Going One-Way

I recognize, and apologize for, my pretty much complete absence from this blog for the past however-many months. Every time I would go to write, I found that I really couldn't get myself to make a post about life lately without talking about the big changes I've been trying to make. These changes often felt too premature to announce as so much was still in the works and unfolding, so I figured it was better to stay quiet while I tried to figure out this new phase in my life as new opportunities kept arising, the road kept changing, and new ideas kept emerging. I didn't want to speak anything into existence until I was certain.

Now, though, I'm certain. And as I start blogging again, I guess I'll kick it off with this:

On Tuesday, January 9th, I'm moving to Africa to work full-time as a photojournalist throughout the East and Southern region of the continent.

It still feels pretty surreal to say. This move is big and challenging and wild and exciting but with my one-way ticket just days away, it couldn't be any more real. It also couldn't be any more right.

Botswana, 2017

Botswana, 2017

Since my first time to Tanzania in 2010, which was also my first longterm trip outside of the U.S., I felt on some level that I would someday live and work in East Africa; I just didn't know how or when or for how long or if it would have anything to do with the field I work in. However, in the early months of last year, I began planting the seeds to figure out how to make the move happen. I knew I'd have the ability to leave San Francisco come December 2017, so in the interim, I searched to see what was out there. I followed every single lead I could find, I bothered every single editor I could somehow find the contact info for, and my search even took me to London in March to see what I could find there. However, after an amazing opportunity presented itself, I ended up traveling to South Africa, Botswana, and Mozambique from May to August to work for three magazines, which was the final incentive I needed to cement the decision that I had to move there, indefinitely. I had to give it a go.

I was enamored by how fulfilling my work was, how exceptionally beautiful the region was, and how wonderful the people I had met were. And with offers to come back to work for these magazines again in 2018, as well as landing work for two other publications that have been my dream jobs since I was 15-years-old, there was no further question. This was it. This is it.

So I went back to San Francisco for the last time, and started packing.

Yosemite, 2017

Yosemite, 2017

I was looking forward to beginning the process of taking down my life in California, because of what it meant I was getting ready for. But still, I was surprised by the moments that felt incredibly easy, and the moments that kind of stung. Such as:

Easy:

  • Seeing my house completely empty for the first time since I moved in and noticing how much it echoes

  • Accepting that my time in San Francisco had come to an end, that I had taken full advantage of all SF could offer me, that I had used my time there wisely and fully

  • Having final hoorahs to visit my favorite spots in California - Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, the redwoods, the desert, the cliffs behind my house - knowing fully well that I embraced them as much as possible in my four years

  • Quietly and unceremoniously walking out of the newsroom for the last time

  • Fully appreciating the fact that I was leaving California on good terms with the city that had given me so much trouble during my first few years.

Not so easy:

  • Saying goodbye to friends with a meek "see you soon..?", even though you both know that's really, honestly, probably not true.

  • Becoming acutely aware of basic creature comforts that I'm about to be without (temperate and comfortable Northern California weather; a closet full of clothes; being a short drive or walk away from anything I may need - whether a doctor, a camera repair shop, or a grocery store that's familiar and bountiful)

  • Watching strangers from Craigslist clear out my bedroom and my living room and feeling almost defensive, almost protective, over the most inane, silly things (for example, my dresser: which had seen me through college and two moves and an eviction and a breakup and a get-together and was now going with some lady who didn't seem to care that she scratched it as she dragged it out the front door)

  • Realizing that I owned way too much stuff

  • Trying to figure out how I ended up owning two salad bowls

  • (Which inevitably turned into many afternoons with me standing in my kitchen, looking at these salad bowls, wondering what I was going to do with them and how they even got there in the first place)

In the end, though, I had reduced my beautiful, warm, sunlit house by the ocean down to a few seldom things:

  • A few boxes to be held in a storage unit in New England

  • What I could fit in my little white car (a poster I couldn't part with; a couple of sentimental pine cones from Tahoe)

  • A suitcase and a backpack what will go with me to my new home on my new continent.

I left my keys on the empty counter in the kitchen, and my life in California came to close.

Me, Alamere Falls, Point Reyes. 2017. Photo by Andy Taylor.

Me, Alamere Falls, Point Reyes. 2017. Photo by Andy Taylor.

I won't pretend that this move is going to be easy. It's going to be hard work, it's going to be challenging. It's going to be faraway from my family and beyond July of this year, it's relatively unforeseen. But to say that I'm just looking forward to the challenge is a monumental understatement of how immensely excited I am to begin this adventure. Every year that I've traveled and worked in this part of the world has only further cemented how right it feels to be there. So here it goes. 

Open for anything. Ready for everything. Absolutely not looking back.

Pomene, Mozambique, 2017

Pomene, Mozambique, 2017

Franschhoek, South Africa

Franschhoek, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa

Tofo, Mozambique - the first place I'll unpack my bags.

