REMEMBER THIS. Those are the only two words left in my journal after a page of scratched-out attempts to do justice to Victoria Falls within the limits of the English language. How do you explain the roar of a million stampeding horses coursing through your ears, your chest, and even in the rhythm of your pulse? My camera didn’t do a better job, and it too lay abandoned on the ground.
I had hoped to commit the scene to memory, but it settled in deeper. On the wind a fine spray from the falls cascaded across the gorge, refracting rainbows and peppering my skin with droplets that seeped into my being. Vervet monkeys chattered in the canopy, their fur also glistening with water from the source of their subsistence.
Remember this. Billows of twilight fog rolling off a lake in northern Zambia, a tiny pocket of protected land forgotten by almost everyone except for a band of poachers relentlessly staking their turf. At night my breath would match the call of the resident hippos, who in inky blackness reminded us it was actually their turf, god help the man who thinks otherwise. For weeks I joined the rangers to set fire to the bush, a yearly effort to protect the national park from out-of-control wildfires. Acrid smoke from burning miombo seared my nostrils, filled my lungs, and joined the chemistry of my cells. READ MORE
After four or five circumnavigations, I lose count. I am part of a whirlpool in a stream of humanity circling the watchful eyes above. It is a flow without beginning or end. You can enter or exit at any point, but eventually the current pulls you back in.
There are recurring characters on the path. Figures that sit still on the fringes, hands or stumps of hands outstretched, beckoning for acknowledgment or an exchange of energy. They recur as in a dream, the lost girl counting her money, the bright face starched clean by insanity. There is a row of monks that move beneath maroon folds, praying and cackling to no one in particular. One of them claps in ritual. Another pulls aside his dust mask to spit. And on the curb a soul in between this reality and another, shaved head downturned to the worn pavement.
The pace varies wildly in this endless stream. Those who hurry sidestep the prostrators, gloved hands reaching for redemption. Fingers urgently maneuver prayer beads. The blind man stops his singing to take a call.
Through the journey prayer wheels continue their own rotations, absorbing desires and releasing them to the night. The accumulation of desires fuels this stream. The monks softly hum. On my lips the sound of om.
The Shortcomings of Words
There are three distinct clicks in the Xhosa language, on the C, the X and the Q. To say a word with one of these letters, the tongue must simultaneously flick the back of the teeth, ricochet off the side of the cheek, or strike the upper palate with the hollow resonance of a mallet on a wooden block. Tsk! Click! Pop! Nearly three-quarters of South Africa's population speak a clicking language as their mother tongue, and when a conversation gets heated, it is a rapid-fire exchange of verbal artillery.
For anyone who did not grow up speaking a clicking language, the lingual gymnastics needed to click and pronounce a letter at the same time are like learning to walk a tightrope backward. Nevertheless, the American makes a solid effort, practicing clicks and pops under her breath during the twenty-hour flight to Cape Town. On the first day of her assignment, she tries out a few words on a kid admitted to the pediatric ward of Groote Schuur, the stately white-columned public hospital which trains the country's top medical students and serves a largely indigent population. Unjani? Ngubani igama lakho? How are you? What is your name? READ MORE
The kid is three, and her blank stare means she either doesn't want to talk to this strange woman or doesn't understand Xhosa. So the American tries the one outlandishly random word she knows in Afrikaans, and she declares it with such theater and gusto that no three-year-old’s heart could possibly maintain its steely guard. READ MORE
for too long
for too long the explorer in me
lived in the creased pages
of leather-bound journals carried
across roads that lead to the horizon.
it lived in map pins that
refused to stay in the wall,
wriggling themselves out defiantly
in micrometers each day
to new terrain on the floor.
remnants of its spirit
fell from books like moths,
ticket tokens placed to say,
remember who you were in Mbeya.
this untethered soul writes her
own story, and it will be known
by its endings no more.
eternities transpire in the
tedium of daily life:
jasmine flowers affixed
to a string web,
garlands of labor that will die
by in a day wrap wrap knot
links together a life,
a nickel a dozen.
fields of flowers tumble from
rayless market stalls,
shocks of paint,
desertscape mountains of
turmeric and curry.
there is no existential crisis in the
peddling of bananas.
the man selling onions does not cry.
for ram dass
where are you, beloved, now that
you have passed? you are the
cello's vibration, the hum in my
spine, the electricity between
strangers on a crowded train.
you are the galaxies in cells, the love
in these limbs, the shifting four o'clock
you are here, beyond the gossamer veil
between Knowing and not knowing.
