La Viajera (The Woman Traveler)

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Note: A few months ago I posted a story called The Traveler. The experiences in the article were mine, but I wrote the traveler as a man. A friend that has traveled with me around the world questioned this and challenged me to write a second piece as a woman traveler. What a fun challenge it has been! Here she is, La Viajera.

The sun emerges between passing clouds and transforms la viajera’s auburn hair into a fiery red. The wind carries her hair in nonsensical patterns of dancing flames. She does not try to contain it. She lifts her face to the sun and her heart to the sky. A smile rises from her chest and gently appears on her lips.

La viajera sees a clearing along the path where a large flat rock juts over the river, beckoning for her to rest. She sits and quickly tugs off her hiking boots, peels away her socks, and plunges her feet into the icy river. The pristine waters of Patagonia rush around the contours of her feet and between her toes. Cold penetrates her bones and provides relief against the miles of trails la viajera has covered today. A thundering roar catches her attention and she turns with just enough time to see a glacier calving upstream.

Her legs are depleted, but her soul is replenished. She feels the energy of the earth and the glory of being alive in the world. Here, thousands of miles south of her home and surrounded by unfamiliar landscapes, she is free.

She lays back on the rock. The warmth of the boulder seeps into her body while the icy water continues to barrel past her feet. She relaxes fully into the sunshine, breathing it in and radiating the light back out into the world around her.

This feeling of freedom and connection isn’t new for la viajera. It bubbled up when she explored a temple in Angkor Wat with a friend. A rickshaw driver waited somewhere on the other side of the temple, but he was patient and there was no hurry. They turned among ruins of sculptures and tumbling walls towards whatever captured their fancy. Curiosity drove their path forward.

And again when she cycled along one-lane farm roads through endless vineyards in Provence. La viajera got lost more times than she could count in that afternoon of biking, but it didn’t matter. The kindness of strangers and multifaceted communication of English, French, gestures and smiles reminded her of what is good in this world.

And the many times she packed up her Honda Civic and left for a week, a month, a year. The exhilaration of unknown destinations flooded every corner of her body as she drove away from home. Excitement, fear, and wonder merged to form an addictive elixir streaming through her veins. The open road temporarily satisfied this yearning, but it’s only a matter of time before the hunger for new lands flares up and demands attention.

But la viajera is not thinking about that today. Right now she is laying in the sun on a rock next to a river, eyes closed and heart beating in tune with the pulse of the earth beneath her.

 

Heather Whelpley is a coach working with people that want to have a meaningful career and live up to their own potential, but feel stuck in their job. See her home page to learn more. She is also the host of Destination Soul Shine, a community dedicated to nourishing your soul and making your spirit shine. Like Destination Soul Shine on Facebook or follow us on Instagram @destinationsoulshine for resources to inspire you to live a meaningful, healthy, creative life. 

A Different Perspective on Famous Sights

Seattle Space Needle in Chihuly Glass
Space Needle reflected in Chihuly Glass – Seattle, Washington

Taking pretty pictures is all well and good. The sun rising over the ocean, gardens of bright spring flowers, sweeping mountain vistas – nothing gets more likes on Facebook and Instagram than photos like these. Just a few days ago I spent 90 minutes walking around a frozen lake on the border of Canada enjoying the sunset and attempting (without great success) to get a pretty picture. But what I really love about photography is the unexpected angle – patterns that arise in nature and common objects, shadows that create interesting designs, a unique perspective on a building I see every day. Here is a small collection of those different perspectives.  Each photo is a famous sight from around the world with a twist on the point of view.  Enjoy!

Angkor Wat reflections
Morning reflections at Angkor Wat – Cambodia
Harbor Bridge reflected in the Sydney Opera House - Australia
Harbor Bridge reflected in the Sydney Opera House – Australia
Palais de Justice - Brussels, Belgium
Palais de Justice through a bus stop – Brussels, Belgium
Notre Dame - Paris
Rainy day reflections of Notre Dame – Paris, France
Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool
Autumn trees in the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool – Washington DC

A Paris Sunset

Paris Sunset

I had visited Paris twice before; once as a 10-year-old on my first trip outside of the US and a second time as a college student after completing a semester in Spain. Both were whirlwind tours of the highlights – the Louvre, Musee D’Orsay, Eiffel Tour, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur. This weekend, 13 years after my last visit, I had to no itinerary. My plan was simple – walk and wander.

