Spain

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Help!  Already I was lost!  And not even out of Madrid airport!   I hadn’t even started to walk the Camino Frances, the medieval pilgrim trail, over 440 miles across Spain to Santiago de Compostela. 

No intrepid traveller, I’d worried intensely about travelling alone over 12,000 miles from home, whether I’d get lost on a foreign continent, get lonely, get sick, get bedbugs, not get a bed, and much more, but I never dreamt I’d have a problem so soon.  The plan was to get off the plane and straight onto a bus to Pamplona, where I’d start walking, but it was only 6am, there weren’t any information booths open, and there was no-one around to direct me as I wandered tiredly to and fro, lugging my heavy backpack.

A pitying non-English speaking bus driver eventually waved me onto his bus, conveying he was taking me to “Ameriga”.  Did I want to go there?  How would I know?  I was new in town!  But all was well.  He dropped me at a bus terminal in Avenida de America, and eventually I was the proud possessor of a ticket to Pamplona. 

A few days later, my fears of loneliness allayed, I was socialising at an albergue in a little Spanish village.  I’d chatted to a no-name Canadian, who had done the Camino five years before and forgotten how hard it was, a round-as-high Aussie, and a blowsy Londoner with a tomb of toppled teeth, travelling with a group of twenty Irish.  “I slept above the (unprintable) Reverend last night”, she roared.  I bet he was glad he’d taken his vows…. 

I’d shared albergues with Mexicans, Germans and a Frenchwoman.  Florence the Frenchie had already been walking for a month, from Le Puy, in France, and I was sick with envy.  I’d been walking only a short time and looked like my mother never loved me.  She’d trekked 400 miles and looked like she’d just stepped off the runway! Not even a crease in sight and such fashionable clothes!   

Albergues are dormitory-style accommodation, where for 6 to 10 Euros you get a bed, a pillow, and with a bit of luck, a hot shower.  Since there was no telling who your bedmates might be, earplugs were a necessity, but albergue life is very Japanese-like. We each had our own little space, a few inches wider than our bed, and were blind and deaf to anything outside the invisible line. 

 The trail itself was very busy and quite beautiful, whilst walking in the hours most are usually sleeping.   Earlier it was to avoid the heat of the sun, by midday it was exhausting, but temperatures were dropping rapidly, and it became something of a bed-race, with pilgrims heading down the trail before light.  It’s a very odd experience, wandering along each day, not knowing where you’re going, what you’ll eat, who you’ll meet, who you’ll sleep in the albergues with, whether you’ll even get a bed.  The scenery and radical difference to daily life is what makes the Camino Frances so appealing.  Stunning medieval villages, wildflowers, gardens, woods, animals, outdoor life, complexity, simpleness, honesty and human interaction impress.  Every day – hour – turning brings something different to the experience.   

One morning I walked out of town in pitch blackness, completely alone, not even moonlight showing the way.  My torch had died, so I could only navigate by watching each footfall on the white gravel path.  In contrast, the next day was rush hour.  Lemminglike, we poured in waves through the streets.  Where did all those people come from overnight?  Spooky… 

More than thirty eventful days later, nearing pilgrimage end, the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, I’d become intoxicated by the beauty of the trail, the centuries old villages, vineyards, cornfields and gardens, where only jet trails clouded the sky.   

Where else would every person you met, in every town and village, greet you and wish you a good journey?  Where else would you see so many stunning sunrises?  Drink free red wine from a fountain?  Sleep with so many strange people?  Find out just how much your feet can hurt?  Get a tan that stops at the ankles?  Watch cranes settle in for the night atop a church steeple?  Walk for hours through rustling woods, eucalyptus groves and shaded lanes beside rushing rivers. And mist, fog, sunshine and rain, church and cow bells ringing across the hills?  

I’d been lost, I’d been lonely, been ill and seen others with bedbug bites, and experienced almost everything I had so feared before leaving home.  To my surprise I wasn’t the wuss I’d believed.  I’d walked alone hundreds of miles, through cities, valleys, towns and mountains and experienced a fantastic journey.  Fear of the unknown would never hold me back from embarking on an adventure again.

