Indigenous Ohio: Relics of Colonization and a Neglected History

Yesterday was Indigenous People’s Day in the United States. Indigenous People’s Day started in Berkeley, California, in 1992, 500 years after Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas. It is a counter-celebration of Columbus Day, the US Federal holiday also on October 12, which serves only to sanitize the violent history of colonization across North and South America.

The land of Ohio has a powerful relationship to the Indigenous People who lived in this area for many thousands of years before the European people arrived. The word “Ohio” is itself derived from a word in the Iroquois language for “good river.” That is fitting as Ohio is home to several networks of rivers and tributaries. Also, Tecumseh, the leader of the Native American Confederacy, was born in Ohio. Tecumseh fought to the death to unite the Indigenous People of what is now Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, to secure a hunting ground and a territory, protected against European colonization.

Portrait of Tecumseh.

The British were allies with the Native American Confederacy, and during the Treaty of Ghent, the British implored the US Government to return that land to the Indigenous People. However, Ohio was granted statehood in 1803, and then after Tecumseh died in battle in 1813, Indiana followed in 1816, and Michigan in 1837. What remains of the long-standing Councils and the multitude of tribal communities that inhabited the land are relics in museums and several sacred burial grounds.

Recently, I explored three such burial grounds, called “mounds” or “earthworks.” The earthworks are places of ceremony, social gathering, worship, and burial. Although Ohio has many numerous earthwork sites, those I visited are all located in the southern end of the state, between Cincinnati and Athens.

Mound City Group

The Mound City Group is one of six Hopewell National Historical Sites. This 13-acre space is enclosed with a 4-foot earth wall, and is home to 23 mounds. The largest mound is 17 and a half feet high, and 90 feet in diameter.

Mound City, September 24, 2020.

The mounds are what remains from the Hopewell culture, who is thought to have lived in the area from 1-400 AD. Historians and archaeologists speculate that each mound used to house a ceremonial building, based on clues such as artifacts, clays, and ashes. After the building was purposefully dismantled, the mound was constructed.

Map displaying all six Hopewell National Historical Sites.

History almost lost this site. After land pressures in the mid-late 19th century, it was plowed over for farming. Fortunately, two historians had mapped the original site, and it was successfully reconstructed in the 1920s.

Seip Earthworks

Seip Earthworks is another one of the six Hopewell National Historical Sites. It is 120 acres of two circles and a 27-square acre astronomical alignment. Sadly, many of the geometric earthworks were destroyed during colonial expansion. Tim Anderson Jr’s drone footage from 2016 is a birds-eye view of what has been preserved, and is now part of the National Park Service.

My visit was fairly short, but I did take a peaceful moment to prepare morning coffee over my propane backpacking stove and to bask in the fresh autumn sunlight.

Interpretive signage at Seip Earthworks, September 24, 2020.

Fort Hill Earthworks

I almost bypassed this site, in favor of continuing on to my final evening of camping, but it ended up being my favorite, and most adventurous, afternoon. This site apparently has two earthworks, one at the top of Fort Hill with 33 gateways and 1.5 mile circumference; and a second, more difficult to locate, Circle Earthwork. I opted to trek along the Buckeye Trail to find the less accessible mound.

Trail map at Fort Hill Earthworks.

After perhaps two miles along a steep and uneven path, I was on a narrow trail overgrown with spider webs and vegetation. I waved a stick in front of me with each step to avoid spiders in my hair. Eventually, the trail abruptly ended in a field. A farmer was baling hay in the late afternoon heat, and I wondered if I had taken a wrong turn. I stumbled a bit over the uneven soil, and then finally noticed a slightly elevated area of earth to my right. I had found it, the Circle Earthwork. I felt satisfied and accomplished.

Mushrooms growing along a sparsely traveled trail at Fort Hill Earthworks, September 24, 2020.

We can’t change the course that history followed, but we can choose which version of history we honor: the brutish violence of colonization, or the powerful energy of a movement toward reclamation that is very much alive. We can choose our heroes, and how we name the victors.

Dreaming the Future of Travel into Existence from an Unlikely Campground in Ohio

Preparing the fire for dinner.

Recently, I was in that inspirational and exhilarating space of planning for a week away from the responsibilities and tedium of daily life. Some may call this a vacation, but for me, these times of freedom and creativity are more akin to a pilgrimage into an unfamiliar space, over-flowing with magic and self-discovery. In the “before times,” I used these respites to explore the archaeology of an ancient civilization in the desert beyond Guadalajara; to wander the Jewish quarters of Prague and Rynek Glowny in Krakow; or maybe to explore the freeways of America from the backbreaking seat of a Greyhound bus. Whatever it was I had planned, it was created in an elemental alignment with my INFP personality.

However, this year, and perhaps for every year moving forward through whatever timeline is unfolding from the current space of chaos, I am grounded. My American passport may never fold into another border agent’s palm, and bus stations are questionable, even in the most sanitary of times. Additionally, the speed of uncertainty and the weight of instability felt like inertia on my tired shoulders. To travel far and fast would be as restful as wading through two miles of thigh-high mud. I needed something simpler.