Tofo, Mozambique - the first place I'll unpack my bags.

Five continents, fifteen countries, tens of thousands of miles.

And, it’s over.

I remember the drive to San Francisco’s airport on that morning, it was cold and dark for spring, everything covered in dew and the tops of the eucalyptus trees shrouded in a heavy layer of fog. I remember I could smell the ocean that morning. I remember I walked through my house, lightly running my fingers over every wall I walked past as I headed for the front door, as I always do before departing for a trip (I don’t know why I do it, actually, it started as something I was unaware of but I feel like it’s my way of saying see you eventually to the sturdy walls that are home, sturdy walls I will soon be without), but I remember thinking, this time is different. This time is different. I wasn’t just leaving for a short work trip and would be back in a couple weeks, or to visit my family in the east coast and would be back in a few days. I wasn’t even leaving for one of the longer, 6-8 week expeditions I’d found myself doing in the past few years, where I was always focusing on just one country or region and was always, always, traveling with somebody; whether a boyfriend, a friend, clients, colleagues. I felt, this is different. There was a plane at the airport with a seat waiting for me — the first leg of 42 flights — that would take me to 15 countries over the course of almost five months, on a nonstop expedition to five continents. The last time I did a round-the-world like that — back in 2013 — I came back to America feeling transformed, mesmerized by the euphoria of solo travel (I’d traveled solo countless times before, but never for 9 months, to 12 countries, nonstop), and mostly, just how different my life was. I was happier than I ever thought was possible. I met people that mattered more to me and felt more familiar than others I’d known my whole life. My career took off. I discovered a life full of joy, of adventure, and forward to me standing in the empty foyer of my house, it was about to happen again.

As I locked the front door for the last time for months, I wondered how different my life would be the next time I’d put my key in that lock. I wondered if I would be sicker, stronger, happier, tired from so much transit, or eager to leave again; who I’d meet, who I’d reconnect with, what would move me, what would challenge me, what would change me.

Before pulling up at the Departures terminal that morning, through the heavy San Francisco fog, the clouds cleared for a moment and I saw the sun break through the mist, casting long amber rays onto the tarmac, pulling my eyes up to the sky, as if the world was saying, Come closer. 

You have no idea what you’re about to discover.

But now it’s over, and I’m amazed.

I knew that I would enjoy my adventure — even on past trips abroad that have lasted for months (not necessarily RTW’s, but longterm expeditions) where I was deeply challenged or frustrated or sick or exhausted, I always walked away with something, so it was never any doubt that I wouldn’t grow from this RTW, in one way or another. 

But the scale in which I was shown the true, deep, bountiful beauty of the planet and so many of its creatures and people — kind, honest, beautiful, extraordinary souls — is something that kept leaving me speechless. Again and again and again. I remember, towards the end of my first two weeks in South America, I was swimming in a hot spring deep in the Andes mountains at 15,000 ft. It was 1 o’clock in the morning and just 2°F, and I floated with my neck craned up towards the heavens, watching meteors and shooting stars streak across the gloriously black sky, covered in a blanket of stars and a Milky Way so remarkably bright that looming glaciers of the surrounding Andean peaks were reflected the celestial light, making the mountains illuminate against the navy darkness, as if cradling me in a valley of sleeping, glowing giants. I remember thinking, This is happiness, and I don’t know how it can get any better than this. 

Somehow, though, it always did. It always got better. As I scaled the continents, drew closer, discovered, I pushed myself beyond my limits, and I felt. I felt. The numbness of stagnancy was shaken off me that moment my plane first lifted off from San Francisco those months ago, and every moment since then has felt like God or the Universe or whomever or whatever was grabbing me by the arm, leading me to someone or something incredible and saying, This is here for you, this is how the world can be, it’s always here for you, you just have to choose it. 

Then I arrived here. Collapsing in my final Departures terminal with deep, bone-aching exhaustion — but, the kind of good exhaustion, like the kind you have at the end of a long ten mile hike where your body is beautifully sore and you’re covered in dust and mud and are smiling wildly and sleepily and euphorically at passerby’s who probably think you’re crazy — exhaustion that sweeps over you and just as it makes you feel eccentrically happy and dizzy with love for everyone you’ve met and everything you’ve seen, you also notice a slight, sad twinge behind it all, and you notice an underlying sensation of melancholy and nostalgia creep into your chest, waiting to be acknowledged and carried and slowly grow heavier as you transition back home. When a few days pass and you begin to miss the simplicity of living out of a backpack, of only having to carry what’s necessary (and therefore realizing everything you own that’s not), of certain peoples’ voices and nights of ringing laughter (laughter that’s so deep and loud and makes your stomach cramp, laughter that makes you realize you haven’t laughed like that in, what, months? years?), of vistas that move you to tears and days so heartbreakingly beautiful that they bring you to your knees, and the moment when you unlock your front door again and step inside and think to yourself that everything is the same, except you, and you put down your backpack and find something, somehow, different.

