Tuesday, June 16, 2015

the different countries of fear

In New York, in the months preparing to embark on the longest and most chaotic international trip of my life, I feared I would never leave in the first place. I feared that working a full-time job, bartending on the weekends, and being a full-time student wasn't enough. "I am, no way in hell, going to ever save enough money to sustain myself for the following months, nor am I going to be able to register for all these online courses," I thought, occasionally. I feared my feet were rooted on the grounds on which I walked every day. Alas, I bought my one way ticket to Europe, and never looked back.

Within my first week of being in Italy, my first stop in Europe, I thought "OK, this is it. I'm doing it. There's no need to be scared anymore." If only we lived in a world where emotions functioned on logic. That kind of pep-talk never worked for me, but yes I still do it. My fears escalated by ten fold. Even though I was loving every second of Italy and with b, exploring Florence and then Rome, living together in our own little hut, I feared I had made a mistake by leaving a job I liked, a home and family I adored, and a school I loved to simply travel the world. I feared irrational circumstances: that my friends and family would forget about me, and I would, somehow, never make it back. I even had dreams about people I know claiming they did not know me anymore. I was out of my comfort zone, and that scared me deeply. How could I leave behind my comfortable little bubbled life back home in the greatest city in the world?

After that first month of initial home sickness, when I had finally found home on the road, b and I were in Poland visiting my family. At this point, I had come to terms with the fact that I would not see my friends and family for a long time, yes I quit my job, and I had found online courses to register for so no, I would not have to give up school, and all that was OK. But fear is tricky. Each family member we visited, I feared, even more every time, that they would see me as a misguided hippy with no purpose. I dreaded the inevitable questions they would ask me (so, what made you do this? how are you continuing school? what about work? and money?) I would sigh and answer anyway, but to my surprise, every single one of them were welcoming and embraced our aspirations, wishing they had done the same at their age, and pointing us as an inspiration to some of my younger cousins.

From Poland, we had flown to Australia. I knew, of course, that this was going to happen. But my brain kind of didn't. I was in denial. I feared being on a continent I had never been without anyone other than b. I thought, "what if something happens to us? I have no one I really know on that entire continent. And oh, it is SO far away." Sure enough, my first week on the Gold Coast I had terrible nightmares of tsunamis washing over us. But like any other one of my fears, they were wrong. I did have a dear family friend in Adelaide, and b and I instantly grew bonds with tons of new friends we met in Sydney and in some cases, have never felt more at home. And there were no tsunamis (not that knowing someone would've really helped that situation, anyway).

You guessed it: fear quickly came to me in another form. This is where I started to recall, consciously anyway, facing something I feared pretty much every single day. We walked up to the check in desk for our flight to Queenstown, New Zealand and it didn't take five minutes for the lady to say "do you have your return tickets?" My heart raced because I knew what was next. We were being forced to buy our plane tickets back into Sydney that moment, or we could not get on the plane. Instantly, I heard myself think "I knew we were going to spend unnecessary money going to New Zealand. I knew it. Why do we even need to go there? Isn't Australia far enough?" We landed and had no place to stay for the night, except in a tent on a campsite. My heart dropped. This must be a joke, I thought. This isn't happening. And in no time, we rented a camper van and camped through the entire country, facing challenges (fears) every single day. Sleeping in a van on the side of the road being just one of them (what if someone robbed us? shook up our van?). But I am so glad it did happen, all of it. I am so glad I dished out the money that very moment to get on that plane, I am so glad I gulped my fears back down into my stomach and slept on a campsite that night and later in a van, because New Zealand turned out to be thee most beautiful country I have ever seen in my entire life.

In South East Asia, you can bet my fears came to greet me every single day. I feared every single little wooden boat we got on in Vietnam and Thailand (it happens a lot more often than you think) would somehow topple over. I feared that the sleeping floating, again wooden, river house we stayed in outside of Chiang Mai would collapse. I feared thunderstorms on the beach. I feared jumping from a cliff along the Phi Phi islands. I feared snorkeling. I feared getting my things stolen, and even things like getting too tan or crossing the street in Ho Chi Minh.

Whenever it seemed like my fears were gone, and that I was this epic, world traveling, special, finally fearless human being.. they weren't. I wasn't. Fear always caught me. It was like, the only thing I could count on at one point, was fear to be present. It was always there again, taking new shapes and forms in new places. It follows me, ever so diligently.