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Spain:  These Legs are Made for Walking

 

I knew this trip was one I really wanted. After all, I’d been planning for almost two years. I’d applied for two or three different credit cards, just for free air miles to get me across the world. I spent all summer long reading books about this opportunity.

But it wasn’t until I sat at the front desk of my gym hyperventilating that I realized exactly how MUCH I wanted it. I had wanted to walk the Camino de Santiago ever since Martin Sheen made that movie “The Way.” I put together this whole training plan—walking, hiking, strength training, hills, stairclimber with a pack on my back, the works. I was gonna train from February through August, and would hit the Camino just before September began.

First came the race injury. In April I signed up for a fundraising half marathon, and somehow tweaked my knee. X-ray. MRI. Conversation about possible surgery. Physical therapy—lots and lots of physical therapy. Slowly, gingerly I resumed my training. Did a few hill walks with my pack on. Walked a lot. Did strength training at the gym. That is, until the day I fell and ripped my leg open.

I’m not sure they’d seen an injury quite like that one—we had a whole box’s worth of gauze pads taped on it, and it still bled if I moved my leg even a little bit. That was a difficult morning—when I wasn’t hyperventilating, I was desperately trying to find someone to come get me and take me somewhere: home, urgent care, emergency room, anywhere but the gym (where face it, nobody wants to see somebody bleeding and crying).

I hyperventilated again when they cleaned it, and again when the doctor sewed 16 stitches in a leg I was hoping would carry me 500 miles beginning in just a few weeks. I worried all week when it didn’t seem to be getting better. When they diagnosed a medication-resistant infection, I cursed the people who don’t wipe down their equipment and hoped it wasn’t staph (nope—Group C strep, whatever that is).

At one point, I had three different antibiotics coursing through my body—I was buzzing inside, and wondered if that’s how chemo feels. The doctor gave me dire warnings about not being out in the sunshine, because antibiotic #3 would give me a terrible itchy rash all over my body. “I’ll never take a sulfa drug again,” she said. Hard to walk 500 miles outdoors without encountering the sun…

I don’t know how many people were praying: for my knee, for my leg, for my goals, for me to be encouraged and brave and actually make this trip I’d been hoping and planning for. And I did. That leg wound didn’t fully heal until I was on the other side of 500 miles of walking—38 days’ worth. But it never stopped me. My knee didn’t keep me from hiking up and over the Pyrenees—1450 meters of elevation gain in my first two days of hiking.

Some would have given up with the knee injury. Others would have let that leg gash stop them. But I wasn’t about to miss this trip! It was the journey of a lifetime.

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There are those who are pessimists by blood and wanderers by spirit. To be both, you must be brave, and to be neither, you must be strong-willed. I am neither and both, but I am invisible. Exclusively, I divined in the peacefulness of sitting beneath a tabletop and writing endless stories of characters that enabled me to travel beyond my simple fear and pessimism. Wanderlust ran through my veins, but never could I venture out into the real world. Invisible as I aimed to be, someone always found me and encouraged me to enter a journey I deemed too frightful and dangerous for my confidence. That was before I found a passion; I found a love. My desire to learn and cultivate knowledge leaked into a passion for languages and literature. Simply put, the romantic ghost of life paid me a visit and called me exactly as I was: a fraud. For how can one write tales of adventure if they have never been present enough during their own? I changed. I became visible to myself and the world around me, and I came out from beneath the desk to see those who had looked for me, those whom I had ignored. I booked myself a one-way ticket to Europe with my boyfriend and when I finished high school, I had a pencil and paper, a backpack, little money and all my dreams to live before the dreadful terror that is responsibility made its devastating descent upon my life. I left my invisibility cloak at home and I stepped over the threshold, entering the real world.

