Traditions

Why are traditions important? Why do we continue to pass down certain rituals, celebrations, customs, etc. from generation to generation? This is not a simple question to answer but I’d like to discuss my reasoning as to why traditions are important and why they should stick around in this article. In this day and age, there seems to be a movement against traditions and a counter-movement to think only about the present and what’s to come in the future.

I think that this view on traditions is shortsighted and inconsistent with human nature. While not all traditions are sustainable, useful, conscientious, or inclusive, there are numerous reasons as to why traditions should stick around, and why people should embrace traditions as being apart of how they live their lives. While people love to look forward into the future, it’s important to heed the customs and the ways of the past.

By observing traditions and celebrating them at times, we connect ourselves to past generations and rekindle the flame of days gone by. This is especially pertinent when it comes to the traditions instilled within us by our families and our communities. If we choose not to uphold those traditions instilled in us by past generations of family and friends, then we are doomed to lose traditions and the value that they held in our hearts and in our minds.

Each person must decide how much to incorporate the traditions of the forefathers into their lives and to what degree. However, to completely disavow of those traditions that lift the human spirit and are positive, and rewarding is to disregard one’s ancestry and upbringing in a sense. Not all traditions should make it from one generation to another but if there are traditions that are meaningful to you, and connect you to the past in a good manner, then those traditions should be continued and passed on to the next generation if that is the road you wish to take.

Having a tradition or traditions also helps you to create memories whether its’ with acquaintance, friends, or family. The memories around traditions are likely to be good ones and you’ll look back on them one day thinking about how special it was to celebrate or observe that tradition with the people you most care about in the world. While the tradition may only take an hour, a day, or a week, the memories of it will stay with you for a lifetime.

Also, it’s important to remember that traditions only come around every now and then whether it’s once a year or sometimes less than that so it gives you something to look forward to. Traditions give people a chance to relax, to enjoy, to reflect, and to be at ease in their lives surrounded by people who feel the same way. While the planning and the execution of traditions can be stressful and filled with anxiety, the payoff is worth it in the fact that you’re carrying on what’s been done for years, decades, or centuries beforehand, and that fact is something to really be proud of. Good and worthwhile traditions will likely lead you and others to count down the weeks and days until you can observe, celebrate, and reflect upon the special occasion.

It can be very difficult to get family and friends together under the same roof and near impossible especially if you live in different states or in different countries. Traditions give families an excuse to get together, laugh, talk, eat good food, and enjoy time together. Once your family starts a shared tradition together, it can be hard to let go of it. When traditions are observed, everybody has a role to play so it gives a chance for family members to connect with each other by having a personal stake in making sure that the tradition is observed in the correct manner. The ability to bring families together is a beautiful thing in life and sometimes it is only possible through the observance of a shared tradition. It can be difficult for family members to agree on everything but it’s likely that the thing they’ll all have in common is a desire to keep the tradition going, and make it a successful one.

Having a sense of identity is another reason why traditions are powerful. By connecting people to ideals, values, and beliefs, greater than themselves, your identity can truly feel whole. Being able to belong to a certain group, or a certain place can be quite healthy for most people, and to celebrate a healthy tradition as a group can really help to create a good sense of identity within an individual. It can be easy to lose your sense of identity nowadays, but by tying your identity to a set of values and ideals related to a group or your family through different traditions can help you feel like a whole person.

In a world where the present and the future take precedence, traditions can connect us deeply to those who came before us and to the past itself. Traditions from the past are important to preserve and uphold, and it’s a way to connect generations to each other. For myself, my traditions involve thinking about those who came before me and the sacrifices and struggles they went through in their own lives. Traditions are always passed down from generation to generation so that others and I in my family could celebrate and observe the traditions that are rich in history, religion and culture. If traditions are not followed and maintained in the current generation, then they are doomed to die out before being passed on to the next generation. If you or other family members refuse to pass on traditions to a member of the next generation, they will go extinct one way or another.

Finally, not all traditions are worth keeping or observing. Certain traditions can be harmful and carry a heavy height that people should not be forced to burden themselves with. Not every tradition created by humans is worthwhile, fair, or just. You don’t need to follow traditions if they don’t align with your moral conscience. Traditions can be good or bad, and they reflect upon our human nature.

