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An Ode to the Hills and Sea

Sao Vicente, a village in northern Madeira.

2023 has been quite the whirlwind. In less than 12 months I've lived in Cape Town, Paris, Nice, and Madeira, and visited Belgium, Greece, Turkey, Italy, and London in between. As I reflect on this time and try to make sense of it all, the dizzying amount of travel and new connections have left me with a sense of vertigo. It reminds me a bit of 2020: much like the time warp we all experienced during the global pandemic, this trip around the sun has felt at once incredibly sluggish and jarringly quick. Memory is a funny thing - seldom linear, it is constantly expanding and contracting in unpredictable ways. I was discussing this with Bill, an affable fellow traveller I met in Madeira. I was saying how travel seems to slow down lived experience when he quipped that "routine is the enemy of time". Bill has declared a silent war on routine: he has made it his mission to fill each day with new experiences so as to intentionally disrupt the perception of time. He must have a point. For me, 2023 has been so eventful, it nearly feels like a decade has passed. The year began with an enormous disruption to the routine. After landing a new job at a company that allows me to work remotely, I decided that it was finally time to leave my beloved Istanbul, the city I had made my home since August 2020. In January 2023, I parted ways with my friends, apartment, and life; packing up all my belongings in one suitcase to once again live life on the road.

Left, views from a Stellenbosch vineyard. Right, a vantage point on the Cape of Good Hope.

Istanbul had left me craving fresh air, green, open spaces, and a reliable place to surf. The choice seemed natural, and Cape Town beckoned. The Mother City is nothing short of a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, surrounded by hills and sea. The regal Lion's Head, elegantly shaped by the elements, stands imposingly above the city, and nearby Table Mountain provides exhilarating vantage points from its dozens of trails. Cape Town occupies a special place on our planet, at the very tip of Africa. Blessed as it is with a pleasant Mediterranean climate, the city offers world-class surf, an abundance of good wine, and the fragrant smell of fresh pine. In other words, la dolce vita, African style.

In an exciting coincidence, my parents came to South Africa to go on a long-planned safari, and our reunion was a rare treat considering the distance that had separated us for so long. We spent our days soaking up Cape Town's natural beauty.

Table Mountain as viewed from the Lion's Head. My phone was stolen just a few days before leaving; sadly, I lost many of my best pictures from South Africa.

But this beauty sits in contrast to the country's remarkably dystopian social landscape. The scars of apartheid are far from healed. The country is still visibly segregated along racial lines; crippling poverty is omnipresent, and crime is rampant. Many bemoan the African National Congress (ANC), Nelson Mandela's once-feted political party, which rose to power in the 90s but has plunged into dismal corruption, a practice so debilitating that it has led to a long-running policy of load-shedding, or mandatory, hours-long power outages. In sum: a gorgeous place to live, but only if you can tolerate the dysfunctional state of the country.

Before my visa ran out, I flew to Paris in May, eagerly anticipating a reunion with old friends. The city proved a convenient foothold for some getaways, including work trips to Ghent and London, and a debaucherous two-week vacation to Greece (Mykonos, Ios, Naxos and Paros). But life in Paris itself proved itself disappointing. I found myself extremely isolated from the city, living in a small studio apartment on the outskirts of a drab banlieue. My new job suddenly became overwhelming, and being remote meant I had few colleagues I could turn to. I would go for days without ever leaving my apartment and spent many lonely weeks crushed under the stress. Nice, where my parents were based, seemed like an increasingly attractive option with each passing day, and I was not altogether disappointed to leave la ville lumière (a side note: Paris does not have the hills and sea of cities like Cape Town, Lisbon, Rio, or San Francisco. Its status as a world-class city should be re-examined accordingly).

Over the summer we visited Cinque Terre, a group of coastal villages nestled on the Italian Riviera, just a few hours' drive from Nice.

Nice was a - dare I say it? - nice change of environment. My mental health improved, and the connection to family was rejuvenating.

But perhaps the most fulfilling part of the year was the two months spent in Madeira, an island in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Morocco. Initially settled in the 15th century, it served as an important outpost for Portuguese navigators on their way to the New World. Today, the island is a popular holiday destination, and has developed a reputation as the "Hawaii of Europe" owing to its lush, verdant landscapes and dramatic topography. But Madeira didn't just feel like home because of its attractive landscape. It felt like home because of the coliving. The communal living space - wherein guests get private accommodations but share other spaces like the kitchen - had about 15 other remote workers from different countries, all of whom came to build an intentional community and explore together.

Nomadico, the coliving in Jardim do Mar.

The experience was exhilarating. During the

week, we would swim over our lunch breaks and cook dinner together. Over the weekends, we hiked around the island's banana tree-lined trails, took waterfall showers, and zipped around the island on scooters. The coliving represented a perfect opportunity to connect with other wandering souls who share the same joys, frustrations, and anxieties of life on the road. I felt that I had found my tribe, and was reminded why I love to travel. This life, after all, becomes meaningless without the people in it. Madeira provided a reinvigorating space to connect with others and forge meaningful new relationships.

Clockwise from top left: (1) Jardim do Mar's big waves attract pro surfers from around the world. (2) Sunset at Paul do Mar. (3) View from the coliving house. (4) Porto da Cruz, host of the island's best seafood restaurant.

I'm often asked: "Do you ever plan to settle down? Have you decided where you want to live? When are you going to stop traveling like this?" I don't have the answers to any of these questions. But I suspect that when it's time, maybe - just maybe - home will have some hills and sea.

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