At 5am on the plane to Spain, my boyfriend and I were seated beside a charming elderly woman. I say that because I was taught respect for elders as a child, however if she were young, I would probably call her the most frustrating pain in my neck. The entire flight consisted of her committing atrocious crimes against common etiquette and making continuous sexual references, despite her comments on my relationship with my boyfriend. 

“You two are so young, and you better not be doing the naughties until you’re married!”  she had said to us, only to respond after I asked why she was going to Spain, “Oh, I want to find me a young Spaniard.” 

How do you say hypocrite in Spanish?

“Fea!” – “Gorda!” – “Eres tú la morona!” 

My arrival in Spain was more than perfect. I had been geared up for the typical obscenities shouted by youths in the city, but now it hit me. I was in a completely new world. English was a delicacy, yet to me, Spanish was easily the most delicious at this point in time. A calmness reverberated through me as we met with my host family and travelled two hours in their car from Madrid to Valladolid. Spain was so painfully beautiful; the colours, the scarves, the dancing legs and the beautiful grins, unworried faces and fast-food stalls. I could see large spaces. No longer did I want to sit under a table and write stories, I wanted to look out and see the lake, the scenary, and write in truth. Write about the beauty of bravery, leading to an ultimate discovery of the world and oneself. In passing a square with the Spanish flag, amongst a car of Spanish chatter, I felt a heat rise in my throat and a saltiness dripping down my cheeks. The tears flowed and the smile broke. 

For me, Intuition represents an invisible balm on a body; it may soothe in times of undecided distress; prepare in times of fear; strengthen in times of confidence; advance in times of intellectual desire and you know it has reached full potential when you have no explanation; when you know. You simply feel it in your bones, in your core, that you have reached this place and you understand something unique about it. 

Welcome to your place in the world, bienvenido a España, the chilled air declared before me. 

My intuition brought me here, and my travels extended beyond one country, to a new world, where I became visible in one decision. The decision to follow my passion. I found my place in the world in one decision, one intuition, one love. 

Only when I realized that my fears existed not for my inability to succeed, but my concern that I am powerful beyond belief, could I find my place in the world. And commit to one act; 

An act of bravery, to be seen.

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When I entered the cathedral, everything that was on my mind quickly slipped away. I forgot that my morning train had been late, and that I had to wait in line for a few hours. I forgot that my hostel’s quality was sadly only worth the ten euros I had spent on it. I forgot the events that had prompted me to start traveling, along with my worry that I would never recover who I had been. I forgot that I was a minor traveling alone for the first time, and I forgot that I was scared.

La Sagrada Familia—certainly striking on the outside, but not so out of the ordinary that it warranted its enormous reputation. When I gazed at it as I waited in line, a large part of me was missing the little town of Cuenca and how I could talk to locals instead of fighting my way through tourists and keeping watch over my backpack. But then I entered the building, and I felt like Alice in Wonderland: tiny and confused and overwhelmed.

It was unlike any other cathedral I’d been in, wildly different and simply staggering. I had been expecting beauty, and awe-inspiring carvings, and the standard Gothic dim and dramatic lighting. But this had pure white columns stretching up and up and up, lit by sunlight streaming through stained-glass windows that tinted the light into every color imaginable.

I forgot my worries and my nervousness. I even forgot to be ashamed that I was a tourist, and snapped pictures left and right. I was grinning like an idiot and even lay down in one of the pews, staring up as the colors changed with the sun’s movement. Simply put, that place was magical to me.

When I finally exited the cathedral, its impact stayed with me. I became emboldened. I felt the sun hitting my face and imagined that it was passing through me, tinted by my thoughts the same way it had been tinted by the windows’ colors. And I knew that I didn’t need to recover who I had been, because I was someone different now.

The little town of Cuenca did not teach me that I could be strong when I was alone. Cooking for myself did not teach me that I didn’t have to depend on anyone. Figuring out the metro of a foreign city did not teach me independence. But one day in a striking cathedral taught me all that and more. I had time to reflect on my past and my future, and that time let me look back at my accomplishments and realize that I didn’t need to be brave—at least, not brave according to my old definition.