The beauty of traditions is that you are given the choice, which traditions you would like to uphold to preserve and pass on to other people. If a tradition is aligned with the core values, beliefs that you have as an individual, then you should feel at ease with continuing it into the future. However, you should not seek to force your traditions on other people, and you should not preach about the superiority of your traditions when compared to the traditions of others. When it comes to traditions, use your best judgment and figure out which ones would be best to observe and celebrate with your family and friends.

Our ties to the past whether its’ through our ancestors, our family history, or our understanding of the world as it once was, is tied to our traditions. If you decide to forgo all traditions, then you are doomed to forget the past. Having a connection to the past through our traditions is a powerful thing and being able to celebrate them in a healthy manner should be encouraged. The memories we make with family and friends, the identity we gain from them, and the values and beliefs we pass on to the next generation make traditions a beautiful part of our existence on this planet. Whether its’ sitting down to a yearly Thanksgiving dinner, going to church weekly, or marching in a parade to celebrate your heritage and culture, traditions are apart of both who we are now and who we once were.


You may ask, how did this tradition get started? I’ll tell you…I don’t know, but it’s a tradition!” -Fiddler on the Roof

Advertisements

Saudade

There is a fact that you eventually have to come to terms with as a language learner such as myself: there are going to be certain words in foreign languages that have no direct translation to the English language. The art of translation is an imperfect one, which means that you need to be comfortable doing your best to come up with an adequate description of a foreign word even if there is no direct translation available.

The beauty of studying a foreign language is being able to use one word that is able to sum up a number of different emotions and feelings that are tied together. While there are singular phrases and/or words in the English language that have no equivalent in other languages, the same could be said for the Portuguese word of ‘Saudade.’

According to Dictionary.com, Saudade means “a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia that is supposedly characteristic of the Portuguese or Brazilian temperament.” As you can see from the English definition that I have written about above, there are a great number of different words in English that you could use to describe saudade in Portuguese. While there are multiple words in the English language that could be translated to have the same meaning as saudade, however, in its’ culture and in the overall context, there is only one saudade in its’ original language of Portuguese.

While I have never been to Brazil or to Portugal, I have recently begun to study the Portuguese language in earnest. I now believe that is a really powerful language in terms of communicating both emotions and feelings. Portuguese is a romance language like Spanish, and I have found that the way I communicate in either of these two romance languages is much different than how I communicate in my mother tongue of English. I think that there is a huge variety of ways for which you can express your emotions and feelings in romance languages such as Spanish or Portuguese, and you can be more expressive in those ways when compared to the English language.

I first learned about saudade not from my Portuguese language studies but rather from when I was watching a recent episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show, “Parts Unknown”, when he is visiting Porto, Portugal. There’s a beautiful scene in that episode where Mr. Bourdain is listening to an older woman singing a melodic song in Portuguese about how she has experienced saudade in her past, and how she mourns for a lost lover.

It goes to show you how any human being can relate to that exact feeling even if each individual language has a different way of stating what that feeling is. If you think about saudade in English when it comes to musical expression, the first thing that comes to my mind is the ‘blues.’ You can say that someone has the ‘blues’ and is feeling upset or bummed out about life. However, the ‘blues’ is also a form of expressive music in English similar to how singers and musicians can express saudade in Portuguese musical styles.

I have come to love the word, saudade, because regardless of the fact that it comes from a different language, everyone around the world can relate to it in terms of what it means. Everyone experiences saudade whether they realize it or not. Saudade is longing for someone or something that you’re nostalgic for from your past but which you’re unable to have with you in the present. It’s a deep yearning to go back in time to experience those positive, happy moments that put a smile on our face. It’s a very human thing to want to dive back into your memories and make them real again because one day, that’s all that we’re truly left with.

Whether it’s a long lost lover, a memorable trip, or a fun night out with your close friends, saudade can represent any one of those unique, happy memories. The older a person gets, the more they’re likely to experience saudade because it’s only natural to want the people or things back in your life that were once present and real. While our memories can be happy and joyous, they can also be painful and sad. If you’re yearning for a family member who passed away or a lover who you parted ways with, you’re going to be having saudade. In order to go through saudade, you need to experience life in all of its’ ups and downs. You need to feel things, have experiences, go off to new places, be part of events, etc. in order to make those memories happen whether they end up being beautiful or ugly. That is saudade at its’ core.

