This time last year I was traveling in Germany.
Having just ended our time with Stoke Travel, @kishamaree, her sister, Calie McLachlan, and I spent a day perusing the Flohmarkt am Mauerpark (literally the Flea Market in Wall Park) in Berlin. Wall Park was once the site of death strip between East and West, running from Behmstrasse to Bernauer Strasse.
Now, the flea market welcomes thousands of visitors a week and neighbors an outdoor stage. It is here that Kisha, Calie and I found ourselves in mid-October 2012, enjoying Joe Hatchiban’s karaoke setup, which he calls Bearpit Karaoke. Anyone can sing, and dancing is encouraged.
Funny enough, a group of twenty-somethings had chosen Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” which brought the entire crowd to their feet and many on stage, including myself. Now, I post this, sitting just three hours south of Gangnam, Seoul.
My goal is to visit 100 countries before I turn 65.
Here are the 19 countries I have visited – in order.
In four short years, I saw 19 countries. That’s not bad, but I have some work to do!
I have had India on my mind a lot lately. After meeting my dear friend, Susheel, in 2007, India was added to my travel list (but let’s be honest… what country isn’t on my “Travel” list?). Susheel’s parents’ arranged marriage fascinated me, his beautiful dark skin countered my fair complexion, and his mother’s cooking introduced me to a cuisine I cannot get enough of. During a brief stint in London, I ate more Indian food than ever before. I bought and fell in love with Gregory David Robert’s Shantaram while backpacking Europe this past fall. The book follows an Australian convict as he runs from the law and creates a life in India.
Fathom’s Tanvi Chhesa’s article on L-Atitude Blog gives a fun, quick glimpse into the wonderful world of India. My goal is visit India before my 28th birthday.
It’s always good to have goals…
It’s believed that the San Fermín festival has been going on long before the 16th century. In 2009, I was crazy enough to participate not once but twice. At the wise age of nineteen, I went running with the bulls in Pamplona. I have never regretted the decision, but I have questioned my decision-making ability since. Thankfully, I live to tell the story.
Today, July 9, is the day that I went Running with the Bulls.
Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw and experienced in Pamplona, Spain. San Fermin is the biggest festival in Spain held once a year for eight days. I am told it is arguably the biggest festival in Europe, and I can stand firm in my belief that it most likely is. (Now that I’ve visited Oktoberfest, I’m still not sure).
My travel, Mitch Kraemer, partner from the Italy Program, and I met his friend and KU Grad, Nate Totten at the Barcelona train station early morning on Tuesday, July 7, 2009. After a little run around at the train station trying to figure out the best way to Pamplona, we found a bus that would take us there. Thank goodness we hopped this because it was the best way to kick off our week.
We met two awesome Americans (yes, I learned there is such a thing as not awesome Americans. Sorry to burst your bubble.) But like I said, these two were awesome Americans. John, a pilot and Ashley, a flight attendant for US airways were a great pair. Ashley and John stuck with us all the way to the Stoke travel campsite.
On the bus there were frat boys from UC Irvine and then another trio that will be hard to forget — a Canadian, an Englishman and an Australian who ran the Ryan’s Bar Pub Crawl in Barcelona. The pub crawl trio stuck around all night with us Americans. It was a night for the books. We get into town around nine o’clock to find ourselves in the middle of an all-city party. People were chanting, spraying Sangria all over the place, and having a lot of fun doing so.
The city was blanketed with people in the traditional San Fermin attire: white pants with a red sash paired with a white top and a red scarf. Thus, it was really easy to find your friends when you got separated in the middle of the night. Just simply look for the guys in the white pants and red bandanas. Detect or my sarcasm?
To my luck, I managed to lose Mitch and Nate within hours of my first night in Pamplona. In my mind, they were gone forever, never to be seen again until we finally reunited in Barcelona. It was pretty terrifying, but I keep my head held high in hopes that my independence would shine in a city I knew nothing about.
The longest night of my life seemed to never end. It really just transitioned into walking the streets at seven in the morning to find a place to watch the Bull Run. The bulls are let loose in the city promptly at 8:00 a.m.. It is a good idea to arrive early to be guaranteed a spot to run or a spot to be a spectator. It is twenty ’til eight and I am walking toward what they call “Dead Man’s Corner” (no pun intended). Suddenly who do I see right in front of my eyes just standing by the fence? Mitch and Nate! With hundreds of thousands gathering in Pamplona to witness the Running of Bulls, what are the odds that I would choose the same spot as my long-lost travel partners? No way of telling how long I could have gone without finding these two. All I know is that I was so thankful that I did.