I didn’t need to perform great acts of bravery. I didn’t need to complete my travels without crying, making mistakes, or asking for help. That didn’t make me brave. With all I’d been through, what made me brave was standing up in the morning. It was brave for me to decide to travel to Spain, and embark on a wild journey all by myself. I already had the courage to carry on when it would have been so easy to stop.

Bravery no longer meant heroism after I watched the light in that cathedral. Or maybe it did, but I now defined heroism differently. I know that I am brave for pushing through and continuing to maintain myself, and maybe even improve.

The cathedral taught me that I was already brave.

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I was in a ferry from Ibiza to Formentera and I couldn’t look up at the sky. Every time I saw an airplane, I felt a big lump in my stomach. I knew the next day I had to go back to Bucharest. Back to my two-years job, back to my comfort zone. I was 24 years old and in the last two weeks I finally accepted that I needed a change in my life. I knew I could do whatever I want. I was young, but I was so scared to actually do it. Until this summer, when I met… me. I was myself there. I talked to people, I heared stories of life, I faced my fears. And the last day in Formentera was the turning point of this journey.

Me and my friend rented a scooter and started our one-day journey. Not long after that, we had an accident on the road. We got a few bruises and I burned my leg a bit.We didn`t feel too much physical pain, possibily because of the shock. Certainly because of the shock! It was my first accident and I was so scared. I didn`t want to climb the scooter again, I just wished to go back. It is said that bad things never come alone. Well, in that moment I realised I forgot my wallet at my friend`s house. So we were injured, I had no money, the scooter was scratched and I was really, really scared. And my friend was so calm in spite of all. She made me see myself – what was my reaction to all of that, how I complained about everything, how there was no point to my fear. We fell –so what, we could still walk. I forgot my wallet – so what, she could borrow me some money. The scooter was damaged – so what, we will pay for it. She opened my eyes, gave me confidence and convinced me to keep going. As she said, at the end of the road a wonderful place awaits for me. And it was all true.

When we reached the most eastern point of the island, I closed my eyes for five seconds. Then I opened it. Then I closed it and opened it again. I think I repeated this action for five times. Finally, I smiled. Fot the first time in my life I felt gratitude from the bottom of my heart. I felt it with my eyes, my soul, my ears, with all my human senses. I saw La Mola lighthouse, standing on the edge of the cliff. And there she was, the Mediterranean sea. It was just me and the sea. A deep vastness of blue was spread before me, under me, to my right and my left. No wonder Jules Verne used this place as the setting for an episode in his novel „Hector Servadac”. He actually described it as the end of the world… but for me it felt like the beginning of the world. I was looking at the sea and I felt it. I could enjoy the present moment and there was an entrancing air of gratitude about it. I could trust my instinct, listen to my heart and let my inner feelings be my guide. From that moment I began to appreciate things that I previously took for granted. I knew those last two weeks were not a simple holiday. That something has happened, that something will change. Back then, I had no idea what or how it will happen. But I was confident about one thing: I could do whatever I wanted with my life and I finally had the courage to act.

Back in the present day. A few weeks eariler I read Bob Dylan`s autobiography in which he wrote that sometimes you know things have to change, are going to change. That little things foreshadow what is coming, but you may not recognize them. And then something happens and you are in another world, you jump into the unknown – you are set free. Oh, how I found myself in his words! Those summer days in Ibiza, culminating with the last day in Formentera, was the beginning of my tremendous journey. After four and a half months, after I learned how to feel grateful for every little thing in my life, I finally understood something – fear is just not knowing how things could be and most of the time those things are not as bad as we think they are.

 So… Last weekend I bought a one-way ticket flight to London. Today I quitted my two-year job. And yes, I am scared as hell. But now I can accept fear because it makes me feel alive. And I know this is just the beginning. A beautiful one.