Millions of love poems and songs have been written about saudade, whether these feelings and emotions were described in the original Portuguese or other languages such as English, Spanish, etc. While we are happy to have had those experiences, met those people, and done those things, we are also sad because we know those occurrences are in the past and may never come to us again in our lives. Saudade is a very strong emotion and one that we all experience at least once.

When it comes to saudade, it’s important to remember that it’s still necessary to move on emotionally to focus on the present and the future. While it’s nice to reminisce about past memories and experiences, you don’t want to do it so often that you’re handicapping yourself from thinking about what’s next to come in your life, and what your future holds. Like many things in life, there’s a balance to be struck between the past, the present, and the future. Saudade is a powerful and potent feeling but you should not let it consume you.

If you decide to learn more about what saudade is, you should invest in studying the Portuguese language. When it comes to using ‘saudade’ in European Portuguese, it would look something like, “Tenho saudades tuas.” A sentence with ‘saudade’ in Brazilian Portuguese would look a little bit different but very similar to the European structure and form. “Tenho saudades de você”, which translates in English literally as “I have saudade of you” or if you are using the better, more figurative translation of this sentence; Either “I miss you” or “I have feelings for you” would work best in this context.

When it comes to other countries’ languages, there are words that come close to describing what saudade is. Whether its’ the ‘blues’ in America, ‘Sehnsucht’ in Germany, or ‘Tizita’ in Ethiopia, many cultures around the world have their own form of saudade in their respective languages. Saudade seems to be a cultural centerpiece in both Brazil and Portugal with there even being a specific day devoted to the word in Brazil that takes places every year on January 30th.

The fact that this word ‘saudade’ can have figurative translations to other similar words in different languages, and cultures in other parts of the world should show us how interconnected the world really is. There is universality in the human experience that transcends language, culture, and national boundaries. We all feel joy, pain, sorrow, anger, and happiness.

Considering that many languages across the world have a word such as the Portuguese ‘saudade’ to represent the ups and downs of life is a testament to how there is more that should unite us than divide us as human beings. Whether it’s a young Portuguese sailor missing his homeland on the initial journey to the new world, or an elderly man thinking about a lifetime of memories in the local park while feeding the birds as time passes by, saudade is saudade.

 

Cusco

img_1500img_1502img_1503img_1510img_1512img_1523img_1527img_1525img_1546img_1550img_1557img_1563img_1564img_1565img_1566img_1573

Camera: Canon PowerShot SX710 HS

Location: Cusco, Peru

A Chance Encounter

When it comes to traveling, most people often remember the places they’ve been, the food they ate, and the fun activities they did during their trips. However, what often gets lost in the shuffle is the ability to appreciate and remember the interesting people you meet during your travels, usually at the most random of times and in the most random of places. The best part of traveling can often be those chance encounters on the road that lead to you gaining a new friend, who might be a local from the country you’re visiting or another fellow foreigner who’s exploring the same places as you by coincidence.

One such encounter happened to me very recently during my first trip to Peru. I got up very early at around four in the morning to catch the train from the Peruvian village of Ollantaytambo to the town of Machu Picchu, which is located a couple of hundred feet below the famous ruins of the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu. Running on just five hours of sleep and anxious to make sure that I had all my paperwork in store for the visit to Machu Picchu, I was not in a talkative mood and feeling pretty lethargic.

I boarded the train at around 5 am and was even more dismayed by the fact that I was assigned an ‘aisle’ seat instead of my usual preference for a ‘window’ seat. Rather than being able to view the beautiful, cascading Andean mountains and the river running through them beneath the train tracks, I would only be able to glance a peak of the scenery by arching my head over, behind, or in front of the person next to me who would soon be occupying my prized window seat.

Still though, I reminded myself internally to not be such a downer and to be grateful that I would soon be departing for one of the wonders of the modern world, which very few people get to visit during their lifetimes. I am also a big fan of train travel, and Peru Rail provided quite a comfortable ride to and from the town of Machu Picchu. Eventually, a man carrying two big toys in his hands asked in Spanish, “Con permiso” politely as he motioned that he was coming through to sit down in the open window seat next to me. I obliged politely and looked on with curiosity at he placed these large two toys on the tray table in front of him nonchalantly.