Old Man’s Cave in Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio.

When I first arrived in Cincinnati, I was surprised at the diversity of Ohio’s landscape. The Appalachian mountains extend from the southeast into the southwest; gorges and waterfalls dance alongside mountain roads, carved like caverns into the landscape; and thick forests of evergreen and deciduous trees offer access to miles of both easy and strenuous hiking trails. I packed my car for a week of camping, and ventured eastward toward Hocking Hills State Forest.

After five days of traversing over rocks and into gorges, of baked goods in Amish country, and reflection at sacred burial sites of the Indigenous people who used to inhabit the land, I arrived for one final night at a state park about 100 miles outside of Cincinnati. It was called Pike Lake State Park, and was a laid back place with children playing innocently on bikes while their adults kicked back over fire pits and Tom Petty music. Most guests were in large campers, and from all appearances, they had moved in to settle for the fall. Twinkle lights hung from tree limbs, and dinner was prepared outside over full cooking range. That evening, I set up my modest tent, and sauteed green beans in canola oil over my single burner propane stove designed for the back country.

The next morning as I prepared my coffee over the same propane stove, my neighbors, who were three women that I assumed were mother and daughters, invited me to join them with their fire. They told me how they had trouble getting it to light the night before, and one of the men from the next camp came and rescued them from the chill. They said they considered the fire a group effort, and they wanted to share it with me. I happily accepted. I had assumed that I would journey through the entire week without any new connections. It is easy to meet people at an international travelers’ hostel; but far more difficult at a quiet American campground.

My neighbors at the camp. We shared stories around a fire.

Like all travelers gathered at a fire, we exchanged stories of inspiration and experience. The older woman is a photographer in Dayton, and the younger women are her friend’s daughters. I shared a bit about myself, and we all talked about religion, faith, service, purpose, and dreams. After I disclosed that I was engaging in personal growth and seeking answers to existential questions in my life, the older of the three women asked me the sacred question. “What did you learn?”

Bonnie preparing coffee for her two travel companions.

I shared my insights into travel, and of the depth and richness of beauty I had witnessed here in my current backyard. While camping among pine trees reminiscent of the undergrowth in the Humboldt Redwood forest, I had initiated a bit of a love affair with the Great Lakes region. It’s abundant water, it’s lush and fragrant landscape, and it’s biodiversity– even the insects and spider webs– are perhaps under appreciated in the traveler’s imagination. Maybe it is an undiscovered traveler’s market, with plentiful ecotourism and adventure opportunities. Caving, climbing, canopy walks, kayaking, and hiking was everywhere; the colder season will bring snowshoeing, cross country skiing, snowmobiling, and hiking beneath a sparkling clear sky in a night silent beyond the sound of my boots crunching over fresh snow. With so many farming paths and winding country roads to explore around me, it might be many years before I board an airplane again.

Money, Travel, and American Scarcity: Conversations and Perspectives from Central Europe

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The river Ljubljanica as it passes through Ljubljana, Slovenia’s, Old City.

Perhaps the three most divisive topics of conversation in the Western world are money, religion, and politics. They are like a dirty triad. At your next (post pandemic) dinner party, start a discussion about money, religion, and politics first; and then slowly merge into the issues of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, and observe which theme creates more tension among your acquaintances.

Travelers love to talk about money, about how much they are spending or not spending; comparing exchange rates; negotiating a balance between the cost of the high season, and the savings as locations transition into the shoulder season; and about which nations and regions offer the most opportunity for the least financial investment. Money is like air. It is not noticed until it is in dwindling supply.

In September, 2018, while sorting through my belongings in a hostel in Ljubljana, and preparing to store my valuable items in my locker, I noticed that another traveler was watching me unpack. The space was very crowded, and he was waiting for his turn at the lockers. He noticed as I tried surreptitiously to transfer a roll of random bills from my backpack to my locker, and he said, “Ah the United States…” with wide eyes. What he didn’t know is the cash valued maybe $75, and appeared like more than it was. It was mostly American singles and Hungarian Florint, with a few Euros on the top. Since my arrival into Europe, I have been spending from the same pile of “money” exchanged from US dollars into Hungarian Florint into Euro into Croatian Kuna. I no longer know how much that money is worth; I had lost track of the economic equation between my labor and its value. It had been exchanged too many times.

During my week in Ljubljana, I met a Bulgarian from Turkey, who was living and studying International Business in Slovenia. We met at a coffee shop when he noticed I was reading a book in English. He asked if I spoke English, and I responded that yes, I speak English very well, and he then wanted to practice with me.

Although I appreciated his intelligence and inquisitive mind, I fully disagreed with his attitude toward global capitalism. Most of his discussion involved how much clothes cost in Europe compared the the United States, and why the United States is the greatest country on the planet even though Americans as individuals tend to be lazy. I wanted to explain the complex nature of American society to him, but nuances are lost in translation.