In all the excitement of being reunited with Nate and Mitch, the pub crawl trio kept walking never to be seen again. To those guys, I would say, happy travels and happy pub crawling. (Fast forward to 2012 in Munich, Germany and who do I see? The Canadian! I kid you not. We were reunited three years later – story for another day).
After recapping the night with Mitch and Nate, we sat on the ground near the fence. We had a front row spot of the Bull Run. Nate and I couldn’t stop smiling out of excited and fear.(I still remember the feel of the stone road beneath me. My heart was pounding along with my head. I was nursing a liter of water that sat between my crisscrossed-legs. The anticipation creeped inside my body running from my toes to my nose that morning. The weather was crisp and a cool breeze ran through the streets – the same streets the six bulls were about to run.)
It happened so quickly: the Bull Run. It was exciting, exhilarating and mind-blowing. My adrenaline was pumping simply from witnessing it from the sidelines. Any normal person would watch wild bulls run after people in crowded streets and think, “What on Earth? Why would anyone in their right mind voluntarily put themselves in harm’s way? Literally running with bulls?” Well, I guess I am not normal because from the second I saw the first bull, I was in! I was running with the bulls the next morning. No questions asked.
And, I did just that. I ran with the bulls on Thursday, July 9, 2009. Then I guess saying you ran with the bulls at San Fermin just isn’t quite idiotic enough (or hardcore, depending on your mindset), so I did it again on Friday, July 10, 2009, which sadly was the day the young Spaniard was gored to death by the bull they call, Cappucino. May He Rest in Peace.
Everyone asks, did you really run with the bulls? How close were you? Well, you really have to see a run to fully understand, but to answer questions: Yes. I actually ran alongside the bulls.
Know that the bulls run at a top speed of 15 mph – these suckers are fast. They start at the beginning of the 850 meter course and run into the arena. Most participants pick a 50-meter stretch to run with the bulls because running the whole course would be near impossible. My goal was to run with the bulls without getting trampled or killed.
Just before 8:00 a.m., I’m standing there with hands shaking and head spinning. Questions were just running circles in my head. Before I could muster any type of logic or concurrent thoughts, the first firework shoots off at 8:00, signaling the gates being opened. The six inhumane beasts are ravaging through the narrow stoned streets of Pamplona coming right toward me.
The anticipation is what kills you and tears up your insides until you feel like a glob of fret and fear. Part of me wanted to scream at the top of my lungs while I knew that would only get me thrown out. As a young, white, blonde girl, I had to lay low. Being inconspicuous in this crowd was not easy, but I knew if the police wanted to physically pull me off the course, they could and there would be nothing I could do or say.
A second fire is shot, signaling all six of the bulls are out of the gate. Meaning these bulls and steers are running my way whether I like it or not. Those around me are jumping up and down. Everyone’s’ faces say one universal thing regardless of their language, “@*#&! What am I doing?!” It was almost a comforting and very discomforting feeling to see a grown man, a large, 280-pound Spaniard, trembling next to you. He shakes out his large dark arms, clad in white, and I look to his weathered face. Only one expression lived on his aged faces: fear.
The anticipation that filled my every being ends instantly as the center of the street clears and men all in matching attire are running faster than what looks physically possible. They’re for their lives – literally. Right when men start zooming past me the crowd starts to move, and I mean move. I was booking it trying to avoid the fallen people. Someone would trip in front of me, and it was as if they are trying to pull you down with them. It was an odd human experience. When you see someone on the ground or witness someone fall, you’re first instinct is to help them or provide some type of assistance. Not here. Not in Pamplona. Not during San Fermin. I felt meaty flesh below my feet as I ran trying my best not to fall. I didn’t question those moments at the time but looking back now I feel uneasy knowing how I could ignore a basic human instinct.
During those first few moments, I felt like the ball in Pong. As I tried to make my way down the straight, men were pushing me toward the center of the road then back again toward the fence. My goal [other than don’t die] was to stay on my feet. I ran, jumping over people who had fallen on the ground, avoiding the center of the road while avoiding being trampled or smashed up against the fence.
Then it happened. A bull ran past me. For about a second, maybe three tops, I was able to look to my right and see a bull within arm’s reach. Then as quick as it approached me, it disappeared ahead of me into the crowd. This happened five more times.