I thought to myself at the time that it was a curious sight to see a grown man holding two toys that a child would play with, and to especially be sitting by himself with them and not with a son or daughter nearby. The toys themselves captured my attention because they were two of my favorite toys that I owned when I was a child myself. If you have ever seen the ‘Toy Story’ movies, you’ll know that those characters were popular when I was growing up in the 1990’s and even until today due to the series’ recent surge in popularity.

I loved ‘Toy Story’ as a kid and I still do especially given the fact that I saw the movie ‘Toy Story 4’ a couple of years ago and that was just before I graduated from college. The two toys themselves were replicas of the two main characters, Buzz Lightyear and Sheriff Woody, who I had owned in my younger days. I spent many afternoons watching Buzz lift off and having Woody swing his plastic lasso around like a real cowboy would do. Some toys, even when you’re an adult, hold a deep connection for you and bring back a lot of memories that have since receded a long time ago.

Now, suddenly, my interest had been peaked in the man sitting next to me due to the toys that he was bringing with him to Machu Picchu. I started by telling him in Spanish how I used to love playing with those same toys of Buzz and Woody when I was a child. He was very friendly in responding to my curiosity and stated that; yes, he likes the toys a lot too and bought them for his two-year old son recently for his birthday. That put in place another piece of the puzzle for me as I realized that this man was not traveling to Machu Picchu by himself but was sharing this unique experience with his wife and his children.

For being such an early time in the morning to have a conversation, the man whose name I learned was Jorge (first name changed for privacy reasons) was polite, friendly, and patient with my imperfect Spanish. It’s one thing to speak in a foreign language when you’re fully awake in the middle of the afternoon and it’s a much more challenging task to be coherent in a foreign language at 5:30 in the morning when you are lethargic and groggy. However, I was able to communicate with Jorge pretty easily and he was able to practice some of his English as well. Like myself, Jorge also works in the education sector. He is a secretary at a primary / secondary school in Peru, and has been doing this job for over ten years. He is passionate about education and was curious about my experiences as an English teaching fellow in Medellin, Colombia.

From what I could tell about Jorge, he was a caring husband and father. He showed me pictures of his two young children on his iPhone with the traditional ceremonies that they would go through at their primary school. It was pretty interesting to see how they would dress up these little kids in traditional Peruvian clothing for these school events. Jorge must have taken a liking to me because even when one of the cabin crew for the Peru Rail train asked Jorge if he would like someone to move from the other row so he could sit with his wife and his children, he politely declined as I think he was really enjoying the conversation we were having. It also didn’t hurt that his family members were only sitting a row behind him so he could easily reach them if there was anything they needed, including if his little boy happened to want to play with Buzz and Woody again.

It was extremely interesting for me to hear from Jorge as a local and native citizen of Peru about his experiences visiting different parts of his country. He gave a lot of interesting insights about the regional differences between food, people, and the culture depending on where in Peru you were visiting. On this recent trip, I was only able to explore Lima and Cusco, but due to Jorge’s recommendations, I have a pretty good idea of where I would go in Peru for my next visit. I was happy to chat with Jorge about what it was like to grow up and live in New York, as well as talking about popular American music and movies that we both have a mutual fondness for. Despite having been born thousands of miles from each other on different continents and with different cultural backgrounds, we were able to bond as human beings because our similarities in terms of personality and interests were greater than our inherent differences of culture and country of birth.

Perhaps most notable for me about getting to know Jorge was how mature he was for his age. Jorge is only six years older than me but has a steady job, a wife and two young children. A lot of people my age and older are forgoing those traditional responsibilities of life but it says a lot about a man who provides for his family and is able to do things for them like take them on a trip to Machu Picchu. Men like Jorge are admirable in that they are responsible, mature, and do not shy away from their commitments. While all men carve their own path in life, they should try to exemplify the same traits as my new Peruvian friend Jorge has done. Maturity, responsibility, and a kindness to strangers like myself; these are the best traits to emulate when you witness them in another person. That’s how you become a true adult and someone who can be the leader of a family. It’s easy to say that my hour and a half spent talking to Jorge taught me more than just about old toys, it taught me a lot about adulthood and what it means to be a good man.