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There are many ways in which people choose to live their lives- every one of them unique. I didn’t, however, just make the choice to have a distinctive life, but also made a choice to aim to have a remarkable day, every single day.

For all of my adult life, I have been an adventure chaser. Deciding on the spur of the moment that my feet are itching for new experiences, unknown lands, new discoveries and awe- inspiring visions. Some prefer routine, or the assurance of stability that staying in one location has. For me, the passion for pastures new overwhelms me, and the everyday challenge of getting by thrills me.

Although the reasons for my spontaneity cannot be explained, neither is it necessary to have a cause. Wandering paths never walked can be the greatest adventure, and can even cause one to appreciate further the simplicities in life. From the lusciously green rice paddies and hard hitting war tunnels in Vietnam, to publicly speaking to an audience of 8000 Chinese High School students. From living in a cabin amongst nothing but mountainous nature for miles in New York state, to teaching English to those it means the most to see a smiling face; I have felt as though I have contributed towards making a small difference to others’ happiness in my short life, and for this, one can feel accomplished. Yet, through all of these life changing experiences, I have felt a small part of a puzzle missing- a base in which I could become, and feel, complete in myself.

Throughout the past 7 years, my wanderlust has thrusted me into situations beyond my imagination. More recently, my implusive desires have brought me to Europe. I arrived in Valencia, Spain, with the notion of teaching privately here and then moving on; the pattern in which my life tends to follow. This initial idea could not have been further from the truth as, ultimately, I found the haven I didn’t even know I was searching for.

This city, Valencia, has captured my heart, and every day here enthralls me and encourages me to continue along the path towards achieving my dreams. Valencia has made me realise I have chosen a life with no limitations, and the extent of what I can accomplish here has no end. Every day I step out of my door, awash with a feeling of contentment. Being here makes me feel optimistic and motivated day by day, passing through the traditionally Spanish historical centre, brushing by the intricately detailed buildings and into yet another beautifully continental cafe. I realise daily just how much this city inspires me, and how lucky I am to have travelled across many oceans and to have found peace so unexpectedly.

Valencia has a mixture of ultra- modern, futuristic style buildings, but historical architecture reigns the skylines. It is a stunning sight to see. I remember when I first arrived in Valencia almost a year ago and the first interaction I had. It began with “Welcome to Valencia, you will never want to leave”, and this couldn’t ring truer. I am very proud and thankful every single day, to call this city my new home.

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Traveling to Live

Every time I travel to a different place in the world, rather it is a domestic or an international travel it affects me in multiple ways. I went from a very shy, quiet, and fearful girl, to a very adventurous young woman. When I come back to my hometown I try to better myself, help others, and encourage everyone to travel. I even see myself changing and growing into a different person when I come back from my travels. I wish I could travel more often so that I can continue to grow and become more open-minded…

I always laughed at myself because I think it is quite odd that I had to leave my surroundings to realize how smart, inspirational, and open-minded I am. I always knew that about myself, but something happens when you find yourself in a foreign country, and no one knows who you are, and you smell the air, the sky looks different, the water feels and taste different, and your appearance captures everyones’ attention. For some it can be a bit shocking, but to me, it feels like I am finally living.

I recently just came back from Spain and I think this has been the most rewarding trip so far. I travelled to multiple cities such as Granada, Madrid, Malaga, and Rhonda, and each city helped me to grow, and to appreciate every person and everything. For instance, when I was in Granada, I visited the famous Alhambra, the most beautiful and historical attraction. There were a lot of people who came to come view this area. Everyone cherished every monument, flower, and the scenery. Inside this building there was so much love. I thought to myself, do I ever have to the opportunity to just sit and reflect on life with my busy schedule?

Later, I went to Madrid, a very diverse and huge city in Spain. There were so many people in the streets, and I always saw people sitting at local pubs eating tapas and just enjoying their life. No one was in a rush, no one looked worried, a tapa a day is what took their pain away. I questioned myself, when was the last time I just sat in a restaurant with my family and friends just to relax?