I will never forget this experience. I gained more confidence in those two days than all 19 years of my life. I was on my own. Everyone running had enough to worry about with just trying to stay alive themselves, so I was on my own the first day. Just Stay Alive.
The second day was even more exhilarating. I thought my nerves would be a little calmer. After running with the bulls once, what’s the big deal? Not so much. It was even scarier on Friday. This time I had put myself in a stickier situation by starting after Dead Man’s Corner. There was no fence or safe exit in sight. Buildings covered each side of the road until just up around the corner toward the arena.
Unlike the day before, I was not alone. This morning, I had a wonderful running partner. Bec was as much intensity and bravery as you can pack into a five-foot-three Australian woman. After each shot has been fired, Bec and I weaved through the crowd and raced toward the arena. The goal today was to make it into the arena. The large iron doors violently shut when we were a mere five yards away. I can still hear the loud clatter of the door shutting.
San Fermin will forever have a special place in my heart. July 9th marks a special day in my life.
It was a sunny day here in Munich. Thankful to have the day off, I tightened my dirndl, the traditional dress for Oktoberfest. The dirndl is a gift to women and men alike. It fastens in the front lifting the breasts and accentuating the waist enhancing the womanly figure of all that dare to wear the dirndl. With the girls up and ready, I jumped on the 164 bus with more than sixty eager guests making our way to the train station. The train ride into the city center was quick and entertaining. Hundreds of people sported their Oktoberfest dress and some traveled with beer in hand ready to drink their day away.
I was with friends of friends that day. Everyone was Aussie and ready to have a good time. I quickly bonded with a Aussie girl who helped me find the Lowenbrau tent, where I waited for twenty minutes until I ran into more Stoke staffers and friends. We waited outside the doors in the heat. My cheeks started to redden, and I grew inpatient. Just then a good looking Kiwi from the campsite welcomed me with a huge hug. He and friends had a table outside the tent and after a friendly invitation, I joined them for a stein.
The Kiwi was a fire fighter in Dublin and came with a friend who owns a marketing company in Dublin. The steins were delicious and the conversation was good. The friendly fire fighter slowly became too friendly and I excused myself to the toilet. The security guards welcomed me into the tent as I walked past the front doors, where an hour earlier I waited impatiently. I took that as a sign from God to join the fun into the tent.
Thousands of people surrounded tables all throughout the beer tent. It was like walking into a VIP party where everyone is considered VIP. Thankfully I easily spotted the Stoke staff amongst the 10,000 festival goers. I joined them and quickly forgot about my need to pee. The tents go completely mad when certain songs come on. For example, when the life band begins to play “Sweet Caroline,” the crowd goes mad. People hop up into their benches with their stein in hand. Some take the liberty to stand atop the table. It’s glorious.
A newly made friend and I scouted out a good place to sit. We made friends with the people next to us mostly because they had food. The three of them had ordered enough food for five people. So once they left the table, Strappy and I helped ourselves to delicious sausages, potatoes and pretzels. Life couldn’t be better. Drinking the best beer around, eating free food and having good laughs all afternoon.
The boys were gunning to ride the rides all day. So as we finished our steins, we made our way out of the beer halls and toward the roller coaster. Not many know that Oktoberfest includes a giant carnival with rides and carnival games. The roller coaster is not just some set-it-up-in-a-day-dinky-roller- coaster. It was a full out roller coaster with multiple upside down loops and drops. I doubt riding it after two steins was the smartest move, but after giggling my way through the whole ride, I can tell you that riding the roller coaster at Oktoberfest is a highlight of my trip. It was amazing. We also rode another upside down ride called High Energy. From up there, you see the tops of all the halls and all the thousands of people enjoying the Oktoberfestivities. It was a beautiful sight. The sun was setting to the West and the sight was magnificent.
The boys wanted to display their manliness by playing a shooting game. They were sweethearts and won me a little lamb. The lamb paired with the rose they bought me earlier made me a very lucky girl. I had drank steins in Oktoberfest, ate delicious food, rode rides and was making my way back to the campsite via taxi. Life was good.
That concludes my first experience in Oktoberfest. As a tease, the first experience has nothing on the second. Oktoberfest is amazing.
The British Summer Institute
This past summer, I participated in the British Summer Institute, a study abroad program through the University of Kansas Honors Program. The program focused on British literature and British art history. We split our time in England and Scotland, and whether it was in the coursework or outside at cultural excursions — even conversations at a local pub taught me something. I gained:
These experiences in the UK would continue to improve and help me discover a world much larger than myself.