As we pulled into the Machu Picchu station, Jorge was very gracious and said that if I ever wanted to experience the best of Peruvian cuisine in Lima, where he and his family live, I was more than welcome to join them in the future. I told them that I would be happy to extend the same offer to them if they were ever in Medellin or even in New York if I was back there again. We exchanged our Facebook information, said our goodbyes, and parted ways as we both left the train to our final destinations. I continued on to my full-day visit to Huayna Picchu / Machu Picchu (which was amazing by the way, but that’s for another blog post).

You may ask by now if you’ve read this whole post: Ben, why did you decide to tell me about a chance encounter with a Peruvian guy on a train to Machu Picchu? The answer to your question is quite simple: It’s because traveling isn’t just about eating new foods, seeing cool places, or doing awesome activities. I enjoy all of the above and then some but traveling is also about getting to know the locals like Jorge and learning more about their country and their culture from their perspective.

Traveling is and always has been about broadening one’s horizons and getting outside of your comfort zone. For me, I’ve always been on the shy side personally but by traveling especially by myself, I’m forced to meet new people and start a conversation. I can only say that it’s done wonders for me in terms of building my confidence, improving my self-reliance, and lowering my anxiety when it comes to meeting new people. Traveling is more than just the experiences you’ve had and the places you’ve seen but it’s also about the new people you meet. Your memories will include the people you meet and you’ll look back on those same memories very fondly one day. You may never see that person again but at least you’ll know that they made your trip a little bit more special and rewarding because you met them in the first place.

I hope that as a reader of my blog that you’ll take this story to heart and remember to not be shy when it comes to meeting new people, regardless of whether you’re traveling or are at a party where you don’t know anybody there. The best stories come out of those experiences where you can met someone cool or unique and have a good time getting to know them. You may even be able to make a lifelong friend just by being willing to open your mouth and make the words come out.

Being Sentimental

Is it worth it for a person to be sentimental? Is it healthy or unhealthy to hold on to certain items, memories, or keepsakes for the long-term? Like most things in life, there is a balance that has to be struck when it comes to sentimentality. Some folks are not sentimental at all and don’t have much care for old family photos or for holding on to gifts beyond their initial utility. Other people are much more sentimental and hold on to personal keepsakes for years on end allowing their living spaces and their memories to become cluttered as time goes by.

As you get older, your memories will inevitably start to fade away so certain items, keepsakes, and important people in your life can help you to remember certain moments of your past that you’ll want to preserve due to their importance to you. Not everything and not everyone from your past will live on in your memories so you have to be responsible enough to choose what really matters to you and which memories mean the most to you going forward. Being able to balance your sentimentality will help you to become a more mature and emotionally healthier adult.

In my possessions, I have a duffel bag, which has some sentimental value to me. I tend to be a more sentimental person than most people and I try to collect photographs and hold on to personal keepsakes as long as I can. One of the items that is particularly sentimental to me is my duffel bag. There’s nothing particularly notable about this duffel bag based on its’ design, style or purpose. Its’ similar to most other duffel bags on the market and can be used for multiple purposes including trips to other places, which is something that I have done a lot of the past couple of years.

The one thing that visually stands out about this duffel bag is its’ logo. Its’ a black duffel bag with a logo of a purple dragon and the name ‘Saprissa’ embroidered in the same logo. ‘Saprissa’ is short for ‘Deportivo Saprissa’, which is a popular Costa Rican football club based out of San Jose, the capital of the country. The duffel bag’s significance to me isn’t based out of its’ usability, color, or design but rather its’ importance lies in where I bought the item and what I have done with it since then.

The reason why this particular duffel bag is sentimental to me, and why I have continuously used it for almost a decade now is because it brings back a lot of memories for me. Ever since I bought the Saprissa duffel bag back in 2008 when I was studying the Spanish language in Costa Rica, I’ve held on to it and have brought it around the world with me.

From short trips to Jordan and the Czech Republic to my long-stays in Turkey and Colombia, this duffel bag has been to almost as many foreign countries as I have. What the bag lacks in style or design, it makes up for it in terms of substance and reliability. For over eight years, my duffel bag has weathered mud, dirt, snow, rain, wind, and other natural elements that I’ve traveled in along with the dozens of taxi, train, plane, and bus rides I’ve been on. It’s never failed me and it has concurrently led to me becoming more and more attached to using it for each of my trips to distant places.