While in Malaga, I visited the beaches, and the people were very nice and free-spirited. No one could not stop smiling or laughing, and the humid weather, or the countries’ economical problems did not affect their happiness. I pondered, when have I truly relaxed, and not let life’s obstacles affect me?

The city Rhonda was a great place to visit because it had an historical touch, and it made me think of the past, and my future. Every time I spoke to some of the locals about this town, they always mentioned the mountains, and how beautiful they were. The majority of the townspeople were elderly people, but they were still working and trying to establish a good future for themselves.

I am grateful to have visited Spain because it opened a new chapter to my life, it taught me how to cherish every moment, and to live my life with no regrets.

It feels really good to take time out of your life and just sit and enjoy what life has to offer. Traveling to me is living because one might choose his or her destination, but he or she is not aware of the adventures and life lessons stored ahead. All one can do is hold his/her carry-on luggage in one hand, and personal items in the other hand, and walk in the long line, until it is time to be in the air to fly.

 

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There are cities that cause an impact at first sight  they open their arms to touch you softly, bewitching you with the smell of their vegetation, of their meals cooked outdoors, and with the unmistakable sound of their music, not to mention the accents of their people: the great community who opens their doors every morning to receive the first rays of sunshine, to drink their coffee sitting next to the flowers planted in pots on the small balconies of the old buildings in the most significant avenues of the metropolis.

In large cities, there are streets that transport us to small towns we had visited in our childhood; there are places that make us cry our eyes out remembering times past when we danced in circles singing nursery rhymes: “The chickens in my casserole. . . .”
Madrid is such a city: it is the cosmos that contains ancient stories within their lofty buildings. I see Madrid as the imprint of our cultures seen through the eyes of our mother. Even though for some of us she has been a bad mother with ruthless characters, her imprint is still present in the streets of Cartagena de Indias, Guatemala, Quito, or Panama.

To visit Madrid is to read a history map backwards. It is as if we were traveling to a past for which we do not have any reference. Can you imagine walking through time, strolling the streets of the city we have before our eyes, and to have just ten hours to discover it?
As soon as we start our tour we can see our reflections in the churches, in the cooling fountains at the plazas, and in the arches that festoon Madrid, which, somehow, accompanied us in our childhood, thousands of miles away.

Perhaps arches and plazas were conceived in Madrid to be replicated in their former territories? ¿Perhaps in a visit to the big city we realize we had seen them reflected on an ancient map we had found hidden in the trunks of our great-grandparents, and they start now to materialize as we take a stroll on Calle de Alcalá, Plaza de España, and Puerta del Sol?

This city, far away from the sea, bathed by a bright light and by the fresh, summery air of August, charms its visitors and undoubtedly will make them come back to find out more about those stories that we only came to know through history books when we were learning about the importance of powerful navigators and about those who believed to be closer to an almighty God who spoke another language.

In 2014, Madrid has overcome the darkness of March 11, 2004, and the train stations come back to life once again in the wee hours. The denizens of Madrid wake up, and the tourists ride on double-deckers instead of subways in order to discover a city that has been replicated bit by bit in the New World, in high-steeple churches, and in the rings of the sharply criticized bullfights.

Surrounded by stuffed bull heads, people have lunch at some restaurants. The tiles on their walls have been artistically made, showing bullfighting figurines striking a pose, flaunting the sumptuous costumes of the matador and his team. In the dining rooms, one can feel the festive atmosphere of an afternoon at the bullring. The colorful murals replicate bullfights that have made Spain so famous throughout the world. Under the shadow of the noble animal’s head, diners enjoy their shrimps in garlic sauce, their breads that have been baked using ancient recipes and, like in any Spanish good table, their exquisite white or red wine or, come August, their refreshing summer reds.

Madrid in ten hours was an exciting adventure, through which we were able to ascertain that the streets and plazas of the cities where we grew up are a mirror of the past.

