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Backpacker Evangelists.

You know how we fill up giant tubes of metal with explosive fuel, stuff them with as many people and flammable things as possible, and shoot them into the sky, at insane velocities, to essentially teleport ourselves to a different time zone and physical space. In that process, we also X-ray and scan our bodies for weapons in front of strangers, sometimes we even get the pleasure of being groped by a person who gets paid to touch our most intimate private parts, without even asking you your damn name first! Does that sound less crazy to you than living out of a backpack eating mangos with some monkeys in nature?

Do you ever feel so overwhelmed with various flashes of feelings, which seem to have no relationship to one another and you want to cry, punch someone in the face, laugh, and hug a baby hippo all at once? Yes. Me too, welcome to the human experience.

Our everyday lives are the trippiest, craziest, más loco things you can imagine, but we dismiss them as normal for some reason, and categorize certain practices as more extreme than others.

Let me tell you, I have never felt more strange, than waking up in the morning, dressing up in boring stiff uncomfortable plastic clothing, zombieing my way to the subway, and standing in a small, mobile, electrical rectangle, with a bunch of other uncomfortable humans, pretending we all don't relate to one another.

Why do we think it is okay to stare at each other and say nothing!??! I do this all the time! I feel like big headphones make me invisible. I can pretty much stare shamelessly into someone’s soul, feeling totally entitled to do so because of this unwritten rule, that we will just not engage with strangers in public spaces out of laziness really, and out of Idontgiveafuckness. But we should give a fuckness! because people’s perceptions and interpretations of life, are pretty much the most interesting things there are, besides the berserkness of nature.

If you disagree, or agree for that matter, lets skip down memory lane real quick, 3 months into the past. As a personal amusement thing, I enjoy asking strangers random questions, and having my mind blown by their answers. You should try this next time you are standing in line for coffee, or in the elevator, or anywhere really. I can guarantee, all of your assumptions of this stranger will shatter into particles of dust into the air.

It was a “normal” Tuesday morning, I was in the subway on my way to work at the hat shop. I was guessing people’s head sizes in centimeters, which was a newly acquired talent and hobby after placing so many hats on so many heads, for so many hours a day. (Just so you know, a large hat is about 58-59 centimeters circumference, a small is about 55. Once in a while you meet someone whose head sizes 52, and it is fucking tiny, like a cd if it was a sphere, or coniferous shape I guess, and sometimes, you meet 64cm heads, like a vinyl size giant oblong watermelon, and this is also very ridiculous. But we are all beautiful. Focus!!) The human closest to me, sitting one seat away to my left, was a person I can only describe as a retired hit man.

He was at least 6.5, looking all hunched over in the tiny cube, his thighs wondering where the rest of the seat vanished to. His gigantic hands made the wooden cane he was leaning onto look like some twig you crunch with your toe on a sidewalk in passing. He must have been about 68 years old, covered in tattoos, wearing all black, including black boots with metal kickers in the front. Draining out of his back pocket, a metal chain thick enough to walk a tiger around the city, (holding his wallet though I imagine) at this point I am picturing his whole life story when I noticed the wooden stick had skulls carved into it and I'm jolted back into the present.

By his feet, stretching almost to the sitting area across from us, a shady ass “gym bag” looking way too heavy to be stuffed with normal things like sweaty clothes. He also did not look like the athletic type if I may add, more like the “I was in the mob, this scar on my forehead is a long story, but now I am a good grandpa type” He was wearing various bracelets, one of them might have had a tooth as a charm, or bone of some sort. (This is all happening on the orange line going to Forest Hills keep in mind, for those of you Bostonian readers)

A side note about teeth.. I love teeth, they are the only visible bone in our bodies, isn't that a little nutty!? I make sculptures out of clay molds of patients’ teeth that my Colombian dentist saves for me, sometimes I turn them into ashtrays or incense holders :).

Anyhow, once I was done admiring grandpa goth’s outfit, I turned to him, smiled, and asked the following question: “if you could be any animal, which animal would you be?” he looked at me for a minute, closed his eyes, smiled as he took a deep breath opening his eyes again and replied to me soft spoken: “I would be a fish, because swimming is peaceful, and silence is abundant under the ocean.” my smile was so big at this point, I thought my teeth were multiplying inside my mouth. But this is what really made my heart twinkle, he followed his answer with this: “Do you have a spirit animal? I think we all do.” Needless to say, he is one of my favorite strangers. Our conversation ended with us exchanging bracelets, he gifted me one of his leather bracelets that he had made by hand, and I gifted him one of tiny orange owls I was wearing, in fact one of my spirit animals. But you see, in that 5 minute conversation all of a sudden, I had a completely different impression of who this person was, what he believed in, how he perceived the world, and I got to check myself about being so damn judgmental and consumed by “stereotypes” constructed by my environment.

I have accumulated multiple reactions from strangers over the years, and of course not all of them are as beautiful as this last one I described. Here is the contrasting scenario, this is what I get for pushing people’s buttons… I asked a nicely dressed 40 year old church woman (who seemed to be praying on the train about something out loud) what she was praying for… she proceeded to do the following: She stood up, looked at me as if an asteroid was heading towards earth behind my head, pointed at me with her arm in full extension, and begun screaming at the top of her lungs “you are the devil!!! you are the the devil” as she walked to the other side of the train so fast, she almost convinced me I was evil. I felt uncomfortable and embarrassed, then I chuckled at our humanity as I made accidental eye contact with another earthling across from me, and then I went about my day.

Don’t forget we all walk around playing some role, “the who you are at work role”, your “friend” role, parent role, whatever it may be. But underneath all of that, there is a very strange human completely clueless about what the hell is going on minute to minute, trying to hang on to anything that seems real at that time.

Have you arrived at that point in your life yet, where you realize adults have no idea what they are doing at all? That realization to me was both terrifying and comforting all at once. I don’t know how old you are, or how adult you feel, I just turned 26, most days I feel I am 75. Not necessarily in a good way of holding wisdom, but in a “my bones hurt and I complain about the cold and or heat a lot” way, and also I enjoy sleeping and day naps. I also really appreciate apple sauce, which my friends make fun of me for since college, and eating my veggies, and being fed, which could go either way on the spectrum of elderly to baby and vice versa.

