I panted across some stretches of the open field, dragging my iron clogged feet along the way. I sprinted through other fractions, even taking tacklers with me until I slowed. 12 months ago I was sworn into the Peace Corps; just under 12 until I board a plane headed towards American soil. Seconds tick off the clock at the speed of a snail; quarters evaporate in front of my eyes. This is my halftime.
The clue to everything a man should love and fear in the world is in the ironic unknown. I’ve surmounted that initial year of Peace Corps and rewarded myself with an unforgettable halftime show. I needed some outside adventure, something to unleash my pent up adrenaline. Fortunately, I was able to do so with the same person who pushed me to take on this journey from the beginning. After a few jam packed few days in my village, my closest friend – and the only roommate I’ve ever had – and I headed to the airport to start our hyped up trip.
Thanks to a nice long layover while border hopping, I was once again able to discover the magic of Istanbul. Feeling the trekkers’ ecstasy pump through our veins that represented the start of a highly glorified vacation, we had aproximately 20 hours to navigate ourselves through the giant city. Armed with nothing but a sanguine „bucket list” and sleepy bags under our eyes, we hit the major mosques, drooled over the weeks’ potential at a few cafes, and covered the extent of the city just because we could.
We moved on to a truly hidden gem; Every town throughout Slovenia was wonderfully drenched in sound and color. The air was unsullied and crisp, the backdrop was vibrant. We couldn’t turn our heads without spotting a motorcycle whizzing by or a local gearing up for a hike. They truly understood the boon of the country. With an awesome pitstop in the hippie capital of Ljubljana to refuel from the central outdoor market and a line of mouth watering food trucks, we hopped on a mountain bound bus towards our destination of Soca. Our vehicle twisted and turned as we crawled up the mountains to reach the hidden valleys. Our destination, an open air hostel, overflowed from adventurous company of all ages holed up in hammocks, RV’s, and tents surrounding ours. A greuling hike brought us to a natural gorge, where we geared up from head to toe. We were dropped down waterfalls, slid down rock formations, and hurled our bodies over crags into springs no man could have made.
Next, we worked our way down the coast of Croatia using more modes of public transportation than the actual quantity of items in our teeming bags. Our first planned stop was Plitvice National Parks, a veiled town with towering waterfalls and glistening pools of natural goodness. Walking through the place, the only thing I could think was „photoshop couldn’t even do this place justice”- just incredible and boundless scenes that highlight the planets’ unpretentious beauty. We then progressed through the cities of Split and Dubrovnik, each offering exquisite views, vintage buildings, astounding trades, and litters of cobblestone streets. Dancing through islands, leaping from lofty cliffs, and gawking at the diverse markets and wild animals were all absurdly amazing. Getting lost far off the tourist path may have overtaken them. The combination of waves crashing against the cliffs and the absence of any language provided such a lethal grace, I could have submitted to concord.
In order to inject some culture and ethos into my trip, and to divert my attention from Kendall’s leaving, I made my way back unaccompanied through the beguiling Bosnia & Herzgovenia. An overlooked country to most, I stayed with a groovy local who opened his home to me. A stroll though the town of Mostar felt as if we were the first visitors at a momentous exhibit. Scaling up a shattered building that served as the Sniper Tower during the bombings just 10 years ago left me dispirited. At the top, structures coated with bullet holes and bomb fragments encircled us. Despite being almost 100˚ via unbearable sun, I wrapped the silence around myself like a scarf. Our dispositions were salvaged by hip bars, visiting an official site of the Olympics (in the Capital, Sarajevo), and the ingenious ideas to turn history into resourceful art full of heart. Once again, the bridges and museums were excellent, but what will stick with me are those bona fide moments of layered and gorgeous intensity.
The inscrutable lore of a mysterious destination allows the heart to conquer the brain and invest trust in complete strangers. Traveling throughout Europe is no longer like embellishing my way through some complex drama without a script – im a seasoned and naughty nomad amongst the exhilirating unconstrained spirit of Europeans. Working my way around has been such a blessing in disguise – the peoples, although often gleaming through the lenses of pink alcoholic saturation, could not be more friendly. Building fires with Dutch and Scottish; Rooftop beers with Serbians; Late night old town visits with Ukranians; Beach going with Italians. People walk the already contricted passageways dressed in whatever they desire, a wardrobe for personal expression and not for public promenades – remaining a refreshing break from judgement. I find freedom in the carnal reactions of people, the almost brutal true colors of those who are equally happy to be lost and seek to explore the world. Everywhere I gazed, however, the amount of technology still came as a shock. Wires all over the place, like metal cobwebs. Still, some constants remain the same – seeing 6 year olds walking the street with an open faced cupped palm suggesting donations, while the other hand is occupied clutching a cigarette to impress the nearby mother. Loveliness will always be accompanied by veracity.
The lifestyle, the traveling; it is intoxicating, but it has an end. So, I boarded a plane headed to Moldova with tolerant equanimity because I realized I felt – for the first time since this journeys’ kickoff – I was returning home. Not just going back to Moldova, the level of comfort by getting on to a rutierra, hearing slang romanian spoken all around was shockingly welcoming. My halftime is over, and the second half has come with an ending in sight. I’m going to leave my heart and soul on the field in what is the biggest game of my life to date. I may now be accustomed to the speed (or lack there of) and the intensity of the game, but I know I cannot estimate the future. Here, the limitations of function meet the ambitions of art and now, I am back on my home turf with the advantage of comfort.