My fears never, not even once, manifested into the irrational circumstances I had came up with in my head. They were my defense mechanism projecting the worst possible outcome in any situation. They were fiction. But they look out for me. And they tell me I'm going to do something new, something thrilling and exciting and possibly life-changing. Naturally, I tried to steer away from fear as far back as I can remember. Now I run towards it. Reluctantly, still, at times, but I know now that is where the juicy stuff is. Thats where life is. When fear is around, I know I'm doing something right. At any time, in any country, fear is my safety net.

art on the beach in perth, australia
 seoul hiking, south korea

Sunday, May 17, 2015

New Zealand

I had hardly heard of New Zealand before b insisted we ought to catch the good weather there while we were in Australia. I was reluctant because I thought we would spend an unnecessary amount of money. Of course, his timing was completely right, and every cent was well spent (minus the sweets and extra iced coffees).

We flew from the Gold Coast area and landed in Queenstown on the South Island, our gaze instantly widened at the overwhelmingly big mountains. Until this moment, it hadn't occurred to me that I had never actually seen mountains up close. The hues of brown and jagged edges were so beautiful, I had a few hard blinks before I could convince myself they were real. I felt so little, but so safe at the same time; the mountains always wrapped around us, protecting us.

The trip was pretty spontaneous, so we had booked nowhere to stay. We nervously surfed the web once off the plane, and quickly realized finding a place to stay would be harder than we imagined. We thought we'd have a better chance if we went into town, so we hopped on the next shuttle bus. We were glued to the windows, framing the unbelievable landscape, and for a while, didn't care that we didn't have a place to stay for the night. We were here and it was a whole new world.

The gentleman at the accommodation desk in town had re-affirmed our doubts: nothing was available. Queenstown was a small town, and our only option would be to camp out in a tent for the night. Half amused, half apprehensive, we agreed. Luckily, a kind group of friends getting off the bus earlier had later lent us a tent and a sleeping bag, relating to our booking mishap. Kiwis are some of the kindest souls I have ever met.

Knowing little to nothing about tents, we made some Canadian friends who helped us pitch ours and ended up spending the rest of the night together. We wobbled back to our tents later through the inescapable darkness, and shivered our way to sleep.

Green, fluffy mountains straddled Queenstown and felt like they were only a short stroll away. Small boutiques and cafés lined the little streets. Opposite the river, the intensely blue water lined the bottom of colorful mountains.

Excited to explore the country, the next day or so we rented a camper van and began our drive through both islands. Initially, the thought of living in a van for a few weeks made me fairly uncomfortable. Alas, most of the time I found myself too busy being mesmerized by our surroundings to care about not sleeping a queen sized bed every night. "I want to stay here," I would say, countless times, to b within the first few days.

Some days were rough. I would feel sick for hours while b drove along the curvy mountains. Some curves were so sharp, we hardly saw the other side of the mountain while making each turn. Some nights we struggled to find a camp site to stay in, and we never knew where we were sleeping ahead of time. But there was always beauty surrounding us. One night we looked up into the sky after a long day of poor planning and tiredly losing our direction, and could have sworn we saw every detail in our Milky Way for the first time. We hiked up and down trails, branches crunching under our every step, and fell in love with the plants, birds, and trees. We pointed at sheep, cows, and peeking mountains along the road, with excitement I could only parallel to a child's. We met people every single day from all around the world; students, wanderers, teachers, passionate creators. Some a little older than us, some a lot older. In New Zealand, we were all fellow hikers and nature lovers. We met a couple from Canada who were traveling for about a year on bike, and we exchanged stories about different continents and life back home. Sitting alone one night in the common room of a beautiful family campsite, I befriended a boy who was an adopted orphan, pitching a tent every night to save money on rent for his trip to Europe. The campsite was his home. Everyone inspired us.

We drove around till dark one evening, worried we wouldn't find a campsite to park in. We were parked by a curb, nothing but land and farms surrounding us. Two Isreali boys pulled up next to us and together we found a piece of private land to park in. We drank wine and ate pizza at a restaurant down the road, while they told us about their times together in the army and what Isreal is like. "A lot less bomb-y than you see in the news," one of them said. In turn, we got to park legally on the restaurant owners land. It wasn't a campsite, but it was an experience. The land was just that, just land, and was next door to a farm. The shower-head hung on a tree and overlooked a damp piece of wood, out in open. During the night, the sounds of cows and sheep nearby made my belly ache from laughter. It was the kind of funny huffing and puffing I had only ever heard on t.v. In the morning, we drank strong Isreali coffee just outside our vans and watched the cows walk along the road, their tails and ears wagging. We all explored Cathedral Cove beach that day. I changed into my bathing suit behind the bushes, and dove into the silky water, uncontrollably laughing every time it took me under a big wave. I felt like a kid again, being helplessly washed up by the ocean. There I ran into a polish couple I had met a few days ago, and it felt nice to run into familiar faces in a foreign place. Traveling is like that.