I also enjoy soft bathrobes and pantuflas, sitting with my face in the sun, which feels like a hug from the universe, and splashing paint all over the place, mostly on walls. Conversely, I cry a lot, and enjoy being naked, sometimes those things happen together, I also very rarely wear adult clothes properly, as I tend to spill food and or paint on me 99 percent of the time, especially if I am wearing white, (this happens to the best of us, which is the world reminding us that we cannot control anything no matter how simple the situation). I also could have ice cream for dinner, or breakfast, not lunch, and play with legos as I imagine I shrink to a miniature size for hours on end. Spongebob is still one of my favorite masterpieces of the televised world, side by side with the mindfuckingness of “The Fountain” watch it! again if you have.

And of course all of these things are relative, so they do not matter all that much anyway, but my sense of understanding is that we are on this earth to accumulate as many random experiences as possible, regardless of our age or wisdom. Yes, I just threw the existence card at you, with what authority you may wonder? I will tell you now.

I know nothing for certain, about anything. I sometimes convince myself I understand things, and shortly after, I accept I am not wise enough to truly discard or believe anything. I am then left with the only tangible option to be guided by my gut instincts, which are made of incomprehensible feelings, and no palpable words. And this works very efficiently for me for the following reasons.

I used to be extremely ambitious, so much so, that nothing was ever enough. I was successful in the eyes of “society” I had a great corporate job, making lots of money, I graduated college with honors before that, I graduated high school pretty averagely before that, but somewhere underneath the most travelled path, I always felt like a gust of wind floating through the currents, smelling offbeat shades of unknown pieces of life. What I mean by this is that I always had some destructive curiosity tearing apart all of my achievements and milestones. I always felt some part of me was leaking an anxiety trail anchoring me down heavily to the pavement, even though my heart felt fueled with helium, wanting to escape right through my cerebellum into the sky.

Escapism, isn’t that something. I get so much shit from people telling me I am just “escaping” and running away from my responsibilities when I travel. And yes, granted I have not been steady anywhere for more than 5 months at a time in like 9 years, and I agree with the fact that I am running away from something, like we all are, but I am very consciously running the fuck away from this lifestyle I was born into. Hold on! before you think I am a desagradecida, remember words are never enough to describe anything you are passionate about. I want to run away from the negative aspects of this life, the ones I am able to better because of the wonderful upward mobility and straight forward freedom handed down to me by my parents. I am extremely thankful for being born into this life style, and at the same time, I am very conscious of my reasons for wanting to escape it as well.

What are all other animals on earth doing all day? surviving and living, eating and having sex, running around, and taking day naps, and chewing on rotten fruit to get a little buzzed to enjoy the sunsets and sunrises. Yes, granted they can get eaten at any moment, because as I mentioned above, they are mostly surviving and living, but that is it! the purpose we are always so desperately searching for, the art of survival, we do not have to worry about food and shelter, and we have no real worries, other than getting out of this fucking mess of a lack of resources we got ourselves into in the first place, as well as striving to be healthy, which is an ongoing challenge in this wired wilderness of unknown territory we are launching ourselves into. Of course when I say “we” I am thinking about people in a similar situation that I am, not who I used to be growing up broke with zero money to spend, not who my parents are, just who I am today, a latino woman who looks white enough to benefit from many sides of this “system”. I really hate that word, “system” the more I read and write it, the less meaning it holds, as do most words lately. What is happiness? hate? love? power? system? anarchy? good? bad? all these buzz words eaten by the media spit out on our faces engulfing us in slimy disgusting unrealistic expectations with unreachable deadlines and goals about absolutely nothing but consumption. Even spiritual materialism is something to buy into these days.. reaching for “enlightenment” we do not know how to just be.

In a conversations with some friends a few days ago, I found myself saying this: “Okay, if I decide to accept what feels most true to me at the moment, and I go with the fact that we are alive just for the simple purpose of existing, and that we have no control over anything, and that we must live in the moment, what am I supposed to do with that?” the answer seems to be… nothing. The only thing we can do, is react to each moment as they appear in front of us, and learn from our not so classy reactions, to try to do better next time in a similar situation, but we are human, and emotions get the best of us most times, and so we continue on this cycle of thinking to much and feeling too much and having no idea how to snap out of it, or even if we should.

So to recap, freedom, awesome, choices, great, what I am not so happy with, is this shiny plastic metal box that came along with it. I don’t want it! I have no interest in turning my time into money, to pay for some tiny piece of property to fall dead in. I would rather feel at home in a park, swimming in a lake, walking by someone else’s farm, anywhere I see trees, because this whole world is our home, so I feel no need to carve my name into a little piece of it to feel safe or secure. Sometimes I think about buying a small piece of land somewhere near the Ecuador, just so I would not have to pay rent, just so I could just exist somewhere, but not because I feel the need to call a piece of earth mine. Technically earth owns us, and natural disasters and reminding us of this lately more than ever.

Conversely, I understand why some people feel they need to “invest” in something, and since currency is always fluctuating, and storing bars of gold in your house is not the best idea, and gold is not even worth as much as fresh water now a days, and diamonds are only “forever” ruining our minds with clever ads about sparkling love which warms your hear, but really, this cold stone is mostly used to dig petroleum out of the ground, since solidified magma is impossible to break through with metal spikes, and North Dakota is now littered with forgotten sharpened tools, at the end of yellow tubes, that soldiers of the mud exploit. And these humans living in “man camps” are magnets for sex slaves, and you buying a house is the root of the problem! okay, no, sorry, you are doing nothing wrong, but we are all so confused and trapped in old values that once made sense, but that no longer apply. I see nothing wrong at all with you buying a house if you want, or tattooing your face, or whatever give you peace, or fuzziness in your heart, I see everything wrong with not having a community to rely on, I see so much wrongdoing in thinking that finding individual “happiness” is the answer, I see so much misunderstanding in what it means to be compassionate and free.

Some people are honestly happy with their routine, working day after day, relaxing in their home at the end of the night, throwing on some Netflix, or some show they Tivod, to skip the damn diamond commercials. Some people even love their jobs! my mother is a Spanish teacher, and it warms my soul to watch her in action. Her students truly confide in her and love her, and I had teachers like that in school, who I thank to this day, for contributing to my development as the person I am now. There is nothing wrong with living the life you love, I think the only wrong thing we can do, is believing that THIS is the only option. Believing that this is as good as it gets, buying into the idea that we NEED to work 10 hours a day to make ends meet.