I know I will remember this adventure as one of the most poignant, most remarkably special experiences of my life. It was a reminder of happiness. It was a reminder of everything I’d lost, come back to me. It was a reminder of who I am. It was happiness. From the lion calls of Botswana, from the outstretched arms under cascading waterfalls, from the rooftop sunsets and ramadan of Morocco, from the deep jungles of Sumatra, from the glaciers of Peru, from the ramba and rum of Cuba, from the midnight swims under fireworks and stars of Indonesia, it was everything. It was indigo. It was brightness.

Go bravely into the world. Let your life unfold. Let the world show you how big, how surprising, how magnificent it can be, and you will discover.

I know I have. Let's see where this goes next.

A Moment of Transparency

 

I was supposed to go to Indonesia four days ago.

my final group of clients left zambia, and I was supposed to pick myself up and get on a plane bound for asia to begin the second half of my round-the-world trip; the half where I’d be completely solo, where I’d jumping blindly into an incredibly strenuous & complicated trip, in an increasingly unsafe corner of the world. I think you all know me a bit at this point, and I think I’ve drilled it into all of my answered messages over the years that just because bad, scary things happen here and there around the world doesn’t mean that it should inhibit you from traveling & trusting in the goodness and kindness of the majority of people in the world. en yet, in the 24 hours leading up to my departure to indonesia, seven different events of attacks around the world transpired at once and I received about 29 different emails from people telling me to reconsider indonesia and for the first time in ten years, in 66 countries traveled,
I decided not to go.

not indefinitely, though. there were issues I had to deal with in zambia, so it was actually a good excuse to push back my flight to Indonesia for two days to focus on what needed to be dealt with in zambia, and all the while debating whether or not I truly wanted to go to indonesia. I tried not to let emotions play into it; I was already overtly depressed about leaving africa, and tried to think logically instead of emotionally (such as: do I really not want to go to Indonesia for fear of my safety, or is it just that I’d rather stay in cozy, safe, familiar southern Africa?). in the end, I decided to wing it, and I departed livingstone for johannesburg to catch my fight to Doha, then to Jakarta, then to a remote island where I was planning to climb a mountain in only a couple days’ time.

I came to terms with leaving Africa; processed it justly, wrote about it, and felt comfort in the conviction and knowledge that I’d be back next year for several months. this and now was my time for Indonesia. so during my little layover in johannesburg I relaxed, let loose, had two beers with new friends, and walked proudly and capably to the check-in counter to get on my flight, when I found out – long story short – that my tickets were void due to government issues, and there’d be no way I’d get to my flight, and my initial amused/disbelief laugher turned into embarrassing sobs as the reality really hit – I’m not going to Indonesia, I have nowhere to go in Johannesburg, it’s almost midnight, I’m not going to climb the mountain I’d had my heart set on for months, I was finally ready to depart when this happens, what could it possibly mean – but behind all these thoughts there was a part of myself that felt, more than anything, relief.

that night, I ended up at one of Joburg’s best hotels as an early christmas present to myself, where the staff pityingly brought me dinner at 1AM and I tried to facetime and text people but was so tired I was tripping over my words, and sincerely did not care. what mattered was that I was still in south africa, and I kept turning over every moment of the past 3 days in my hands, desperately searching for the reason of why this was happening, why now, and mostly, why never before.

all day today – specifically for the past 13 hours – I’ve been sitting on my fluffy king size bed while researching what to do. road trips through mozambique; three weeks in japan; australia then new zealand; cameroon, maybe even algeria. with every new idea that seemed foolproof – yes! this is it! – i realized about 20 minutes knee-deep into google searches that i simply didn’t know enough. i’d have to make a decision by tomorrow morning, and i didn’t know anything about japan, or cameroon, or new zealand. i’d need weeks, at least, to have any idea of what to do, where to go, what made sense. what i kept coming back to, though, was what i knew. I knew Indonesia.

so it made sense: go to Indonesia. or… go home. right now, those options seem best. yes, I could road trip around mozambique and lesotho and swaziland, but I’ll be back in southern africa next year, and I can do that then when I have time to do it correctly. yes, I could go to japan or fiji or some random place I didn’t think about until a few hours ago, but would my time there be any safer than going to Indonesia? would it be as fulfilling if I went blindly, whereas with Indonesia where I’ve read & poured over every inch of that country for the past six months? every alternative I came up with seemed to point back to the simple truth: I’d decided to go to Indonesia, and the only real other option would be to go home to New York.

