toronto, sleep deprived - answering questions at the border office that didn't make sense, and then another couple of hours to finally arrive in Vancouver. I was even more excited to know Jen and Geri would pick me up from the airport. It had been only 6 months after our trip to Nepal but I missed them terribly, after all my Canadians did help me see the light in the hazy tunnel I was living in. I spent there 49 days and I could not have imagined a more perfect way to start all this. 
While walking through places like above Pitt Lake, looking at all the mountains, lakes, and wildlife, I came to my first realisation: if I ever settle in one place, wherver it is, it will have to be close to nature like that. Thinking about it now I know this wasn't just a talk, living in Medellín, in the concrete jungle, was very difficult and I think it was because those words I said in Canada have been much more than just words. It was a promise to myslef, a manifestation of my soul's desires.

One of the best moments in Canada was a reunion of our Nepalese family. Reliving the moments from 6 months before, reinforcing memories of how it felt and sharing a meal together just like in Aanbu Khaireni..
Few people couldn't make it, so Geri and I decided to visit them. Roadtrip to Kamloops and Kelowna was definitely one of the best highlights of my trip. Visiting my roomie Joe, who inspiried me so much, was a blast - hiking up a peak around the city and building Lord of Loops was my favourite part! I also realised how big Canada is as driving to Kamloops was a few-hour drive but the landscape and climate was different than Maple Ridge. I wonder if Lord of Loops stills stands...
Building the Lord of Loops!

June came around quite quickly and it was time to leave Canada to my utmost displeasure but it was time to go for my first experteering trip to a little village El Porvenir in Honduras. After over 13h of travel I found myself sitting by the Caribbean Sea, listening to the sound of waves, and, as usual, rethinking past weeks before I would immerse myself in new adventure.

It was completely new and different. Interacting with kids in Spanish finally forced me to start learning the language I had always wanted to learn. The climate was a lot different with 30 degrees almost every day, but the smiles of the kids during our classes would make all possible negatives go away in a matter of minutes.

Before I left UK I also managed to get my TEFL certificate to teach English. I might not be a native speaker but I wanted to put my interest in English language to good use, despite being far from perfect. It became handy when I began to teach Advanced English for Adults in El Porvenir. Oh how nervous I was at the beginning! But it became easier and I actually liked it!
Socci, a dog who kept me company on my walks on the beach
Honduras was also the firt country with completely different lifestyle than what I had known before. I do not split the countries on developed/developing or 1st/3rd world (where has the 2nd gone?). Learing about a country, town, community, through the pryzm of how happy their are about their day-to-day life, what kind of values they hold dear on personal level but also as a community. Number of cars,  roads, skyscrapers, or banks is now completely gone from my learning process about a new place. 

I could not mention, of course, that Honduras is a great memory also because of people I met. Playing Blitz with Lynda, Karin, Acacia, and later with Sara, Svea, Sam, and occasionally Dorian (3S+2D), drinking rum while doing it and teaching each other words in our mother tongues (or just a language we knew). It was funny that I was introduced to Blitz by Geri and Terry in Canada, so I bought it and brought it to El Porvenir in hopes to teach people, but while I was walking to the room on my first day I looked around the living room and the table where girls were sitting and what did I see? Yup they were playing Blitz, my mind exploded almost like the first Death Star!
Botas always had to check if you I some treats stashed in
It was in El Porvenir that also two most important things happened (well three to be exact). First was me turning vegan. After a very heated conversation with Loren I decided to try it, almost exactly two years after I turned vegetarian. I haven't been eating animal products, which believe me are never cruelty-free or coming from "happy" animals, for 9 months now and I could not feel better, physically and mentally!

