Love Letter to Turkey

Dear Turkey,

It’s been two months since I’ve seen you and I still remember the kiss of your crisp fall air on my cheeks and your mouth-watering cuisine. I remember your bright colors, rich history, your friendly spirit and the beauty of every sunrise and sunset that I saw over your sprawling cities and weather-carved landscapes. I remember feeling happily breathless as I floated above your valleys, wafting in your light breeze in a hot air balloon at sunrise. You wrapped me in your warm welcoming arms and took care of me like I was one of your own.

I know that your government is a work in progress, that many of your borders are riddled with controversy and that no matter how much you try to help the Syrian refugees, the backlash seems to be an on-going battle. I know that being a primarily Muslim country in a time when Muslim’s are being bullied and discriminated against is not easy, but you have been strong throughout history and I believe you will keep your spirit alive.

After hearing the recent news of attacks in Paris and Beirut, I checked with the (Canadian) government to see if I should be concerned about coming to see you again. They say that I need to be cautious, but that as long as I stay away from the Syrian border areas, that are no immediate concerns. In fact, the concerns are the same as those listed for many countries that I’ve visited before that many people think of as safe, such as Peru.

Ah. What a relief to know that as of right now I can return without any serious risks. And, unless this changes, I know we will get to spend some quality time together soon.

I know that Istanbul has been known for it’s historical, very powerful protests and statements from artists. I was also there when a bomb killed people in Ankara in October. I saw your tears and pain. I hope that your healing has begun and that you continue to fight the good battle.

As you go through these difficult times, try to remember that bullies exist everywhere in the world and you are not alone. There are those from outside who scrutinize your every move and broadcast it to the world through television and media. Some of their findings may come from the truth, but they twist and stretch it so much that it is often unrecognizable. Sadly, people too often believe what these loud voices are saying without seeing with their own eyes. Keep whispering your truths until enough voices join together that it drowns out the lies.

In order to survive these difficult times, you need to find it within yourself and your people to continue doing good. For every bad story that reaches outside your borders, make sure that you are creating 10 good stories. Not as many of these good stories will reach the world, but for the one that does, it makes a lasting impact. And, don’t forget that the other nine good stories have a huge impact on your own people and their spirit. Bad news is immediate, but feel-good news lasts longer in people’s hearts and minds. You are strong. I believe in you.

I may be far away at the moment, but I think of you often and dream of when we will be together again. I may even like to make you my home for a few months, despite the difficulties you are enduring. Just as people stand together and continue to visit Paris, I will do the same for you.

I hope that in a few short months I will be sharing your beauty with some of my friends and showing them how to look at the world through their lens. I hope that they will then share your beauty and fond memories of your warmth and hospitality with their friends in their own countries. I hope that by continuing to visit, by continuing to believe in a country that embodies so much history, culture and beauty, that it will help people to look beyond the loud voices and see for themselves what you are all about.

Until we meet again, may your call to prayer be unwavering, may your tolerance for one another be strengthened, may your caring hands take care of many in need and know that I will continue to share your culture with the world outside your borders.

With Love,
Shari

5 Questions from Elite Travel Blog

I have recently been asked to participate in a series with Elite Travel Blog where they invite travel bloggers to share their favourite memories. Below you can find my responses, but you should stop by their site and get some inspiration from many of the other bloggers who participated!

Why do you love travel?

My love of travel was born out of a fear of planes. In 1997 I survived a plane crash in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. I got on a plane shortly after the crash, which was a horrible decision and then I did not fly again for 11 years. Eventually, I decided that the world was too amazing to be missed. From that point on, I stepped cautiously into the travel world and a few years later, here I am making my way around the world!

For me, travel is such an interesting mix of emotions. The flights are still difficult for me nearly 20 years after my plane crash and can still cause me anxiety, but to not be able to experience the world in all of it’s wonders would feel like I hadn’t really lived.

It’s like opening presents everyday of the year because there is always something new and exciting to do. For the same reasons, it can be equally as exhausting when your brain is always taking in new things and never has a routine. With all of its ups and downs, I love travel because it has opened my mind to new ways of thinking. Through travel I have overcome challenges, learned when to be independent and when not to be.

For me, travel is: empowering, frightening, overwhelming and beautiful. Travel is the air that I breathe that gives me life and purpose.

What destination is top of your bucket list? 

