Ali ali solitary

I’m trying to settle an internal debate right now. Is it freeing and thrilling to travel solo? Or lonely?  I’d ask someone else but there’s no one else around at the moment that speaks my language.

And, does having constant access with my phone (now even turned ON most of the time now that I can “roam like home” and not just when I’m reliant on decent wifi) make the potential loneliness less, or more?

Frankly none of this makes any sense at all, as by all accounts I am living a charmed life that would be the envy of many.  But I still find myself sitting in my room in a country eight time zones away from my own and I realize this is a question that’s been niggling at me for a while.

Again to be frank, I don’t really know what I’m even trying to get at, or get out, with this particular post, so maybe what I’ll do is just list a few methods I use to keep the blues at bay until I figure out the core of this feeling.  And for those of you out there, please feel free to comment – let me know if you’ve done any of these things or if you have other better ways to stay grounded and connected while still flying away.

Anti-reclusiveness tactics, told as they come to mind and no other particular order:

  1. Do not obsessively scroll through your regular social media feeds.  This comes with a caveat, as I think that un-obsessively socializing this way is very much a helpful tool. But what I mean here is that fine line difference; like when I’ve stopped being curious about what’s going on with everyone else, and when I don’t have anything new to add or say or check on specifically, but am instead clicking open my feed for the hundredth time to see if there was something for me and then feeling dumb because of course there’s not anything of interest since the last moment I checked.  Like opening the refrigerator door a hundred times wanting something but not wanting anything in there.
  2. Create content. Seems obvious, right – if there’s nothing catching my eye then maybe I should upload something that I like, something that would make me smile myself the next time I see it. Again, though, this is a delicate balance because I absolutely try to be genuine with everything I put out there, but I don’t want to be overly negative too often nor falsely effusive.
  3. Go for a walk.  Explore even a little just around the next corner.   More often than not its the simple one-foot-in-front-of-the-other that take me to a literal place where I figuratively notice something to feel better about.
  4. And on the flip side again (Because I always seem to be about balance and contrasts); know when it’s time to just lean in and curl up with a book.  There are times when I know I’d like to see more, but the Travel FOMO* sometimes is overpowered by the need to just be still and rest, and to let my mind switch off with an escapist novel along the way.  Even an extrovert needs some time to decompress without others around, but be careful not to let this continue past what feels healthy and helpful.
  5. Find someone else to be nice to.  This could be as simple as a moment of eye contact and small smile to someone passing by, giving up a seat on a crowded bus, or offering to share your meal with another traveller at the hostel. Obviously chose something that suits your situation and personality, but the point is to push yourself just a little to stop thinking of your own feelings and focus on others’ instead.
  6. Be a little silly.  It’s hard to be mopey if you’re giggling.  The other day I posted this to my Instagram story, knowing full well I was being a giant dweeb but really quite having fun laughing at myself.IMG_0488
  7. Or, if you prefer not to draw faces in your ice cream, you could just simply savour it and enjoy the treat of eating something delicious.  That works too!
  8. Remind yourself out loud that life like this is a privilege and travelling alone can be one of the most marvellous things to experience. There’s no one else to wait for or to appease, no other person’s travel style to adapt to.
  9. Reach out to someone at home and call/text/meme/message for a little while. Intentionally connect and recharge with someone that knows you.
  10. Remember that more than likely, there’s another solo traveller who’s felt this same feeling at one time or another who will be happy to connect.  Say hi and see what happens!

*Travel FOMO = Fear Of Missing Out on that one great experience that’s been all over instagram and everyone else’s blogs.  We travellers can get really overly caught up in trying to see everything and do everything that everyone else is talking about, while still also trying to be the one person to find something new in these same places.  It can be EXHAUSTING.

Well.  I guess I have one more item I should add to the list:  Making a list of how not to wallow in loneliness has been a good tactic for me.  I feel better already and ready to tackle another tour!   I’d love to hear about what you would do when these feelings set in

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Signing off with a simple shot – (It’s one I like but didn’t make the cut for the other posts)

 

Mostar now

Bosnia-Herzegovina. Why haven’t I been dreaming about seeing this place before?

I really hadn’t thought of it, and when I was looking at the map before I left for this latest trip my eyes skimmed right over this country. I wanted to see Montenegro and Albania, and maybe Serbia if I could get it squeezed in; Bosnia-Herzegovina wasn’t one that even registered for me. But on my first afternoon in Dubrovnik, though, a quick conversation had me convinced that I should give it a chance.

