Regina G Beach

The only constant is change.

Packing

Some people pack in an organized fashion prepping shopping lists and to-do lists for weeks before take off. I am not one of those people. I leave in 2 days for a six-week trip covering 5,000 miles through four countries on two continents. I fly Cleveland to Boston to Lisbon to Dakar on multiple airlines and I want to carry-on my bags whenever possible to avoid the dreaded lost luggage where I stress for days in a foreign country while wearing only the clothes on my back. I know (as always) I’m bringing too much and won’t need everything. A fellow pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago in Spain told me that anything extra one packs is just the weight of the fear of the unknown and unpredictable. 

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Looking at any social media platform you’re bound to encounter Knolling or flat lays, the trend of photographing items from overhead lined up neatly in a grid. Photos range from musical instrument parts, tools, art materials, and lately, nearly arranged items to pack for a trip. Knolling was started by the janitor at Architect Frank Gehry’s furniture store, Andrew Kromelow. Kromelow lined up his tools in an easy-to-access grid reminiscent of the angles in designer Florence Knoll’s furniture styles. But how did we get from a tool organizational system to a photography trend? You can thank artist Tom Sachs who worked with Gehry, encountered Kromelow and started taking photos.

Not that anything having to do with Knolling is relevant to me and my system of “throw it on a floor then squish and roll it into the bag as compactly as possible” method I employ. There’s always next trip, right? Anyway, here’s what I’m bringing for 6 weeks in Senegal, Morocco and Egypt with a 3 day layover in Lisbon from late June to early August.    

Packing List

Clothes

  • 6 undies

  • 3 long sleeve shirts

  • 2 tanks

  • 2 pants

  • 3 skirts

  • 1 dress

  • 4 socks

  • 1 pair of shorts

  • 1 tee-shit

  • leggings

  • flip flops

  • loafers

  • sneakers

  • sunglasses

  • bathing suit and bikini

  • bandana

  • head scarfs

  • rain jacket and pants

  • sarong

Toiletries

  • ziplock bags

  • sunscreen

  • malaria meds

  • liquid detergent

  • soap

  • deodorant

  • first aid kit- pain killer, antiseptic cream, antihistamine, diahreeah

  • bug spray

  • sewing kit

  • dental floss

  • baby wipes

  • tooth brush and toothpaste

  • towel

  • ear plugs and face mask

  • electrolyte tablets

  • comb

  • lip balm

  • safety pins

  • nail clippers and tweezers

  • bandaids and tape

  • tissues/TP

  • moisture lotion

Electronics and other items

  • water bottle

  • fanny pack/wallet

  • plug adapters

  • headlamp

  • daypack

  • sleeping bag liner

  • travel pillow

  • microphone

  • battery bank

  • water filters

  • notebook

  • iPad

  • deck of cards

  • pens

  • copies of passport and itinerary and plane tickets

  • passport photos

  • yellow fever documentation

  • cutlery, Tupperware

  • cash

  • CamelBak bladder

  • luggage lock for train

  • headphones

  • travel yoga mat

  • phone and charger

  • extra duffel bag and reusable grocery bag

It seems like a short list and it is. I’m taking the least amount of stuff on this trip than I have in a long time. I’m not packing boots, cycling gear or cold weather clothes. I’m not packing camping equipment or any specialty items. I know if I really need something I can buy the local equivalent.

I'm Heading Back to Africa

Lack of motivation doesn’t plagues students in rural African villages and urban American schools alike. My friend is a French teacher in a high school that serves low-income minority students who don’t always see the point in learning French. She found a grant, enlisted in my help to write it and it was funded. The grant will allow both of us (and her husband) to travel to Senegal and Morocco to learn about Francophone culture outside of Europe. Africa has more French speakers than any other continent with 120 million people in 24 countries communicating in French. 

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The People of Vipassana

Doing my 10-day Vipassana meditation course I am surrounded by 60 some other women. We all live in two long bunk houses and eat in the same dining hall. We shower in the same toilet block. We walk the same mulch covered loop. But I don’t know them. I can’t say “thank you” when they hold the door. And I can’t make eye contact when we pass. It’s a strange existence being in such close proximity and not knowing anyone’s story. 