First Time Abroad
I had my first trip outside of the United States in June 2009 when I participated in an Italian language study abroad program through the University of Kansas. I lived with an host family in Florence, Italy, which taught me to be an ambassador for KU and the US. The language barrier was difficult at times but always provided some strange looks and many laughs at the dinner table, which we would be at for to at least three hours every night. I enhanced both my written and oral Italian language communications skills through the intensive language courses. I gained a truly remarkable experience through cultural tours and culinary courses. At time I did not know it, but this study abroad program has shaped my entire college career into something so much better than anything I could’ve imagined.
After I completed the Italian study abroad program, I spent nearly eight months backpacking from June 2009 to January 2010. I first traveled extensively through Europe for eight months. I developed first-hand knowledge and understanding of the Italian, Spanish and Scandinavian cultures. I visited a family in Denmark and saw a glimpse of what the Scandinavian way of life is. After traveling northern Europe, I took an overnight train through Germany and France, and then found myself committing to San Fermin in Pamplona, Spain. Running with the Bulls at the age of 19 was not exactly how I thought I’d be spending my time now was it a goal of mine, but the experience changed the way I look at life. Now that I have experienced the culture of adventure travel, my bucket list has tripled in size. After leaving Europe, I traveled the West and volunteered in Northern California. During my time volunteering and driving across America, I realized that I can learn so much from traveling in my own country, especially considering the size and diversity of the US.
At the end of my travels, I traveled extensively throughout New Zealand for eight weeks, which was followed by a month in Australia. My semester spent backpacking taught me more than I could have ever anticipated. I proved my independence and gained motivational skills and problem-solving skills. I demonstrated flexibility and adaptability. I also learned about budgeting and planning. These skills have continued to help me succeed and as I grow and foster these skills, I will succeed in so many aspects of life.
This past summer after my study abroad program in the United Kingdom, I flew to the other side of the world to backpack Peru with six of my friends. I expected this trip to be full of laughter and girls’ nights. And although the trip encompassed both of those, what really struck me about the trip was that it also opened my eyes to a continent I knew little about. A year prior to departure, I enrolled in Spanish 111 solely for my personal benefit because I knew I would be traveling to South America. Although I am relatively proficient in Italian, Spanish proved to be more difficult for me to pick back up. I completed the highest advanced placement Spanish courses in high school, yet I quickly realized that my Spanish skills had slipped away. My time in Peru was one of the best weeks I have spent abroad not only because I was with my good friends but because I truly prepared for months to better understand the culture. My preparation for this trip made a huge difference in my experience. Although, my Spanish would be considered elementary, it was great to comprehend most of the spoken language. From this experience, I am encouraged to continually educate myself to better understand the world around me.
Interested in South America
While in Lima we visited a terrorism museum, where I learned about the Shinning Path. I had never heard of the Shinning Path and this dark period in Peru full of genocide and violence. What struck me most about these events was that they occurred while I was alive. Granted I was young, but this cultural experience taught me that you can be so far-removed from a culture without even knowing it. I want to strive for better understanding of the world. I now have a newfound interest in South America, but then again there is not a part of the world I am not interested in.
During my times spent abroad, I have paid close attention to the role of language. After returning to the University of Kansas in 2010, I have focused my time on volunteering with non-native English speakers to empower them to learn English. This passion for international students and my interest in teaching English stemmed from my time abroad in 2009 to 2010. I continue to engage in international student events to continue my global understanding.
A year ago, I had a short-term internship as the Communications Director for Dundori Orphans Project, a non-profit organization that a KU undergraduate stated. As Communications Director, I was in charge of social media and event coordination for the project as well as the communications of the group. I developed creative content for the website, which I edited alongside a web designer.
Now I write
Now personally, I continue to write about my travels and connect with other travel writers through a network of social media and blogs. Through an independent study with a journalism professor, I created and designed a personal promotional website that tends to present itself as a travel blog. I create content and make connections around the world through the incredible power of the Internet paired with the written word. I never thought that a classroom project could lead to an independent study that would allow me to engage with over 35,000 online visitors in a few short months. The website has opened so many doors. I have been published on the Sports Illustrated website, and now, I write for the USA TODAY college blog as a College correspondent. I have even connected with travel writers from around the world online and even in person – a woman and I met in Peru to chat about freelance options. This website, www.sarahdweaver.com, is more than a simple personal blog; it proved to me that I can create a product that not only promotes me but promotes international understanding.