Tags Posts tagged with "United States"

United States

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I press my fingers into the red rock as the whimper in my gut is ripped up through my throat, mixes with my tears’ salt and pours down my face. I push my boot hard against the rock face and scoot my butt a few inches down the opening. Peter tells me to reach up and grab the overhanging edge and slide my foot down and over to a small ledge, then swing my body back around into the crevasse again. The whimper turns into a wail that silently screams through my skull, and I look down to see the ledge. The silent scream turns into a meltdown, and I press my face into the red of the rock and weep. “You can do this”, Peter says to me.

I have come to Sedona to hike, to look at the beauty of the red rock, and like many others, to experience the sacred energies of the vortex sites. Through the Couchsurfing network, I find a place to stay with Peter who runs the Top of Bell Rock Club. He will host anyone who will hike up to the top of Bell Rock and become a member.

Sun warm and shining bright over the middle of the day, the red rock is rich and vibrant against the blue sky. Our group of four climbs up slowly, places our feet onto a small ledge, pulls ourselves up with some fingers wrapped around a protruding edge of rock. I look up the rock face towards our final destination and it starts.

Did I mention my fear of heights? In my mind, we would slowly wind our way up a trodden trail with the occasional boulder climb.

“Move your foot over to the right and put your weight on that small rock lip”, says Peter, “and grab that rock over your head with your right hand. Now reach with your other hand and pull yourself over onto that ledge.” What? I look over to see the ledge, but what I see is the length of the crevasse below me, the same crevasse that I have been inching up and I am petrified. My heart won’t stop pounding as if it will push through my chest and take flight. My mouth, all gummy from breathing in so deeply, glues my lips together so tightly that I’m not sure I can take air in through my mouth anymore. “You’re almost there”, Peter says as he stands just below me so I can’t see the full scope of the crevasse opening. I pull up and swing my foot tentatively over to the too small ledge and slowly bring my full weight to a standing position while holding on with everything I have. 

Tears don’t roll down my cheeks, they spray salt droplets onto my glasses, rush over my cheekbones like a waterfall cascade. I don’t know what feels worse– the fear of falling and dying or this display of vulnerability. I stop and tell myself I can do this. I breathe deep through the mucus and place my foot over onto another rock ledge, and follow Peter’s directions, the same directions he’s given to 648 other people before me. I reach up and pull myself onto the flat area that is our destination, then collapse.

On the way up, I could focus on the red rock in front of my face as I leaned into the hill. Coming down, I now have to face forward, the whole view of the curved bulges sweeping down in front of me.                                               

Peter smiles while I attempt to work through my personal challenges. Going up,I somehow kept moving one step at a time. Descending, the tears and terror rip through me, melt me down, paralyze me. “Push your left foot against the rock across the crevasse, your left hand on the rock higher up while you place your right foot over here, and grab there with your right hand. Now, shimmy inch by inch down the crevasse “, Peter says as I move an inch, stop and take a deep breath, then move another inch. There is no time now, just each inch.

We finally reach easier rock and shimmy down on our butts to larger and more level ledges. I look back up the crevasse in disbelief that I actually climbed up it, or down it, at all. My legs start to shake a bit in the emotional aftermath, and I feel that I have endured some ancient vortex initiation ritual.

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Located in the home of the brave and the one that has been known as the city that never sleeps; say hi to New York City. The city that is usually termed as N.Y.C. offers the best things one can ever wished for, from fashion to food, from Chrysler building to chances. Whether you are looking for couture gowns or just to stroll down the park, New York will pleasantly provide them for you. The live and upbeat atmosphere of New York cannot also be denied to have inspired some of the successful people in the world; it can also include you!. People consider the atmosphere of New York as a magic seed. Everything you see, everything you hear, and everything you meet can certainly inspire you.

As you step into the city, your attitude starts to shift; not only your attitude, but your priorities too. The feeling of ‘everything is possible’ is securely held in your hand. It does not matter if you start your journey from the historical Matthew Henson’s residence and end it with eating at the famous New York street food, Red Hook Lobster Pound food truck; every activities you conduct in New York will still make you feel from ‘No’ to ‘Noble’. The bright city lights at Time Square and the trees at Central Park will generate ideas you have never come across. The energized feeling possessed by New York will make you feel brave and bold.