Papa Doesn't Preach
His name was Aloumie, a word derived from light, but everyone called him Papa. He had a booming laugh that shook his stocky frame and amber-flecked eyes the color of the pale winter sky. The intensity of them stoked a tremor in my chest when I walked up to his ramshackle truck to buy soup one bone-cold day in Berlin. If eyes are the window to the soul, his announced that he had something. He had it, whatever “it” is: a knowing, a different way of seeing things. My own eyes were tired from an endless search for meaning, so I sat down at the picnic bench and listened. READ MORE
Midwives of the Sea
If a jaguar crept out of the woods, we wouldn’t stand a chance. There are eight of us—armed with notebooks and cameras, all storytellers on a trip to document sea turtle conservation efforts in Tortuguero, Costa Rica—but the size of our tribe can’t make up for the fact that on a deserted beach at midnight, without the glow of our mobile devices, we are totally and completely blind.
Cloyd Martinez, the Sea Turtle Conservancy’s buoyant local guide, is impatient to get going. “Your eyes have adjusted, yes?” he shouts into the wind, already too far ahead to hear the answer. “Pura vida! Straight line, follow me! Pura vida!”
Black upon black. A black stretch of sand between black waves and a black thicket of palm trees, hills and gullies punctuated by black seaweed and logs, navigated by humans dressed head to toe in black so as not to disturb the sea turtles’ light sensitivity. Every night on the Caribbean shoreline of Tortuguero National Park, a rotating team of volunteer research assistants from around the world go on long, solitary patrols. They’re looking for turtle tracks. They’re looking for signs that a hawksbill or leatherback, gentle prehistoric giants who have been clambering out of the ocean to lay their eggs on these beaches for 110 million years, has again chosen to entrust the sand with her threatened cargo. They’re hoping to find the nest before the poachers do, or the rising tide, or the hungry jaguars. READ MORE
All Tides Lead Home
There are no roads to Tortuguero. From La Pavona, a docking depot on the outskirts of a dense banana plantation, the River Suerte cuts through blankets of swampy undergrowth clinging to the banks of the rainforest. If the river is low, it may take a shallow-bottom boat two hours to navigate these canals, part of the national park that links Tortuguero to the mainland. It is here, in one of the most remote and most biodiverse parts of Costa Rica, that many of the world’s sea turtles come ashore to make their nests.
Tortuguero’s narrow strip of Caribbean beach, rough with volcanic sand, is no new destination for the turtles. Every two or three years they return to the same beach from ocean currents that have led them as far away as Spain or Brazil. They’ve been making this pilgrimage for millennia.
What’s new is the wave of tourists who have made a pilgrimage of their own to watch them, and in doing so, lend a hand to their survival. READ MORE
My journey ended in Nairobi, Kenya, after 5,000 miles of dusty, potholed roads traveled alone on public buses and matatus, sharing everything from backseat language lessons to baobab fruit with people who taught me what the term “change ambassador” really means. It started more modestly, with a suitcase packed with enough just supplies for a five-week volunteer grant in Cape Town. Somehow along the way five weeks turned into a year.
Many months earlier, an inexplicable pull to South Africa erupted after reading a sports journalism book, the now-famous story of Nelson Mandela’s work to reconcile his new democracy before the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Kids my age grew up in apartheid while we in America memorized a fleeting definition of it for a pop quiz. And in its aftermath, every single South African had to make a conscious choice—to look beyond the divides and choose unity over civil war. With a sense of human kinship, I started reading South African news, where headlines revealed a 17 percent HIV infection rate, gnawing unemployment, and a host of other issues the country still faces.