A couple things I learned on the ride up: before reaching our destination our little tour group of about 16 people would need to pass through customs and border control 3 times, and the same again on the return. I have to admit I’ve gotten kinda used to the European norm or not needing to worry much about borders, but Croatia is part of the European Union while Bosnia and Herzegovina is not. And, there’s a small little section of Bosnia that reaches the coast in between Croatia. I guess this goes back several hundred years: when the Turkish Ottomans ruled Bosnia, they allowed Croatia to continue to run the mines for silver and such on what became their land, in exchange Croatia allowed them seaport access. And it stuck.

Our route scribbled in red

Our first stop in Bosnia-Herzegovina was Kravice Falls. A remote area that would be difficult to find on your own if you didn’t already know which little marker to look for leading to the winding rural roads. There’s an entrance fee of 5€ now, but don’t let that deter you. The falls almost sneak up on you from the forested hills, but once you get to the first bend and see the cliffs drop away and hear the rush of the water you wonder how something so incredible could have seemed so hidden a moment earlier. It’s like a mini Niagara Falls in the forest, but with sparkling shades of emerald everywhere instead of city neon lights. IMG_1953

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After about an hour spent staring at the falls, it was time to move on again.  During the 45 minutes or so that it took to drive to Mostar, the guide told us about what life was like during the war in the ’90s. I still find it hard to wrap my head around the idea that during my idyllic childhood there were people trapped in their city being shot at if they stepped outside, with the food supply so cut many were forced to pick grass after dark to eat in order to survive.  The main bridge that the city of Mostar is famous for was bombed and completely destroyed during this war, on November 9, 1993.  It had stood connecting the city since its completion by the Turkish Ottomans in 1566, and the destruction was later considered a war crime. The bridge that I saw is an exact replica, built with a few pieces of the original that had been pulled out from the river, completed and opened in 2004.IMG_1975

The city and river and surrounding area is beyond beautiful, and the moody skies just prior to the rain felt exactly right to me after the somber stories I’d just heard. I’m told the river is this colour because of copper minerals in the area.  Either way, it’s real and it’s breathtaking. IMG_1981IMG_1983

The reconstruction of an entire city takes time, of course, even during such an ambitious drive such as this country has had.  While it’s easy for us tourists to forget the tragic history and simply enjoy the streets of shops and restaurants and dramatic scenery, if you choose to look there are reminders everywhere. Down side streets there are many buildings still in ruin, some in the middle of being renovated and others already given over to the overgrown flora. Bullet holes still visible in many of the walls.  It makes me wonder what real, day-to-day life is like here.  The half hour we had with a local guide didn’t give much of an answer to that.  She spoke about how lucky they were under the socialist rule as part of the former Yugoslavia with almost no unemployment, and free schooling and healthcare.  She mentioned briefly that there were tensions, and that because there was no freedom to express oneself publicly, their private activities and faith meant that much more to them as a society.  The faiths and culture groups have caused further division, with the Muslims from the 400 years of Turkish rule and the Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs in an uneasy union split across the city.  Even today, the chipper and cheerful guide said that there is still two of everything in Mostar; you can go to a Muslim hospital or a Catholic one, or school or police force or nearly anything you like. “How wonderful to have two options of everything in such a small city!”IMG_0393

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New murals
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Old doorways

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 I got the sense that tourists were welcome, and I would highly recommend this area as a stop on your next itinerary. The stalls full of local and handmade goods are great to browse through, with lace and lavender next to Byzantine platters and Turkish lamps or local grappa and of course gelato stands.

Or, the views of the city alone are worth the drive. I’ll leave you with one more image, then I’m off to the next stop!

Ali on an airplane

It’s early on a Tuesday morning at the moment, and I’m wedged into a tiny economy seat somewhere above the Alps. I’m pretending I’m a giant right now, with my long long legs folded up (gracefully, of course) nearly knees to nose and my elbows tucked in tight to my rib cage to avoid accidentally bashing any of the posse of passengers around me. In a way I have to be thankful for modern air travel – because the reality is I’ve got rather short legs and in a strange silly way I’m quite enjoying this moment of make-believe that I’m suddenly in possession of long lovely limbs! Who would’ve ever expected to be happy for airlines condensing the seats for increased capacity?!

Not long from now I’ll be touching down and disembarking at Dubrovnik, Croatia. And I realized just now that I have absolutely no idea what I’ll do or where I’ll go when I arrive! This trip has come about quickly and I haven’t spent any time yet looking up or making any plans. Typically I’ll book a room for my first night before I arrive… but I forgot to do that this time!

Honestly this is how I love to travel. I have no timeline or itinerary, no work to think about, and all my decisions can be entirely in the moment if I want. Look at me embracing the mindfulness movement!