The contribution from the people of New York in making this city as one of the greatest cities in the world cannot assuredly be understated; the people of New York are one of the world’s exemplars. Do you know that there is a nickname for the people of New York? Yes, there is! They are called as New Yorkers. New Yorkers are equipped with the best self-esteem, knowledge, and of course, fashion.  The competitive yet friendly vibe carried by New Yorkers inspires the people around them to become better at whatever they are doing. The fire inside the New Yorkers to become better each day is very contagious. It does not matter if it is a New Yorker you meet at Bergdorf Goodman or the one you meet at China Town, the vibe will definitely still be there.

Culinary plays a massive role in New York. You thought you have tasted the best food in the world? Wait until you go to New York. New York’s culinary ranges from a 3 US$ street foods to the world’s fanciest ice cream at Serendipity 3 restaurant, which priced at 1,000 US$…a glass. There is always a place for everyone, from those who only fancy dessert to those who fancy big meals. What about entertainment? Well surprise, surprise. New York is not a stranger to have been one of the notable places for entertainment, from the famous New York Broadway plays to the eminent location for big-screen movies; for example: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, King-Kong, Batman and so on and so forth. Your visit to New York City will be worth it since you will get a chance to visit the real location of some of the famous movies in the world.

Not only that New York will provide you with the best experience that you will ever receive, New York City will also change you as a person; braver, bolder, better. The greatest entertainments, skyscrapers, foods, fashion, and etc. await you. But let’s not forget the opportunity offered by the city as well. Tom Wolfe once said that “One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.” – What are you waiting for? Pack your bags and see you in New York City!

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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There are over 50,000 miles of American highway, crisscrossing the country like heartlines on the palm of the ground or veins under skin. Between the towns of Salina and Green River in Utah, there lies the country’s longest stretch of highway without services. It is an empty forest without trees, sand and grass and road and sky and you are alone. There are no gas stations or fast food restaurant chains or cell phone service. It is only you, the sky, and the road.

Two Novembers ago, my dad I took a 3-day roadtrip to the Pacific Ocean. It was made of last-minute Subway runs, empty coffee cups and crumpled Burger King wrappers in the backseat, strange radio stations, and Florence + the Machine’s then-newest album “Ceremonials” on repeat.

As we neared the end of Salina’s city limits, a road sign proclaimed a 106-mile long piece of highway, completely empty of civilization, and a friendly recommendation to fill up your car’s gas tanks. My dad looked at me. “Wanna drive?”

Windows rolled all the way down, speedometer dipping 90 mph, wind thrashing our hair and watering our eyes, the SUV raced down Interstate I-70. It was as if something had been freed inside of us, and we could hear the heartbeat of the desert around us, could feel the breathing of the sky, and we never wanted to do anything else, just drive and listen.

 The sky was yellow-gold and the road was the color of dull smoke, cracked and gray. Around us rose stony golden cliffs and giant rock formations like they were constructed of asymmetrical Legos houses and uneven Jenga towers, earth-colored. Isn’t it funny how so something so dead can be so beautiful?

 It was like that for what felt like hours, as if we had somehow spent our entire lives driving on that cracked gray road that cut through the desert like the full force of the Colorado River slicing through the Grand Canyon, slowly wearing its golden-ridged walls further and further into sandy oblivion. I considered privately that perhaps I wouldn’t mind being buried here among the sand and sky and rock, because as they are infinite, perhaps so should I be, not a yellow-boned skeleton silent underground but a piece of construction paper sky, a grain of gray-yellow sand, and a single slab of pale yellow-gold rock. And then I wondered if I would ever die, this way.

 We drove all day and into the night, and even once we reached Green River, I couldn’t seem to get that 106 miles out of me, like I had learned an old secret and was expected to keep it.