My non-luxurious bed was actually quite comfortable.

My non-luxurious bed was actually quite comfortable.

I not allowed to speak or read or write so I observe. I observe the signs around the property. In the bathrooms: “please wash your hands.” In the dining hall: “Please return your cups.” On every sink a label of “drinking water,” or “not drinking water,” lets us know where to fill our water bottles. In the meditation hall: “please leave your shoes here,” and “please refrain from exercising or lying down on the carpet,” and “please do not eat or drink in the meditation hall.”

Another woman with striped Mary Janes brushes her teeth at the same time as me. We run into each other like clockwork in the small bathroom outside the G block of rooms. She is my teeth brushing friend. I try not to make eye contact, but on the last day of silence I can’t help but smile at her in the mirror. She gives me a nod.

I’ve made up stories about the other students. There’s a woman with a motorized scooter and my neighbor has crutches. They get the primo seats near the window in the dining hall. I was feeling anxiety about waiting in line and finding a place to sit. I can’t ask if a seat is taken or if someone at a table wants company. Too bad if they don’t. The coveted seats at at a bar under the windows. There’s no awkward lack of eye contact, just the birds and the flowers. 

My bunk house. My room is the middle door.

My bunk house. My room is the middle door.

There’s a group who sit outside the bathrooms in the evening to watch the sunset. They are the sunset watchers. There is a group that lay on the grass in the walking area when the sun is out after lunch. They are the sunbathers. There is a very young looking women who sneaks in yoga stretches and squats. There’s a woman who wears a hat with ears. She’s made herself a seat in the woods out of branches. She watches the sheep. 

We are assigned cushions in the meditation hall. There is a sick woman behind me and to the right. I spoke with her on the first day before we were silent. She’s also American, and she has a wicked cold. I try not to judge. She must be miserable. On the fifth night, at the meditation sit of the day one of the men lets out a huge, long fart. It is the loudest, longest bit of flatulence I have ever heard. I smile. Someone laughs. This sets off a chain reaction of a dozen laughs. Someone can’t control themselves and laughs longer and harder. This sets others to laugh at the laughter. It quiets down. Then starts up again. We have ignored each other for five days and finally this fart has broken the tension and allowed us to bask in the ridiculousness of this life and our decision to be here. The uncontrollable giggler excuses himself to the hall. Our teacher, in her ever even lilt in the exact verbiage of every other polite command on the premise, keeps her eyes closed simply says, “Please, continue meditating.”   

We are silent. But we can’t help ourselves making eye contact on our way to bed. We can’t help smiling and gigging like little boys. On the last day when we are permitted to talk, the great fart of day five is a prime topic of conversation. “Oh, how about that fart?” “Did you loose it when that guy farted?” “Do you know who it was?” “He didn’t even try to muffle it, huh?” We are all gross, deeply flawed human beings. Perfection is not only impossible, but undesirable and it’s ridiculous to think otherwise.  

The Sound of 10 Days of Silence

I feel like a animal in a cage. This is why the tigers pace back and forth all day at the edge of their enclosure. They are well fed. They are safe. But they are not free. Our teacher made a joke in the lecture last night that we are in a sort of prison. We laughed. But I’m not laughing now. The only exercise permitted is walking. My watch has a pedometer. I’ve never been so keen on reaching 10,000 steps per day as I am now, in the English countryside at Dhama Dipa, on a 10-day vipassana meditation course. 

The code is strict: wake up is at 4 a.m. every day, no talking, no stealing, no sleeping on luxurious beds, no reading or writing, no electronics, no killing, no sexual misconduct, men and women are separated, and no intoxicants. Bedtime is 9:30 p.m. with lights out at 10, but I rarely stay away past 9:35, I’m so tired from spending more than ten hours a day meditating. 

For a practice that’s supposed to bring peace and happiness, it sure is paranoia inducing. The last thing Craig said to me when he dropped me off in Hereford was, “I’ll be back in 10 days to pick up your body.” He was joking, but since all my electronics are locked up and no one is expecting to hear from me for more than a week it would be the perfect set up for an organ harvesting or cult rituals. There is another retreat center just next door. I see other women, (who I later learn are old students on more advanced courses in meditation,) walking while I’m walking. I imagine we are in an alternate reality being held captive for breeding, for cloning, for some evil geniuses’ science experiment. 