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Several hours later now and I’m settled into my bunk bed at a hostel in the city. It’s been a while since I’ve stayed in a dorm room-style hostel, but I’ve got a privacy curtain around my bed, a light and and outlet to charge my phone, and wifi so that’s all I need! I know I’m about a million years older than the rest of my roommates, but it doesn’t matter. I feel like since I’m in the same stage of life – unencumbered and trying to figure out what to do now with the rest of my life – that it gives me a pass to be here too!

I spent the afternoon walking around Dubrovnik, not the famous walled Old City yet, I’ll save that for later, but along the pier and around the central city. It’s beautiful here. The sea and the rolling mountains clamouring for space, white stone buildings with red tile roofs wedged in with a wild array of trees everywhere. A light rain started to fall while I was still out, the kind that doesn’t seem to soak but is just enough to add a sheen of sparkle to the world.

First glimpse of Dubrovnik
Take a Shuttle from the airport, only 45kn (€6)

As I was walking this evening, I chatted with someone who said that Mostar is a great place to go on an easy day trip from Dubrovnik. The weather here is supposed to be rainy again tomorrow so I decided I’d take up that suggestion and go! Bosnia and Herzegovina here I come!!

South Sudan – Seriously!

This story might be short, as I only have a handful of days in this next country to write about. Actually, I spent longer waiting for the entrance visa approval than I was actually on location, but somehow this makes it even more thrilling for me that I’m able to drop in on a whim like this.

The relatively new nation of South Sudan is not a place many travellers get to explore. Formed in 2011 when the mostly-christian South split from the Islamic-majority of the rest of Sudan after long civil war, and subject of significant fighting still; conflict has scarred the area. As is often the case in such locations, the United Nations has several disciplines deployed, and most “outsiders” who come to the country have some connection to this work or military. Myself included.

I came with a few preconceived ideas of what I’d expect when I arrived. My company has had staff there since last June, and I saw photos and heard stories, but that does nothing to dampen my subtle excitement when my flight finally touched down in the country’s Capital. I love arriving at airports like this, where I walk off the aircraft outside and immediately feel the atmosphere of the place, then cross the hot tarmac to a crowded concrete room and wait for my luggage, exactly the same as the vastly different people around me. It just feels like the start of adventure to me!

One of the things I knew about the country before I arrived was the red dirt and desert-like conditions. But as it turns out, South Sudan is much more diverse than I’d originally thought. I only spent my short time in 2 cities, but I was told that “next time” I come back I must go see the national parks and wildlife migrations and the river deltas and mountains. So hopefully one day I can!

In the midst of this city is a gorgeous oasis, The Acacia Village Hotel in Juba. I had two nights here and would have happily stayed way longer if the choice were up to me! I spent my free time birdwatching in the courtyard and consuming my body weight in tropical fruit. But this wasn’t a vacation I could extend, and early Monday morning the base manager took me to get my access ID and off to the next location for work.

My company has an aircraft and crew here, and my job was to ensure we were operating properly and as safely as possible, and to also check in with and encourage the crew who have been working here. It’s one thing for me to pop in to places like this for a few days; easy for me to romanticize and enjoy, but I have no doubt it would be significantly different to regularly spend 6 week rotations working in conflict conditions. I give them credit.

There’s not much I can actually write publicly about work details or the area we were at, but I do want to take you on a quick tour of “home base”. Here’s a snapshot of life as I saw it.

At the camp we’d often see these birds – which were equally fascinating and frightening. I’m not sure it’s clear from my photos, but picture a vulture about 4 feet tall. Eek!

I have so much more that I wish I could write about my four and a half days here, it was an absolute whirlwind and I feel like I was there for double that time. If you see me in person feel free to ask me to share more stories.

Until next time,

Ali.

Like a Box of Chocolate…

Last post was about taking time, being home and enjoying a “normal” life. But just days since writing that, the travel whirlwind has whipped me away again and I’ve been running through these weeks with a wild rush. Continue reading Like a Box of Chocolate…

In the Gaps

There’s a quote I came across a while ago, and today it’s on my mind again.  It’s by the brilliant Margaret Atwood:

“We lived in the gaps between stories”

And it’s not so much that this is a powerful quote, or is one that might make us stop in our tracks and consider something new.  Margaret Atwood has so many great quotes that do that – go ahead and google her – but this one is just where I am right now.   And I think it might be a good transition to help me get back to this blog after letting it sit ignored for so many months.  Just in the simple obvious, there’s been a huge gap in my blogging.  I last posted in the fall, and I didn’t even finish publishing everything about my travels through Turkey.   I have so many drafts that I started and will likely never return to, unfortunately.  I wanted to tell about the ancient cites in Turkey, and the epic natural sights, plus the cities and food and vibrancy.    But life was changing and I was busy living so there’s gaps left in my external chronicles.