As with any travel blogger, narrowing it down to just one place at the top of my bucket list is very difficult. So, I’ll choose the over 7000 islands of the Philippines (I reserve the right to change my mind tomorrow!). With Chocolate hills, swimming with whale sharks, kite surfing and festivals galore, my heart beats faster just thinking about it. Yes, I think it is time for me to float, swim, eat and dance my way through the Philippines.

Where is your most favourite place you have travelled to? 

I’ve traveled to 27 countries, most of them in the past seven years. I truly have amazing memories of every single one of them. Of course, some will always stand out more than others. When I traveled to Turkey in September 2015 with Experta Tours  and The Gallipolli Artist, I expected the chaos of Istanbul but what I didn’t expect was the welcoming, friendly hospitality of the locals throughout the country. That hospitality was expanded 100% when I landed in Cappadocia, land of fairy chimneys and some of the greatest landscapes that I have ever laid eyes (and camera) on. From the charm, art and history of the family-run Sofa Hotel to the pure serenity of my sunrise hot air balloon ride over Love Valley. It was a land of dreams come true and place where a piece of my calm heart will forever reside.

What is your most favourite memory or experience whilst travelling?

My favorite memories from travel seem to be when I find serenity and learn something profound. Or is it that serenity finds me and therefore it teaches me something profound?

As a professional photographer who was interested in travel, what could be better than leading photo tours to far away places? In 2012, with the culmination of much hard work and great support from my friends at G Adventures and the Planeterra Foundation, I led my first photo tour to beautiful Peru. My small group of eight passengers made our way to a small village in the Andes mountains called Ccaccaccollo where we organized a portrait day for the families who had never had family portraits taken before. It was a heart-warming experience, despite the language challenges and primitive homes. We photographed as many children, families and elderly as we could and then arranged to have the photos sent back to them to keep. We were greeted with excitement and welcomed like family. Some people wanted their pictures taken with their favorite cat, while others proudly posed by their llama or cattle. It was a life altering experience when many of us really learned that money can not not buy happiness.

A couple of days later, we traveled together to Machu Picchu and sat in the great Lost City surrounded by thick fog. Our leader asked us to take a few moments to sit and enjoy the peacefulness. Some of my group did yoga or meditation, others just sat in awe and some continued about their business taking photos. For me, I will never forget the tears that I shed at the beauty of this magical place. I will never forget the clearness of my mind and the profound changes that Machu Picchu inspired me to make in my life. Forever, the Lost City will be where I found myself.

What is your favourite photo from your travels?

Hot air Ballooning over Love Valley in Cappadocia
Hot air Ballooning over Love Valley in Cappadocia

Travel with your heart, not just your camera.

Hot air ballon, Cappadocia, Turkey
Hot air balloon ride over Love Valley in Cappadocia, Turkey

The above photo was taken on an amazing hot air balloon experience in Cappadocia, Turkey, thanks to Experta and The Gallipoli Artist. It captures perfectly what my heart was feeling … The appreciation of wide open spaces, the beauty of autumn in Love Valley and yet a few other balloons off in the distance to remind me that I was not alone.

Your camera is an object.
It is devoid of feelings.
It only works when connected to a human hand, which is connected to a human brain and human heart.
It is not the camera that takes amazing photos, it is the person behind the camera.
It is the person behind the camera whose eyes you are seeing through.
It is not just the emotions of the subject that you see, you are feeling the emotions of the photographer and how they saw the subject. You are connected to the photographer’s heart.

When you are traveling the world, it is exciting to capture everything with your camera. It’s wonderful to be able to share what you see with your friends, family and social media followers. Everyone loves photos and stories of far away places.

When you travel though, I urge you to go first with your heart and second with your camera.

When I travel, I go first with my heart.
I travel for the love of other cultures and for the open mindedness it has instilled in me. I travel to understand other people, their struggles, their way of life and their joys. I travel with my heart because no matter where I go, I still care about people, about humans.

I don’t travel to take amazing photographs, those are simply the byproduct of what my heart feels and my eyes see while I am there. I travel to have experiences that change my life, and hopefully change others’ lives for the better.

There are days when I am on the road that I leave my camera behind. It is so easy to get caught up in taking photos of all of the new and amazing things that you see everywhere in a new city or country. It is normal for a photographer to want to document them because that is what we do. But, sometimes I make a decided effort to leave my camera behind so that I am fully present in the moment and spend time learning, feeling and seeing the country, the people and the history without trying to ‘capture’ it.