During the day, people amusingly asked to take pictures of our spray painted (breast!) van. We happily let them, smiling stupidly for their cameras. We made stops along the coast, set up a couple of chairs and a table, nothing fancy, and cooked outside. We piled our van with endless pears, peaches, apples, dates, and bananas, munching our way through long drives, the sun beaming heavy through the window. One time we spotted dolphins in the water while eating. We had no radio, so I read Cradle to Cradle and The Upcycle, books by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, and did my homework while b drove.

There was one day we drove into a small town where we would hike up to see glaciers the next day, and parked alongside a hostel. In the common room, we discovered around six more American travelers, and all gathered, naturally, in awe that there was so many of us there at the same time. Typically, its many Europeans and Australians, and only one or two American travelers in the same room. I discovered how bonding it was to meet people from close to home so far away. We sat around the dimly lit table, laughing hysterically at each others jokes, relating to one anothers experiences in NZ, and telling stories about back home until we yawned our goodbyes.

Shortly after, we met a man of the Maori tribe background, and he told us about his work and enthusiasm of sustainability. It tied so perfectly at the time to my school work and the books I was reading, I felt really in tune with the universe. He went on, for hours, about his numerous solar powered homes which had trees smack in the middle of his living rooms, and about all the magical gardens that surrounded his homes. I doubted the truth of some of the things he said, but I was captivated by his stories. He was an caring, older man, and we sat politely, soaking in all his wisdom. He said one day he hopes to live in a world in which people can travel for free, whenever they'd like.

Our camper van was due in Auckland. Our expectations of the city were low, many people told us it wasn't anything special. But we arrived in awe, just like we did anywhere else in New Zealand. We loved the architecture. I've grown to realize the importance of having a relationship with nature, but I can still appreciate all kinds of cities, seeing as though I am from New York. We took a ferry to an island nearby and witnessed a bloody red sunset, and ran towards it like kids. It was the most stunning view of the sky we have ever saw during sundown, not even our photos could do this moment entirely justice. It was the perfect sayonara from New Zealand.

New Zealand, was, by far, the hardest to say goodbye to. The more time we spent on the islands, the more I learned and the more I fell in love. I loved how physically far away we were from practically every where else on earth but Australia. I loved that I could drink the water streaming down from the mountains, and how conscious everyone seemed about the environment and the effects their actions had on it. I loved that it was a country of so much to offer: beautiful beaches, lakes, rocky and fluffy mountains, glaciers, volcanoes, geysers, and natural hot springs. I learned about the Maori tribe and how beautiful their culture is. I've grown used to saying goodbye to the people we have developed a bond with along the way, but I've yet to figure out how to feel closure leaving a place I really, really love. It often feels a rug is being pulled out from underneath my feet, maliciously, and that helpless feeling of falling stings my chest. I console myself by consuming my thoughts with gratitude that I was ever there in the first place, and that I will come back one day.

campsite our first night in queenstown, south island
more of queenstown
tunnel beach, south island
view from our balcony one night in Queenstown
somewhere inland
crossing a scary bridge going to see glaciers, north island
freedom camping along the otago peninsula and raw tacos
monkey island beach, south island
castle garden in dunedin, south island
volcanic valley, north island
cathedral cove beach, north island
our last night in the van, north island
+ excess
sundown and the auckland skyline/ auckland sky tower

for some amazing New Zealand + Australia pre-packaged and personalized tours, check out Stari!

keep traveling 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

crochet everything

Ok, how adorable are these? Generally, flats and flip-flops turn me off because of the materials the majority are made from, and every fifth pair on the street tends to look extremely similar. The intricate design and additional ankle material on these crochet babies gives me that exciting feeling, like: finally, a cute summer shoe that is not a flip-flop or flat, and is ethically made. Alana, the founder of Luludu, is an awesome gal, and we got to chat about how she found the women in Cambodia to help her make these shoes, and where her inspiration comes from.