depending on the minute, the moment, going to New York sounds like heaven. the thing is, for the past weeks that I’ve been in southern Africa, I’ve been completely enveloped in pure, unadulterated bliss: perfect weather, stunning landscapes, incredible people, and a place that feels more like home to me than anywhere else in the world. even now, as I sit here typing this, it’s a comfortable 60 degrees, I’m freshly showered and my clothes are washed, I’m drinking a wonderful pinot that reminds me of the great wines I have in New York, the wifi is the fastest it’s been in months, and I’m comfortable, happy, and safe.

going home to new york would the continuation of that: comfort, and perceived safety.

going to indonesia would be the beginning of 5 weeks of absolute chaos, heat, long bus rides, unknown people, unknown places, confusing logistics, massive remote mountains i feel inclined to summit, humidity, travelers sickness from bad water and unclean foods, and mostly, a deep, perceived fear of the state of the world.

but here’s the thing.

I could go to new york tomorrow instead of indonesia, and I could be killed by a drunk driver or a moose on a country road.

people keep telling me to be “aware” and “afraid” of Indonesia and the radicalization and threats – they constantly question the audacity I have to be traveling there during such a time of turmoil around the world – but no one tells me to afraid of night clubs in florida, or of train stations in belgium. the other day my father angrily texted me saying “where are you going after Indonesia? Baghdad? Syria?” and I wanted to text him back asking him to use the same logic; when he was planning to forego all his business in Florida, or in Paris?

what I’m trying to say to you all, is that fear is a very real and very credible thing. we live in a media-centric society where we are constantly bombarded with headlines that terrify us. I have probably received close to 300 messages in the past year alone from readers telling me that they’re afraid to travel because of this big, bad world, and while I’ve always told you all that for every evil person there are a million kind ones – and I stick with this statement – I want you all to know that fear hits me sometimes, too. and as I’m at this crossroad, it’s hitting me sincerely and deeply now more than ever. 

but the world is good, and kind, and it’s waiting for us.

if we choose to be bystanders, to live in the perceived safety of home, we will miss out on a glorious world that’s just waiting to be discovered. there are life-changing people I’m on the trajectory to meet, phenomenally beautiful places I’m waiting to see, significant memories that are waiting to be made, and I can’t wait to discover them, if only I’m brave. and in all the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve always known that the greatest moments, people, and places come to me when I’m out there, on the road, letting the world unfold before me. it’s an extraordinary world, a massive world, and we cannot let fear hold us back.

And so, my friends,

I’m going to Indonesia.

I hope you will all find your Indonesia’s.

And I hope you will go there, too.

“There are moments in our lives when we summon the courage to make choices that go against reason, against common sense and the wise counsel of people we trust. But we lean forward nonetheless because, despite all risks and rational argument, we believe that the path we are choosing is the right and best thing to do. We refuse to be bystanders, even if we do not know exactly where our actions will lead. 

This is the kind of passionate conviction that sparks romances, wins battles, and drives people to pursue dreams others wouldn’t dare.

Belief in ourselves and in what is right catapults us over hurdles,

and our lives unfold.”

on wanting to stay & knowing to go

When I was a teenager, I was hiking down a rocky trail on a small mountain in northern Tanzania when I tripped and landed straight on a tangle of acacia branches (from the kind of tree that I lovingly call “the Lion King tree”; those crooked, beautiful ones with the branches covered in ivory-colored thorns that you see in every African postcard or film). When I fell, my hand landed straight on top of the tangle of the thorns, and the tip of one pricked the palm of my right hand at such an angle that I couldn’t get it out, and before I could get back to a city to buy a pair of tweezers to try to remove the splinter, my hand heeled over the wound, and the tip of the acacia thorn settled into its permanent state: a small, gray mark on the palm of my hand.

I always think about it like this: I carry Africa with me. It’s often just a story or conversation starter when I’m with friends and we’re comparing scars — “you see that spot on my hand? well this one time when I was super clumsy in Tanzania…” — but I admit there’s a tiny, strange, sentimental value to it. During the times when I’m homesick for the savanna, I think about how I hold a bit of it to keep me grounded when I'm thousands of miles away. A small mark that I can run my finger over to remind myself that I’m never that far from home. I can always go. And when I leave, it's a reminder that I will always find a way to come back. I always do.

It’s been almost two months since I began my journey around the world, and as my last day in Africa comes to an end, I would be lying if I said I was ready to leave. In fact, for the past few days, I almost desperately wished I wasn’t.

From the glaciers of Peru, to the markets of Morocco, to the green hills of Ethiopia, in the back of my mind I couldn’t help but feel like I was biding my time until I made it back to the golden, sun-soaked savannas of subsaharan Africa.