For the purpose of considering all sides of the argument, I will remind us here that perception is reality, so if this type of routine floats your boat, we are all in the same ocean, who cares! I just want you to be ok with whatever makes you feel the most you! I do not think my lifestyle fits everyone, not at all, but I do think everyone can learn from this different perspective.

I realize I am a bit of an extremist, I prefer the word ardent, but my truth is that I am not even interested in working some job I kind of like, living in a city I can sort of stand. I don't think we should settle for something mediocre, not with this level of technology and resources, not with this level of understanding of our planet at large, as one organism, in which all actions have insanely noticeable consequences. It is not like we can ignore the plastic islands floating around in the ocean… we have satellite pictures of space trash floating around our orbit..

What I want, is very simple, I want to wake up surrounded by enormous imposing mountains reminding me how tiny and insignificant I am, listening to the wise chattery of some river’s ancient language that only my bones understand. I want to eat foods I can pick from the plants around me, and exchange smiles and strange sounds with horses and cows and stray dogs and cats that the small pueblo I live in feeds and cares for, as small communities used to do back then, around permaculture, before agriculture, when we were pretty much all nomads. We used to move to where the food was. Today, we move to where the jobs are, so that one day, we can live the life we want to, where we want to.

Well that one day, may never come my friend, and I am not being pessimistic, I am actually one of the most optimistic people you will ever meet. I was recently in a spectacularly horrible car accident, where some distracted human decided to run a red light, speeding like he was about to win the race his life depended on. I was on my bike, crossing on my green, and he hit me so hard I flew 200 meters! that is 2 blocks for you inches and feet people. My bike ended up crushed under his wheels, a brand new toyota truck with a sparkling grill that broke my femur and hip in four parts, as well as my ankle and knee.

This happened in Avenida Libertador, in Buenos Aires Argentina, which is extremely ironic because this giant street with 6 or 9 carriles each way, (it is hard to tell because people drive wherever they like, so sometimes there are 10 parallel cars going side by side in each direction, sometimes 20, its insane) anyway this evil asphalt speed line of death is called “Libertador” which means the person who brings freedom to the people or liberty, or freedom basically. Well I had moved to Argentina in search of autonomy and freedom, just 3 weeks before I landed in the hospital in intensive care for 2 months, without seeing the sun, or being able to bathe myself or even get out of bed to go to the restroom… if you follow me here, I had zero privacy, I was a stick of wood, fixed up with a bunch of metal, laying on a bed, in a dark room I shared with some other immobile stranger. I was later stuck in my apartment for 6 months on crutches. I basically had lost all autonomy and independence on Liberty Avenue. This was crazy for many reasons.

I had been backpacking on and off for 4 years, Europe, Middle East, The Americas, and getting into what some people might consider “irresponsible” adventures. The biggest one was probably backpacking through the Amazon jungle without any technology or orientation gears other than a hand written map on a napkin of “route number eight”.

I was in the south of Ecuador in some tiny town called Vilcabamba. This town had a luscious entrance to the national park Podocarpus, which ended in the heart of the Amazon jungle. I was staying in a beautiful hostel where there were some cabinas built into the trees like tiny rooms had sprouted from the leafs all on their own. The town was pretty quiet at this time, even though it was a very touristic place, but I got lucky in low season, the dry season. Remember this detail for later.

My first day in Vilcabamba, I walked around town and bought a bunch of fruits and veggies to cook back at the communal kitchen in the hostel, this is where I met the two people I would depend on for survival for the next week in the heart of the jungle. Dimitry, a 35 year old Coder adventurer from the UK. He was traveling the Americas by van, had been on the road for a year and a half. And Eva, a 27 year old Nurse from the south of Spain, who had never backpacked with an open ticket before, and was just dipping her toes into the addictive concoction of the traveling nomad waters for a few months now. We were not the only ones staying in this hostel, there was also a very interesting couple form the Czech Republic who called themselves the explorer photographer hiking ninjas. Needless to say, some of the coolest humans I have met, ever. I never got their names, I clearly do not need them, their etherial souls of wondrous freedom will forever travel with me wherever I go. The man from this couple, was determined to cooking the best home made chocolate form scratch he could ever come up with. Surrounded by several pots and pans of various widths and heights, sprinkling butter and spices and goat milk versus rice milk all over the place. The woman was outside of the kitchen laying on the asphalt drying out, and carefully folding all the equipment they would jam into their backpacks for their next adventure: immersing themselves into the Amazon from the Podocarpus National Park.

We ended up all cooking with and for each other, and talking about personal details of life as strangers do, without judgement and just amusement and curiosity. Before we all split to climb up into our respective tree caves, the Czech’s scribbled up a map of route number eight for us in a napkin, and insisted we joined them the next morning for their 6 day hike. This hike seemed too extreme, and the three of us had never embarked in anything similar. We had no equipment, no idea if we could actually walk and hike and climb for that long, and a bit of fear honestly. We respectfully said no and cheered them on for their adventure. At the next morning we waved them goodbye as they disappeared into the woods at the end of our campsite.

Dimitry, Eva, and myself sat around speculating that afternoon, and slowly became more and more intrigued about this route number eight. We looked it up online, and could not find any information. We later remembered our friends had mentioned, they got this hand written map from some other lunatic, who had trekked it by himself a few years back. They followed that statement with this: “it is imperative you bring machetes to carve out a path as you go, since the forest overgrows faster than any manicuring can keep up with”. You might know where this is going.. I did not. That night, Dimitry and Eva made up their minds. They went into town, bought food supplies, and tried to convince me to join them in this once in a lifetime opportunity to be one with the jungle. Everything in my right mind was screaming no, don’t do it, you will get lost and die, you barely know these people, you have no fucking idea what you are doing, this is why adventure backpacking has this reputation, do not prove everyone right back home who thinks you are insane, and so many more thoughts were cursing through my front lobe, as my tongue uncontrollably spelled out something along the lines of oohaahokaay.. and so that was it. I could not take it back. The next morning, we all convinced ourselves we were strong enough and completely capable of confronting the wildest of nature with nothing but our wits.