I greeted Madrid during the ten hours we spent in our visit and I saw my reflection in it: I know the sounds its people make; I learned to utter my first words with them; I nurture that Spanish language that surrounds me and impels me to write these lines in order to say that it is impossible to get to know you in just ten hours. However, it was time enough to savor the days of our childhood when I could only hear and speak your language.
We used to cry and to love to the sounds of your plazas and tree-lined avenues. . . Madrid in ten hours.

About the Author:  Jacqueline Donado freelance journalist, living in New York City former Managing Editor of El Diario/La Prensa (NYC), graduated from Universidad Autónoma del Caribe (Barranquilla, Colombia). She worked as a correspondent for the Colombian newspapers El Espectador and El Tiempo, and later traveled to the United States to study at Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida. She provided live coverage of international disasters, such as floods in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and an earthquake in Colombia, as well as of other important sports events, such as the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.
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Inspired to take on Madrid?  WSGT found these travel books and gear to help you prepare.

Lonely Planet Madrid:  The best book out there for the capital city.

Lonely Planet Spain:  The best travel guide for Spain

A great travel journal:  Keep track of your trip in a journal

 

spainBEG FOR HAPPINESS
Some thoughts in Spain.

I walked past a little old Spanish man with white fluffy hair on his head, his back a little stooped, as he was holding a little black leather money wallet open. It was so discreet, that I didn’t even realise at first that he was begging. He was gently rocking back and forth with a look of desperation on his face, but he was obviously trying so hard to maintain his dignity.

I almost let out a sob. He looked exactly like my dad.

I couldn’t imagine living in a world where my family were reduced to beg on the streets, because they simply couldn’t make enough money to feed themselves. I thought about this little old man. And if he was anything like my old man, he was not begging for himself. He was begging for his children, or most likely his grandchildren.

It was the last straw for me. I have seen far too many people on the streets around Europe. But in particular, Spain. Spain’s economy is just hopeless at the moment. A place with so much beauty, culture, passion and sights, and yet there are too many people living in poverty, because they can’t earn enough.

In Spain, youth unemployment is at 56%. Their economy is almost entirely dependent on tourism. And right now, I am in the major cities. Barcelona and Madrid at least have opportunity; remote country towns have little to no hope.

We are incredibly lucky and spoiled in Australia. When we complain that our service is not fast enough, our wifi is not strong enough, our handbag is not pretty enough, or our car is not powerful enough, we are just displaying spoiled capitalist attitudes that reinforce unforgivable discrepancies in society. We are basically saying aloud, “I like being middle class and owning a lot more than all you suckers out there who can’t afford to eat.” It has literally made me sick. As I’ve walked past these people on the streets, I’ve been wondering what to do. What is the best approach with such a number of beggars? Do I give money to every one of them? Am I rich enough to be giving one euro to all 25 – 30 beggars I see each day? Am I stupid to be giving to them? Because the attitude back home is that we shouldn’t give money to those “drugged up scum rats who aren’t doing a damn thing to help themselves.”

In some places, we see poor people being creative with their money-making. This has seriously inspired me. I have seen artists do amazing things with chalk, pottery and spraypaint. Groups of boys have learnt to dance in unison and have put on some extraordinary shows that have made me think now that is talent! I have been totally in awe of some of the skills and gifts that have been put on display, if only to gain a little bit of cash. It also brings such life and happiness to a city.

It also sparked a thought in me – if I ever ran out of money travelling, I could potentially make some clever money!

I guess the sad part of all of this, is that there are some people who have been so beaten down by life, so depressed, that they can’t offer any talents, except a hand to the crowds. Some are so beaten that they can’t even lift their hands anymore.

The power of chronic depression is something that had always bothered me – the number one human affliction – and I’ve always wanted to find a solution. And it’s not a problem unique to those living in dire conditions.

How do we bring more happiness in people’s lives? How do we break the cycle?

I suppose if I was going to try to make a difference in the world, I would want to bring happiness and hope – internally – to people in need. Money doesn’t bring happiness. It is handy – but what we need to change are our attitudes.