 When we finally reached the sea it was like cold feet in a warm bed but we didn’t care, just ran in with our clothes on, wanting to fill the empty with seawater and sand and the uneven breathing of the waves.

 That night, we fell asleep to the tide crashing against the sand and we dreamed of yellow skies and empty roads.

 Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Inspiration Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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I hate spiders.  Hate them.  With a passion.  Yet, that first morning in Nicaragua, after sleeping only three hours following a delayed flight from the United States, I stepped into the eco-hotel’s bathroom…and a spider was exactly what I saw.  Brown, hairy, and huge, that awful thing could have eaten a small child.  Or at least a small mouse.


‘Welcome to Nicaragua,’ I thought, my eyes bleary, my mind weary, as I turned on the shower, careful to give Mr. Arachnid a wide berth.  He disappeared beneath an area rug, and I breathed a sigh of relief.  Thank heavens the water was warm.


Mindful of Nicaragua’s water shortages, however, I ended my shower only three minutes later–a record, in my mind, given that showers at home routinely last ten minutes or longer.  Anxiously peering out of the shower, I noted that the spider had vanished completely.  Good.  With my confidence bolstered and a wide smile on my face, I left the bathroom and awoke my eight-year-old daughter.  Our two-week sojourn in the Western Hemisphere’s second-poorest nation had begun.


While I hadn’t anticipated my early morning meeting with the pico caballo spider (absolutely harmless, I later learned), neither had I expected the delicious breakfast of fresh fruit, eggs, and coffee awaiting my daughter and me in the hotel’s open air dining area.  Or, now that the sun had risen, the stunningly lush jungle greenery surrounding the eco-hotel.  I hadn’t known that Nicaraguans were so warm and friendly, that hearing the rooster crow at 4 a.m. and sleeping beneath mosquito netting would soon feel natural, or that, the following week when a monkey grabbed my daughter’s flowery summer skirt and left a muddy handprint, my initial reaction would be ‘that mark will be a pain to scrub out.’  Given all laundry was washed by hand, my assessment of what constituted “clean” and “dirty” had rapidly changed.


Oh, the things I discovered about this beautiful, yet impoverished country–and about myself.


Changed, too, were my perceptions of poverty.  In the United States, all but the poorest of the poor have cell phones and flat screen televisions.  No one washes laundry by hand or lives in a home with a dirt floor (if they do, they are the rarest of exceptions).  All children, regardless of socioeconomic status, receive an education.


Not so for the children of Nicaragua.


I spied two such children just a few days before my daughter and I returned home.  We had been lounging on the hammocks in the eco-hotel, visiting with the other travelers, when we heard the tell-tale sounds of the ice cream man coming down the lane.  My daughter had turned to me, asking, “Mom, may I please have some cordobas for ice cream?”  The ice cream bars were nothing special; at home, we could walk by the same ones at the grocery store without giving them a second glance.  But here, they’d become a treasured treat.


I’d nodded, and as we’d happily joined the other travelers outside the protective walls of the eco-hotel to purchase our ice cream, that’s when I saw two boys sitting along the roadside.  With dirt-streaked faces, the younger of the two appeared to be four years old; the older, perhaps twelve or thirteen.  Their clothes were faded and torn–not even fit for a rag bag.  Behind them stood a man, presumably their father.  He may have been my age (31)–or younger.  Beneath the dirt coating his face, it was tough to tell.


‘It’s a school day,’ I thought, as my daughter and I joined the ice cream line.  Why weren’t these boys in school?


Because, I later learned, they were farm workers.  Field hands.  Their labor was needed to help support their family.  But, for now, they silently watched as foreigners like me shelled out money enough to purchase one, two, three days’ worth of rice on something as frivolous as ice cream.  My fear of Nicaraguan spiders paled in comparison to the worries these boys must daily encounter.