At another point while wandering the streets of Bratislava, I noticed that everyone around me was very well-dressed, and their hair and skin were shiny and polished. I felt exposed and vulnerable in my Chacos and second-hand dress, wrinkled and worn after a long day of travel from Budapest. I began to search for other people who appeared more “common,” and finally I observed a group of four people seated at a lower-end restaurant in the central tourist district where most of the eateries are quite expensive. Their clothes were sloppy, and their bodies were a tad out of shape. As I walked closer to pass their table, I heard from their dialogue that they were Americans. Even if the United States government is the most powerful in the world, the American people are not the wealthiest. Even if some of the wealthiest people on the planet are Americans, the general “American” is not economically wealthy. Even if the US offers vast opportunity for some, that opportunity is not available to most. As we approach the 2020 election, this wealth disparity is even more apparent now.

After leaving Ljubljana, I traveled to Zadar, switching buses near the Croatia-Slovenia border. It must have been on the Croatian side because the WC required Kuna to enter instead of Euro. I was in a hurry, and would have given an entire Euro instead of the 3 Kuna it requested, but I was sent away in search of an exchange kiosk. Apparently, in 2018, Croatia still did not accept the Euro. After accomplishing that chore at an exchange kiosk, I returned to pay the price. I handed the attendant a coin that had a 5 on it, hoping for change and entrance. The man looked at what I gave him and said, “This. This is nothing.” “Nothing?” I responded. “No, nothing. 5 Kuna,” he repeated, holding up his hand to indicate five. “5 Kuna.”

Confused, I dug around in my pocket for other change, money that I guess is worth more than nothing. I found a larger coin with a larger 5 on it, and handed that to him. He laughed and said, “Yes, 5 Kuna. That other one, nothing. 5 Lipa.” Feeling foolish and way too American, I sneaked off to the WC, and then to find WIFI to learn about Croatian currency. Apparently, 100 Lipa equals 1 Kuna, so then five Lipa is really not worth much at all.

My experience with life in the US is that nobody ever has enough money. Even with a bank account of $100,000, ownership of multiple cars, a house, and with two incomes, a family will complain that they are broke. So much dialogue around money that I hear is spoken from a framework of scarcity. That leads me to question if it is ever enough. Our shopping lists are always growing, and new products are constantly thrust at us in an enticing array of flashing lights, colorful images, and beautiful people. It is the twisted truth that we are never among the singing, dancing ones, because they are not real.

Before leaving Budapest after three months in Central and Eastern Europe, a Romanian-Hungarian student enrolled in a PhD program in Physics showed me through some less traveled roads in the city. He was raised Catholic, and I was raised Protestant, and we both agreed that “God” is a far greater concept than the human brain can ever understand. After establishing that I understand both the theory of relativity and the theory of thermodynamics and how they apply in idea and practice within our version of reality, he described four other universes within the multiverse. The multiverse are the possible universes that parallel the one in which we live. One such universe maintains all the existing laws of our universe, but with opportunities for different outcomes following an action. Maybe this creates a possibility to redefine our relationship with value, meaning, and life in the Western world. Money itself is valued relative to the nation in which it is earned and spent, and currency is really only a number in an electronic bank account. If indeed other universes do exist and are accessible from ours, I feel like the first outcome we should begin shifting is from our philosophy of scarcity, toward a philosophy of abundance. Then we might see a new material reality, with greater value on life, relationships, travel, personal growth, death, and everything else that resides between it all.

Four Reasons to Visit a Waterfall on Your Next Road Trip

Waterfalling is the word to describe searching for waterfalls. I love waterfalls for their simplicity and vibrancy. I have visited many spectacular waterfalls on three continents, and each has been uniquely different. It is not just the waterfall itself that I love; it is also the story of adventure as I embarked on the journey to find them. In Bosnia, I visited the second highest waterfall in Europe, and also formed a close bond with three other amazing women along the way. My adventure to Puerto Iquazu to visit Iguazu Falls on the border of Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil was my final stop after five months in South America before returning to Bogota, and I felt like I was gazing over the edge of the world and my life. Now during this pandemic, I am sorting my way through the terrain of the Ohio River Valley woodlands, and observed Lughnasadh with a flower wreath at Charleston Falls in Miami County, Ohio. Waterfalls are spaces that offer significant healing for us humans. Let’s keep learning from them.

Our Love Affair with Waterfalling (1)

Three Hostel Booking Tips for the Solo Female Traveler

While traveling, I always stay in hostels. However, travelling certainly looks different as we pass through this time of pandemic. Bunk hostels are no longer open, and the common areas are off limits. I have seen some hostels that are open, such as the Cleveland Hostel, but the space is significantly cut back. Like many others, I know that I am hopefully anticipating when it is indeed safe and acceptable to travel like we had been before time stopped in January 2020. 

Hostels are the perfect way to connect with other travelers and to acquire free resources like city maps and knowledgeable staff. They are also typically centrally located within walking distance of train and bus stations, and other lively areas. The fully stocked kitchens with free food shelves and free breakfasts are another bonus. Hostels do have down sides though, and one of those is sharing space with strangers, and navigating their messes, their noise, their expectations, and their social dynamics.