If only it was so easy for all these people whose every dream has been shattered through poverty, loss and desperation.

When I look outside my perfect little cafe as I sip on my soy iced coffee and listen to one of my thousands of purchased songs on my iPhone with my $90 Sennheiser headphones in my ears as I tap away on my iPad, I see a woman on the other side of the street with her hands outstretched to the crowd. I wonder if she did great things in her life. I wonder what her story is. I wish I could speak Spanish.

Whenever I give money to someone in need, I never throw it at them and walk away in an uncomfortable hurry. I always give them a lingering, knowing, heartwarming smile, looking directly into their eyes. Their smile in return is the most beautiful thing in the world.

I’m not afraid to waste my breath on happiness.

About the Author:  Rose Mascaro has a Bachelor in Creative Writing and Literature, and has been an English Teacher for 10 years. Last year she travelled the world on a trip of a lifetime, and now wants to commit her time to writing about the greater issues that are hidden from mainstream society. As she teaches her high-school students: Language = Power.

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barcelonaThe constant going of time has a petrifying effect. It worries me so much I end up diving even more into the dark swallow of inaction where I imagine there are undying puddles of steaming tar that bind me to the nothingness even more.

Then, the cells in my body shout out all at once, do!

The body shoots off the couch, launches into the air landing hard on the floor, knees bent. And in one kinetic motion, I’ve shaken it all out of me.

It’s funny how the passing of time makes us so slow and bored while the coming on of depression alerts us to be quick to the step. It’s all about everyone’s internal panic button.

I continue with the actions because it seems to be working. I write, I work, I workout, I get up and run. I ride the subway.

This is my stop. I tuck my moleskine away. The old 4-train glides to a halt, and I walk a few steps until I see it. It all happens so fast. I look towards the heavy wooden doors leading out to Lexington Avenue, and I can feel the cold wind rush up and tighten my cheeks. It’s persuasive, the wind. Riding in the subway even in the city winters can get hot with all those layers and people on you.

I’ve already caught a glimpse of the room. The magical feeling I felt since the last time I was looking up at the constellations hasn’t worn off. It’s already a done deal, I have to pay a visit. The grand clock standing tall calls my attention. My answer is simple — I walk just a few steps, it seems, but actually I look back from where I came, and I’ve walked the whole corridor. People rushing by me in their own trance.

Turquoise, ahh. I look up to see the aqueous color and feel at ease. My internal writing voice is quieted. Earlier, in the subway, I was full of thoughts that had to hit paper right then and there, but in this room, my thoughts are stealthy. It’s almost like I don’t have any at all.

The room demands my attention and takes any wandering ideas of boredom up to the ceiling in helium filled birthday balloons floating up and resting there right under the majestic curve of blue. They don’t pop — they just rest there.

Here, I don’t have to worry about the going by of time because every moment is chock-full of awareness. Even with the clock staring down at me from its high old position, every moment is as infinite as the pixels of blue above.

Dark. Now, I look up. I’m not where I thought I was. The mosaic is of an ocean, not a sky. The constellations are, in fact, the white foam of cresting waves painted on top of the blue. I feel the warm grainy sand on my stomach, and I plop my cheek right back onto the sweet Barcelona gravel. Close my eyes. Drift back into dreams. This time, it’s not Grand Central, New York. Beams of steel above me, overbearing sounds of harsh clamoring, and cold concrete beneath my feet.

Gare du Nord Train Station, Paris.

Like before, my wandering thoughts vanish.

The endlessness of one fleeting moment hits and I feel alive all over again.

About the Author: Suhail Mandani graduated from The University of Florida, where he studied Anthropology and English and conducted social experiments in entrepreneurship to help solve problems for students around campus. Three weeks after graduating, he moved to New York City on a whim in the hopes of finding a job and soaking up inspiration to write. He currently works on the client leadership team at a growing startup and writes any chance he gets, mostly in coffee shops, on the subway and in Manhattan’s Bryant Park.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter our next Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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