We are Pavlov’s dogs following the sound of a gong. DONG. Wake up. DONG. Eat breakfast. DONG. Gather in the meditation hall. DONG. Eat lunch. DONG. Meditate. We are like herds of silent sheep. The actual sheep are in the pasture just beyond the property line. It’s lambing season and the babies are so cute and so small. They bleat all day following their mothers around as they graze. 

Spring has come early to England and for that I am grateful. I have my wellies and my raincoat, but it only really pours one day out of ten. I walk the path every day and see the buds coming out of the trees in real time. First nothing then tiny sprouts then crumpled leaves that unfurl and grow. The most beautiful crocuses I’ve ever seen are candy striped deep purple, lavender and white. The daffodils cluster under the trees and by the end of the week, the magnolias are in bloom. I feel like Gregor Mendeleev going to check on the phenotype of each new sprout. 

I’ve never see these stats before.

I’ve never see these stats before.

I eat oatmeal with stewed prunes and raisins for breakfast every day garnished with cinnamon, a generous spoonful of peanut butter, honey and a banana. Lunch is at 11, always vegetarian and usually quite good: curries, pasta, rice dishes, and a big salad. Tea is served at 5. Old students take lemon water or tea without milk. New students, like myself, can have tea with milk and two pieces of fruit. I eat another banana and a pear. The first few days I was hungry, now I just start to feel a twinge of hunger around 8 p.m. I tell myself I’ll be asleep soon. That this is just another sensation. That it is impermanent. This too shall pass. Don’t wish it away. 

The goal of this type of meditation is to observe things as they really are, to observe the self as it really is, not as we wish it to be. Easier said than done. Conversations play and replay in my head. I am worried, I think about things, events, people. Let them pass. I tell myself I’ll think about these things at the next meal. Usually I forget and don’t have to think about them at all. I’ve never been with only my thoughts for this length of time. I’ve never be silent for this many days. I don’t remember the last time I went 24 hours without looking at a screen let alone 240. I worry something horrible has happened “out there” and I’ll have no way of knowing. Let it pass. The mind will do anything to distract itself from the work at hand. 

There are about 120 students in the course. Some don’t make it until the end and go home early. Everyone working at the center is a volunteer, all the kitchen staff and the two course managers and the two assistant teachers. All the groundskeeping and repair work is done by old students. The center runs on donations. It’s an incredible operation. I tell myself if this many people give their time and money for me to learn, it must be worth it. 

The women’s walking area behind the meditation hall.

The women’s walking area behind the meditation hall.

The meditation hall is beautiful, with an entrance on each side, one for the men and one for the women. The lobby has shoe and coat racks. I pace it during breaks. There Is a large ficus, a fern, a small ficus, a blooming Christmas cactus, a spindly tree that looks like it’s seen better days, four pots of geraniums and another spindly tree. There are also 15 birch trees just outside the hall, and 6 sinks in the bathroom and 6 steps leading to the dining hall. Being silent has made me very observant. 

By day 7 my mind has finally quieted. I am able to sit for longer on my cushion, wrapped in tan blankets. The men’s blankets are blue. I have found a rhythm. I walk and shower at lunch. I sleep after breakfast. I brush my teeth before the final lecture of the day. I become attached to my routine and feel anxious as the final day approaches. I like being quiet. The difficulty of sitting has lead me toward some profound realizations. This too, I think to myself, shall pass.

MANIFESTING ADVENTURE ON THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO

My goal is to walk between 15-20 miles per day. I have 31 days and need to maintain a 16-mile per day average to complete the walk on time. This seems like an audacious goal for someone who hasn’t backpacked more than a few days at a time. I’ve kayaked and biked for weeks on end, but this time I won’t be paddling or rolling. My feet will be my wheels and I’ll carry everything I need on my back. I don’t doubt I can do it. If I’ve proven anything to myself, it’s that I can and like to do hard things. 