Morning Journal
The Not So Hostel in Charleston, South Carolina.

Some hostel spaces are conductive for socializing. They provide large common areas for group seating, they offer in-house alcohol service, and someone/a man is always lingering in the co-ed 20 bed bunk dorms waiting to strike up a conversation with whoever will listen. These hostels are perfect if you are traveling with your 15 closest friends, and if you don’t mind the smell of stale beer on an unknown man’s breathe in the bunk below you.

The Balcony
The Guest House Bistrik in Sarajevo, Bosnia.

However, as a female who frequently travels alone, I’ve learned how to identify hostels that are more likely to create social spaces conducive for casual conversation with healthy and conscious travelers. I don’t want people (primarily men) to assume that I am actively searching for some type of companionship. As an INFP, I am perfectly content wandering the planet alone. I am experienced enough as a solo female traveler to know what to look for when booking a hostel.

ALCOHOL. What is the relationship between the hostel and alcohol? Does the description point out its close proximity to bars or the party district? Is a bar located inside of the hostel? Are people in the online marketing materials obviously drinking and partying? This factor can really make or break the experience in a new location. Think about the problems that alcohol invites: disrespectful behavior, sloppy kitchens and bathrooms, late nights coming into and out of the bunk dorms, unconscious noise, and unintelligent conversation. Don’t get me wrong, a beer or three is one thing; but all night and all day intoxication is another thing entirely.

GENDER EQUALITY. How are women depicted in the online marketing materials? Do women work as staff at the hostels, or are all the images of men? Are the bathrooms separate, co-ed, or gender neutral? What are the social expectations regarding non-males in the culture, and how does the hostel environment maintain or challenge that paradigm? Read the reviews. When I was booking a hostel in Belgrade it at first met my qualifications. It had a rooftop patio, no alcohol service, and was owned and managed by a local. However, I changed my mind when I read the reviews. An American woman in my age group who was traveling alone reported feeling uncomfortable because she was the only female visitor, and all the staff were men too. That sounds awkward and isolating at best, and subtly hostile at worst. Hostels create and define community like any other shared space, and if you identify as anything other than a straight male, it’s worthwhile to find a host who will create a welcoming environment.  

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT. Does the hostel support local merchants and residents, or are all its resources through corporate-owned tourist companies? Which events are on its visitor calendar? Does it offer any service learning opportunities or volunteer projects? Is a local managing and operating it?  Although chains like HI provide perks and abundant traveler resources, supporting a locally-owned hostel enriches the economy much more directly, and contributes to positive community development. A larger share of the profit stays within the family who owns the property, especially if only local currency as cash is accepted. The downside is that a local owner might not speak English, or speaks only very limited English, but what’s the purpose of international travel if not to struggle with communication?

Hostel Mostel
The Hostel Mostel in Veliko Tarnova, Bulgaria.

When I travel, I like to meet open-minded travelers who like myself are seeking opportunities to understand themselves and the world through a healthy, conscious, socially progressive, and compassionately inter-sectional lens. I understand that others travel for different reasons, and the party hostels get plenty of guests. But if your dreams are hitched to a more mindful star, these tips are worth the research.

The Politics of Food

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Travelling immediately creates a personal vulnerability that dislodges us from our familiar and comfortable space. Disorientation must be an accepted item on the packing list to carry as international and cultural borders are crossed. Having navigated overnight bus rides and long walks through new cities with directions scribbled on scraps of napkins, I learned how to sustain myself from the most basic personal care, like brushing my teeth or a hot shower. When access to our typical nourishment is unavailable, well-being requires resourcefulness, adaptability, and the alchemy of gratitude for what has been discovered instead of feeling only the hunger of what is missed.

I am not a nationalist, and I stand beside my critical evaluation of systemic race, class, and gender oppression in the United States; however, social analysis aside, I totally loved returning to Chicago from three months in Central Europe and the Balkans, to bask in a Panera Bread with free WIFI and blasting heat, savoring a tomato soup bread bowl and a large, whip cream covered hot chocolate. While travelling, I missed access to whatever quantity and quality of food I desired, and felt physically hungrier in the Balkans than at other point in my near memory. I am a very open minded person, and will try almost any type of food. Only once in my travels have I declined a food offering. In Poland in 2017, I was not mentally able to eat pig lard spread on a piece of bread.

Bread, pickles, and lard
Bread, lard, and pickles are a standard at every Polish meal.

Regardless of my flexibility, I have definitely been hungry on my various travels. I think a few factors contributed to this. First, I travel on a tight budget and in some cities I have had a difficult time finding food that was not served at an upscale restaurant. Second, since I stay in hostels, I was limited to where I could cook and store food purchased at a market. Many of the refrigerators were packed beyond capacity with old, rotting food. At few times, food that I had purchased and labelled with my name was eaten. Once, food that I had bought and prepared for my long day of travel was ruined when a bowl of cheese water spilled on it. Keeping food at the hostels was nearly impossible. Finally, as my journey moved beyond the one month milestone, I began to miss diversity in my diet, and at times wanted to eat no more bread, no more young cheese, no more yogurt, but maybe an avocado, arugula salad, or a baked sweet potato. I do not consider myself a picky eater, but I know what I like to eat, and I definitely appreciate the large quantities of food available in the US.