Second one was, as I like to call them, three miracles. While I was stuck at home becuse of not being able to walk we got some new volunteers. Once I started going to classes I met two of them, Annie and Martin, a couple from East Canada that decide to buy a boat, take their three kids on it and sail away. Of course it sounds wasy simpler than in reality but they did it. On their way they made it to El Porvenir to help us with the kids but also with our faciliites. Having been in construction business for a long time (building minimalistic houses in Canada) they had a lot of skills to help improve facilities of HCA, Martin with a drill could easiily be compared to a surgent! 
No torn ligaments would stop me from having fun

At one point I also met their kids, Nelson, Betsy, and Walis - homeschooled, living on a boat with their parents, travelling through different countries, languages, latitudes. One, with a conservative approach to life, would think that it's the wrong way to raise kids. I would tell such person they could not be more wrong. It was amazing and refreshing to see them not knowing bundries of language, nationalities, religions, and still being very smart, strong-headed, and relaxed about life. I won't go into details now, this will come when I get to write a long post about Honduras but I spent a lot of time with their family and I am grateful for the fact they showed me living with your kids like that is entirely possible. Not to mention I absolutely adore those kids. Annie & Martin I hope I will see you again, maybe in Alaska :)
New York was my next stop. Quick detour before going to Peru to visit Lynda and find out what is the hype about New York. Usually I don't like big cities (except Singapore) but New York wasn't that bad. I decided if I lived there I would probably move to Governor's Island. When we visited it they had like 1920s go-back-in-time day and I was almost crying with happiness. The sound of jazz, people dancing, having picnics, dressed like it's one big Gatsby party, pure awesomness!

Cusco was next thing on the agenda. Another volunteering trip thanks to MovingWorlds turned out to be very intense work-wise and health-wise too. Many weeks struggling with heat strokes, inflamed intestines, and severe bacterial infection, all of which stopped me from making the most of the time there. The thing I was most happy about is how lucky I was when it comes to my accommodation. I met Libertad and Angela thanks to Eli whom I found on Facebook when asking about accommodation options in expat groups. My Spanish school was literally 20 secconds from my apartment and with that weekly salsa practice, we were a bit away from the centre, which meant I didn't encounter many tourists every day and the only noise during the night were the dogs barking. 

Working for LAFF was also very rewarding, I felt like I did a lot of good things to help the organisation on the technical front and it felt good that even a nerd can have its place in this non-profit world. You can read more about my work here.

After I got my health back I was on a mission to make sure hospital and burning brain are not the only things I remember about Cusco. Last month of my stay was spectacular thanks to all the wonderful people with whom my path crossed. I think the thing I miss the most are the countless pool games with my mate Heberst - I hope you'll visit me in Medellín soon!

During my stay in Cusco I engaged in conversation with MovingWorlds about possible experteering commitment after my Cusco placement. That's how I ended up in Colombia where I have been for the past 55 days and looks like I will be here for some time.  My first 6 weeks I lived in Medellín but it became clear that I didn't feel quite like at home. Remember what I said in Canada? Well I think that my soul needed less concrete and more trees and fresh oxygen. Thanks to one of the gaffers at MovingWorlds I moved to Guatapé, where I already feel like home (forgive me Edward!). 

