The Wonder of Flight

Imagine a scenario where you were able to transport yourself back in time to the 1950s. You would be coming from the modern era and a time now where you can travel to your heart’s content if you have the means to do so. The 1950s, in contrast, was a decade before the age of commercial aviation had really blossomed and taken off, and where the average person could not board a flight to go halfway around the world, round-trip, for a couple hundred dollars. People of that era would think you’re crazy and out of your mind for suggestion that commercial aviation would either be that accessible or affordable.

However, that is where we are today in our modern society. We often take the chance to fly around our country or internationally for granted nowadays but for most of human history, there was absolutely no chance to fly to the next town let alone to Japan or Australia. Modern aviation can be considered one of mankind’s greatest successes and that is due partly to the Wright Brothers and the countless others who are skilled engineers and builders. The advances in flying will continue to make travel more efficient, faster, and more affordable.

While there is a growing disparity on numerous airlines in terms of how much you pay equaling the quality of services that you will receive as a result, it is good for us as travelers to keep it in perspective of how lucky we are to be in an age where at least the possibility of flight exists and how wondrous it is for the world to be connected so easily. You no longer have to board a ship for months on end to cross the dangerous Atlantic Ocean nor do you have board an extremely long train ride where the accommodations won’t be much better.

For example, you can travel across the continental United States in less than six hours thanks to modern aviation technology. Compare this to driving a car or bus across the country which would take a few weeks or your average Amtrak train which could take about a week or so and not be that much cheaper. The fact that we can be reunited with our loved ones or our friends within a day if they live across the country from us or around the world is a truly monumentous achievement in human history.

In addition to the simple fact that you’re now able to travel through the sky in relative comfort at over five hundred miles per hour, it’s easier now than ever to entertain yourself with books, movies, and music. On certain airlines, you can even connect to the internet if you need to get some work done. While they may not feed you a lot or feed you food that’s good or tasty, you have the option of snacking or eating a meal and you will definitely be hydrated with the help of flight attendants.

There has been a lot of bad press lately about certain airlines in the United States and the condition of airports here, and these criticisms are definitely warranted. However, instead of trying to tear down this form of transportation, I would hope that this industry continues to improve in terms of services offered, having affordable prices, and providing a comfortable experience by having airports that are both modern and efficient. It’s clear to me that not every airline or airport experience is going to be great but I consider myself lucky that I was born in an era and also have had the means to travel both domestically and internationally.

To me, the experience of going to an airport to go to a far-off destination that’s new to me is really exhilarating and fills me with a deep sense of adventure. While the airport security workers may be too overzealous, the check-in counter machine may not work, and we could be delayed due to unforeseen mechanical issues, the destination is worth the price involved with traveling anywhere new. Not everybody has had the chance to fly anywhere or to fly to multiple places so I actually look forward to arriving at the airport, checking in to my flight, and boarding the plane. Sometimes, you have to hope for the best and to expect the worst when it comes to flying.

While airports aren’t perfect, I love what they symbolize and what they stand for. The free movement of peoples from different parts of the world, converging in one central location, to then be whisked off to another far away destination is pretty cool. The airport is a place where people of all backgrounds, faiths, and creeds can come together for a shared purpose: the desire to travel.

In my opinion, the more airports a nation has, the more that nation signals to others that they are open to the world and are not afraid of it. Airports are the beginning point in the global exchange of ideas, beliefs, and economic opportunities, and it’s important to make sure that they accommodate both travelers and the workers themselves to make these impressive places run so smoothly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Airports are like a living, breathing global city which represents an important piece of the economy, of society, and of human nature. You can see the good, the bad, and the ugly represented in any airport.

Once I have made it through security, through check-in, and have made it through the gate, a great sense of excitement washes over me. It is the truth that any trip that I have taken or will take in the future give me a strong desire to experience the unknown. I watch the plane take its place at our gate of departure and I observe the children, teenagers, businessmen, and elderly seniors board my flight. We, as passengers, may not have much in common at all besides the shared belief in the wonder of flight and how it can bring different breadths of humanity together under the same banner of discovering parts unknown.

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Providence, Rhode Island

CamerasCanon PowerShot SX710 HS and iPhone 8

LocationProvidence, Rhode Island

A Study in Contrasts – the Medellin Metro and the Boston T

I’ve used a lot of different metropolitan transit systems in cities I’ve either visited or lived in. From Istanbul to Berlin to Washington, DC, it’s fascinating to see how different cultures and countries treat their metro systems. Some cities emphasize the ability to eat and drink at established vendors right next to the platform, while others emphasize the ability to know exactly when the next train will be arriving with real-time updates. In a way, these metro systems are a microcosm of a country’s culture. Unbeknownst to most travelers, you can learn a lot about a city and a country as a whole based on how they approach their public transportation. Each metro system I’ve used has had their own kind of flair to them whether it’s the London Underground’s cleanliness, New York Subway’s 24-hour service, and Istanbul’s kind food merchants.

