Three Unforgettable Travel Memories From Erica's Archives

I've been feeling a bit down on myself lately, so I decided to look back at some of my most memorable travel photos to cheer myself up. Little did I know what a rabbit hole that was going to be. Scouring files, watching shaky footage and tracking down photos, I saw much more than my elevator pitch.

I am always my own worst critic, and keeping that voice at bay is hard sometimes. I have a lot to be proud of, but it doesn't always feel that way to me. I struggle to understand that perfection isn't real, and that holds me back more than I care to admit. Travel has been one thing about which I have no regrets, no wishes for do-overs, no could-have-been-betters. My travels have been imperfect, dirty and haphazard sometimes, but they are un-retouchable. Those memories are precious to me just the way they are.

It's not easy to pick just three. Let me know if you'd like to see more!

The Calm After The Storm at Mara River

This photo doesn't look like much, but it is one of very few "exclusive" moments in my travels. One of the reasons I wanted to travel to the Keyna-Tanzania region of Africa was to see the Great Migration of wildebeest. Although I didn't end up seeing the massive herd enroute, I got to see the next best thing, its aftermath.

I was at the Mara River, where a herd had crossed in the past two days. A steady, peaceful stream of dead wildebeest floated down the river, collecting around jutting rocks and up against the riverbank. It didn't smell yet, but carrion birds circled overhead, preened themselves and squabbled on bloated carcasses. It was one of the single most powerful scenes I have ever witnessed.

Brian and I ate a bagged lunch on a rock overlooking the river. A family of hippos sunned themselves on the opposite bank. We heard a rumour that we could see a crocodile up close and personal, so we went quietly with a small group of people through a short, secluded trail along the river to check it out. That's when this photograph was taken, on the hunt for something dangerous, on a literal line drawn in the earth between death and life.

Only a little further away, a huge crocodile was shored up in the sun, enjoying a deep food-induced slumber. No longer a threat, we still whispered and tread softly. The river had many ears this day, and we didn't know who might be listening.

A Brush With Faith in Lalibela, Ethiopia

I came here, to the Orthodox Christian rock churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia, because of a travel show called Departures. The whole series is exquisite, but the Ethiopia episodes are something really special in part because the hosts themselves had clearly found something more than they expected. 

This church, St. George, is shaped like a cross and is carved straight down into the rock. Figures in white read books on clefts in the rocks and drifted in and out of narrow doorways. They were smiling, they were knowing, they had the world in their hearts and it shined in their eyes.

On this same day, another church in the area was celebrating a special occasion. We were welcomed to join. It was a scene of ritual and mystery that I didn't understand, but it had meaning and purpose. The music carried the service. Faith was alive here in a way I had never seen before.

I felt on the verge of tears, which I told no one. I walked around to get a different view, but really to disrupt this overwhelming feeling of being caught up in something much bigger than myself. A travel companion surprised me by leaning over and asking if I was Christian. Yes, I answered, on the defensive because I'm not really religious. He said, shaking his head, it's like a completely different religion though, isn't it? I had to agree.

I still don't know what it means, but I feel reassured that there are places in this world that can still sweep a cynic off her feet and touch her soul.

Reaching For the sky in Quito, Ecuador

I'd just spent a week on the Galapagos Islands, a place with no master but evolution. Now I was back on the mainland in Quito, Ecuador walking real streets and photographing pigeons.

A walking tour of the city took us to La Basilica de Quito, technically unfinished, and according to local legend will only be finished at the end of the world. The journey up the tower is a mix of steps, wooden planks and ladders. Rungs are missing, rails are wobbling, sections like this are open to the air with no safety net but the chicken wire that catches my toes with every step. Too far to turn back, don't look down, ignore the peak of the roof to the right. Keep climbing up, and up, and up.

The gargolyes, a collection of iguanas, tortoises and armadillos, hold their breath but I huff enough for all of us. I reach the top and look out at the city sprawling underneath. My hands ache from clutching rebar and my legs feel unsteady. I feel queasy. It reminds me that I'm alive. For now. There's still a long way down.

The graffitied stone is cold, but the sun shines on my face and bathes the landscape below. I shouldn't have made it here, but I did.

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I hope you enjoyed this snapshot into my brain! I'd love to hear your most enduring travel memories in the comments!

~ Erica