KODAK Digital Still Camera
My American dinner, cooked over a fire.

Bratislava was one city where I had a difficult time finding affordable food. Bratislava uses the Euro, so I was already at a financial disadvantage. Also, I was only staying for one night before heading south to Ljubljana, so I did not want to purchase more than one meal. I arrived in Bratislava already quite hungry, having traveled a long day from Budapest, and walked to my hostel from the bus terminal which was about 45 minutes while carrying my pack. Although the Bratislava city center is a beautiful and historically preserved ancient walled castle grounds, the assumption is that tourists show up with Euros falling out of their pockets, ready to eat, drink, and party. I checked menus at perhaps 15 establishments before accepting that the prepared food was out of my reach.

Bratislava
My $16 Slovakian buffet.

Fortunately, I found a small market near my hostel, and bought a supply of food for dinner with a snack to eat on the bus ride to Slovenia. The snack was pretzel stick with hummus. For dinner, I ate rich berry yogurt, a green juice blend, and a mystery salad that turned out to be white fish, black olives, celery, and oily mayonnaise. I also purchased a carbonated water flavored with pear, cucumber, and mint. The entire buffet cost about $12 in Euro, or $16 in USD, after international transaction fees.

I discovered burek in Split, Croatia, and lived off of the flaky bread stuffed with spinach and cheese for the three days I stayed there. Split is a city with many tourists arriving daily from the cruise ships, and every restaurant is dramatically over-priced to reflect the market. I met other travellers who had ventured through Split, and they agreed that food was difficult. One Australian couple admitted to having spent about $50 Australian dollars on a couple of poorly crafted burritos, and they jokingly confessed that it was so far their worst purchasing decision along their year journeying around the world. The burek became my go-to food. The spinach and cheese, or the sour cherry, option each cost about 15 kuna each, or about $2.50. Three burek supplemented with some fruit like apricots, pear, or plums would get me through the day.

Burek
Homeade burek with spinach and cheese.

Sarajevo was where I ate the best. My guest house sat at the top of a steep hill, and a marketplace was at the base. It was an easy 15 minute walk. Also, I had private access to a refrigerator and cooking unit. I was able to store food and prepare it for the five days I stayed. I stocked up on fruit, cheese, yogurt, sausage, nuts, chocolate, packets of cappuccino, bread, and a lightly alcoholic (2.5%) carbonated grapefruit and mint beverage. During my entire time in Sarajevo, I spent about 75 marks on food in total, which is about $47 USD, and a little less than $10 per day.

Sarajevo
My Sarajevan feast.

Speaking of alcohol, I sampled two different types of local liquor. Hungary offers palinka, a fruit brandy made from fruit mash like plums, apricot, berries, and pears. In Bosnia, I tried a drink called raki, which was like moonshine and the distiller boasted that his was the only one around made from pine needles. I can’t say that I particularly enjoyed either liquor, but sometimes I find myself searching the corner store for a forgotten bottle of Palina. 

What is the point of travel if it doesn’t change us or challenge us? For my 35th birthday in Prague, I ate a roasted rabbit. If someone offered me rabbit in the US, I’d politely decline. Somehow, while watching the pedestrians traverse the steep stairs through the Jewish quarter in the City of 100 Spires, I felt like a wild hare of a bed of greens with a side of buttery mashed potatoes was the ONLY appropriate food to eat. It was delicious.

An INFP Hostel Survival Kit

I don’t know what other people or INFPs experience, but from my perspective, everyday life can be rather challenging. Every noise is too loud, every light is too bright, every smell is too strong, and I can read the emotional undercurrent in every face around me. While travelling, some spaces have been nearly unbearable. I’ve endured those experiences by sinking as deeply into my own self as possible and waiting for the external environment to change until either it is less painful or I can leave. 

These are the items that I always pack with me to help create a more positive travelling experience as an INFP. For those of you unfamiliar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality inventory, INFP is one of the 16 categories of personality type. It is on the more rare end, comprising only about four percent of the global adult population. The acronym stands for Introvert, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving. 

Hostel in Ljubljana, Slovenia. 2018.

When I travel, I stay in hostels for a few reasons. If I stay alone in guest houses, I would never have any incentive to talk to anyone else who speaks my language. That would be TOO easy. Staying in hostels gives that extra layer of challenge. Also, they are inexpensive. I travel very low budget. While travelling in the US, the hostels that are slowly popping up across the States are far less expensive than staying in hotels or in Air BnB locations. Finally, I believe it is important to consistently meet other people who will expose me to their ideas, their thoughts, their stories, and yes, sometimes even their toxicity. 

I have stayed in multiple hostels across the countries of Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania; and in the cities of Prague, Krakow, Budapest, Bratislava, Llubljana, Guadalajara, Vancouver, Toronto, Victoria, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Diego, Portland, Bozeman, Chicago, Manhattan, DC, Cleveland, Nashville, Sacramento, Columbus, Charleston, Savannah, and probably more that I can’t recall at this immediate moment. Without churning the memories in my mind to calculate the exact number, I estimate that I have stayed in at least 120 different hostels. This is my hostel survival kit.