Pulling my daughter from the ice cream line, we approached the boys.  I saw a flicker of curiosity in the older boy’s eyes, uncertainty in the younger’s.  I knelt before him, asking in Spanish if he’d like some ice cream.  Shyly, he nodded.  My daughter led him over to the ice cream man, he politely made his selection, and then I posed the same question to his older brother.  He, too, nodded.  Though I saw astonishment light his eyes as he selected his ice cream, as he sampled that first delectable lick, he maintained a composure found in few adults. Both boys politely thanked me.


From an outsider’s perspective, it may look as though I saved those boys’ day.  But, to be honest, they saved mine.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Inspiration Travel Writing competition and tell your story.


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“You know you can come home.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

“Really.  You can always come back here. Regroup.  Go out again when you feel ready.”

“Dad. There’s nothing for me at home.”  I said the word home because, to my dad, home meant Utah.  To me, I still hadn’t found my definition of home yet.  Home felt like an empty word when I used it, and yet it had so much weight to him.

“You have been in New York City for a week now.  You can mark it off your list. You did it. Now look, all I’m saying is that you have nothing to be ashamed about if you do want to to come back. Okay?”

Nothing to be ashamed about. 

Those words rang in constant echoes even after the phone call ended.  I continued to hear this attempt at comfort from my worried and distant father as I walked up and down the streets of New York City.   I had come to the city on a whim.  I wasn’t having much luck finding a place to sleep that I could actually afford, and the search for jobs was like a never ending Easter egg hunt.  I could just leave, say, “Okay, New York City, this week was fun,” and fly back to St. George, Utah.  Why didn’t I just save the last few dollars I had and go back home?  As my father had said, I had nothing to be ashamed about.

But that was just it.  I had nothing to be ashamed about.  I hadn’t made any mistakes.  I hadn’t grown at all.  I realized that I needed to give New York City enough time to take me in, chew me up, and spit me out.

I looked up at the crowded sidewalks.  It was easy to tell who was a New Yorker and who wasn’t.  The ice was slippery, but that didn’t slow any of the New Yorkers down.  The tourists would get pushed over to a corner of a building where they would pull out a guide book (people still use those?) or their phones.  That was them stopping, regrouping, preparing, and then eventually finding a subway stop.  New York City sidewalks had no patience for gawkers.  It showed mercy to no one, but was loyal to those who accepted the fact that the city owed them nothing.

I realized then, for the first time in my twenty-two years of living, that I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to take leaps…and fall.  I wanted to make decisions… and mistakes.  I wanted something to be ashamed about.  I wanted to cross the line and get my hand slapped for it.   I wanted to float away on a balloon and have that balloon pop when I had inconveniently reached an altitude of ten thousand feet.

Somehow I knew—some how the city told me through its groaning railways, its expensive coffee and chocolate croissants, and the way it never stopped moving and never turned its lights off—that New York would give me my mistakes.

Ask any New Yorker riding the subway and they will tell you, with a flicker in their eyes from the forbidden warmth of a mistress, that this city is about the struggle.  They will laugh and quote the rest of the locals and say “The. struggle. Is. Real.”

Despite the warnings of a ruthless and frosty February and March approaching New York City, I’m set on staying.  All of my hopes and dreams here come down to this favor I ask of the city: Be good to me in that you let me make the biggest mistakes of my life.  Don’t sugarcoat my twenties.  Let me fall.  Let me have something to be ashamed about—and let that shame neither hold me in one place nor push me away.  Dear city that knows no sleep, no rest, and no boundaries, let 2015 be the year of the most beautiful mistakes of my life.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Inspiration Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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Carry-On/Carry On

by Sarah Vedomske

            49 pounds of cotton and denim–that is what my checked bag, my Normal People Luggage, holds. It is a selection of clothing I’ve pained over for weeks, whittling down, rolling tighter and tighter like burritos, rearranging so every last gap is filled like a game of Tetris. I wheel it behind me and give it to the baggage handler as soon as I can. My carry-on, my Not So Normal People Luggage, I cradle. My life depends on what is held inside: paper test strips, which I smear drops of blood onto each day, orange-capped syringes I slide into my stomach, glass bottles of cold, clear insulin which, as a type 1 diabetic, my body stopped producing on its own years ago. I have enough supplies to last around 6 months. After that, I will have to navigate a foreign healthcare system–a daunting task–though, not daunting enough to stop me from going on this trip. Not even daunting enough to persuade me to close the loop on my one-way ticket. This one-way ticket is the freest I’ve ever felt.

