I feel like I have been here before. Sitting in the Addis Ababa Restaurant, a landmark for traditional food in Ethiopia’s capital city, people shout and joke, laughing together. A playfully communal spirit flows through the air, heavily seasoned with the rustic scents of berebere and shiro spices, cooked meat and fermentation.
It could have been that the local tej, or honey wine, was getting to my head, or that my 3am departure from Cairo was now making me delirious, but I felt in this moment, a deep sense of happiness and peace that defied explanation.
I am in Africa, I thought. I am surrounded by strange smells, drunken strangers, and questionable concoctions that may invert my stomach. And somehow, I feel truly at home.
On an exceptionally sunny morning in Pisac, set in the Sacred Valley of Peru, I look out my window at the four blissed-out travelers sprawled whimsically across the grass.
They attended a full-moon Ayahuasca ceremony the night before, led by the well-loved “Sacred Valley Tribe,” an international group of musicians and neo-shamanic facilitators known throughout the area, and the world.
“It was beautiful,” my British friend tells me. “About 80 people in the room, and not a hint of darkness or bad vibes. It was just amazing.”
He frolics off, and rejoins his medicine sister, a young woman, laying on the grass in the fetal position, wrapped in a blanket, staring intently into space.
There is a joke, that in Pisac, if you can play guitar, you can pour Ayahuasca.
The elders filtered into the hut without speaking. A single candle stood on the floor in the middle of the room, filling the round, earth-scented dwelling with an otherworldly glow.
It was past 3am, and the ceremony was just now beginning.
For me, it felt like a deep exhale. Returning to the place I call home, indeed the very city and house in which I was born and grew up, has often brought with it a multitude of insecurities and doubts. Am I giving up? Will I get stuck here? Will I have to settle for some soul-crushing job? Am I starting over? What am I missing? What will others think?
Returning back to one’s origins, to where it all began, is an essential aspect of every rite of passage- of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, and of Paulo Coelho’s classic tale, The Alchemist (one of my favorites, for obvious reasons).
Indeed, return might be the most essential, and most difficult part of the whole endeavor itself. A journey is never complete until the hero comes back.
“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.” -Henry David Thoreau
What is a “travel alchemist?” A person, who through passion, vision, and strength of spirit, is able to transform the raw and unruly experiences of world travel into something of value and benefit to themselves, and to the world around them.
As a traveler, one of the hardest things to find is a true sense of community. We are consistently uprooted, blown about the edges of the globe, landing in remote regions where nobody knows our name. The past few years, its been rare if I even unpack by bags at all.
Yet sometimes we converge, and develop bonds of kinship grounded in mutual appreciation for each other’s path, mission, and work. Other times we meet only once, maybe at a hostel, a festival, or a conference, and stay connected for years.
This year’s list of Inspiring Travel Alchemists is all about community. Most of these folks I’ve met in person somewhere along the way, or have heard of them and their work through the grapevine of inspiration that the Internet can often become.
Everyone featured here is doing amazing things to uplift and build community in ways that leave me feeling not just good, but excited about the world. The people you find before you are world-class examples of how travelers can be transformational leaders and change makers in a world that needs all the help it can get.
Entrepreneurs, activists, filmmakers, event producers, photographers, writers- we all choose our unique paths through which our gifts are most easily able to shine. The question is: what will you do to transform the world’s problems into gold?
Trust your journey, follow your passion, take action, and in the words of Thoreau…
This is my first post in several months. I’ve been going through a lot these past few months, as I’m sure a lot of you have as well. Unfortunately for me, that meant my writing was placed in the background, which is never a good idea.
So, in the spirit of personal and creative liberation, I’m going to be changing up my format a bit, and opt for more personal, less polished blog posts. My aim is to achieve a deeper level of authentic sharing, and to simultaneously dismantle perfectionism and other limiting patterns.
Thanks for reading, for caring, and for your support. In the words of a dear friend and teacher, “trust the process.”