After almost nine years of using this duffel bag, like all things, its’ starting to show physical wear and tear. Most likely, I should have stopped using it after two or three years but the memories always seem to flow back to me when I see the bag lying there in my room or when I pack it up for another trip. The bag itself is linked to the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met, the meals I’ve had, and the experiences that were tied into the adventures I’ve gone through with the help of this simple, black duffel bag which I carried along with me.

The bag handle is starting to fray, the zippers are exhausted, and the strap material is starting to rupture, and I think it may be time for a new duffel bag. It will be difficult for me to stop using the Saprissa bag that I’ve grown so accustomed to over the years. You simply can’t transfer those powerful memories to another bag quite so easily. The best you can do is mentally let your attachment dissolve, get rid of the bag, and transfer those special memories over to those other keepsakes and photographs that will remind you similarly of your past adventures.

Everything and everyone in your past will fade away to some degree. The important thing is to have one or two things left in your possession that you can fall back on so those items can also trigger those past memories for you to remember and recollect, whether they were joyous, happy, sad, or challenging. Being sentimental about all the things from your past can lead to a cluttered memory and a lack of set priorities. However, having one or two items from a trip or event can be enough to give you all the memories and remembrance you need in order to feel connected to your past.

Finding that particular balance of healthy sentimentality is a lifelong struggle but it helps to pave the way for a complete and fulfilling life. The key is to not the let the remembrance of your past keep you from living in the present and from creating your future. Your sentimentality should not prevent you from making new memories, creating new friendships, and forming new bonds with keepsakes.

Like my duffel bag, certain objects will fade away so it may be best to sustain your past with personal photographs, writings, or even paintings so that your memories can feel more permanent and can even be enjoyed by your friends and family members long after the day when you’re no longer around. Where you can let go of your sentimentality is when you realize that some things will be taken away from you whether you like it or not sometimes and it’s not productive to fight against this fact of life.

The best you can do is to place your memories into different items whether it be a journal or a photo album, which are much more sturdy and reliable than my trusty yet fading duffel bag. Above all else, Sentimentality is about caring. As an adult, you have to find out what’s truly worth caring about. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to replace what’s been lost and hold on to the memories that are special to you. You have to be ready to let go one day because nothing lasts forever.

The Art of Traveling Solo

The famous English author, J.R.R. Tolkien, once wrote in his poem “All that is gold does not glitter” a line that should be noted for its’ truth and its’ profundity. The 2nd line of the poem states, “Not all those who wander are lost.” This is a fitting statement for those of us travelers who have stepped foot in another city or country being completely on our own. It’s not something that can be easily done and requires a bit of mental fortitude to be able to enjoy it despite the inherent challenges.

While most travelers like to go from place to place in packs, big groups, or in guided tours, I believe that it is necessary to try out traveling alone especially if you have prior experience in traveling to other cities and countries. Once you are comfortable with the art of traveling itself, I think it’s a good idea to challenge yourself by traveling alone. I won’t choose to judge you if you decide to never try it by I respect any fellow traveler more when they tell me that they have been by themselves in a new country for days, weeks, months, and even years at a time.

In order to travel alone successfully, I would recommend that a person be able to adapt or inherently have a few traits or characteristics that will put them more at ease with the idea. First, you have to be comfortable being alone. You have to be able to embrace the solitude of your thoughts and to be more observant of the world. This is a hard thing to accomplish for strictly extroverted people who thrive off of the energy of being around others. However, if you’re a strict introvert or fall somewhere in the middle of those two broad categories like myself, then you won’t find traveling solo as hard as pure extroverts. Sometimes, you will have to be alone in a restaurant, in a museum, or in your train/plane/taxi.

I think there’s a benefit to this because then you’re more likely to focus on the place you’re traveling to and be able to better absorb the culture, customs, and especially the food/drinks of the new place you’re traveling to. When you’re with your friends and family on a trip, you’re often wrapped up in what they’re thinking, what you’re going to do with them for the day, if they’re having a good time or not, etc. With friends and family, you’re in a mini-bubble that’s hard to break out of. When you’re traveling with another person or a group in general, you’re less likely to appreciate other aspects of the trip. How can you focus on the sheer beauty of the Coliseum in Rome, Italy when your close friend is trying to discuss the latest Game of Thrones episode with you?