            Pulling out copies of prescriptions, I mentally prepare to put up a gentle fight–to defend my disease and the dozens of liquids it requires in greater-than-TSA-approved-quantities. I separate my medicine from my laptop from my shoes from my passport, and watch the plastic bins slide through the x-ray scanner. I strain to find my medicine on the screen amidst rainbow-hued technological blobs, to know when the right moment to explain myself will be, but I can’t tell any of them apart. Finally, I blurt, “I have diabetes! That’s my diabetes medicine in there!” The man behind the conveyer belt looks me hard in the eyes for a second. My heart races. This is my first time traveling alone, I feel as fragile as blown glass.

            “Hey, me too,” he grins. “Type 1?”

            “Mhm,” I nod, wide-eyed. Relief rolls through my body as my luggage rolls, without conflict, to the other side of the belt.

            “It’s tough to pack all that crap, isn’t it?” he says, watching me scramble to shove all of my medicine back into my bag. “Take care of yourself. Safe travels.”

            TSA, in my opinion, is the most stressful part of airports, and it’s usually not as bad as I think it’s going to be. After getting through that and finding the right gate, it’s all lattés, bestselling books, and staking out a seat until the plane departs. My gate is crowded, so I sit on the floor, and lean my back against a big window, as “Fleeting One” by First Aid Kit flows through my headphones.

            I don’t know where I’m going, but no one is coming with me.

            I won’t give up chasing the sun, here I go, look at me run.

            I wonder, as all kinds of people stream past me, is there any place that holds a wider range of emotion than an airport? Most people rush by in a mad frenzy, as if the plane is going to leave without them any second now. Surely it isn’t that pressing for all of these over-zealous walkers. It must be some kind of herd mentality.

            I want to stop each one of them and hear their stories: who is going on vacation and where to? Who is moving and how far away? Who is returning home and who is leaving home and who cried the whole way here? Airports are transitory places; we’re teetering on the cusp of something different, something new, something possible. Courageous souls are carrying on, waiting for flights, coming, and going all over the world right now.

            These people are on business trips, working to pay off credit card debt and put food on the table. People who feel stuck and are daring themselves to get unstuck, or are going home to surprise their mother on her birthday. People who are switching states, countries, continents for love, money, or, as Robert Louis Stevenson put it, “not to go anywhere, but to go. [To] travel for travel’s sake.” They, too, hope that their plane won’t be delayed, and wish the airport had free wifi. They, too, are sore from lugging their heavy, weathered bags. They, too, are tired or nervous or excited or all three.

            These people are carrying the saddest, funniest, dreamiest stories in their wild beating hearts. It’s a brave troupe.

            I then realize that I, too, am a part of it, with my carry-on full of medicine, clutching a one-way ticket in my trembling hands.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Inspiration Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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With my eyes half open and my brain not quite alert I clumsily feel around my bed for the ringing phone. I find a fork, a plate, a whole bunch of crumbs, a dog toy and a computer before I locate the source of the noise.  Ah, the life of a single girl. I squint at the light emanating from the screen, my sleepy eyes shocked by the brightness. The number reads (411)000-0000. What is this? A telemarketer? The collection agency I’ve been dutifully avoiding? At this hour, that makes no sense. I question whether to answer at all when it hits me. This number could mean only one thing. I answer,

“Due to inclement weather and road conditions, school has been cancelled for today.”

It may as well be been God calling. A snow day! 

Excitement wriggles through my veins like that of a child instead of a teacher. Rosie, my black and white spotted, Tasmanian Devil of a dog, watches me from her bed in the kitchen. Itching to see what Mother Nature delivered, I bundle up, leash up Rosie, and step outside into the wintry Vermont morning.