Here’s a little sample of what I had meant to write about:

I bet you can relate.  We scroll through stories online and keep up with others’ lives digitally, and we post our own hoping to capture a good memory, or to gain validation.  As silly as it may seem to say; the obvious is easily overlooked; Despite our connectivity in 2019 we still have life outside of what we share as our social media stories.  I have to admit, for a minute there last year I was beginning to getting caught up in the idea of being an Influencer.  And even while I knew that my paltry 250ish Instagram followers left me about 2,000 short of what would qualify as a fledgling social media influencer, I’d still daydream about it.   My unplugging from this blog and from writing was not some grand gesture by design, not a deliberate retreat to ‘find myself again’ and come back all glowy and full of marketable tidbits of wisdom.  Nope.  I was just battling a bit of writer’s block and also just really busy.  Living the little details of daily life, slogging away at work but also having fun with the people who mattered to me already.

I lived in the gaps between the stories.  To be literal I say that because I spent about 6 months without posting anything on AimlesslyAli.  Life went on without the spotlight.  More poetically, the gap allowed for an echoing in my life.  Words I had sent out ages ago came back to me and I was reminded that building up love and fostering purpose in myself and others is what life’s all about.  Even without any intentionality, it turns out I did learn something.  Here’s what I learned: I don’t need to be paid for my words, or to get free samples for photos I take.  I want my influence to be personal, in real life, in my day to day connections with people who cross my path.  I hope to be able to demonstrate that kindness and gentleness ARE a form of strength rather than just the aloofness we tend to associate with mental toughness.  So this aimless wanderer is now on a deliberate path to show love to others in the gaps.  Though, let’s be real – this’ll likely be accomplished without a map and written with drifting thoughts and paragraphs of run-on sentences….. I am still Aimlessly Ali, after all.  (who’d in a heartbeat accept a sponsored trip in exchange for promoting the location if I ever got the opportunity!!!)

Gallipoli

This morning I had my heart broken a little more again. You’d think I should know by now, expect it even, as it’s not the first time. But I can’t seem to steel myself and each new experience has my eyes well with tears.

These war memorials get me every time.

Today we’ve just left the area of Gallipoli, now more famous as Anzac Cove. All the Australians on my tour knew of this already, it’s one of their culturally defining moments in history, but this particular battle from WWI was missing my from knowledge. It’s funny how I used to just assume that everything I learned in school was pretty much all there was to know about major world events. Now I know so much more, and am just aware of how clueless I still am.

Difficult terrain added to the troops’ problems

Back in the midst of the war, The Allied forces had a plan to take control of the peninsula and waterway, which would allow them to transport goods to Russia. They assumed if they could take Constantinople (Istanbul), the Ottoman Empire would leave the war and it would have the double effect of allowing their safe access to the Black Sea while weakening the German forces. So the Australian and New Zealand armies, newly formed and training in Egypt, came in to reinforce the British. They landed on a cove near Gallipoli on April 25, 1915. This wasn’t the simple success envisioned, though, and the soldiers were stuck in a tragic torture for months. To make a long story short, it was finally in January 1916 that the remaining Allied fighters were able to be removed to safety. Thousands lost their lives.

Graveyard after graveyard, memorials and tributes march across the land as an emotional contrast to the bright scenery. Lest We Forget feeling even more poignant here, where if it were not for the carefully tended markers the landscape would feel cheery under the bright Mediterranean sunshine.

Hushed and reflective, our group read the names of the soldiers. The epitaphs engraved spoke of bravery, of love, faith, honour, and family; this mixture of pride and devastation did me in and I was thankful for my dark sunglasses to hide my liquid eyes.

At the crest of the hill stands a memorial complex for the Turkish army, who also sustained significant loss of life despite ultimately claiming victory in the months-long battle. On the way up there’s a statue of a Turkish soldier carrying a wounded British soldier to safety. It shows simple human kindness and the respect soldiers had for each other even across the battlefield, though I suspect some might also see it as a subtle testament to the locals’ mastery.

The Turks are very proud of the outcome, and while they acknowledge the horror of that time, their course of history was improved by the Battle of Gallipoli because this is what developed Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as a revered leader. Atatürk ultimately brought reform and independence to Turkey, and was the country’s first president.

Paying respects

While at this memorial, I walked through the recreation of the trenches. Whether from some lingering sense in the air or from Hollywood, I could feel the young soldiers as they walked those same footsteps. Again as always when I’m in locations such as this I am so grateful for the peace I’ve grown up with.

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives… You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore Rest In Peace. There is no difference to us between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side in this country of ours… You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well.”

– Atatürk, 1934