Clothesline

Clothes and towels drying on a clothesline in Cartagena, Colombia. 2015.

Before my first long-term experience through South America, I picked up a clothesline at REI and was SO happy I had it with me. Laundry facilities were difficult to find outside of the cities, and I did a lot of hand washing. Also, in the humid climate the towels after showering would have never dried without that clothesline hung in front of the fan. With the clothesline, I did not have to give any energy to worrying about my damp clothes growing mold in my pack. 

Sarong

A sarong provides extra privacy in a crowded bunk in Budapest, Hungary. 2018.

The sarong is a highly versatile item. It’s an extra blanket in overly air conditioned environments like buses, air planes, and some hostels; a towel at the beach or riverside; a privacy curtain across the front of the bunk beds in the dorm room; a skirt, a scarf, or a pashmina; or a pillow when folded. Sarongs are lightweight and dry quickly, and worth the $25 to buy one online. 

Plastic Bags in Multiple Sizes

Think like three grocery-type plastic bags, three sandwich bags, and two freezer bags. I use these for food storage at the hostels, or to pack food before a long day on the bus. One plastic bag definitely always has laundry in it, and then I keep an extra on hand in case something I own is exposed to bed bugs. Disgusting, but it has happened three times. Also, in really muddy or rainy weather, I have used pieces of plastic bags as an extra barrier between my socks and my hiking shoes. While travelling, if I accumulate more bags than what I bring with me, I don’t throw any of them out until I return back to wherever home is at that time. Many times, they are all in use somehow.

Mason Jar with Lid

Juice in a mason jar.

Here is another simple item with many uses. Coffee to go. Soup to go. Oatmeal to go. Water. I didn’t trust the cleanliness of the glasses or bowls at the questionable hostel. I collected stones at the river and needed a place to store them before I acquired another plastic bag. The hostel had (very) limited water usage and none of it was hot, and I needed to maximize my water usage. To keep the mason jar from shattering in my pack, I stuff my sarong into the center of the jar, and then fold the outer edges of the sarong around the outside of the jar. 

Essential Oils

I have five go-to essential oils that I bring when I travel. Lavender is a given. A few drops on my pillow and my eye mask helps me sleep at the hostel, and also dispels any unpleasant odors. I tend to get anxiety on crowded buses and airplanes, and lavender relieves the symptoms a bit. 

Tea tree oil is a natural disinfectant. I use it while hand washing clothes, or I pour a drop into my shoes at the end of each day. Nobody wants their boots to be the pair that stinks up the dorm room. Also once I made the error of neglecting to wash the oatmeal out of my mason jar for a few days, and the tea tree oil alongside soap and water de-funked it enough to continue using it. 

Frankincense is good for the skin, and each morning, I rub a drop of it directly onto my face. It helps moisturize my skin, eliminates bacteria, reduces anxiety, and also diminishes the appearance of aging. I’m not a vain person, but I never want to return from a trip abroad through a distant land to hear my friends and family say, “wow her years as a nomad are starting to catch up to her.”

Peppermint relieves tired feet and stimulates circulation. I use food grade Young Living brand peppermint oil, which is safe to add to drinking water. One or two drops in the morning reduces fatigue and helps me recover from any travel-related headache or tiredness. I am not much of a drinker and honestly can’t ever recall feeling “hungover,” but I have shared my oil with other people at hostels who report that peppermint relieves the symptoms of too much alcohol. If you are planning to ingest peppermint oil, be careful to purchase food grade pure essential oils that are safe to consume.

Another food grade oil from Young Living that I use is their Thieves Vitality oil. The Thieves Vitality blend is a powerful immune-boosting combination of Clove, Lemon, Cinnamon Bark, Eucalyptus, and Rosemary oils. It’s named for a band of thieves from 15th century France, who robbed the graves of those who died of the Black plague. These thieves protected themselves from the disease using this same herbal combination. The world is a fairly dirty place. Since I travel alongside the locals, I touch the same surfaces with my hands and breathe the same air trapped in the subways and metros. I am vaccinated against the Hepatitis viruses, typhoid, and yellow fever, but even the common cold can create misery when sharing a dorm, a kitchen, and a bathroom with fifty strangers. Thieves Vitality oil has helped me stay healthy under stress.

Me, feeling very INFPish at a hostel in Buenos Aires. 2016.

As an INFP, these items help me balance the external overwhelm of travelling so that I can continue to learn from what life is teaching me. They are inexpensive and simple tools with many versatile uses, and have improved the quality of my journeys so that my gentle internal world is not distracted with a harsh and formidable external environment.

Vanished Horses and Painted Ladies: Strolling through Cincinnati’s Oldest Neighborhood on a Pandemic Sunday

Flowers blossom on a summer day in Cincinnati’s oldest neighborhood.