This 6 day adventure turned into 8, because guess what!? we got horribly lost! and ran out of food, and never had to pee because we were sweating so much, that 6 litters of water daily were just pouring out of our skins like tiny dancing waters trying to cool our bodies into survival in any way possible. Trekking through the first 2 days uphill into deserted dusty treacherous traps designed to twist your ankles repeatedly was that aha moment for me, where I understood what mind over matter meant. With every step, I felt I would collapse, but somehow my feet kept streamlining one in front of the other. The sun above us was that type of sauna heat that fills up your nostrils like mud. When you are hiking in this type of climate, there is no waiting it out, it is either dragon fire breath, monsoon sky cries, icicles on your eyelashes, or I think I am surrounded by spirits fog blankets, so what do you do? you walk, constantly, until the moon plucks you from your feet.

We camped the second night by some abandoned house in the middle of this national park. It was a huge step up from camping in the deserted creek the night before. We were now surrounded by beautiful vegetation, and even an Indiana Jones waterfall only accessible by literally swinging from lianas, to get 300 meters down, to this hidden hole of frigid water bursting from the mountains. We only knew of this superb secret because some gaucho on a horse mentioned it to us in passing. He seemed very surprised to see us, and said something to us in a native language I did not understand, then proceeded to say “cascada, drink water, a la izquierda, by the big tree” which somehow was enough info for us to find this magical place later. Dropping our backpacks on the ground, and popping our tents open while the sun sunk into the valley, how can I explain that feeling. It had been 2 days since we left civilization, we were each carrying half our weight in supplies, and our minds full of worries and fear, but something clicked that night. The fog came and went around dusk, and the sky swung open so clearly the stars morphed into fireflies floating right around our noses. We lit up a small fire and made some hot chocolate as well as some rice, food never tastes better than in the middle of the jungle camping. The simplicity of our meal, as well as these two kindred spirits smiling to their core, truly filled my heart with love and appreciation, it was the first time I had felt completely peaceful in a very long time.

The next morning, we packed up and walked up the mountain with a little more pep in our step. We now felt we belonged in nature, we did not feel so foreign to this beauty anymore. Our trek consisted of 12 hours straight up 3 mountains, you would think there is flat ground somewhere but no. These mountains are consecutively higher one after the other, so there is only up up up! when we got to the top, the sun was starting to drip into the trees, and we felt rejuvenated as we “escaped” the gates of the national park. The gates divided the end of the national park, from the open wild Amazon wonderland, and were just tall enough to climb, about 7.5 ft. They still remain as one of the funniest things I have ever seen in my life. What is the purpose of a giant metal gate in the middle of the amazon?? we had not seen anything but trees for 12 hours and we could not help to laugh hysterically when we thought about people building this thing, carrying the materials up these 3 towering monsters of dirt and vegetation. There was definitely a lot of random bursts into laughter, most from exhaustion and over oxygenation, and many as well from the pure joy of being in nature.

The next two days, were spent navigating wetlands, sinking up to our waists in mud, following phantom trails we thought were paths, but were really scattered animal tracks. Once in a while, we would find a big shoe stamp or two from our Czech friends who had been there a few days prior, and we would regain faith in survival. In these wetlands, there were gigantic horse killer bees, flying all around our heads permanently buzzing us into insanity, like mosquitoes in your ear when you are trying to sleep. I am allergic to bees, but I was so concerned with not fainting after 15 hours of trekking through the mud, that I did not give a shit about these horrifying flying demons. Honestly, pretty much everything kills you in the Amazon jungle, most spiders, snakes, oh, did I mention there are bears up there!? Yes. They are daily roamers though, and vegetarian it seems, but we saw one walking around at about a mile from where we were, and it is still pretty chilling to know you are in their home, and they could end you by tickling you for fun. Yet alongside these petrifying bursts of fear, nature inundates our eyes with the most magnificent sights we could ever imagine. Degrades of greens blending into blues as you look into a lake so clear that gravity seems to disappear, I might be looking at my eyes, or the sky above my head, or through the earth’s soul into far outer-space.

There is something so special about small lakes in the valleys between gigantic mountains. It feels like traveling back in time, to the beginning, where nature loved us and we loved her back. Standing still in that moment, when the wild winds whisper and the grasses mumble, and your eyes can't seem to store enough of that space inside your wondrous spirit, in that moment, everything shatters, your worries, and fears, expectations, ideas of any type really, gone. Those moments when your body vacant from the mind is just at ease, we seise to exist, as this, as a human machine, and rewire back into the roots beneath our feet, remembering to breathe. I keep thinking back to these dual moments of fright and furious beauty and I still can’t process them in their entirety. We got lucky over all, a few years later I can really grasp how much of our survival was at stake. Some gods and aliens must have been looking over us.

The next two days following our escape from the war on the soaking wet soil that wants to swallow you to feed the trees, was spent cutting through the bamboo forest with our sharpened machetes. If you need stress relief, forget boxing… this is the way to go, throw a nice belly scream in there for emphasis and extra power in your swings.

Speaking about frustration and release, the Amazon jungle is a great way to visually explain life. You know how sometimes it feels as life keeps throwing stuff at you constantly and no matter how efficient you are at balancing all the madness, it seems to just never end, never give you a break. You fix one thing, and two blossom from the air, and you find some peace, and you lose your mind, and sometimes we wonder if we will ever catch a breather. Well no, there are no breaks in life, like there are no breaks in the jungle, each step is filled with insanity. The way we are able to breathe, and enjoy the mystical magnificence of nature, is by simultaneously looking at the beauty, identifying that radiant flower sprouting from the cow shit, and the bear shit in this case, and the life shit in general.

All of these thoughts are going through my mind, meanwhile in front of us, vegetation off all sizes, and more tones of greens we knew existed. We are half way up a trail here, so the top of the mountain is not visible, the plants are so luscious, that while we think we are walking uphill and straight, we are most likely walking sideways, or in any direction for that matter. The trail gets confusing when bamboo trees take over. They turn everything into a maze. At this point, we were absolutely lost, we could retrace our steps backwards, but we had no idea how to proceed forward.

Here is where looking back, I realize the level of naive stupidity that city rats like us are unaware of. It is as though we are programed to believe we will make it out of any situation regardless, and yes, in a city, most likely we would find our way back somewhere familiar, but nature will eat your face and here is why. While nature provides everything we need, we must learn from it first, and listen to its wisdom, nature is not in charge of undoing and un-teaching us the wrong information we have accumulated over the years. Some of those erroneous assumptions include thinking that our natural orientation compass is calibrated, when we have never used it in the first place. Which brings us here… from an areal view, no one would ever find us, we might as well be the last pruning berries amongst bushy leafs, and like so, detached from our familiar spaces, we were rolling and tumbling through from leaf to leaf and tree to tree, taking two steps, falling 5 feet underground through the floor that was no ground at all, but rather a collection of decomposing branches.