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Portrait of Herself

My temperament is as unpredictable as the weather. Although I attempt to be optimistic, far too often I blow insignificant annoyances out of proportion. I enjoy laughing and making others laugh more than anything in the world, thought on the whole I believe I am far too serious. I rarely feel comfortable talking about myself, and usually defer conversation to those who don’t mind hearing their own voice. I am considered a good conversationalist, not for my riveting pontifications, but for my ability to be genuinely interested in conversation that does not revolve around me. My disposition greatly depends on my comfort level. When I appear aloof or disinterested, it is often because I am feeling self-conscious and painfully shy. 

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Savor the Cosmos

My science teacher told me the Geminoid Meteor Shower was scheduled to make an appearance in our corner of the world. It’s rare for the cosmos to be aligned to allow stargazers in northeast Ohio to experience galactic phenomena in the own back yards. Usually, comets, meteor showers, and the like are best seen from obscure islands in the South Pacific, where the only inhabitants are high-powered telescopes. The newspapers show breathtaking views of sights most people never see. 

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The Castle in the Sky

I’ve been sorting through a lot of old things lately and came across a series of essays from 2003-2004. I thought they deserved to see the light.


We must all obey the great law of change.
It is the most powerful law of nature.
- Edmund Burke 

A long, long time ago, before I could cross the street without holding someone’s hand, a tenacious band of boys with an ingenious plan set out to construct an architectural masterpiece in the woods surrounding the Maple School playground. It was a lazy Saturday afternoon, and the summer sun was beckoning to them. With tools borrowed from unsuspecting fathers and scrap wood taken from a construction site on Clague Road, the boys headed into the woods in search of the perfect tree to execute their perfect plan. 

It had long been abandoned by the time I stumbled upon it. Even in its state of disrepair, I was impressed. I was angry and left the house on my bike, telling my furious mother I’d be back later without giving her time to ask where I was going to forbid me to leave. I was planning on taking a walk through the woods to think and be consumed by nature. I and no intentions of finding a a wooded fortress to call my own. At first, I didn’t know if I’d be able to climb up to its first level. Twenty feet above the ground a wooden platform was nestled snuggly between three mammoth branches. Five feet above, another platform doubled as a roof and a second story floor, and above that, a tiny, precariously situate platform served as a lookout. 

I was in love before I had even figured out how I was going to get up into it. Wooden two by fours had been driven into the tree at regular intervals to make a ladder, but they started eight feet off the ground. I could barely touch the first rung, but it didn’t matter, I had always wanted a secret hideout, and now I had one. I rolled a fat stump over to the tree trunk that separate me from the fort and piled fallen branches on top of the stump until I could pull myself up to the first rung. Beneath my excitement lay a thick layer of sheer terror. I have never been afraid of height, but with nothing beneath me but rotting lumber, rusty nails and at the hard ground, I was scared, but I climbed on anyway. 

The wold has an entirely new look and feel twenty feet above the ground. I could see for what felt like forever. Trees were no longer huge; they were at eye level. Birds darted in and out the branches. I felt like a long lost member of the Swiss family Robinson, or a descendant of Tarzan. My perspective changed and all of a sudden, the world became interesting again. I don't’ know know how long I sat in the tree house thinking, but when I finally chose to make my descent, my head was clear and I was in a good mood. 

One my way home, I know I would return. I visited the fort often, usually bringing a book and a snack, or a sketchpad or notebook. I’d read, draw, or write among the leaves. The serenity of the woods makes for the perfect getaway from the chaos of my house and my siblings. It’s my spot to go when I want to be alone. I know that I can’t possibly be the only person who has found their place, but I like to at least pretend that the fort belongs only to me. I carved my name on one of the beams, next to the name Jim. I think Jim must have been one of the boys who built the fort, I’d hate to think someone else already found and claimed the fort for his own. 