1. I love that you moved to Byron Bay to figure things out before you started making shoes. Where are you from originally?
Originally I'm from Auckland, New Zealand. But I now live in the Gold Coast in Australia.
2. I'm curious about the story- how did you find the three women who make the beautiful Luludu shoes in Cambodia?
Great question, but with a very long answer! I will try to keep it as short as I can without losing any important details :)
Once I made the decision that I wanted to expand my business, support women overseas and teach them the skill of making these shoes, I started searching everywhere I could for an ethical crochet business. As I was just starting this journey with only a small amount of experience (but a lot of hope), I knew I needed to work with a company that was already doing ethical crochet as I needed to have someone who could help with quality control and who I could communicate with for future orders.
After months searching, I finally found an NGO in Cambodia who said they could help. I arrived in Phnom Penh in May 2014 ready to dive in, but then I found out our funding hadn't been approved and there was no guarantee on how long it would take to come through. The reason we had applied for funding was because we were going to work with a community who had been displaced by the government. They had been moved 1 hour away from the city and they desperately needed skills so they could start supporting their families as they could no longer afford to travel back to the city for work.
After two months (I was only supposed to be in Cambodia for 6 weeks but was determined to stay as long as it would take) funding was finally approved, but when we finally got to the village we found out the majority of the women wanting to train with me were underage, and the rest were already employed as knitters. That same afternoon I also had a very disturbing experience seeing a kitten who had already been paralyzed being mistreated by the children there, so needless to say it was a very hard first day (I did take the kitten home with me and found someone to care for it). The next day the women who were helping me with training quit, so after two months of waiting it all fell apart very quickly.
Still, I was determined not to give up. Earlier in my trip I had seen a store called tonlé, and I had read about how Rachel (the founder) was already doing something very similar to what I hoped to achieve - she had set up a very successful business based on transparency and kindness. But what is also really cool about tonlé is most of their clothing is made from the highest quality remnant fabric that would have otherwise ended up in landfills. I reached out to her, just wanting to talk to someone who may be able to shed some light on what I was experiencing, and thats when she offered to help me. Tonlé also has a crochet team, their staff are all paid fairly and treated very well - it all started to fall into place. I then sat with three beautiful women for 6 weeks, training them on the in's and out's of how to make these shoes!
3. So many of us are accustomed to picturing awful sweat-shop production facilities when we think of products being made in Cambodia. Can you paint a picture for us of what your system looks like (an office space, do the women work at home)?
Tonlés workshop is great. Its open, bright, located in the city, and everyone is laughing and chatting all day. At lunch time they share food, have naps, or go home to see their families. There are many different teams - sewing, handwork (crochet or knitting), screenprinting, design etc,
and each person works in the position that suits them best.
There are no armed guards, no barbed wire or large walls, and no cattle trucks (common images from garment factory's around the world). It really is an amazing place for these men and women to work.
4. So in essence, when people purchase these shoes, can we say they are investing in helping three women in Cambodia to support themselves and their families?
Definitely. I have heard stories from many staff who work for tonlé, and especially from the women who make my shoes and dreamcatchers. Their stories are full of hope, determination, and happiness, despite what they have experienced in their lives. Working for a company who treats them well and cares about them as individuals has changed their lives. They deserve to be treated with respect; as does every human on this earth, and I know that supporting labels such as Luludu and tonlé is the only way the industry can move from a very unsustainable business model to one who represents a story of change, fairness, and equality.
5. I love that the inspiration for this brand came from your moms old crochet shoes! I get so much inspiration from my moms clothing back in the 90s. Was there anything else that inspired the design/ colors of the line?
I find kindness and change inspiring. I'm always inspired by nature and its effortless beauty. I love the bohemian lifestyle - freedom, rawness, open hearts and minds. I also love things that are a little bit quirky or different, anything too perfect doesn't really appeal to me. And I love things that are intricate and detailed - so these shoes are really all of those things in one!

Check out the array of their beautiful sunny slippers here. I cant wait to buy a pair.


Around the same time I discovered Luludu, I was walking around in Bali and noticed the plethora or beautifully-made crochet things. I got this top (that doubles as a bathing suit) at a tiny shop, from the sweetest woman that made these in all sorts of colors and designs. If you're ever in Bali, you cant miss the lovely women hand-making them right in the street.