This whole time, we are carrying backpacks with supplies, which would get stuck like insects in spider webs in the mycelium of the alice in wonderland mushrooms and we would be spit out into the mud underneath! looking up we would see our tiny giant backpacks floating in a mossy sea and wonder how the hell we would ever exit the womb of planet earth. Each time one of us would fall through, the other ones would yell “did you land ok?” and we would answer yes, and so we would jump up to try and get a hold of a strap or a carabiner, and rewind climb through the rabbit hole with all of our strength, resurfacing into an impenetrable mesh of plants we had never seen before. This process continued for the remaining of the day and by the 10th hour, you look like mother earth just gave birth to you, covered in hexagonal leaves, sticks, and the richest most dense soil you have ever smelled, you think you might start flowering any second.

This sounds amazing doesn’t it? have you packed your bag-pack yet!? I can fax you route number eight if you’d like. It is literally, a few lines, with a circle of a “big lago” and some main mountain peek names and a drawing of a compass on the side…

Don’t get me wrong, this experience is still on my top 5 of my entire life. Surviving in the wilderness like this, realizing nature owns us and will win every single time, no matter how smart we think we are, is incredible. The sightseeing was surreal. Dali skies, Van Gogh brush strokes, Mozart winds swirling around our brains re organizing every thought we had ever had.

At one point, we were down climbing a small vertical stream, descending the highest peek we had camped on the night before at 4,500 meters, and I was thinking, this is it, this is were we all realize we made a huge mistake we can’t take back. I am holding on to rocks trying to reverse step down like a ladder, facing the mountain right, my back to a huge open fall into boulders and dry trees waiting to swallow me into the belly of the beginning of time, to turn me into star dust, and I wonder if Dimitry and Eva are as petrified as I am. I look up at them and in their faces I see crude fear, and almost telepathically I hear, “how did we get here” “why are we doing this”. Remember the low tourist season, dry season? you are going to think I am making this up, but I could not lie this well if I tried.

We finally hit some type of diagonal flat-ish land, we are soaking wet from straddling this waterfall ladder, I am trying to catch my breath, see where we should go next, this is in the middle of the canopy, no idea where we are, three days walking from anywhere without getting lost, and I see something peculiar. It is morning, about 8 am, but the sun seems to be setting.. “Hey guys what is that?” I say pointing over at the next peek in front of us…the orange glow amongst the fog crystalized as my heart dropped right pass my liver into my bladder, It was a fucking ring of fire!!! expanding slowly in each direction, engulfing our lovely path into an impossible death trap. This is why, people do not hike in dry season, because wild fires break out everywhere. We ended up climbing back up this sketchy water way, drenched, of course, bleeding from the knees, obviously, and ended up crawling, yes not walking, crawling on the peek of this mountain, because the winds were so strong, they would push you over the edge when standing. We must have traveled in our four paws for about an hour, until we found a trail on the other side of a river, where we thought the fire could not catch us. Is that true? I don’t really know, I think if the fire is big enough it can easily catch on to some trees on the other side of the river and continue on its merry way. But at the moment, we decided we were safe.

Seeing the tiny pueblo of Vilcabamba, on our last day of trekking back through the wilderness, was the happiest I have ever been in my whole life. Well it felt that way anyway. We were still 10 hours away by foot, but we felt invincible by then. I am still convinced nature decided to gift us a few more years of life, so that we could go back to civilization, and tell other naive adventurers, that nature always wins, and that unless you are willing to lose your mind, and maybe body in there, you should not go as unprepared as we went. But you should definitely go prepared if you ever get the chance! visiting the lungs and heart of our planet should feel as essential as breathing itself.

Why did I share this story with you? Because Life makes no sense! and that is a wonderful thing! I have been in countless situations of “risk” and “extreme” or “intense” whatever you want to label them. Even hitchhiking alone from Patagonia to Colombia, and I have never been in as much danger as we expose ourselves to in cities, everyday, just going through the motions. Think about all the depressed, distracted people texting while driving, you see them in the highway! I lower my window and scream at these people to put down their phones and take the Oprah pledge when they get home (google that shit). I know I am guilty as well, I too text while driving sometimes, and litter once in a while, because as Louis CK said once, “NYC is a giant pile of litter, all cities look like giant trashcans, of course we are going to litter” or something along those lines.

And yes, of course I might have just gotten lucky in my adventures, and you might think, well… eventually, it bit your bottom, since you learned your risk lesson in one way or another, but I am just trying to put things in a bit of perspective. Especially when people say backpacking is too dangerous, or expensive, or complicated. Backpacking and traveling in general, are much simpler than you might expect. And as far as danger, the truth is, I would die perfectly happy in a forest, or in a river, because I believe in living every moment to the fullest. This might sound like bullshit to you, but when I was laying on the pavement waiting for the ambulance, with my face on the asphalt, and with several broken bones, I felt the only type of fulfillment peace that has ever made sense to me. It is difficult to explain, there was no white light, and I am sure immense amounts of adrenaline where keeping me from fainting, as well as disturbing my brain chemistry a bit, but I had a sense of calmness cursing through my veins knowing my entire life until that point, had been dedicated to living the way I wanted to, following my curiosity, and using my creativity and love as a directional compass.

I understand that I have privileges handed down to me from my ancestors, which have allowed me to focus on creativity and travel, instead of survival for example. I am thankful to have the opportunities I do, because as I mentioned above, my parents were able to provide me with the benefit of choice, and that is one of the greatest freedom launchers you can have. But I do also feel pride in being able to sustain myself on my own through all of my backpacking experiences, while working various jobs, across many fields. From corporate, to food industry, to basking on the street selling art or playing music. I have learned what it means to turn your time into money. To miss a sunset working at a restaurant so I can pay for a private room in a hostel with a shower and feel that small luxury, or to sacrifice privacy, and crash at a new friend’s home, and get to see that sunset together, while engaging in incredibly stimulating conversations, or equally incredibly satisfying silence.