I still visit on occasion. Usually I go when I feel depressed or angry. I’ve only ever brogan one other person to the fort with me. I’m very protective of it because it’s sacred ground to me. I don’t want to share something so special with just anyone. The last time I visited it, I noticed some strange additions. A pile of plywood lay at the base of the tree, and a new series of platforms encircled the trunk. A new generation of kids has found the same delight in creating their own fortress out of scrap wood and borrowed tools. When I realized that this meant my tree fort didn't’ belong to me anymore I was sad, but then I realized that it was never really mine in the first place. I thought it was perfect in tis unfinished splendor, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be just as inviting when the new additions are complete. Maybe one day I’ll visit and stumble across the people who have claimed the tree fort for their own, or maybe like the original creators, the identity of its builders will remain as much of an enigma as the wilderness that surrounds it.  

Electronic Loneliness 

I’ve been sorting through a lot of old things lately and came across a series of essays from 2003-2004. I thought they deserved to see the light.

We live in a fast-paces world filled with high-tech gadgets. Everything from borrowing books and the library, to checking out groceries at the supermarket is done with the help of computers. Gone are the days where a simple telephone all to a store or business was answered by a live human. Our lives are automated and computerized and what we save in time and convenience, we lose in human interaction. As the global community comes closer together, individuals grow father and farther apart. Due to a lack of human interaction the world is becoming a more sterile, dehumanized place. 

A time will come when checkout personnel will be an obsolete job title. Automated teller machines efficiently spit out tens and twenties without ever trying to make small talk. At the library, automated card catalogues know the precise location of every book and self-check-out machines mean even the library is becoming a quieter, less friendly place. At the grocery store, half the lines are dedicated to self-checkout lines. Instead of employing cashiers and bag boys, patrons and do everything themselves while under the carful watch of the self-checkout supervisor, who was hired, not for the people skills she doesn’t appear to have, but for her extensive knowledge of the machinery she oversees. It’s the same when buying gasoline. Pay at the pump means quicker in and out and no more funny stories about the character who works behind the counter. 

I’m bothers by humanity’s tendency to avoid itself. People don’t want to interact with strangers, and it’s very easy not to have to. With modern conveniences it’s not implausible to never have to interact with another human being and get along just fine. People should not be content to go about their business without taking to other people. Face to face communication is so important, Everyone has an option. Everyone has thoughts, dreams, hopes, and fears, and yet, no one sares. I don’t think Id’ ever be inclined to share my deepest darkest secrets and with total stranger, but I do think it’s important to acknowledge people and the and theme out of our very busy lives to make small talk. 

Communication has become easier with the help of technology, but by no means more personal. Text messaging, e-mail, and instant messaging are cheap and easy alternative to a letter or a phone call. While it may be convenient, I find something very impersonal about sitting down at the computer, virtually opening my inbox, and sifting through junk mail in hopes of finding a personalized note from a friend. Receiving a piece of mail in the mailbox is a whole different story. I love physically being able to open the envelope and hold the letter in my hand as I read. Technology has mede the postal service seem slow, outdated, and a hassle. Technology has also turned the intimate art of letter-writing into a run-of-the-mill, time-saving, impersonal method of communication. I believe whole-heartedly that spending thirty-seven cents and a little bit of thought to brighten someone’s day is worth more than an e-greeting every could. 

Of course, technology today isn’t perfect. Every system has its flaws and will, on occasion, break down. Personal computers get virus and printer jam, among countless other technical problems that occur daily. New electronic equipment now often comes with instructions videos that discuss how the appliance works and what it can do but sometimes problems can’t be solved with a simple manual or video; that’s when it’s time to call tech-support. Tech support operators do everything in their power to make themselves as hard to reach as possible. Endless voice mail loops and menu options make struggling parties jump  through hoops before finally getting to a live person who then immediately puts you on hold for endless minutes, undoubtedly hoping that whatever technical problem prompted the call isn’t worth the effort to staying on the line. This example is technology at its worst, equipment that doesn’t work and a completely inefficient, impersonal way to fixing it. 

Science keeps producing bigger and better forms for technology. Everything is being digitalized, synthesized and downloaded to make our lives easier. I think it’s a shame that with the creation of so many modern conveniences, people can’t seem to remember how to interact with each other. I believe that technology causes more problems than I solves, the most tragic being the isolation of the people who depend on it. 