So as the plane descended through the clouds and skimmed over the orange mountains of Namibia, I could feel an odd sensation of relief wash over me; the kind of relief you get after you arrive home and see a familiar face waiting for you at the arrivals terminal. I’ve spent a good amount of time in this region of Africa over the years, but still, the familiarity and comfort that these mountains and plains brings when I see them again is always profound. Since my first trip here, I wondered if over time its significance would fade, and if there would come a time when I’d visit and find that it’s not as hard to leave as it was when I first was here. And yet, I find the opposite happening. With each visit, the intensity of homesickness that hits me when I’m getting ready to leave becomes more poignant and significantly more difficult to deal with. The thought of the Johannesburg Departures terminal, of returning to paved roads and telephone poles after weeks of camping in the wilderness, of a room where I can’t hear the crickets and the elephants as I fall asleep at night, ties my stomach in knots. Coming home to the savannas gives me a sense of bliss that’s more brilliant and raw than anywhere I go or have ever been, but when the time comes to leave, I find myself as I am now, at a cafe in Zambia, drinking an espresso that doesn’t taste nearly as decadent as the instant-coffee brewed over a campfire that I’ve lived off of for the past few weeks, wondering why I’m leaving. It’s almost painful to think about how happy I am here, and yet I decided to buy a plane ticket to Asia that leaves in less than 24 hours, and something in me wishes that this time, I would have decided to just stay. It’s as simple and honest as that.

This visit in particular has been difficult to put into words, as whatever I muster up always fails to properly convey how wonderful this experience has been. I’ll start with this, though: every day of my time here was extraordinary.

We began in Namibia, making our way from the capital city to the desert of Namib-Naukluft, where we bribed our way into the park in the middle of the night to climb the world's tallest dunes at sunrise, and hiked to white salt pans and oceans of dry earth in an abyss of red sand, where ancient, crooked trees shaded herds of gemsbok. From Namibia we watched the desert turn into autumn forests then, slowly, to rolling plains decorated with villages and lazy zebra as we reached Botswana, making our way north until we ditched roads and towns for deep savanna, camping alone with prides of lions and the company of each other, not needing anything else. Finally we reached Zambia, where we were greeted by the thundering Victoria Falls, traversing the rim as we were doused by roaring water, loud enough that we could scream without anyone hearing, baboons watching from the canopies nearby. Every morning and evening was laced with joy and adrenaline; constantly enamored by every passing moment. Part of why I love guiding these expeditions is to see people who’ve never been to this corner of the world before see an elephant for the first time, or a giraffe, or a sunset from atop a dusty Land Rover, and to witness that kind of child-like captivation and glee as it unfolds across the faces of those around me.

On our final night all together, as we sat under a flowering tree listening to the hum of Livingstone beyond the garden hedges, we began talking about everything we’re going to miss. Like those lovely, long mornings with amber light dousing the golden plains, sipping a cup of coffee with a rusk under the crooked shadows of acacia trees. The smell of the riverfront as you cross the veld; the smell of sage, sun-warmed earth, sweet grass. The sun dapples on the navy-blue ponds that sable antelope and zebra linger by, pinpricked by white cranes and hippos. Those sunsets, with spectacular ribbons of mauve, of burgundy, wrapping around the silhouettes of elephants bathing at the watering hole and a swollen, deeply red sun that just seems to beckon you to come closer. The electricity of the night air deep in the bush; of sitting by a simmering campfire in the evening, woodsmoke tangled in our hair and knotted into our sweaters; rooibos tea and deep, belly-aching, honest laughter ringing against the backdrop of crickets chirping and lions calling from just out of eyesight, only ten or twenty meters from where we sit in the center of darkness. The stomach-flipping adrenaline-coursing dip of a bush plane as it careens towards a herd of elephants grazing beside the delta at sunset. The way the acacia trees flicker with red as they reflect the campfire flames underneath a spectacular Milky Way. The singsong language of Tswana, and the nights sitting at camp playing music while we lost track of shooting stars. Waking up at 2 AM to lions pawing beside my tent, and yet feeling safer there than on some streets back in San Francisco. The fact that there was no road, no telephone pole, no bar of cell service for 100 miles; no possible way to be anywhere but there, in the heart of it, at the most honest and beautiful and true the world can be.

I feel home there, in my bones, in the red dust on my shoulders and palms.

It’s so hard to leave.

Then, today. It feels strange to be sitting by myself right now, without people chatting and swapping stories and cracking each other up on either side of me, as its been for the past couple months.

About three minutes ago, a British Airways flight took off from Livingstone to South Africa, carrying my final clients with it — people who’ve become good friends — and concluding my last photography expedition of the year. Already talk of 2017 is floating through the air and my email inbox — essentially asking the beautiful question of where I want to go, and even though nothing has been decided, already in the back of my mind I’m counting down the days until I land in Namibia again. But for this remainder of this round-the-world, I realize that from here on out it’s me on my own, as tomorrow I face Asia and wherever else and whomever else I’m on the trajectory to cross paths with. The unknown of that is part of what makes this kind of travel so rich, so rewarding, so endlessly inspiring, and why I will continue to revolve my life around the pursuit of discovery. Life should be felt, should be about color, about the world. For me, that involves the road, and that involves being brave enough to trust in the unknown of Indonesia, to give up Africa because I know I always find a way to come home, and I will. Maybe next year I'll spend a few months here; in the savanna with a tent, a Landy, some instant coffee, and good company. Right now, though, it's time to go, and to trust in the possibility of something else. Something more.