The deserted street is blanketed in white. Cars are invisible under the piles of snow, and tree branches hang heavy, threatening to snap. The cloud filled sky is dropping thick, wet flakes that land soundlessly on every surface. I hear the plow before I see it, scraping the road in a futile attempt to remove the snow before more accumulates.

Rosie is in heaven. She shoves her head into the powdery snow and excitedly looks up, urging me to join her in this activity. She is not sure what to make of the newly defined landscape. She darts back and forth at the end of the leash deciding where to go next, as all her usual smells have been enveloped by the snow. Looking up, she scans the trees for a sign of life to chase, but nothing.

Watching Rosie and the empty street, I realize I should have dressed a bit warmer. The wind rips through my layers and the snowflakes pelt my face, turning to freezing water once they land on my skin. It is probably best to start walking rather than stand, motionless, exposing myself to the frosty elements. Slowly and cautiously I head west, toward Lake Champlain, down the un-shoveled sidewalk. I turn right onto Church Street, the normally bustling-pedestrian-promenade. Here I am protected from the wind, in a tunnel of restaurants, boutiques, bars and coffee shops. The snow is untouched and I have to lift my foot high to traipse through the 8 or so inches that have already fallen.

Rosie and I make fresh tracks as we work our way up the slightly inclined promenade. Mine uniform, hers scattered. We pass by the frosted store window of Sweet Lady Jane where I spend too much of my money on earrings and sweaters. Past upscale Leunigs, a French Bistro where the only thing I can afford to eat is breakfast. The OGE, an outdoor gear enthusiasts paradise. And through the line up of bars, Half Lounge, Red Square, RiRa, places I frequent far too regularly.

At the top of the street I pause. To the left is the lake- the Adirondack Mountains hidden behind a curtain of snow. To the right a steep climb up to the University. I stand at the top of Church Street and look down on this small part of my city that has been transformed overnight.  The snow absorbs all sound and the flakes continue to fall, white and pure, on every surface. In this brief moment the world is put on hold and I appreciate the beauty that surrounds me on this unexpected snowy morning in Vermont.

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An automatic smile highlights my face every time I’m at Saburo’s Sushi in Portland, Oregon. Going to the restaurant used to be a treat only for birthdays, and maybe once every few years, since there’s almost always a line at the door. In more recent times, I’ve been going there quite frequently and have established myself as a regular patron. If they were open on major holidays like Thanksgiving Day, I’d be there waiting in line just to celebrate.


One of the greatest memories at Saburo’s is that one birthday dinner with my immediate family. I will always be forever grateful for the amount of support they’ve given me, as well as the ongoing encouragement to strive and thrive for a happier lifestory. Additionally, treating me to sushi of gigantic proportions is quite the bonus.


For my family business, I’d go from the Northeast (NE) to the Southeast (SE) to treat a potential employee candidate to a “Saburo’s Sushi” dinner interview. On a good day, it takes about a half an hour to drive south, then at least a half an hour wait, then finally, another half hour of feasting. What better way to know a person by sharing a meal with the individual?



The local secret hole-in-the-wall place has a line at least a half an hour before it opens, but sometimes when I’m by myself in line, I am able to move quicker on the list. Of course, I don’t mind having company while waiting. I usually hope that the potential candidate would be on the same page as me and see the beauty in the business we’re patronizing.


When I am waiting in line by myself, I either read or work on some project I am able to travel lightly with. If I am lucky, I get a table entirely to myself. For the majority of my solo trips, they usually seat me at the sushi bar, where sometimes I strike up a conversation with other table-for-one individuals.


There was a “help wanted” sign up at the restaurant one day. I submitted my application. Received an interview. I remember it well because the owner told me that she’s heard nice things about me through her staff, but due to my lack of experience other than those five months at another sushi restaurant many years ago, I would be on-call.


I worked at Saburo’s for a day. Perhaps it was my long-overdue vacation afterward that prevented me from working there again, or maybe I had gotten too busy with my day job as a manager of a small shop on Alberta St. Or maybe it was a baffling idea that I live in three cities and the residence on my driver’s license was confusing for the owner. I don’t regret telling her the truth, my residence is an hour south of Portland and I run a small business in the NE.