Out of all the metro systems I’ve rode on, there are currently two in the world that stand out to me in their approach to customer service. While most systems rarely have attendants to help people enter or leave the train, the two cities that are the exception to this rule are Boston and Medellin. These two transit systems actually have attendants working on behalf of the transportation authority to help passengers to use the metro effectively but with different approaches. For example, the way Boston does its’ customer service would be more hands-off while in Medellin it is much more hands on.

This difference in culture may play into the fact that the Boston T system has been in operation since 1897 and the locals are pretty adept at navigating the transit system considering its’ more than a century old. When it comes to Medellin, the metro system there began in 1995, which is a little over twenty years old. Medellin currently has the only urban train network in Colombia. Still though, you could draw the conclusion that the way the customer service of these two transit systems functions is reflective of the overall culture. In the U.S., we tend to be more individualistic especially when it comes to our urban transportation. When I lived in Medellin, I was enamored with how collective the metro system was when compared to where I’m currently living. In Boston, it’s much more about every man or woman for himself or herself as they try to navigate the system regardless of whether you’re a long-time local or a first-time visitor.

For Medellin, the aspect of their metro system that stood out most to me was the number of attendants who would help riders enter the train platform, instruct users on how to board and exit the trains, and how to refill and use their metro cards. Instead of just one or two attendants there on behalf of the transportation authority, there were usually up to a dozen workers assisting customers at each station. It was really nice for me to see the attention to detail that the metro system had in terms of assisting passengers to use the system effectively. This approach was crucial especially during a busy rush hour when there would be thousands of passengers wanting to enter and exit the train station.

Having a dedicated group of workers on hand to help smooth things over and make sure passengers were respecting each other and the transit system was a really impressive thing to witness. It doesn’t hurt that the entire Medellin metro system is well kept and has no littering, little rats running around etc. at any of its’ dozens of train stations. Compared to other cities, Medellin does a great job with its’ communal approach to the metro system. One of the catchphrases of their advertising is to ‘Vive La Cultura de Metro’, which basically translates to living the metro culture by respecting others and keeping the system clean.

Other cities could benefit from replicating the effective customer service, the emphasis on cleanliness, and the easy access to information that the Medellin Metro provides. Like any other transit system in a major city, it still does get quite congested during rush hour, and it can be hard to get on the train during peak hours due to lack of trains available. I know this from my own past experiences of having to fight to get on the train at 6 AM some mornings when I was a teacher there.

When it comes to the Boston T system, it’s the oldest in the United States and doesn’t take much time to get acclimated to. However, compared to the New York or Washington, DC transit systems, there is some customer service and assistance given. However, when you compare Boston to Medellin in this regard, it’s really no contest. While there are usually one or two attendants from the transit authority present, they don’t really actively help passengers. Sometimes, you can see a transit worker more interested in a smartphone game than to see if anyone needs help or has a question. Instead of being on the train platform to help riders get on and get off the train without issue, they usually just stand by the entrance to the station making sure everybody pays their fare.

Coming from where I was living in Medellin before I moved to Boston, this was a bit of a culture shock to me. It’s nice to have one or two more customer service attendants around to ask questions but I wish there were more attendants on the platform handling crowd control and enforcing the unwritten rules of getting on or leaving the train especially during rush hour. Also, compared to the dozen workers at any train station platform in Medellin, a city like Boston should have a few more people helping out compared to one or two workers per station.

Perhaps this cultural contrast is due to the fact that metro systems in the United States are much more individualistic in nature and the fact that public transit has been part of cities’ makeup for decades especially in the Northeast. I’m guessing that the majority of Bostonians would prefer to be left alone during the morning and evening commute rather than have hands-on help from transit service officials especially at a station platform. However, it might make everyone’s day a bit better and smoother if there were workers actively helping to assist people to refill their transit cards, making sure the rush hour commute goes smoothly, and aiding travelers to the city with directions.

When you travel to different countries, it is tempting to compare and contrast approaches to daily life. In any city, the transit system is an extension of the culture and I find it interesting to see the similarities and differences between countries in how they run their metro systems. It’s good to see how other cities and other countries do things because you’re able to see within your own culture what could be better or more improved. However, what may suit your own tastes may not suit others as much, even your own countrymen.