This round-the-world has woken me up from the stiffness that a clockwork life drilled into me. It’s brought me an incredible amount of joy and opportunities and sincere, overwhelming happiness. But now, as a plane ticket looms tomorrow to carry me across the world to Indonesia, I can’t help but feel this daunting, unshakeable sensation that while one chapter in this RTW is closing — especially mixed with the hesitation and sadness of leaving this part of Africa — I know that there is something massive and important waiting for me in Asia, and beyond, wherever I end up. I don’t know what it is yet, but I’m ready to face it head on. 

I carry Africa with me, always, and will be home soon.

Let's see what's out there.

Indonesia’s waiting.

little ellipses of living

I feel like I laid down for a nap in August and suddenly I've woken up four months later and it's only a few days out from Christmas and all the bits and pieces for 2016 are coming together and it all happened in such a flash that I can hardly believe that the end of 2015 is only in a couple weeks and, what.

This year has come and gone wildly fast.

I've been fairly M.I.A. with this blog due to a slew of other obligations; a documentary to film and edit, a new photo series that has the promise to grow into a photo book, trudging along with writing my other travel book, piecing together the puzzle that will be traveling to 15+ countries next year, and all the while exploring every corner of my little slice of Northern California in the small, precious, free moments. Because of these things, I've put blogging on the back burner. So it goes.

And now. I'm currently on a plane headed to New York City for the next three weeks before beginning the adventure of guiding an expedition to Russia and Finland's Lapland, deep in the remote Arctic, under a threaded sky of glorious Northern Lights. And from there on out, the ball really won't stop rolling; plans for next year involve England, South America, Scandinavia, Asia, and almost ten countries across Africa. Even just writing about it is stirring something in my chest that I can't put into words.

I can't help but feel like the last few months have been the equivalent of a race horse in the starting gate, waiting for that final bell to sound and the doors to fly open.

It's certainly beginning.

Kings Beach, Lake Tahoe, CA

Kings Beach, Lake Tahoe, CA

So. The point of this post, I guess, is to say that posts on this blog will become much more consistent (I'm installing a subscription feature), so there is that to look forward to. 

But right now I want to talk about 2015.

Romania in June

Romania in June

The waves of this year will be felt decades into my future.

I traveled to the high Arctic of Sweden and Norway and saw the Northern Lights for the first time in my life.
I moved into my first real house.
I had photos published by National Geographic.
I road tripped 4,000 miles across 15 countries in Eastern Europe.
I took cooking classes, chased rivers and waterfalls, and slept beneath volcanoes and jungle canopies in Costa Rica.
I met and photographed celebrities such as Gregory Alan Isakov.
I had assignments that broke my back and shaped my news career; from politicians to crime, to drug addictions to history-makers.
I reconnected with lost friends from past travels.
I camped beneath redwoods, I rode horseback through California mountains, I sat before Lake Tahoe, I fell in love with the Pacific.
I was given the greatest job position of my life, and now, my world is shaping around it.

Here's to all the little ellipses of life.

11.11.15

Do you ever walk into a room and you smell crushed coriander and Indian bay leaves that were simmered on a stove twenty-four hours ago, and suddenly you are hit with such an overwhelming saturation of homesickness (the good kind) and longing (the exciting kind) and wanderlust (the beautiful kind), and it just smothers you and sweeps over you, and in that second you are taken over by images of yourself walking those winding sun-bleached streets of Delhi or looking out onto the sun-dappled valleys of the high Kashmir, where you can hear a rooster nearby or the distant shifting of a glacier, and you smell those spices intertwined in the woodsmoke as they float from a nearby village on the breeze.

___

Folks, my heart is aching right now. With joy, with adrenaline, with love, with nostalgia (so much), with wanderlust (so much), with an almost unfathomable amount of homesickness for the world. It’s as simple as that.

Last night and this morning I spent hours upon hours with probably one of the most inspiring women I’ve ever met. We will be spending the next several years traveling the world together (with at least 12 countries under our belt by this time next year). She wore a scarf from her travels and had a soft voice as she spoke of her stories from around the globe, which we swapped and delved into as she cooked a spicy coconut curry from Northern India that she was taught when she was over there “however many winters ago.” We found out where we each most want to go in the world. Where we would never go again. Why we do this. How did we begin this. And all the remarkably small events and degrees-of-separation that lead us to each other and then, somehow, bizarrely and wonderfully and fatefully, here. 

