We parked our bikes for a long walk around a lake, observing the ecosystem of butterflies, bees, and flowers in the overgrown bushes. All around us nesting seagulls flocked, protecting their nests and babies from our unfortunate intrusion.
Our group of eight took a Gondola up to the trailhead. From our new vantage point, the postcard perfect farmhouses and connecting roads evaporated into the horizon. Yet more importantly, the smell of cow manure quickly disintegrated as well. To cap things off, we were now graced by a backdrop of impressive peaks, complemented by bright green grasses and dotted with intermittent farmhouses that spilled out into the verdant valley below.
Travelers possess unique traits which enhance the world.
Talalla has achieved an odd balance as a beach town. Only foreigners and local villagers coexist on this tiny crescent of fine sand; other Sri Lanka visitors haven't yet made this a popular destination on the map. As such, old fishermen equipped with plastic bottles and long strings of hooks still navigate deftly amongst tourists and swimmers. In the streets, school children excitedly waved hello every time I passed by. Yet local acceptance hangs in a delicate balance; should Talalla follow the development cycle of its more popular sister cities along the coast, backlash is inevitable. Trash will accumulate, irresponsible visitors will propagate, and a way of life that has worked for decades will quickly dissolve away.
As our jeep rattled on through the plains, our tour guide stopped intermittently to point out plenty of animals which our eyes glossed over and he was able to spot. Jackals moved swiftly in the distance and herds of deer were spooked by oncoming cars. Monkeys rustled in the treetops, taking a break from their morning snacking to spy on us.
The last two hours of the journey were perhaps the most breathtaking. Here the speed slowed as the number of curves increased, but the stops were few and far between. Now trees began to truly dominate the landscape: the exhilarating views on both sides of the train offered dramatic cliffs, towering palm trees and thick jungle undergrowth.
What seemed like just a few minutes later we were awoken by the sun on a clear Friday morning in Budapest, eager to set off and see what the city had to offer. It only took a few minutes for our eyes to bulge with outlandish neo-classical architecture in the form of the grandiose St. Stephen’s Basilica. It hadn’t hit the priority list of our vague plans for the day, but we immediately made a detour to accommodate exploring the massive dome which rose up like a sentinel standing guard of the city center.
Our path continued across the plaza to Las Ramblas, perhaps the most famous street in Barcelona. Cutting diagonally from the plaza directly to the Mediterranean Sea, the wide avenue was packed with exactly what you might expect from any shopping experience in a developed country: McDonalds, Nike, H+M, and all the other popular brands. Yet halfway down the street we turned straight into something decidedly Spanish, La Mercado de La Boqueria. The market was an onslaught to the senses: fruits of every color were stacked to the ceiling, pungent whiffs of fresh seafood assaulted our nasal cavities, and each stall was staffed by boisterous salespeople shouting for our attention.
So far my favorite aspect of living in Amsterdam has been the ease of traveling to other wonderful European cities. In November I was lucky enough to have my parents visit in Amsterdam and after a week of exploring the Belgium and the French countryside, they agreed to meet us for a weekend in Paris.
Perhaps the biggest difference in the dietary lifestyle between Americans and their Dutch counterparts is the inclusion of gluten. Unlike the Paleo and low-carb dieters that I had grown accustomed to in the states, the residents of Holland love their bread!
The Amsterdam transportation system is dominated by the bicycle. Regardless of the distance, weather, or time of day, there’s nothing stopping Amsterdam natives from pedaling their way to the next destination. These are just my observations as an American outsider.
Dramatically set amidst long beaches and dramatic cliffs that rise directly from the ocean, Rio de Janeiro is the original home of Portuguese Royalty in the New World and centuries later, still a city of immense international importance. It’s citizens have seen it all in recent years: a corrupt government, rampant poverty amid an intense economic crisis, the 2014 World Cup, and the 2016 Summer Olympics. Both of these international sporting spectacles have come under harsh scrutiny for their lack of planning and unfulfilled economic promise, igniting the city in opposition against establishment forces. Yet behind the tough facade lies a city of six million brash and beautiful Brazilians who are eager to demonstrate their loving pride for la cidada maravilhosa: the marvelous city.
Along the North side of the island we encountered untouched nature: striking rock facades protruding directly from the rolling green hillsides, deserted beaches without a soul in sight, and flocks of majestic birds headed out for a morning fishing trip. Following a swarm of similar boats on the same tour, our driver pulled into the pristine waters of the Laguna Azul and we all eagerly jumped in. Here the water was so clear it seemed unnaturally photoshopped, as a tiny island jutting out from the shore captured the current and provided a prime spot for fish to congregate.
Paraty is undoubtedly paradise. Stefje and I made it our mission to see as much of the islands and beaches that surround this amazing locale, so we hooked up with some other members of the hostel for a boat tour through the bay. In the distance the overgrown islands demonstrated the area’s spectacular propensity for life. Year round sunshine and winter rains ensure that nature dominates here, sprouting up thick forests, fruit trees, and palm branches spreading shade over every square inch of land.
We engaged in one of my favorite activities for getting to know a neighborhood first-hand: strapping on a pair of walking shoes and pounding the pavement one step at a time. Vila Madelena is São Paulo’s best for nightlife, with dozens upon dozens of bars coming alive in the evening hours. Yet during the day it was a curious case study as well, as just one block could include a brand new restaurant, a boutique shop, an apartment building, and an art gallery, each occupying no more than 10 meters of storefront.
We were still hundreds of yards from the view when the mist began hitting us in the face. As we approached, clouds of spray flung from the water hitting rocks far below ensconced the platform, leaving everything constantly deluged. Yet whenever the winds shifted and the views cleared, the result was a visceral experience. For 270 of the 360 degrees around us the falls dominated, dropping 1.5 cubic tons of water every second.
As spirits began fading and legs began aching, the tables turned and the trek down the mountainside commenced. Morale was understandably buoyed by the mother of all views: our first glimpse of Lagoinha do leste. What a paradise it seemed! Protected by the cradle of a semi-circle of mountains, with a set of dunes in front and not a road in sight, the crescent-shaped beach is one of Mother Nature’s masterful works. An endless string of head-high waves broke steps from the shoreline, setting off a race to see which overheated hiker could take the first cold lungs. We body surfed the waves and dried out on the beach, kindling a feeling of deep relaxation amidst the solitary environment.
Every time we turned inward to explore parts of the town was another opportunity, as quaint windy streets occupied by old school cafes and boutique art galleries dominated the thriving tourist economy. In other stretches persistent waiters attempted to entice us into their overpriced restaurants, but the constant salesmanship couldn’t diminish our enjoyment of the experience. We had blue skies, clear views, and were grateful for this opportunity to step back in time, using our vivid imaginations to speculate what this dock might have felt like 300 years ago.
Buenos Aires is a city of constant motion. It’s a meeting point where Argentinians young and old come to live, study, work, and (most importantly) play. It’s the destination where millions of eager tourists each year begin and end journeys through South America. It’s unequivocally the most important city in Argentina, the heartbeat of the country. Unlike the United States, where different cities dominate their respective portions of the economic and social lexicon, Buenos Aires is the hub of everything. This is a city that’s alive: it has a feeling of serendipity, wonder, and awe.