The drive to Saburo’s is never long, the SE area of Portland is a little different than the NE, but the rain doesn’t discriminate. It is only waiting in line for dinner while in the rain that makes me a little bit more hardcore, a truly devoted fan of the local establishment.


My starting point doesn’t matter, I always end up at Saburo’s. I hardly ever mind the distance, be it on my way or out of my way and I go there for some sort of security comfort, grateful that I am able to afford  such a heavenly place, for the time being. Sometimes, my travels are in vain because they are closed, either by unforeseen events or by simply closing time and I just get there late.


Due to the lack of work at the shop where I work, I have cut back on my dinners significantly. I still frequent there at least once a month, and I am an unforgettable face there. They are unforgettable to me too. Just because business isn’t going so well, doesn’t mean I have to cut my meal in heaven quota completely. Saburo’s has mouths to feed too.


I can’t choose who I fall in love with, nor can I choose what draws to me to a certain place. I just know that my automatic smile will help me get through even the unnecessary ugliness of my residence back home.

About the Author:

I was born and raised an hour south of Portland, Oregon (according to the way my parents drive). Graduated college from the University of Oregon, double majoring in Chinese and Asian Studies, double minoring in Religious Studies and Political Science. Bilingually speaks Vietnamese and English, with neither one being better than the other.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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 Click here to read Part 1

As we entered what appeared to be a dragon’s cave in the side of a hill, I saw that the cave itself is very “American-style” accessible. Each chamber is brightened by colored lights strategically and aesthetically placed by the Light Masters who specialize in placing light systems in the rare caves. Here and there we saw branches off of the main trail. These smaller trails appear to be only a foot or two wide and short and are a part of the Crawling Tour of the cave. We passed the Elephant Head, a cluster of stalactites named for its shape. Our guided pointed out several types of rock formations including Draperies hanging off the ceiling, the almost transparent strips of Cave Bacon, Soda Straws, and Cave Popcorn. The power of suggestion and the fact that food is not allowed on the tour reminds us all that we are hungry.



When we arrived at the last chamber we all stood in awe, gaping up at the roof of the cavern. The Penny Ceiling gleamed aboves us like the night sky full of stellar constellations. Our guide told us that the glints of light above are actually pennies and other coins tossed up into the sticky black mud seeping out of the rocks above. As we threw pennies up over our heads hoping they would bring us good luck by adhering to the ceiling, our guide cautioned us to be careful. He told us a story about a tourist who accidently threw his wedding ring up and it stuck (they had to get a ladder to get it down for him). Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, none of my pennies stuck.


At the end of the tour, just before returning to the surface there is a rock that everyone is allowed to touch near a small underground lake. While the rest of the group took turns touching the stone, I looked into the underground lake and it gave me a very “Lord of the Rings-ish” feeling. The entire cavern was reflected in the mirror-like surface of the water, making it difficult to determine where reality ends and illusion begins. The reflection in the crystal clear water was beautiful and endless, almost reflecting another dimension.


After returning to the surface and meeting up with my husband, we (my daugher, my husband, I) went on a second tour. This excursion was a 40 minute circuit of the Crystal Palace. It is on this hike that we encountered Marengo Cave’s famous waterfall and the  original entrance where the two children, Blanche and her younger brother, Orris, discovered the cave in 1883. This discovery was dramatized as a shadow puppet play on the wall of the cave next to the “original” entrance. To demonstrate the total darkness found deep under the earth, our guide switched off all the lights and lit a single candle. After our eyes had adjusted somewhat, the candle was blown out and we were enveloped in darkness. As we stood in the pitch black cave, our guide explained that if we were subjected to the darkness for 6 weeks most of us would lose our sight.