Look.

Whatever happens, happens, but when I say that I am living my dream, I mean it. Something kept coming up in our conversation: dreams that we share and realized that, hey, we could actually begin to accomplish them. Dream of an exploration of Iran; of weeks upon months of backpacking the Far East; of the spice markets and vanishing tribes of Ethiopia, of the lava-ridden craters of the volcanoes deep in the Congo; of an epic, epic, epic photo book that we may have just agreed to collaborate on and bring to fruition, which would, well, change everything.

All day these past few months and especially today, the images of these places and these goals have been plastered to the forefront of everything I do. Lifelong dreams, remarkable accomplishments, connections with lifelong idols, are suddenly not just possibilities, but are on my calendar. Are business calls. Are real. Are happening. There is so much I want to say here but it’s really too soon, but I just had to say something. Hence this babble.

So.

My heart is bursting at the seams for this extraordinary chapter about to begin. These amazing people. These dreams coming true. These dreams already come true.

Here’s to those nights when you love your life so much that you’re too excited to sleep.

Here’s to living a life so full and so rich that the smallest things have the power to move you to tears of joy; even something as small as the smell of coriander; of indian bay leaves.

To See the Northern Lights

It was my final night in the Arctic.

We hiked for two miles through heavy snow under the bent limbs of silver trees. At around midnight, we reached a high clearing, where we only paused to catch our breath and readjust our snowshoes, all the while making quiet, solemn jokes to lighten the mood. Because of the cloud coverage the night before and the seemingly heavy clouds we were having that night as well, it seemed that our chances of seeing the Northern Lights were quickly fading. I'd emptied my pockets to spontaneously fly 4,000 miles to spend just shy of a week in Sweden's Abisko National Park, high above the Arctic Circle where the sun never rose, with the ambitious hopes of seeing the Earth's spectacular natural light show. The aurora borealis has held a rather significant hold on my heart since I was about 11 years old and I became mesmerized with surreal photographs of the Northern Lights in a National Geographic magazine. 

Fast forward to January, 2015, and there I was. Under heavy gray clouds, we paused. Looked at each other, wondering whether to go on or turn around.

But then, out of the corner of my eye,
I saw that the clouds had cleared.

I always told my family that if there was one thing on this planet I had to do before I die, it's see the Northern Lights.

And I did.

The aurora that night was so unusually spectacular that we ended up making a campfire and sat in the snow for four hours as we watched the rays of color streak across the sky. Aurora Borealis doesn’t just sit there and fade. They are exactly as you've dreamed. They dance. They literally dance. They shimmered, they rippled, they waved, they exploded. Exploded. We saw emerald greens, reds, and turquoise woven into white. At one point, and only for a few seconds, right above me was the heart of it all; the epicenter where the aurora explodes on to the earth's atmosphere, where light was radiates streaks in every direction from a center ball of light -- the eye of the aurora, locals told me, which is rare to see. Colors illuminated the sprawling lake at the base of the mountain we sat on, and they touched the jagged snowy horizon from the north to the south, west to the east. Over the fire, we boiled hot lingonberry tea, and as we sipped it out of paper cups and laid with our frozen noses pointed up towards the stars, a local man sat by me and told me, “I have been living in Lapland for almost a decade. And these lights tonight are the best I have seen in years.”

For four hours, we stayed quiet. We sat still. Listened to the fire; listened to a pack of wolves or dogs, somewhere, howling. And we watched the lights.

I can’t possibly put into words what this experience was like, and all this time later, I'm still fathoming how to describe it.

Hours later, I stumbled in an ethereal stupor back to my guesthouse, smelling of campfire smoke, my hair tangled in icy knots, sweet berry tea on my lips, and my cheeks damp and salty from frozen tears.

That night I dreamt of green; of red; of howling wolves; a ribbon painted with color, appearing before my eyes.

I still do.

 

If you want to see the Northern Lights yourself this winter, even if you're on a tight budget or schedule,
here's how I did it.

  • Tickets to Oslo from the U.S. are generally cheap in January, so use that opportunity. Once in Olso, spend a full day or two in the city getting acquainted, adjusted to the time zone, and enjoying the quiet, clean, colorful streets of the Norway capital.

  • From Oslo, take a quick flight to Narvik, a small city far above the Arctic Circle.

  • Daily trains depart from Narvik's main station to Abisko National Park, on the other side of the border, deep in Sweden's frozen tundra. The train trip is about 3 hours, but the journey is unforgettable. (Also, don't be surprised if you're the only one on the entire 8-car train).