Beyond the Classroom 

This year has been unlike any year before it. I’m finally comfortable in my own skin. I’m no longer worried about being the best, or the most popular, or the most involved. I do activities that matter the most to me: theater and band. I make a conscious effort to talk to people and find our what they have to say I consider school my second home, and as much as I’ll enjoy graduating and moving on with my life, I will miss the people who walk the high school halls.

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Choosing Fun over Practicality

Being in elementary school band means giving up recess. Being disinterested in kickball, football, and soccer, and having spent more than my fair share of time on the swings and jumping rope, skipping recess was not a problem. I chose to play the flute. My mom had played the flute and she still had hers. I don't remember even considering any other instrument. I didn't so much as try out a trumpet or a sax at the information night. My mind was set in stone, and I would not change it. I’m stubborn once I made a decision, and I blind myself to options without one iota of consideration. I wish I were more open minded. 

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Mis Viajes 

The rich and extensive history of Spain is exhibited in countless breathtaking edifices. Churches and castles were plentiful on the touring agenda. The dark, quiet space inside a cathedral is inexplicable. I have no words for the awe I felt looking up at the mural-covered ceilings, high-vaulted arches, and football-filed sized sanctuaries. Here was this extremely holy place, where people come to pray and hear sermons, take communion, and praise God. I was merely a tourist. I came, not to repent some deep sin or pray, but to gawk. Among countless others, I was an ugly American with a camera and a tendency to talk to loudly and too often, who came on vacation to stare at the lavish decor and experience the culture. I felt sorry for God, who had to share his home dedicated to Him with people like me, who wrote it off as another stop on the tour de Spain. 

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Acrimony for the Human Race 

I am irritated by most of the human race. Humans are appalling creatures. How we ever became the high beings of our planet is far beyond my comprehension. We are lazy, self-centered, arrogant creates, and most of us are rude, ignorant, and unhappy. People are so cruel to one another, and yet we claim to be social creatures. Man complains by nature, but no one seems to do anything to solve the issues they are complaining about We are destructive; we’re ruining our planet. We are intolerant of both innocent mistakes and those who are not exactly like ourselves. Most days I’m sick of the human race. My harbored contempt often goes unnoticed, but on occasion, I can not help but speak out against behavior that annoys and irritates me. 

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Creating the Perfect Edible House 

Molten sugar is the perfect adhesive when it comes to holding the gingerbread frame together. The deep-brown, boiling liquid lends itself to two main methods of application. The first involves dipping opposite ends of the gingerbread into the hot pan and scooping it onto the piece. I find the method to be the more dangerous of the two. Burns seem most frequent when one side already has the sticky hot sugar on it and the opposite side needs dipped into the pan.

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You are not your Job

What we so often forget is our work is not about the product, but rather, the process. We insist we are only successful in school if our answers match those printed in the back of the book. The content of what we write doesn’t matter as long as the commas are all in the right places. Everyone is brought down to the lowest common denominator and then told they’re not working to their potential. My work at school is to engage my mind, and to familiarize myself with the world outside my frame of reference. However difficult it may be, my job is to ignore the pressure to “just get and A” and instead, learn for the intrinsic value knowledge has. 

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Thank God it’s Friday

Fridays are usually a blur. From August through November, football games fill the evening to the brim. Of course, the only reason to watch high school football is the halftime show. Marching band is by far the most amazing extracurricular activity I have had the pleasure of participating in. Something extraordinary happens when 200 kids line up underneath the stadium lights, wearing feather in their caps and march to the music of their own making. Playing my piccolo on Friday nights, riding the bus ride to away games, wearing the wool parts, traipsing through the muddy fields, and attending the band parties afterwards create a perfect end to hectic a week and a nice segue into the weekend. 

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One Girl’s Dream

Day of cramped quarters and crowded decks left Giovanna longing for the signs of land to the west. On August 8, 1920, the first glimmer of Lady Liberty’s shining torch pierced the blue sky, awing the masses that passed beneath her. Giovanna felt the most difficult part of her voyage to an American life was behind her, but in reality, it was only beginning. My great-grandparents, like the millions of other immigrants from Europe, entered the country through Ellis Island. Neither one spoke any English, which made their transition into the country all the more difficult. 