Train systems like whole cultures tend to be more individualistic or communal. What one city may lack in efficiency, they can make up for it in customer service. I believe it’s best to shoot for improvement in all areas to create a better travel experience. Having the trains run on time, being treated fairly by attendants, and enjoying clean, safe rides are keys for any metro system to achieve. Hopefully as more and more people travel and see the world, we can better see what ways we can improve our own cities and countries by seeing how others do it themselves.

A Sense of Wonder

If you were to define the word ‘wonder’, you would characterize it as meaning a feeling of amazement or admiration caused by seeing or witnessing something beautiful, unexpected, captivating, and inexplicable. When you are a child, it’s easy to have that sense of wonder about the world. Your sense of curiosity and disbelief is quite high and your imagination can run wild believing in the possibilities of the unknown.

Even as we grow older and become adults, we still have a sense of wonder that never fully leaves us and is part of our essence as human beings. While you may not have the same sense or amount of wonder as you did when you were a child, it’s important to never fully extinguish that feeling and to let it stay within you even if you are an adult or in your elderly years.

Having a sense of wonder connects you to your childhood years and reignites the kid within you because that part of your being never truly goes away unless you let it. By maintaining that curiosity and desire to know about the world, this helps us keep our sense of wonder about life and its’ beauty. It can be easy nowadays to be jaded about the state of the world and to think that everything is going to hell in a handbasket.

While there are certainly serious problems to be fixed in our ever-changing and complicated world, being doom and gloom about it 24 / 7 won’t make you feel any better. You have to maintain the ability to never be too down or be too up about your surroundings. While there can be a lot of ugliness to be found, there is also a staggering amount of beauty to be in awe about.

I believe that it can be much easier to see things through a negative lens and seek out the ugliness in life. It’s harder yet much more rewarding to seek out the beauty and wonder that you can find if you know where to look. You also have to take the time to enjoy the beauty of things and open yourself up to the beauty of the world. While it may be cliché to state this, you have to have an open heart and an open mind. If you close yourself off to the wonders of life, you’ll never really be able to appreciate them fully.

A sense of wonder has to be cultivated over a long period of time and doesn’t happen overnight. When you are a child, you’re amazed by anything and almost everything new and unique. As you get older and you experience more of life, it can be more and more difficult to feel amazement or be captivated by life. Each person has a different sense of wonder, and different things amaze different people. When I think about wonder though, there are a few things that cause me to feel that unexpected thrill or captivation.

I think most people would agree that a sunrise or a sunset could really create awe and wonder in a person. The colors and the vibrancy of the environment when the sun lights up your world at dawn’s break or when it fades into darkness to make way for the stars and night sky; those moments can truly captivate a person’s imagination. You could also make the case that when you witness the sunrise from a mountain top or see the sun set from the backdrop of a vast ocean, witnessing those natural occurrences are too beautiful to be put into words.

Sunrises and sunsets never get old for me because they are never the same and they are always different depending upon which environment you’re witnessing them in. It only takes a few minutes to stop what you’re doing in your hectic day-to-day life to really enjoy the spectacle of the sun’s rising and setting. It’s also a reminder about how our time here on Earth is limited and that there are cosmic occurrences that happen beyond our control and our understanding.

I think this is mainly why solar eclipses are so powerful to witness in person because you’re seeing an event that is beyond human control and that only comes around once or twice in a lifetime. Those men, women, and children who traveled hundreds or thousands of miles to see the recent solar eclipse occur across the continental United States are in touch with their sense of wonder, and they believe in its’ ability to make you feel astonished, wowed, and even humbled.

Witnessing the sun’s and the moon’s movements aren’t the only ways to cause yourself to feel wonder though. There are hundreds, if not thousands of possibilities out there that will make your jaw drop in disbelief. I have always thought of photography as a good way to capture the wonders of the world, and I have taken many photos throughout my previous travels in order to really remember those special moments of life when I was on the road. Beyond just taking photos, it’s really wonderful to interact with your environment by jumping in a freezing lake, hiking up a mountain, smelling different flowers in a garden, rafting down a streaming river, etc. Those moments really make you feel alive and help to maintain a sense of wonder about the world.

You don’t have to travel, take photos, or be an adventure junkie to have a sense of wonder though. If you’re willing to challenge yourself by learning new things and bettering yourself, that will help you maintain a healthy curiosity about life and a thirst for knowledge. Whether its’ learning a new trade, developing a website, or speaking a new language, the pursuit of knowledge in different areas is a great idea and the things you will learn about yourself and the world around you will captivate and excite you. If you’re curious, confident, and willing to have an open mind, the world will teach you many things if you open yourself up to the possibilities.