I didn’t apply to be a Change Ambassador with some grandiose idea of fixing it all. I felt compelled to go—a need to open my own perceptions, to let this extraordinary, strong country tell me what I could do to be a part of its evolution. READ MORE
Meet the Teacher: Noah Levine
Noah Levine knows suffering. He is the son of Stephen Levine, one of America’s most influential Buddhist teachers, but his own path, fueled by personal angst and disillusion with American mainstream culture, brought him to rock bottom before he awoke. Levine’s painful past served an invaluable purpose, however: Levine became a teacher who could talk from experience about addiction and spurred a movement that speaks to a diverse outlier crowd. Dharma Punx and Against the Stream, the punk-flavored meditation groups Levine founded, have a significant following in both L.A. and New York. He is the author of a memoir called Dharma Punx, as well as the Buddhist resource for addiction Refuge Recovery. Against the Stream: A Buddhist Manual for Spiritual Revolutionaries and The Heart of the Revolution are his two newest titles. READ MORE
WEB CONTENT + GUIDES
Barcelona: A Highlights Tour of This (Not-) Spanish City
The first stroll around town after a transcontinental flight is always disorientating, but in Barcelona, a bleary-eyed traveler might check her passport to make sure she’s in the right place. This is Spain, right?
Technically speaking, yes. But ask any Barcelona native and you’ll get a different answer. The city is part of Catalonia, one of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions, and its famous feud with Madrid is not new. Catalonia and Spain joined in the 15th century, and government attempts to make the region “more Spanish” have only bolstered Catalan pride in its unique history, language, and culture.
Get to know Barcelona through its Catalan roots and discover a city where passion runs deep and fiestas—sorry, we mean festas—take on a life of their own. READ MORE
The Magical, Medieval Town of Girona
A shadowy Old Town lies over the River Onyar, where cobblestoned paths twist and turn through hushed corridors and a sunwashed palette of ochre and umber always seems to be reflecting late-afternoon sun. Gothic fantasies are born in Girona, Spain.
How to get there: Just 61 miles north of Barcelona, Girona is a popular destination for organized day trips. But these magical streets are best wandered alone, and the logistics for it are easy. A high-speed AVE train line links the two cities via Barcelona Sants Station for a 38-minute journey (€32-€60, roundtrip), while regional service takes about an hour and a half (€17-€23, roundtrip).
What to do: The remains of a 2,100-year-old stone fortress separates modern Girona from its Roman roots, and inside the once-mighty stone walls of Força Vella lies one of the most picturesque and well-preserved medieval Jewish Quarters in Europe. The Kabbalah took written form for the first time here, and an air of mysticism imbues narrow corridors and alleyways that pitch upward in the imposing shadow of the town’s hilltop cathedral. READ MORE
A soon-to-be launched website compiles meditation techniques from around the world, across all faiths and disciplines, into a central resource for the spiritual seeker. I wrote 60 research-based articles, totaling more than 100,000 words, on topics ranging from Kabbalah to Japa.
What’s the concept?
Ahimsa is at the core of the karmic religions—Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism—and, in a broader context, the teachings of Islam, Judaism, Christianity and other belief systems. In yoga philosophy, it is the very first step on the path to enlightenment. All other ethical guidelines of Patanjali’s eightfold path depend on ahimsa.
The basic idea of ahimsa is to do no harm to any living being in action, word or thought. It is a life philosophy that turns negativity into love. “Non-violence is not a garment to be put on and off at will,” writes one of ahimsa’s most famous adherents, Mahatma Gandhi. “Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being.” READ MORE
What Is Meditation?
Meditation is a process of making friends with the mind. It is a way to discover that we are, in fact, not our mind. There is a quiet, still observer at the core of our being—our spirit, our true Self—that lies beneath the endless chatter. Meditation reveals it.
“The mind is everything,” the Buddha taught. “What you think is what you become.” Thoughts can create a reality of inner peace, clarity, love, purpose, and connection to something far greater than ourselves. Or it can mire existence in a web of emotional turmoil, conflict, confusion, and separateness. Thoughts often keep us trapped in the past or left drifting in the future, reinforcing beliefs and patterns that we mistake for who we are.
Meditation clears away the clutter so we can experience life in the rich, electric awareness of the present moment. READ MORE
New York City Guide
TRUFFLE Travel launched in 2013 as a a website and iOS app for women looking for authentic, "insider" experiences in New York, L.A., Paris, and London. As New York Correspondent, I set content and curated a guide to the city's best shops, restaurants, nightlife, and cultural destinations with original writing and photography. READ MORE