I am also proud of myself for continuously choosing to explore, and choosing to spend my time and money on traveling, even against most peoples idea of what a “responsible” alternative would be, considering my age, career choices and opportunities and so on. Something in me always felt the need to live in the present, even if society always guilt tripped me into thinking I was terribly wrong, it was stronger than me, I just could not live today for tomorrow. It never seemed worth while to me.

I guess my point in all of this is, that I was never scared of death… wait… what? where did that come from!? yes.. we have been talking about living, and life, and there is no life without death. Life on this pale blue dot floating through space is about dyeing. My good friend put it in these words recently: “We strive to find our life purpose, figure out why we are here, how we fit into the universe, what space is made of, and the whole point is that we are here to die! and when you recognize that, if you truly could feel that every minute, everything around you would seem perfect, and flawless.” I do really believe this, as I mentioned above, I think the whole point is to experience things, learn from them, and investigate how it feels to exist in those situations.

Basically I feel like we go through life pressing a bunch of buttons and creating explosions everywhere. Some are magical colorful explosions of flower petals and sparkling glitter, and some are toxic putrefaction clouds of mistakes that choke us up and everyone around us. And everybody else is also pressing their own buttons, and blowing shit up! and if we could see the energetic waves all around us, we would need an extra 10 senses and a new language to be able to describe the inexplicable. But since we have nothing but these cvbhnbgvfrtfggbnm!!! we are left to absorbing faith really, to make it all click. Any type of faith, and whatever you call it, religion, oneness, the universe, universal consciousness, love, nature, whatever it is to you, that is what drives us forward. When we lose that connection, that keeps us lighthearted and grounded, things start to lose meaning, and to people like myself with heavy depression waves in my past and weaving into the present, that can be a dangerous thing.

So I am not scared of death, and I guess I always knew that to some extent, what I did not now, was that I am terrified of suffering, and surviving. Dying is the easy part, who knows what happens to our energy as it disperses outside of our skin suits, but surviving, having to swim against the current of depression, anxiety, physical or emotional pain, that is very disturbing. I have grown up hearing that I am a strong person. My friends would always point back to the fact that I moved to the States when I was 13, after my parents divorce, when my dad came out of the closet at 40 struggling with addiction, and I was basically yanked out of my group of friends, my first love, my family, and my county, all at once without knowing a lick of English. I agree, this thickened my skin, and I did feel strong most of the time, as I gasped for air tumbling in the rivers of emotions through my adolescence. But I had no idea, what chronic pain and ptsd (post car accident) could do to my psyche, and to my spirit.

Those unexplored mental states I am experiencing, to me, are the real treacherous irresponsible adventures we engage in. Many times, it is not what we do, but what we are not doing, to take care of ourselves, which leads us to float in these dark waters, and start to lose direction and motivation. So how irresponsible am I being really, when I decide to spend my “savings” on a one way ticket somewhere, where I will be taking care of my mind, and investing in surrounding myself with the right environment and community, which will allow me to nurture my soul, and regain faith in whatever it is that drives me forward.

Is that more irresponsible than sticking around some corporate job that makes us miserable, puts us in a terrible mood, where we are constantly arguing with those we love because we have no patience to be kind to them, since we cant even be kind to ourselves? I hope these things are food for thought, as I previously stated, I understand a nomadic lifestyle is not the best for everyone, I get tired of traveling myself, but I do believe we can all learn from the outlaying perspectives, and we cannot criticize a lifestyle we have not experienced.

I absolutely know it is worth at least trying to live in a completely different way than you ever thought possible. But this scares the life out of some humans! I have heard things like “there is not enough time” and “I will travel when I have paid my bills” and “I am just not adventurous like you” well all of these worries, seem to evaporate once you are on the road. And you do have it in you! it is simply common sense to survive, to adapt into a new environment. We all have these incredible spidy senses that are dormant, but flourish into sparkly unicorn confetti once we need them. It is as if when you truly step into the present moment, surrounded by a completely new experience, where you have not yet developed the patterns and excuses, or even the diagrams to map out your actions, or the problems you might encounter on the path, all you can do, is continue to walk, and smell, and taste, and observe, and feel, and I swear everything just works out. I am sure you have heard this hippy dippy bullshit before and I wish I could give you a scientific explanation of why synchronicity is so wonderful, but here is one of those things where the only action that will convince you, is find out for yourself.

After all, time is a nonsensical wormhole loop of inconsistent momentum and memories from the future, or deja vu’s from the past, that we decide to orchestrate as linear.

Come-on! you know what I am talking about. Those last few minutes that last forever trying to get out of work, or conversely, 9 hours vanishing in two blinks and a million kisses gone with the wind under a willow tree with the person you are madly in love with.

Time is just another one of those mystical beasts we have convinced ourselves we have tamed. Yet we continue to trade in our precious droplets of life juice for some dirty green papers with a dead person's face stamped on it. And we do this, so we can technically then purchase, that same time and freedom we had traded in as raw matter, or materia prima In the first place.

We are all insane. Not sane. (sane, sano in spanish, which means healthy) So we literally are un healthy. What we should be doing instead, no epiphany here, is using our time to gather our food, build our houses, cover our very basic needs, so that we can lay naked in the sun all day, eating some deliciously naturally organic non gmo, gluten free, acid free, pesticide free, freaking magical bites of energy that the sun turned into grub for us for free, like all animals do! And we think we are the most highly evolved ones on the planet.. trees reverse gravity for heavens sakes! They make water go up! Sans electricity. Deep sea creatures develop fluorescent lights in all colors you can imagine! Some birds fly for up to 8 hours while asleep during migration!! We.. Build rectangular concrete boxes where we spend most of our time, and where unless we plug in all of our tools into some electrical line, they are rendered obsolete.

Which brings me to my next point. I cringe even thinking about this word.. Job. What the fuck does that mean?! What is a job? Ill let you email me the answer to that one, I don’t even wanna get into that. How come we keep automating and accelerating all processes on earth, and yet we still work the same amount of hours or more than ever before!?