While exploring one of the most charming neighborhoods I have seen in Cincinnati, I was reminded that history is viewed through the eyes of the victorious aggressor. That’s why Grandmother’s Foot is now called Montserrat, and why there is no longer a temple to the sun at the top of El Panecillo. In the swift current of human time and warfare, knowledge erodes like sediment, washed into a lost ocean.

Columbia Tusculum is the oldest neighborhood in the City of Cincinnati, and the second oldest white settlement in the Northwest Territory. The Northwest Territory was founded in 1787, and included what would become the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota. It’s formal name was the Territory Northwest of the Ohio River.

Map of the Northwest Territory. What became the State of Ohio is the farthest east.

Benjamin Stites and the Disappearing Horses

A white man named Benjamin Stites learned about the area when he was on a hunting expedition in Kentucky. A group of Native People allegedly stole some horses, and he and others began to pursue them. The Native People built a raft and crossed the Ohio River, near the mouth of the Little Miami River. Stites never recovered the horses, but he decided that the location he explored would be an ideal location for his settlement. He returned to his family in Pennsylvania, and immediately negotiated an agreement with a New Jersey Congressmen named John Cleves Simms. Simms purchased a large piece of land in the newly established Northwest Territory, and sold Stites a 20,000 acre parcel at less than a dollar an acre, near the junction of the Ohio and Little Miami Rivers.

The Hezekiah Stites House, Benjamin’s home, preserved for nearly 200 years.

Stites gathered a settlement party of 26 people from New Jersey. Although they anticipated hostility and conflict with Native People on their journey, they encountered none. They had heard rumors of 500 Native People waiting for them to arrive but their scout canoe saw no one. The party of settlers arrived safely on the morning of November 18, 1788.

Living in Fear

Although relations with the Native People were pleasant enough in the early days of the settlement, they soon turned sour. History records the murder and kidnapping of the white settlers, earning the area the dire nickname of “Slaughterhouse.” A history book describes a cabin constructed only the year after the arrival into the territory in 1789:

“Its narrow doors of thick oak plank, turning on stout wooden hinges, and secured with strong bars braced with timber from the floor, formed a safe barrier to the entrance below; while above, on every side, were port-holes, or small embrasures, from which we might see and fire upon the enemy. Of windows we had but two, containing only four panes of glass each, in openings so small, that any attempt to enter them, by force, must have proved fatal to an assailant.”

The Battle of Fallen Timbers

In 1794, the US army staged the Battle of Fallen Timbers along the Maumee River in Northwest Ohio. This would be the final battle in the Northwest Indian War between the Native People affiliated with the Western Confederacy and their British Allies, and the United States. The leaders of the Western Confederacy included Chief Little Turtle of the Miami, Chief Blue Jacket of the Shawnee, Chief Buckongahelas of the Lenape, Chief Egushawa of the Ottawas, and others that history has rendered invisible. At least one tribe, the Chickasaws, fought alongside the US as allies. Although the battle itself was only about an hour, it’s consequences resulted in the forced displacement of the Native People from what is now the State of Ohio.

Battle of Fallen Timbers. Source: Chickasaw TV Video Network.

Settling into the 19th Century

After the victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, the white settlers in Columbia Tusculum felt safe to construct their homes with less safety measures. However, as they began to expand their settlement, they realized they were building on a flood plain of the Ohio River. They relocated to the foot of Tusculum Hill in 1815, and most of the existing neighborhood survives still today. The oldest home that is still occupied nearly 225 years later is at 3644 Eastern Avenue and was built in 1805. It has evolved over the years, from a modest log cabin to its current Gothic Revival architectural style.

The oldest home in Cincinnati, located on Eastern Avenue in Columbia Tusculum. August 2020.

Many of the houses are on the National Registry of Historic Places, including the rows of “Painted Ladies” that line Tusculum Avenue. The Painted Ladies are Victorian era homes, adorned in brilliant and bright colors that contrast sharply when compared to the more modest dress of our 21st century, prefabricated homes. However, the newer homes in this neighborhood are modeled after the Painted Ladies, maybe to maintain consistency of appearance. Today, this neighborhood is like the SF of Cinci; any home for sale costs upwards of half a million dollars, an impossible price for the average Cincinnati local who earns a median income of $43,000.

A row of Painted Ladies on Tusculum Avenue, all bearing the National Registry of Historic Places nameplate, and each valued at over half a million dollars.

We will never know what happened to the horses that Stites followed from Kentucky to the spot of land near the Ohio River and the Little Miami River. Did he really believe the Native People had stolen them, or were they an easy scapegoat? We will also never know the story of conquest from the perspective of the Native People who lost their land and thousands of years of cultural heritage and knowledge within a few years time. If we have learned anything from the lessons that 2020 has offered, it is that we can’t trust the story fed to us from the leadership. But I guess my most pressing question is who in the world is buying a house that costs half a million dollars?

Travel and The Hero’s Journey: A Growth Map

“Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today.” James Dean.