Some critics of traveling solo also forget about the fact that you will still meet people during your travels to new places. You’ll only truly be alone if you never open your mouth and be social. It’s easier now than ever to connect with new people and make new friends due to the wonders of the Internet. Due to the popularity of websites like AirBNB, Couchsurfing, and the ubiquitous amount of hostels in every part of the globe, even if you travel alone for an extended period of time, it’s still easy to meet people due to the sharing economy’s emphasis on affordable, shared living spaces.

I also couldn’t forget the sheer amount of other opportunities to have language exchanges, expat gatherings, and to just make the effort to open your mouth to someone and start a conversation. I find that it’s easier to meet people on the road than it is when I’m at home because they’re curious about where you’re from, how long you have been traveling for, and what you are doing in their country, etc. and you’ll also be curious about the same things.

During my recent trip to Santa Marta, which was done solo, I was able to befriend my kind AirBNB host from Bogota, hang out with the locals at a bar, and practice my beginner Portuguese with a Brazilian woman from Rio de Janeiro. When you’re traveling alone, you really have to put yourself out there and be more social. That’s not easy for a lot of people but it’s important to try it at least once. If you have any kind of social anxiety or shyness, you’ll be able to overcome it more and more due to solo travels.

Traveling alone is something that you have to ease into over time. I think it’s wise to start with a day trip to a nearby city where you don’t know anyone and then eventually work your way up to visiting a new country by yourself for a few days or a week. Personally, the longest that I’ve traveled by myself for has been about two weeks. I’d like to eventually reach that level of a month or more on the road without anyone holding my hand. Traveling alone forces you out of your comfort zone and mentally challenges you. You have to navigate a new city and country, practice the language by yourself, and be able to handle flights, trains, and buses without the guidance of others.

While this is not easy and takes practice, you’ll feel more confident and sure of yourself as a result. The times where you could have been taking selfies with your friends or partying until the wee hours of the morning are instead focused on having a nice coffee by the river or taking your time in an art museum by going through the galleries at your own pace. Traveling solo is a good time to be selfish as you can set your schedule, your own destinations, and decide where you want to go and when you want to go. There’s nobody holding you back and that’s quite liberating. I often get a feeling of true freedom while traveling alone that’s not easily replicated.

Even if there was no one else physically with me, I have nice memories of my past solo travels. The moment when I woke up on my train to Krakow, Poland in the early morning to open my window to see fresh snow on the ground and the sun rising as we entered the train station. The feeling of pure relaxation as I enjoyed a nice mid-day cappuccino with a view of the Prague skyline in the Czech Republic, and the absolute quiet I felt as I sat on the beach in Parque Tayrona, Colombia and heard nothing but the soft, sea breeze and the waves splashing against my feet. These are the memories that I will cherish and never forget. That is why I enjoy the art of solo traveling.

For The Love of The Game

Atletico Nacional
Atletico Nacional: Copa de Libertadores Champions. I can truly say that I’m jumping on the winning bandwagon with this team from Medellin.

One of the best things about living in a foreign country is exploring and becoming immersed in the local sports scene. When you’re living outside the U.S., a different kind of football takes precedence over all of the sports combined. Football, in most countries, is the national sport and one in which kids from an early age learn to play and master over the years. Whether its’ a city street, a dirt field, or turf glass, football is an adaptable sport to any kind of climate which is why its’ such a famed world sport.

Before I started my travels, I looked upon football (soccer) as not that exciting and didn’t understand why it was so beloved. I didn’t like how there wasn’t that much scoring and didn’t appreciate how much skill and technique is needed in order to be successful. Football is like a fine wine that you grow to appreciate the more you learn about it. It’s a unique sport that caters both to the individual and the team too. You can play it anywhere and with anyone. Now, that I’m in my mid-20’s, I can say with a growing confidence how much I appreciate the ‘beautiful game for what it is.

The more I have traveled, the more I have witnessed the absolute love and passion that football fans have for their teams. Growing up in New York, I was a big fan of the New York Yankees and the New York Jets but it doesn’t really compare to the fanatics and supporters who back their football clubs up whether they win or lose. When I lived in Istanbul, Turkey, I saw this passion firsthand as celebrations or riots would occur whether or not the three big teams of Galatasaray, Besiktas, and Fenerbahce would win or lose. Fans of any of these local teams would light flares in the stadiums, parade through the streets, and fill the local bars up to capacity. There are few things in life that get people as emotional as the result of a football match. You have to be careful if you catch yourself in the wrong part of the city if you have your favorite team’s jersey on but they don’t support that team in that neighborhood.