  • In Abisko, stay at any of the hotels, but I recommend the Abisko Guesthouse. Next to a decent grocery store, small pub, a lovely 30 minute walk on a moonlit path to the main tourist center (although you can arrange car transfers if you don't want to walk), and 5-10 minutes walk to the massive Abisko lake (excellent for aurora watching). The Guesthouse is reasonably priced for its clean (and warm!) facilities, full kitchen with adjoined large common room, reception area where you can book any activity imaginable, and mostly, a fantastic staff. I really have yet to stay at a guesthouse or hostel where I've adored the staff as much as I did here.

  • Spend at least 3 nights in Abisko. This will give you three chances to see the Lights, and will give you time to get your feet on the ground. I'll be honest: Abisko is extremely disorienting. By noon, the sky is already sinking back into darkness from its steady bluish-mauve tone that it takes on between 10 AM and 2 PM, so it feels like you've wasted the day even if you've only had a cup of coffee and taken a short walk. (If you come in late January or February, you may get some sunlight reflecting on the trees as the sun almost crests the mountain horizon, but you won't actually see the sun for some time).

  • Because of this, I recommend booking plenty of activities before you arrive to be sure that your schedule is full, and to be sure they don't fill up. (Activities such as: dog sledding, snow shoeing, visiting the Sky Station, ice climbing, meeting a herd of reindeer, or even taking a day trip to Narvik or nearby Kiruna to visit the famous Ice Hotel and meet the inhabitants of Sweden's northernmost Arctic city.

  • Bring spare fully-charged camera batteries with you, as the -28*F drains batteries within an hour; and, bring your warmest gloves, hand warmers, face masks, boots, socks, and hats imaginable. The Guesthouse will supply you with heavy-duty Arctic suits to withstand the extreme temperatures, but your extremities will be at risk, and there is a very real possibility of frostbite; consider your face, hands, and feet when packing. You want to be warm and dry.

  • If you want to get photos of the Lights, don't forget your camera tripod. And practice learning how to take long exposure star photos so you can be sure to capture the landscape. (Hint: ISO 1200, f/stop 3.5, shutter speed 30 seconds, lens on manual and focused on furthest point, and if you don't have a cable release, turn your camera on a timer so when you press the shutter button you don't cause camera shake)

  • After Abisko, back track down to Oslo, and fly home. If you want to extend your wintry stay in Scandinavia, you can spend a night or two in Narvik, or explore Norway's Lofoten Islands (although they are notoriously cloudy in the winter, so be sure you get your fill of the Lights in Abikso in case you see none in Lofoten), or stop over in Stockholm; there is nothing like that city in a light snowfall with a cup of hot chocolate in your hands.

Flying into the Arctic. Narvik, Norway.

Flying into the Arctic. Narvik, Norway.

A lone house in the tundra. View from the train to Lapland. This is the sky at noon.

A lone house in the tundra. View from the train to Lapland. This is the sky at noon.

Reindeer spotted in the forest between Abisko and Narvik

Reindeer spotted in the forest between Abisko and Narvik

A dog team pulls his musher

A dog team pulls his musher

After being outside in -30*F for three minutes, everything starts to freeze

After being outside in -30*F for three minutes, everything starts to freeze

Frozen forests of Lapland

Frozen forests of Lapland



an introduction of sorts...

Welcome!

I admit I never know how to begin these things or how to write about myself, but I guess I’ll start with this:
My name is Tate. I’m a traveler, photographer, and writer living on the coast of northern California, and this is my blog.

I've felt for awhile now that I need a new space to put all my thoughts, photographs, tips/advice, writing pieces, and resources about travel, so here it is, and for those of you who don’t know who I am: hello!

  • I was born and raised in New York and now I live in a small, sunny house on the coast of Northern California, on the quiet shores of San Francisco.
  • I’ve been a self-employed travel photographer for the past five years now, working for various publications and selling photos and stories as I go (including National Geographic, but I’ll make a full list eventually)
  • I've been to 57+ countries, and I hope to never slow down.
  • I’m a published author of a novel and am currently in the process of writing my second book. I also freelance writing pieces for various publications, mostly online.
  • I’m on the road to being a full-time photojournalist where I’ll be focusing on documenting international environmental conflicts and issues / violations of human rights. I’m currently studying Swahili and have hopes to learn Arabic in order to focus on regions in Africa and the Middle East.
  • I’m a passionate vegan and am often extremely outspoken about animal rights and the conflicts that surround animal agriculture, abuse, and controversies. When it comes to travel, transitioning from being a meat-eating traveler to a vegan traveler has been a unique experience, so you’ll probably hear about that a lot. (But spoiler alert: yes, you can be a vegan traveler, and yes, it is cheap and easy and worthwhile).
  • I’m madly in love with anything in the wilderness that gets adrenaline pumping, although mountaineering, ice climbing, kayaking, and backpacking hold special places in my heart.

I hope you all find something to take away from these ramblings, even if that something is something small.

Abisko, Sweden, 2015.

Abisko, Sweden, 2015.