Never let the flame inside you go out. As a child, you definitely did not have worry about wonder because you always had it and every day, you most likely had energy and a curiosity not easily extinguished. However, when you get older and more accustomed to the ways of the world, it can be very tempting to think of everything as mundane, childish, and routine, but that’s simply not how it should be.

However, The differences that occur when you’re a teenager or a fully-grown adult is that you have to pursue the wonder for yourself. You have to take the time and put yourself out there to figure out what really captivates you. Everybody has a unique way of seeing the world but make sure it’s not always from a serious and pessimistic point of view. Let yourself be wowed by the unknown or by the newly discovered. Pursue the passions and the beauty in life based on what fills your heart or your mind up.

For some, it may be playing Jazz music and for others, it may be hiking through the mountains. The best thing about experiencing wonder is that it is ever-present in our lives but you have to be aware of what reaches out to you and touches your soul. Most people live out their lives not fully embracing the wonders around them.

You have to be always on the lookout for what fills your heart up with joy and happiness whether it’s a watching beautiful sunset over the water, viewing an original painting by Claude Monet, or playing Beethoven in a symphony orchestra as your friends and family sit in the audience. Always be looking out for the wonders in life, otherwise, you’ll never find them at all.

Choosing the Right Travel Backpack for You

You have the money, you have the time, and you have some destinations in mind: you’re ready to live the nomadic lifestyle for a while and travel the world. This may be your dream life but the question is: are you prepared to make the jump? and do you have everything you need to make the journey? Having the right backpack with you could make the difference between having the time of your life or booking an early flight home.

Where’s Your Backpack?

Despite having the money, the time, and the destinations finalized in your mind, do you have the gear that you’ll need in order to complete the journey? Unless you plan on lugging a suitcase through the Andes or the Himalayas, you’re going to need a sturdy and reliable travel backpack. However, thankfully for you, there are more options now than ever when it comes to travel backpacks and they’re not as expensive as they used to be.

There are dozens of backpacks that I could write about but then this article would be ten thousand words total. Instead, I’m going to focus on three great options that you should seriously consider, one of them which that I have personally used during my travels throughout South America and can highly recommend to my readers.

You can check out a number of options if you visit the website titled, ‘Live Once Live Wild’ and see their ‘What is the Best Travel Backpack’? article which you can access here: http://liveoncelivewild.com/best-travel-backpack/. Regardless of which backpack you choose, you’ll have plenty of good options to choose from.

JanSport Katahdin 40L – Best Bargain

If you’re not looking to spend a lot of money but still want to get some good value out of a travel backpack, you may want to consider buying the JanSport Katahdin 40L. This backpack is made out of Polyester material so it can withstand the elements pretty well and it can store a good amount of camping gear as well as a laptop if you’re going to need to do some work when you’re on the road.

There’s a top loading main compartment, a padded hipbelt for comfort, and dual water bottle pockets on the sides in case you get thirsty. The price may vary depending upon which store you buy the JanSport Katahdin but if you go to (goo.gl/MuNVtX) you can get it on sale now for about $55, which is a pretty good discount considering the original price is about $80. While not as flashy as some other options on the market, this travel backpack has a good amount of features that make it worth a look when you’re shopping for a bargain option that still gets the job done.

Mountaintop 50L

If you can’t spend all that much money, the cheapest option you may want to divulge in would be the Mountaintop 50L. The best thing about this travel backpack is the amount of storage for your items and clothes that you can fit in there. You can do a lot with 50L of storage and there are a lot of deep pockets, expendable collars, a big front pocket, and even a hydration system that make up this backpack. It’s also a comfortable fit for your body and back.

There’s a good amount of cushion and comfort for you so that you won’t feel too uncomfortable during your journeys when you are carrying this backpack around. Even though this Mountaintop 50L is one of the cheapest options out there, it’s still a top rated travel backpack that has become increasingly popular over the past couple of years. If you’re looking to buy one of these bad boys, you can go to (goo.gl/dTCNXI) where you can buy one for only $45, which is extremely affordable compared to other options. As if that wasn’t enough, you can buy the Mountaintop 50L in different colors including red, blue, green, gold, etc.

Osprey Farpoint 55

A personal favorite of mine that I have used during my recent travels in South America is the Osprey Farpoint 55. Depending upon how big you want your backpack to be, Osprey has you covered by offering the average traveler the Farpoint 40, 55, and 70. The bigger your Osprey is, the more expensive it’s going to be to buy. Osprey’s are top-notch quality but they are among the costliest backpacks on the market. However, in return, your Osprey backpack will last for years because of its’ high quality. It’s made entirely of polyester, is resistant to most weather elements, and comes with a lot of storage and space including an extra daypack bag that’s attached to the front of your Osprey backpack.