If you are in a country for seven days and you spend all of your time wrapped up in taking photos so that you can ‘remember’ it, what is it that you are remembering? Simply the photos that you took. Instead, what if you took time to enjoy the country you are visiting and let the photos help remind you of the amazing people you met and things you did instead of missing out on the real country just to capture the outer layer.

If you just can’t bear to leave your camera behind, here are a few tips on how to travel with your heart, not just your camera, but still have your camera in hand.

1. If you are photographing people in another country, remember that YOU are the invader of their privacy. It is not your right to take their photo. If you approach people with your heart, with a true interest in them, they will be more relaxed and more willing to let you photograph them. If you stick a camera in their face without even saying hello, you are invading their space and intimidating them.

2. Get to know the people who you are photographing so that you don’t just have photos of random people, you have stories and experiences to share.

3. If you are traveling with a tour guide, I know this is hard, but try listening to what the guide has to say about his / her country and the location you are at rather than snapping away. Once you hear the history and stories behind the location you will look deeper for photos with meaning rather than snap shots of ‘interesting things’. You will photograph from the heart because you will understand the history, the struggles, the achievements of the place you are standing in. Listen and learn, then photograph to tell a story, not just to have photos.

4. Take days (or hours) off from photography. Choose to do something of interest and enjoy it fully without your camera. Maybe this is going for dinner in the evenings. Do you really NEED a picture of every meal? Will you do anything with the photo of that restaurant? Do you know how to properly take night photos so they are not blurry? Don’t take your camera with you because you feel you have to. Leave it behind you so can be present. It will give your brain (and neck) a break and you’ll be more refreshed for shooting the next day.

Your camera is an extension of your heart. You have the power to capture both your emotions and the emotions of your subject in one single moment in time. Make the most of it. Shoot from your heart.

Shari's Epic Adventure 2014

For those of you who want to know what I’m up to and where I’m going this fall, here’s the quick version. Blogs with more details on each country to come soon.

Facts:

I’ll be visiting nine amazing countries in four short months.
Italy, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Turkey, Greece, Chile, Argentina and Dominican Republic.

Eight of those countries are places I have never been to before.

This is NOT vacation for me. I know this is hard for most of you to fathom, but I will be working while traveling. I will be working as a travel agent the entire time I am traveling. I will have a mobile office that just happens to be in a different country every couple of weeks. The only way I can travel is if I continue to work while I’m on the road, on a boat or in the air, so please, drop me a note if you are planning to travel. I’d love to help arrange your next adventure, big or small!

Highlights:
I don’t doubt that there will be an endless number of highlights that stand out from this trip and only a few of them are things that are planned. Most of the highlights are likely to be unplanned moments that spontaneously happen. For now, here are the things that I am most looking forward to:

Tall Ship Sailing on the Mediterranean. (Star Clippers, Royal Clipper – 7 days Venice to Venice) – Send your best wishes as I try to muster the guts (and a balanced stomach) in order to climb to the crow’s nest on the ship. Fully harnessed of course!

Cinque Terre, Italy – This is an area that I dream of visiting and I can’t wait to experience it’s beauty. The main highlight here will be hiking from town to town along the coast and up the mountains through tiny towns, lush vineyards, past monasteries and castles.

Cappadocia, Turkey – A sunrise hot air balloon ride over the valley. How does it get any better?

Visiting an estancia (ranch) near Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Patagonia – The southern most tip of South America crossing through both Chile and Argentina. Torres del Paine National Park and visiting a Penguin colony.

Studying Spanish in the Dominican Republic. I’m heading back to Sosua to Casa Goethe to study Spanish. I studied for 5 or 6 weeks in 2012 and lived in the Dominican for a total of 7 weeks. I can’t wait to go back to continue learning this beautiful language and visit with friends from all over the world.

I have one month before departure. I have no less than a million things to get done, but I have faith that it will all come together and that anything that doesn’t get done wasn’t that important.

Follow along on my Epic Adventure by entering your email to get notifications when I publish a new story (in the right side column on this blog). If you want to see photos, you should check out one (or all) of the following:

500px – My online store for purchasing prints will be opening soon!
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