In the end a guy from small town near Poznań ended up in a small town in Colombia. Why it made me so happy - you can read it here...
One of the many wonderful streets of Guatapé
The firsts
One of the greatest thing about being able to travel to so many different places is trying or doing something new, for the first time.. 
I think one of the best moments was to finally get onto a snowboard and really test my balance. While I was in Canada I was kindly invited by Mahboubi family to join them on a roadtrip to Whistler (10 000 people but more than 2 million visitors anually). I have always wanted to snowboard and finally I had a chance. After half an hour of hitting the floor with my butt I finally cracked the physics and mechanics of staying in balance and I enjoyed it as much as I could. Everything under my teacher's eye: Hasti whom I will never be able to thank enough for this opportunity! Even though it was just one time, I hope I won't forget the basics I learned from her and that if I ever find myself in a snowy landscape I will be able to get on the board again. Who knows maybe I'll even learn how to stop without falling :D
Between 1994 and 1999 Constable Benton Fraser graced our television sets with his deaf white wolf Diefenbaker and if I am not mistaken it was also the first Canadian show that was such huge hit in Europe (Germany, United Kingdom, Poland). After watching each episode everybody wanted to meet a Mountie! I did that thanks to Christine and Russ Carmicheals, who took me for a pot-luck dinner to welcome a Dutch brass band that was performing in Maple Ridge. At that dinner appeared a retiret constable and I instantly felt like it's the 90s again!
 Bahá'í community
When I was about 12-13 I already rejected the catholic faith and realised I do not need a fairy tale to inspire me to try to be a good human. In the UK I felt even better as there is no religious pressure at all, unlike in Poland, but in Nepal I learned that Mahboubi family is Bahá'í, which sparked interest. I not only learned about how it is one of the youngest movements in the world, how their followers were opressed in Iran during the revolution, but also the most important of all - the base of their faith - unity of all people. You might think it is simple but when you look at religious history it has been mostly about forcing (in many many different ways) one to believe what people in power believe. Bahá'í is not a huge community but it is most spread out movement in the world {"url" : "á%27í_Faith", "title" : "Bahá'í Faith", "date" : "14 April 2018", "type" : "www"} and the reason is because they don't go from house to house trying to feed you their holy books or convince that this is the right religion! I witnessed some of the celebrations, I talked to different people from the community, and realised that is what should be taught in schools to allow young people to be informed and decide on their own what they want to believe in and what they identify with.
In Honduras my roommate Sam, who swims like a dolphin, started teaching me how to float. Yes, to those who don't know - I cannot swim. It never seemed like a priority and I spent all my childhood playing football and later volleyball, so swimming never registered on my radar. Do I regret it? Yes. But the opportunity came and Sam had a challenge how to teach an adult as he was mostly teaching kids. I have always compared myself to the infamous Titanic - I always sink, but under very careful eye of Sam I did learn how to float, so that was the beggining! Unfortunately tearing ligaments in my foot stopped my learning process that was never restarted as Sam had to go back to his American life. It was worth anyway, so thank you sensei Sam! 
 New York Bagel
I can't forget to mention that I tried a proper NY bagel with tofu cream cheese and I have to say I wish I could get those whenever I want.  The fact they embraced veganism makes it easy to get one on almost every corner. I never believed the hype of The bagel but with that tofu cream cheese - it was like heaven in my mouth, and let's remember, I am quite a picky vegan!
We all know baseball is like national sport of United States, in Europe it's not that common. When my friends and I were kids we used to play, or at least try to play it even though nobody knew the actual rules. The good thing is that at that age you can come up with your own rules and it's perfectly okay. Cyclones vs Yankees played on Coney Island and I was immersed in a very fundamental part of American culture. For most part it looked like a big picnic, not to mentioned I thought somebody abducted Lynda when she disappeared for 40 minutes only to find out that it takes that long to get some drinks. Hilarious :)
Okay technically I first tried salsa in Madrid almost two years ago when I visited Natalia who lived there at that time, but Cusco was the place where I really learned what salsa is about thanks to great teachers Paco, PeterLee, Antonio, and Heberst. I always liked dancing and can't wait to return to the dancefloor and try my skills in Colombia. In Cusco it took a bit of time before I started dancing with the locals but aforementioned teachers would always push me (somtimes literally) to stop thinking, let go, and just try. And I did! (most of the time) Best memories of Cusco involve going out with Heberst and spending whole night on the dancefloor dancing with people from many different countries...

What comes next?
The next 12 months are already looking busy. For now my place is in Colombia and the priority is to get back to Spanish lessons and on a dancefloor! What happens after my placement with MovingWorlds ends? There are many way, all of which depend on my work situation - as most of you know work is my lady, it's never just about travelling. After all I need to feed my workaholism!

I would like to go back to all those places, Honduras, Canada, Cusco, New York, but I also would like to see my family and friends in Poland, United Kingdom, and now also Germany, Netherlands, Spain, not to mention visting Nepal, Singapore, and Australia is on my list too! But I can't have everything so no plans until a concrete opportunity presents itself. At the moment I try to live in the present, focus on it, and make the most of it.

If I had to choose one most important thing from all my travels it would be... actually I don't have to choose so let's agree on two. First is definitely people. Without them the world would be grey and empty. You don't always meet people you like, or connect with, but when you do it's the best feeling ever. You start to thank the universe for allowing it to happen, this wonder of making a friend, who you might not see until few years later but somehow you're always connected to. The second thing is all the knowledge one gains from opening your door, mind, heart, and soul to anything that comes along. I am grateful to people and places who allowed me to lose my prejudices about religions, nationatlities, and everything else that's considered wrong or bad because it's different. It is very easy to live in your own bubble and give in to those prejudices, controlled by politicians, religious leaders, and media. Bursting that bubble and learning about the differences made me who I am today and how I choose to live for the rest of my days...
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