The cavern known as The Crystal Palace is located under the local cemetery and it is a large rock chamber filled with many of the formations we had seen along both tours. After giving us the basic background information, our guide adjusted several controls on the lighting board and the chamber was slowly flooded with light. The experience was very unique. As I stood looking up at the beautiful stone formations, I thought about my history, the end of life as I know it, and about the people placed for their eternal rest in the cemetery above my head. I felt grateful for my husband, our children, the two stinking dogs waiting for me up there in the world, and for the things that I have seen and experienced in my life that I could never have imagined even existed. I thought about what comes after death. I thought about Heaven and imagined it being just like the Crystal Palace: it has been here all along but we could not see the beauty of it without the light. It is very hard to go back to the chaos of the outside world when you have finally found an inner peace, yet I still find myself rushing up the steps into the light thinking, “I have to go back, go back to the surface.”

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The Singing Sands : Saint Joseph, Michigan, United States

“The space…silence…darkness….light…atoms,” the calm monotonous voice guides me in my “personal journey of self-discovery” within the four tall white walls of the smallest room at Krasl Art Center. What does every single word trigger inside of me? Love, family, children, laughter, freedom…the memories were pouring back against my willingness to give in to them. Each of these small words was powerful in the dark room, lighted only by shimmering beams of white light. The ingenious artist who had arranged the modernistic constellation of silver sheets, mirrors, and glowing planets had, for a second, achieved her goal. I felt like I was another small planet floating independently, away from her orbit.
I often wondered why it took me so long to take that trip and find my way to the silver beaches and the singing sands of Lake Michigan. During the first several months I lived in the United States, after I arrived from Poland, I felt like someone dropped me in the middle of the ocean without a compass. I had no sense of direction and no sense of time, it seemed like all of my internal navigational systems were down. I felt vulnerable and that feeling was very frightening to me, even more than I realized at the time.

My whole geographical understanding of the world was completely lost in the flat land of Indiana. All of my senses were overwhelmed by the unfamiliar surroundings. I could not feel or smell anything. In Przemysl, my home city, I knew the seven hills surrounding the city center and how they are cut in half by the silver ribbon of the San River. It was very easily to understand where everything was in that small beautiful bowl with its mixture of medieval castles and baroque churches. I knew the smell of the city after the rain fell on the cobblestones, a mixture of static, rusted iron, and bus fumes in the arctic air. It took years of small trips for me to figure out North and South and that Chicago was not located in Ohio but in Illinois. I was like a little spider in Robert Laessig’s painting. I wove my silver web, making it larger and larger, expanding out from my home in Wabash, Indiana, until it finally reached the coast and the singing sands of Lake Michigan.

I heard somewhere that the sands of the Sahara Desert are known for the mournful sound they make as the wind blows across the golden dunes. The sound under our feet as my family walked across the beach of Tiscornia Park toward the waves of Lake Michigan sounded like something else. “The sand sounds like Spongebob Square pants!” my daughter, Makenzie, yelled as she kicked the sand several more times to make the sound before running toward the water as fast as she could. I ran after her, my feet making squeaking noises in the sand, until I jumped into the waves. Later that day while devouring jumbo shrimp called The Drunken Sailors at the best restaurant in town down at the local marina, Clementines Too, we found out that the phenomena of the sands is caused by high levels of mica in the sand. The concentration of this mineral gives the sands the ability to make this very specific, though funny, sound.
Over time, I learned how to use my new sense of direction in these unique local places and discover them with my own little family. I stopped feeling constantly numb and could finally feel the lake breeze on my skin, the warm soft golden sand beneath my fingertips, the hot surface of the lighthouse with its chipping paint, the sweaty little hands of my children, the rich taste of the drizzled chocolate cake at DeBrand Chocolate Factory, and the feeling of joy while watching my children climb on the large bronze Hippopotamus, a part of the outdoor exhibit at Krasl Art Center. I found my freedom is finding a new sense of direction and I no longer felt out of place.

About the Author: Sana Szewczyk, a native of Poland, earned a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and Linguistics from Indiana University and Master of Business Administration in Human Resources Management from Indiana Institute of Technology. Her stories have appeared in over sixty publications. Her first collection of stories, “Under a Ginkgo Tree & Other Stories,” was released in February 2012. She lives in Indiana with her husband and two children.

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