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Trogir, Croatia

I spent Oct. 20-Nov. 21, 2018 cycle touring unsupported from Milan, Italy to Split, Croatia this post recounts part of that journey.

Trogir is the Venice of Croatia. The historic city lies on an island between the mainland and the island of Čiovo. The UNESCO World Heritage Sites boasts Venetian architecture dating back to 12th century. The city has been inhabited since the 3rd Century BC. We watched the cruise ships come in from the Adriatic dropping off tourists for the day and drank a coffee outside on the wide sea-side walkway. The old city retains some of the original medieval wall and has 10 churches throughout it’s narrow, meandering streets. 

Even in November, the Adriatic coast was warm enough to wear shorts and a tee shirt while drinking coffee outside at a coffee shop in Trogir.

Even in November, the Adriatic coast was warm enough to wear shorts and a tee shirt while drinking coffee outside at a coffee shop in Trogir.

Craig and I rode our bikes to the west side of the island and sat in the park near Tower Kamerlengo Fortress to eat lunch. Croatian bakers make delicious, fluffy round loaves of bread with crunchy crust called Peka that make excellent sandwiches when combined with sheep’s cheese and any type of cured meat. 

I took my shoes off to air out my feet and wandered to the edge of the water. Sailboats were parked in a mooring to the south, but the water immediately in front of me was shallow and stone steps beckoned me in to dip my toes. The steps were slick and I gingerly stepped into the cool salty sea. Black sea urchins had made their home in the water, so I stayed in one place to avoid piercing my foot with their spines. I looked for crabs and sea stars and little fish. I collected some sand and shells for my grandmother. While she no longer travels herself, she collects sand from around the world. She has glass bottles in her guest bedroom carefully labeled with the names of towns and bodies of water her friends and family have brought back for her. 

Craig stopped on the bridge back to the mainland to help a fellow cyclist with a flat.

Craig stopped on the bridge back to the mainland to help a fellow cyclist with a flat.

I dried my feet and we packed up. Today was the day we would make it to Split, the final destination on our cycle journey. We biked across the island of Čiovo to a big white bridge with wide sidewalks to bike on. Craig stopped half way across the bridge to observe a man walking a mountain bike on the other side of the bridge. The man looked to be in rough shape and his bike had a rear flat. As a woman, I am often hesitant to stop and help strangers. Craig, being over 6 feet tall and a white man, doesn’t seem to be afraid of anyone and crossed the street to see if he could help. 

The man spoke some English and said he had been a soldier in the war and that he lost many friends during the conflict. He appeared hard up, possibly homeless with drug or mental health problems. Craig tried to pump up the flat tire, but the stem was broken and it wouldn’t hold air. The mountain bike had different sized tubed than either of our bikes and Craig tried to explain all of this to the man who looked distraught. He didn’t know where to buy a tube. We suggested a market or bike shop. I found one on the map just a few kilometers away. I doubted the man had money to buy a new tube even if he made it to the  shop. He walked away mumbling to himself leaving his heavy coat on the rail of the bridge. 

Our bikes on the Čiovo bridge with the Split peninsula in the background.

Our bikes on the Čiovo bridge with the Split peninsula in the background.

Craig and I crossed back to our bikes and Craig packed up his tools. We commented on how incredibly rough it must be to experience war, to see people you know killed, and then to end up on the fringes of the society you risked your life to fight for. We finished crossing the bridge and turned right to continue on towards Split. 

Dubrovnik

Today a fancy cable car takes visitors to Fort Imperial where a gift shop and panoramic views of the city and sea can be seen peacefully. A museum display shows artifacts and photographs from the Balkin’s Conflict and a BBC newsreel on a loop shows the devastation and destruction much of Europe ignored until it was too late. Craig and I walked down a pebbly switchback path with cast bronze sculptures dedicated to war heroes. We ate lunch looking out over the city. I struggle to comprehend that Craig has visited the country before and after a war. We haven’t had a war on American soil in a long time and the impacts of armed conflict can feel so far away.

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