I’ll never forget when thousands of Fenerbahce fans would crowd the streets of Kadikoy to celebrate their win over Besiktas. They sang team songs, lit flares up, and you could barely move through the streets. I, as a disgruntled Besiktas fan, realized just how outnumbered I was so I was forced to hide my dismay after the team had lost in a crushing defeat. There were also happier teams as an adopted Besiktas fan back in 2012 when I was studying abroad in Istanbul at the time. I remember counting down to the start of my first Besiktas match with thousands of other supporters as we jumped up and down to sing songs in support of our boys in black and white.

It’s truly a special experience when you go to a sporting event in a foreign country. I tend to find that football matches like the ones I experienced in Turkey had very passionate fans that made quite an event out of each and every game. While sporting events in the U.S. are quite fun and enjoyable in their own right, they are much more reserved than what I’ve seen from my experiences in Turkey and Colombia. A recent sports triumph that happened here in Medellin has helped make that even more true in my opinion.

Last Wednesday night, the popular and beloved Atletico Nacional team of Medellin triumphed over the Independiente del Valle FC of Quito, Ecuador to win the famed Copa de Libertadores trophy. For those of you who don’t know, the Copa de Libertadores is the South American equivalent of the UEFA Champions League where the best teams of the continent from Argentina to Paraguay battle it out over the course of many months to decide which team is the best in all of South America. It’s an intense tournament with a lot of talented teams. There are a lot of matches to play and a lot of travel involved. Its’ so difficult to win this championship that only two teams from Colombia have ever emerged victorious.

Atletico Nacional won the first championship for a Colombian club, in 1989, and Once Caldas of Manizales earned the second championship more recently in 2004. You could argue, in fact, that the Copa de Libertadores is more competitive than the UEFA Champions League of Europe given that twenty-five different teams from South America have won the title making it a more balanced and fair. There are heavyweight teams like Boca Juniors of Argentina and Santos of Brazil but there have been many underdogs who have emerged victorious in their quest of the trophy over the Copa’s history of competition.

I was lucky enough to be at a bar on the recent night when Atletico Nacional won their 2nd Copa de Libertadores title in their team history. It took them 27 years to become champions of South American club football and the excitement was palpable. A new and younger generation of devoted fans has emerged here in Medellin, and has never tasted a Copa win before. The city was on edge before the match but there was a sense of destiny with fans of all ages and backgrounds sporting the green and white of Atletico Nacional.

Taxis were hoisting the team’s flag all over the city, vendors were selling jerseys everywhere, and bars were decorating their establishments with green and white balloons. If you were a recent visitor to Medellin, you would think that there is only one football team in the city, and not two (Independiente Medellin is the other football team here with red and blue colors.) It was a special setup for a memorable match. Atletico Nacional had tied Independiente del Valle in Quito with a score of 1-1 so all they needed to do was come out with a simple victory at home now.

Due to an early and beautiful goal by forward Miguel Borja, the apprehension quickly turned to celebration for fans of Atletico Nacional all around the world. Fans still had to draw their breath after another 90 minutes of tension but Atletico Nacional were poised and determined to come out on top as champions. Atletico Nacional were victorious at 1-0 and when the final whistle blew, all of Medellin erupted in cheers, dancing, singing, and drinking.

Never in my life had I seen a city so joyous in the aftermath of victory. Cars were honking, fireworks were exploding all over, and huge crowds had formed in the streets to celebrate. Luckily, everything was peaceful here in Medellin during the night. Avenida 70, where a lot of bars and clubs were located, were so crowded that it took me an hour to get home because taxis couldn’t get through the streets. It was a wild and uproarious night and one that won’t soon be forgotten in the Colombian sports history books.

As a foreigner living here, it was pretty amazing to see the passion and the joy on the faces of the fans. If I had to compare it to a U.S. sports celebration, it would most closely resemble the Red Sox winning the 2004 World Series after an 86-year drought. The celebrations here were that intense and extensive. The school where I’m teaching here in Medellin opened its doors a few hours later than normal so that students could get some rest (or the teachers themselves.) In Turkey and now Colombia, I’ve seen the love that millions of people have for the real football. It is truly ‘the beautiful game.’