If I had a dream job… I do not want one, but if that is what I was into, upon introduction I would shake your hand, look into your eyes with the biggest smile you have ever seen, and give you a little circular biz card with a picture of me zip-lining down the active volcano Maderas in Ometepe Nicaragua. My "job title" would read in bold letters, (and some crunchy granola hippie font) "Backpacker Evangelist" below it, my fb link, since I usually have no phone when traveling, or I do, but it is much more useful as a tiny computer, than as an actual cellular device. See, we are not so great at technology after all, we are amazing at propaganda though! We have this uncanny talent for lying to ourselves, and believing our bullshit. If Nike suddenly came out with some heat activated gloves you slide on your toes, which shoot electrical impulses into your calves and through to your neurons, to make you a faster runner, we would probably buy them, to as least try them. I guess Vibram kind of has something like that. But what about the side effects? what if in 50 years your calves end up mushy and mushroomy because of this un-tested tech? Oh well.. who cares, we rely on hopefully having innovative solutions to continue to fix all of our fuck ups by then. Why is it we are willing to take enormous risks when it comes to messing with our environment, or feeding our bodies toxic food, and contaminate our minds with political and systematical corrupt nonsense, and we are not willing to take half that risk, when it comes to fully exploring other options for experiencing our lives in their entirety.

We are delusional!! generation clicks, and millennials, and “normal” people, we are all mad here said Alice once. But hey, I am not saying this is necessarily a bad thing. As I previously stated, if nothing is really true, other than perception creating your reality, there are no parameters to compare anything to, other than gut feelings, intuition, and believing the world is innately good at its core. I try to think this way at least, because it gives me some type or inner peace. Sometimes.

So are you now more confused than when you started reading this yet? Good! I feel we all are, constantly, if we are willing to perceive any instinctual “truth” if we allow ourselves to question wether the technological speed slide we are going down is actually more useful than harmful. If we are willing to let our minds wonder what it would be like, to see a mountain instead of a building when we first wake up. To have our natural reaction be meditation, instead of checking Facebook on our phones upon opening our eyes, if we try to imagine communities where everyone is interested in helping and supporting one another, where the elders of our tribes are everyone’s grandparents, and the word “pet” makes no sense, because we all have beautiful friendships with the wild animals around us, and the feeling of “escapism” is no longer needed, because we feel at ease deep in the womb of nature, and we feel sustained and embraced by the branches hanging over our frontal lobes, shading our optic nerves, so that we can see far away, into the horizon, because no cement is blocking the wind tickling our souls leading us to smile with our minds, and inhaling so deeply we exhale all of our aches right back into the leaves hanging right over our heads…and you can trust these plants will continue to turn our carbon dioxide into oxygen, every single time. I can’t think of one thing outside of nature that I trust fully and completely. Even as nature is constantly changing, and all of us are, and everything is, at least for the purpose of experiencing consistency at our speed of perception, the fact that the sun and the moon seem to rise and fall each day in outer-space, are the best reasons I can find to keep my feet on the ground here on earth.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to just become consciousness and travel through the multiverse and have no language, have no body, have no need to wonder what it would be like to not be. And sometimes I am so tired of thinking and wondering that all I want to do is watch a TED talk and regain momentary hope in humanity. I also used to think that if I could get paid for evangelizing people about backpacking the globe I would, but clearly, I do it for free. Because I really believe traveling, in any shape or form, is one of the best and most efficient ways, to feeling connected to the earth, exploring new expansions of your own persona, as well as learning from other cultures. Breaking free from the metal jackets you can’t even see you are wearing, and discovering new sides of yourself to share with the world that you never imagined were even there.

It does not have to be far, you can go to the next town over, and look at a mountain you have never seen before, walk down a new street, do a hand stand and look at the same tree differently, anything at all to switch up your automatic, and rediscover how you feel about existing. Because that is all we have.

One of the best take aways from backpacking, woofing, couch surfing, or hitchhiking, is all the wonderful people I am able to interact with in the process. Recognizing and accepting we need help from one another, and understanding and accepting that as part of our humbling journeys. In this process, I find I am also able to feel my own value and contribution to the world, no matter how small, sometimes, it is just teaching someone how to say thank you in a different language, or exchanging a genuine hug. A veces, it is something so tiny, you had no idea it impacted anyone, perhaps a drawing you left for someone to find with a kind phrase like “you are doing just fine” I have been on both sides of that last one and they are great messages and much needed!

We all know how strangers sometimes fill the voids our closest friends cant seem to reach. Perhaps because we are all more similar than we realize. Perhaps our walls come down easier when our egos are not involved in relationships which have history. Whatever those reasons might be, I now have friends all over the world. Real honest forever connections of incredible value that add so much love and support to my everyday life. I thought I would ask a few of these wonderful not so strangers to reply to this simple question: “Why do you travel?” in hopes that we can all share with you our experiences, and string together common feelings and anxieties, and hopes, and fears, and love, and the insanity of just being these types of consciousness in these types of human bodies, for this one time only.

Why Do You Travel? Por Qué Viajas?

Zach – From Asheville, NC. Met in the North End, Boston.

Some people literally walk into your life for a brief moment, to remind you that the world is filled with strangers worth engaging with. Zach walked into the hat shop one day as my shift started around 2:00pm. He was on his way to Iceland along with two friends, and decided to walk around the city on their 4 hour layover. We ended up having an hour or so conversation about the wonderful mysteries of life. I plan to visit these lovely humans in Raleigh, NC. on my next trip across the States!

“Traveling, for me, outside of recreation, is just a way to open my mind.”

Opening our minds, much needed in this world of automated everything. There are many ways in which we can allow ourselves to expand our view points, traveling is definitely amongst the most efficient ways.

Mariel – From Buenos Aires. Met at the Fernandez Hospital.

This young lady saved my life from my lowest depression points in various occasions, as she first became my 24/7 in home nurse after the car accident, helping me with everything from feeding and bathing, to long conversations about living, hope, and freedom. Many days, she was the only reason I was able to make it to the next one, and I am forever thankful for this lifelong friendship.

“Lo que me gusta de viajar es observar el paisaje.. el camino.. los animales… si puedo, prefiero estar cerca del agua. y no hace falta irse lejos, es mas el salir de la locura de la ciudad.”

She travels to break away from the madness of the city, and to feel closer to nature, and enjoy the sounds of the water.

Oliver – Met in Boston. From Tucson, AZ.

Bumped into this wonderful giant through a mutual friend. This kid’s imagination and energy was incredibly refreshing starting out our summer adventures in Boston.