In 1949, a literature professor at Sarah Lawrence College coined a term that summarized comparative mythology and its relationship to the human experience. Joseph Campbell began to describe the narrative process of a protagonist venturing into the world to fill a need, who then faces and overcomes conflict and adversity, and finally returns, triumphant, as “The Hero’s Journey.” It is a narrative of struggle, resilience, and victory.

The Hero’s Journey is 12 steps, within three stages. The three stages are the Departure, when the Hero leaves their ordinary world; the initiation, when the Hero ventures into the Unknown; and the triumphant Return. When we apply the more detailed and thorough 12 steps to our own lives, particularly when we set the intention to grow from our travels, we embrace the magic of mythology and our destiny to design meaning for ourselves during this glimpse of time on Earth.

Personal growth and travel both require us to confront the unknown. Like the Hero, at some point we are aware that the lives we are living are no longer providing what we need. Something needs to change. We need to adjust our experience, and cross borders into other lands. That space may be inside of our own psyche, or across the distant mountains, or both. When we journey across the Earth, what we experience is a projection of our expectations, and a mirror of our own fears. As creative beings invested in a mythology of experience, we can apply the Hero’s Journey to our process, and use it as a guide to grow deeper.

Room with A Multidimensional View

When I finally followed the 10 out of Los Angeles in July of 2018, my Ford Fiesta (where every drive is a party) was packed with a few bins of belongings stacked neatly between clothes and camping gear. My dog Nahla rode shotgun, curled into a furry ball on a pillow like a princess. I crossed the Imperial Valley eastward on a road that melted into a heat oasis between mountains of piled rock. It merged into an alien landscape bristling with Joshua Trees and tumbleweeds. I imagined my future extended before me, equally out of focus, and perhaps as barren and inhospitable as the sun that scorched the dust and asphalt. 

Leaving Home to Return to the Familiar

Although I was returning to a theoretically familiar place, I knew I was venturing into the unknown. I was leaving my social and professional network, and the life I had built in Northern California for 14 years. No more Harbin Hot Springs or Sierra Hot Springs. No more respite from the heat in the Yuba River, the Trinity River, the Salmon River, the Feather River, or the Sacramento River. No more camping in the Siskiyou-Trinity Alps. No more Bigfoot. No more slow Saturdays with coffee at the Weathervane, an afternoon swim at the Capital Athletic Club, and an early evening pint at the Fox and Goose. No more running into friends at the park. Northern California and the Pacific Northwest will probably continue to be the place where I felt like my most authentic version of myself, where I felt most like I spoke a language aligned with the other humans. 

Every Path Includes a Detour

The whirlwind whisked me through 15 states and eight foreign countries. After leaving Los Angeles, I ventured north through Nevada and into Utah. I explored Zion National Park before continuing along Idaho’s Salmon River Byway. In Montana, I rested at the Lost Trail Hot Springs, got lost on back roads in the mountains to luck into one last available camping spot at dusk to discover it was actually the site I had reserved and so was not lost at all, and ate my first hot meal since Los Angeles at a brunch cafe in Missoula.

In Wyoming’s Big Horn National Forest, I hiked Medicine Mountain to gaze in wander at the active Medicine Wheel, met a traveler from Russia who wore her traditional village clothing and who carried a glass bottle of water in a woven basket, and camped in a hail storm shivering with cold and fear of the bear that lurked outside my tent silhouetted against the full moon light. I arrived at my brother’s place in Bloomington in time for his birthday, and with two weeks to unpack before boarding a plane to Budapest from Manhattan. 

Opening to Opportunity

Had I not said “yes” to the opportunity to travel, I would not have met Oben a Turkish doctoral student in Budapest; Jeff the Taiwanese teacher in Bratislava; Bella and Pauline from Brussels in Zadar; Oliver the French chef in Ljubljana; Nikki and Cade from Australia who had been traveling for over a year with only a small backpack between them in Sofia; Ole the Norweigan prison guard; Thomas from the Netherlands in Belgrade venturing into a journey to discover his heart and his talent; Janet from New Zealand in Bucharest; Peter in Csikszereda with tattoos on his arms written in runic Hungarian script; Botond and Maria the Romanian middle schoolers who laughed in embarrassment at their attempts to say the English words “squirrel,” “walrus,” and “seal”; and the many others who etched their shared destiny onto stars in my own version of sky. 

Eastbound Train

On August 16, 2018, before leaving Indianapolis on a Manhattan-bound train, I wrote:

My life is an unanswered question. The future is unwritten, and has yet to rise from the ash of the past. I welcome it, however it appears, and I welcome this time to create it, to invent myself again, and move forward into a brighter freedom. My life is what I want it to be; I am whoever I want to become. The events in the past are gone, and they have no more power over me. It is a new morning. The great rain has washed it away.

Today my life is singing crickets, the moist air of a humid summer, trails through verdant meadows and dense forest, and the promise that what I initiate into being through my energy, my focus, my creativity, and my desire will return as gifts on the horizon. Even if within this moment of pandemic and social unrest, I do not see them from where I currently watch, if I keep moving forward, I will reach them. Life is an adventure with a multidimensional view, and another storm is brewing on the eastern horizon.