I arrived in Paris at 4:30 pm on an October Friday and enacted the plan immediately. I dropped my suitcase in a worn room in a tired, but perfectly situated hotel in St. Germain du Pres and headed back out to the streets, camera in hand. The skies were gray, but the air was unseasonably balmy.   My jeans and casual burgundy suit jacket were too warm for the humidity hanging in the atmosphere and I began to sweat as I crossed the Seine towards Ile de St Louis. Autumn travelers crowded the narrow streets of the tiny island, licking ice cream cones and applauding street performers. I weaved through the crowds, pausing occasionally to snap a photo, no particular destination in mind.

I found my way to the right bank of the Seine and turned left in the direction of the Louvre. I walked along the surprisingly quiet sidewalk, the Seine flowing peacefully below to my left and the high wall of the Tuileries on my right. I enjoyed the movement after sitting all day at work and two hours on the train.

I glanced down the Seine through an opening in the trees that lined the sidewalk. I looked west, towards the Eiffel Tower in the distance, and saw a distinct break in the clouds along the western horizon. The walk and wander plan was immediately put on hold and I had a sudden and clear destination – make it to a bridge where I had a chance to see the sunset with a clear view of the Eiffel Tower. I quickly consulted my map, counted the bridges until the turn in the river that would afford me a view, and started to run. Three bridges to Pont Alexandre III. The running shoes I had unfashionably paired with my jeans and blazer now served me well. I clutched my purse tightly against my midsection to avoid jostling the Canon camera inside. The light sweat I had broken earlier began to stream down my face. I passed a few pedestrians, but I didn’t pause long enough to look at their faces and know whether they were bothered or confused by my sprint. I was focused only on making it to the bridge.

After several minutes of running along the Quai de Tuileries the road veered left and I knew I was close to my destination. I arrived at the Pont Alexandre III just in time to see the sun emerge from the clouds, its bright rays reaching out towards the top of the Eiffel Tower.

I paused for a moment to catch my breath and wipe the sweat from my forehead. I snapped a few pictures to capture the moment just in case the lighting unexpectedly deteriorated, but everything in the sky told me the show was just beginning.

After digitally preserving the scene, my eyes moved away from the sun and towards my fellow revelers. A young Parisian man leaned against the ledge of the bridge, as if he couldn’t be bothered to turn around and witness the sunset. He wore a fitted green jacket and tight cuffed beige pants, the kind of outfit that would be immediately recognizable as European anywhere in the US, where men prefer an extra inch or two in the circumference of their clothing. His right foot stood firmly on the ground and his left rested on the inside edge of a skateboard turned on its side. The cigarette that hung in his outstretched hand completed the picture.

An Asian woman stood to his right dressed for the season and not the weather in a beige trench coat and burgundy scarf. She snapped photos of herself in the sunset with the aide of a selfie stick, undoubtedly searching for the perfect Facebook profile pic or jealousy-inducing Snapchat to her friends at home. She delivered pose after pose – smiling, gazing dreamily towards the camera, head turned slightly in one direction, then the other. She even flaunted duck lips. I was so amused by this scene that I started taking photos of her. She didn’t notice.

Another man dressed head to toe in dark gray and carrying what can only be described as a purse spread out a large map along the railing of the bridge. He stared at it, perhaps planning his dinner location or plotting the way back to his hotel after the sunset was complete.

I transferred my attention westward as the sun sank closer to the horizon and adjusted the white balance on my camera to prepare for the perfect moment ahead. The empty spaces on the bridge filled with accumulating onlookers that had paused their evening plans to enjoy the show. Thick clouds hung eastward from Eiffel Tower, but there was a half circle of clear sky perfectly positioned above the Seine that created a frame for the live film unfolding before us. The sun flamed in orange, the fiery backlight accentuating the crisp profile of the Pont des Invalides in the foreground and the Eiffel Tower in the distance. A long barge of tourists glided under the bridge below me and added another texture of silhouette to the scene.

The rippled waters of the Seine flickered fuchsia and orange as the sun traversed the horizon. Wisps of clouds painted gold, mauve, and ginger streaks across the sky where the sun had just passed. I adjusted the aperture on my camera several times with the hope of capturing at least one photo that would accurately reflect the landscape around me.

The colors faded quickly after the sun disappeared. I tucked my camera back into my purse and enjoyed a few minutes taking in the view without my lens. I left the bridge and turned back in the direction of the Louvre with the sky still bright in the early dusk. The relatively short run became a rather long walk back to my hotel. The air chilled and I was grateful for the blazer that had caused me to sweat earlier. I considered tomorrow and wondered what surprises my walk and wander plan might reveal, but the city did not need to do anything else to impress. Three hours into the weekend and my trip to Paris was complete.