You can choose from three different colors and you can find the price for the Farpoint 55 at (goo.gl/z3EvQc). As noted, the price of this backpack can range from $160 – $190 so it’s important you make sure to save some money up before you go ahead and click the ‘buy’ button.

If you want to check out some more backpack options for travel, go to your local camping store and it’s likely that you’ll find what you’re looking for. I hope you choose the backpack that you believe is right for you and I’ll see you out there on the road.

 

Monserrate

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Camera: Canon PowerShot SX710 HS

Location: Monserrate, Bogota, Colombia

Cuisine Spotlight – Arepa

You can’t come to South America, especially Colombia, Venezuela, and even Panama without trying the local cuisine staple of the Arepa. The Arepa may be the most popular food to try and there is a lot of variety to this food, which makes it quite popular to eat. In countries such as Colombia or Venezuela, Arepas are eaten on a daily basis and are usually served with breakfast but they can also be served with lunch or dinner depending on the consumer’s preferences. Arepas can also be found in other countries such as the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, etc. where they are less popular but still part of the local cuisine.

When compared to other Latin America staple foods, the Arepa is most similar to the Mexican gordita and the Salvadoran pupusa. What would surprise most people to learn about the Arepa is that an indigenous group of people known as the Timoto-Cuica created this food to feed the two separate tribes of the Timoto and the Cuica on a daily basis. This indigenous group was based out of the Andean region of western Venezuela and was made up of thousands of people total who were apart of those two tribes.

There are many different types of Arepas and you can mix and match with different ingredients depending upon your own preferences. Usually though, the Arepa is most often made up of ground maize dough or cooked flour to form the basis of this food. Sometimes, you can also substitute flour for yellow cornmeal that is popular in the Santander region of Colombia in the north of the country. In terms of appearance, an Arepa will be flat, round, and unleavened although sometimes they can be served as leavened especially when they are made in the street stalls late at night.

One of the great things about Arepas is there are many different ways in which you can cook them. An Arepa can be baked, grilled, steamed, fried, or boiled. The color, size, thickness, and appearance of an Arepa can vary from country to country or from one region to another. Perhaps, most importantly, you can add any kind of ingredients to fill out your arepa as a delicious sandwich or a platter.

The options are nearly limitless in that you can put on or within your Arepa such as foods like eggs, meat, fruits, vegetables, cheese, fish, shrimp, salad, etc. You can also simply eat it without any additional ingredients too if you just want to have a simple arepa for breakfast. However, if it’s late at night and you have had a few adult beverages to drink earlier, you may want to have an arepa sandwich with a lot of toppings to fill you up.

In order to make Arepas yourself, you need to have a good amount of water and salt to mix with your flour along with some additional ingredients like cooking oil, butter, eggs, and milk. Then, you’ll need to form the dough and shape it so it fits into the form of an Arepa and afterwards you can put it on the grill or stove to start cooking. Arepas can only take a couple of minutes to prepare and cook so it’s one of those foods that you can make in great quantities without too much effort or skill. Still though, that is part of what makes the Arepa such a daily staple of the cuisine is that it is simple yet delicious and there is a lot of variety to it if you are able to put in some extra effort.

When it comes to Colombia, it is probably the most popular food in the country and you can find it in practically every region of the country. In addition, there are dozens of variations on the Arepa depending on where in the country you find yourself. Despite the differences between Medellin and Cartagena, Bogota and Bucaramanga, each of these cities prides itself on their Arepas and would like to claim that they have the best Arepas in Colombia. In the past, the Arepa has become a cultural symbol of Colombia and is sometimes served with every meal of the day regardless of the circumstances, which is often the case particularly in the Antioquia region of the country.

You can find Arepas in many different places whether it’s been pre-packaged at the grocery store or if it’s being freshly prepared by hand late at night at the local street stall in your neighborhood. Wherever you visit in Colombia, you’re likely to be only a stone’s throw away from the nearest restaurant or cafeteria that will be able to serve you a delicious Arepa.

The Arepa has become so popular in Colombia that there is an annual festival devoted to this cuisine staple called the ‘Colombian Arepa Festival’, which is celebrated in the major cities of Bogota, Barranquilla, Medellin, Cali, and Bucaramanga. The festival in each of these five cities usually takes place sometime in between the months of August to December. If you haven’t figured it out already, the Arepa has a long-standing region in South America especially in Colombia. If you can’t stop your mouth from watering, you may want to buy a plane ticket and try this food out for yourself. Be careful though because if you eat them everyday, you may end up gaining some extra weight.