"You know how you feel after you've spent four days smoking weed and watching TV? Well, that's how I feel, on a grander scale, if I haven't seen a new part of the world in a while. It adds footage to your brain, creates new connections between neurons. Dynamic minds crave new experiences, new locations. And traveling, conversely, creates dynamic minds by giving, if only, one new perspective from which to see the world. So, if you don't want to languish with the lazy, weed stink on your brain, I would whole-heartedly suggest making travel a life priority." Oliver reminds me here of that feeling of getting tired of being you, I mean being me, however it is said. Sometimes I can't seem to change my intellect and spirit as fast as I need it, and no tattooing or hair color changing or outfit shifting will be enough to bring me back to feeling like myself, like the “me” I need to be at that particular time. Traveling seems to do this every time without fail. Shedding all of my habits and expectations, falling right into something completely unknown, seems the be the only way to shake my soul out of me, to make it fall back into place.

Daniela – From Argentina. Met in Oxford, MA.

Inherited friend from my mother’s group of friends. I learn a lot from her natural ways of living, growing her own food, and staying connected to nature as much as possible.

“Viajo por el placer de la aventura”

She travels for the pure joy of adventure.

I honestly find adventure in even the smallest of scenes. I am what you would call easily amused. You can find me chin on the dirt staring at ants for a few hours, and touching all surfaces I walk by, trees, brick walls, peoples clothes (if that was not totally inappropriate) simply because I am convinced, the more sensory information we store in our brains, the more we understand about this world at a non verbal level. But sometimes, even I need a big bold adventure, sometimes, it is not enough to zoom into details, or I simply lack that patience to, and those times, embracing a travel adventure feels so good, words are just not a useful medium of expression for that level of joy, that is why onomatopoeias were invented.

Andrew – From Boston. Met in Brookline, MA.

Initially connecting through jam sessions and music in general, Andrew showed me kindness at a level I did not know possible. He is a wonderful empathetic soul, and I feel grateful to have reconnected recently through the Shambhala meditation center in Brookline.

“My life and this world have one thing in common: There are only one. The amount of this planet I am able to experience during my brief time on it is a marker that establishes how effective my time here will have been.” Talk about finding purpose and curiosity as so closely interlinked. I often find curiosity to be my sole driver when nothing else makes sense. Harvesting that curiosity, keeping the child alive, traveling will do that for us when we feel we cant.

Michael – From East Hampton. Met in Asheville, NC.

Chatting it up at the pea pods hostel, in Asheville, like strangers do. I had just come back from living in an RV for 35 days with other 4 people I did not now prior to this adventure. We were traveling the States fully mic’d and on camera filming a documentary with PBS called The Road to Teach. Michael was familiar with the show. I had no idea people knew what this reality tv documentary series was, and this was the beginning of finding out how much impact the learning doc would have on my life for years to come. We ended up going to a farmer’s market, and an open heart meditation with a local friend we had met earlier that day. Asheville has a piece of my heart. Also, best sensory deprivation floatation tanks I have ever been in!

“What gets me to travel is the destination and seeing amazing things but when I actually go it is experiences, connection and deeper understanding of our world that is far more important.” Michael makes the excellent point of reminding us that many times we just need an excuse to go, to get up and go see anything, something that calls our attention, and once we are there, we find out why our instinct took us down that path to begin with.

Roman – From Buenos Aires, Argentina. Met in Cordoba, Argentina.

Instant spontaneous combustion of friendship forever. We met when we were still all little punk ass kids, going out to crazy themed, strange obscure night clubs, up until 9am breakfast at McDonalds by the Obelisco, in the dark streets of Buenos Aires.

“Básicamente viajo para conocer lugares, gente, otras culturas y otros ámbitos distintos de los que nos rodean habitualmente. Pienso que con cada viaje se aprenden cosas nuevas y se expande la mente. Los viajes son alimento para el espíritu. La plata viene y va, pero los recuerdos, experiencias y relaciones, aunque efímeras, te modifican, te moldean y quedan con vos para siempre.”

He travels to expand his mind, and feed his soul. He explains, money comes and goes, but experiences last forever, as well as shape you, and help you connect with the world around you.

Barney – From Clare, South Australia. Met in Salento, Colombia.

I was teaching yoga classes at La Serrana hostel (my home away from home). I spent 3 month in Salento, this magical pocket of life and ayahuasca communities changed my life forever. This was the best place in the world to encounter Barney and Erin, two free spirited adventurous soldiers of the ocean and the skies. They both work on various boats and ships, and share their experiences in inspirational ways that I could sit and listen to for hours. And that is just what we did. We sat on the grass for hours on end, looking over at the beautiful Cocora Valley, learning from one another, and building a connection that would forever warm up my heart.

“Why do I travel? Even though it can be difficult, lonely, smelly and sweaty (to name but a few), I find traveling provides two enormous benefits that can be found elsewhere, but not in such quantities: freedom and personal growth. Having freedom while simultaneously learning more about myself and the world around me makes me the happiest man alive.” To me, this freedom Barney talks about is in shedding those patterns we feel ruled by, why is it that we feel so much more free abroad, or while engaging in a new adventure or situation? is it that we are really more free? because we are not paying bills and talking to the same people and we feel we can be and react in whichever way regardless of what others would expect from us? what is it to you? why do you feel more free? when do you feel more free? how much of this feeling do you want in your life? what is it worth to you? what would you trade? what would you not compromise? where in your list of priorities does it fall? if you move this feeling of freedom up on your list, does it enable you to achieve some of your other goals faster? perhaps by relieving stress, and innovating new solutions to old problems?

Deby – From Buenos Aires. Met in Cordoba, Argentina.

Although we kind of grew up together for a few years, going to a very Jewish middle school in Cordoba Argentina, we did not really become close friends until later in life. Once I had moved to the other side of the Americas, most friends shed, and memories faded, but Deby and I continued to grow together i


Profile photo of Nanu Berks

Originally from Argentina, currently based in Austin, Tx, always in movement. Nanu started hitch-hiking and backpacking the world solo, linking with places and people, while living and learning. “This creative road to loving and lingering in the micro-moments is what brightens in us compassion and teaching, so we can echo in the eyes of new dreamers, and become once again tiny particles of dust in the chain of mother earth. To me nothing in this universe compares to traveling, physically, mentally, and spiritually, and so through my words, I aim to pass on the electrical current of trust, adventure, unknowness, and momentum, so we can all benefit at least a bit, from savoring a drop of cultural mist. I must love to live, and learn to proceed, imagine to feel, find to unwind, dive deep to creep, and peek at the roots. I must, and so I do, and now I write, to share with you.”

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