Solo Female Power

Long before I embarked on this nutty journey, a friend sent me an email at work marked urgent.

The words that met my eyes were unmistakable.


Her name tasted like a chili, stinging and alien. I didn’t even know the person was a “she” until I read further.

Hajieh had been in prison five years by the time I saw this petition. She was sentenced with committing adultery in Jolfa, Iran, forced to serve a prison term and then come to a climax with death – by stoning. Since the revolution, the Iranian women rights movement had to go underground, but little triumphs have bloomed, particularly the campaign to Stop Stoning Forever.

I admit to not remembering if I signed the petition, knowing me, a booming yes. What was more interesting is how removed I felt from it.

I nursed empathy, one thing I’m adept at is picturing how it might be to live in her skin for one day. It couldn’t have been posies and trotting through a golden field of wheat.

Yet, her association to me was a dimly lit bulb. We North Americans love to bring it back to how anything affects us. Truth be told, her predicament, while horrifying and unjust, was not part of my reality. I could easily get on with my life.

It’s not until you leave the comforts of your homeland do you understand.

In India, I was constantly faced with unfairness, double-standard behavior and shock. A co-volunteer confirmed that village girls in Bihar are forced to marry as young as 14. Why does my skin break out in goosebumps, the downy hair on the rear

July 29th, 2011|Categories: Culture|Tags: , , , |14 Comments

Topless in France

The other night I sipped a Manhattan for the first time. For some reason its moniker unearthed images of a splash of gin, perhaps vodka and a sassy fruit liquieur to temper it. Instead, what met my lips was the hard bite of bourbon whiskey. It made my eyes water a touch. It’s funny how names can set a tone for us, categorize our behaviors. What Jackie Desforges discovers in group travel is how freeing it can be to leap beyond where you are from or how you are expected to be. And the ending! Oh, how Jackie surprised me. That is the Manhattan in a nutshell. Please enjoy today’s Summer Chick Tale.


July 27th, 2011|Categories: July 2011|Tags: , , , , |7 Comments

Scenes from an Indian Highway

People often ask me what is the best vantage point to see local life roll by.

Watch the road.

How a culture gets around indicates how they live. In turn, you witness fascinating and unpredicted modes of travel.

July 25th, 2011|Categories: Culture|Tags: , , |7 Comments

UTC: Where Should I Stop in Spain?

It cannot be surprising how much I adore flamenco. Take a look around this site. If you’ve been reading my exploits for some time, my mandate has always focused on sorting out your own rules and dancing to who you truly are. Legend has it the Spanish gypsies originated from Andalusia. I am vibrating with anticipation that Spain will be my first country on the Ultimate Train Challenge.

I have to, will die, if I don’t stop in a town or city and seek out flamenco. I don’t mean some over run, turista bar where tasteless paella and sangria are part of the entrance fee. I crave a tucked away, almost derelict joint. The floor is scuffed, nearly worn down from the bang of the shoe to the toque, the paint faded, the walls wowing against the mournful, joyful octaves of cante. I will get inebreitaed on cheap wine with the locals, attempt to dance, but end the night clapping feverishly and giggling my way into a hangover so worth it, I’ll grow misty remembering the origins.

Click on some of the music tracks under each city, which might influence your vote!

Also, check out the votes on my Facebook fan page.

What are these polls?

I hope to stop at one city or town during the European portion and want your trusty suggestions! Help make my first European jaunt a memorable one.

Part of the Ultimate Train Challenge is our commitment to raising $10,000 for charity, by partnering with the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation and the Da Nang Association of Agent Orange Victims. Each dollar will

July 21st, 2011|Categories: Ultimate Train Challenge|Tags: , , , |24 Comments

New Year’s Eve Fireworks in Florence

Pssst… I might be passing through Italy on the Ultimate Train Challenge. How exciting is that? I’m told  a must-do experience is buying a bottle of Italian wine for 4 Euros and washing that back with bread and cheese. It’s a fitting analogy for Natalie Vartanian’s first ever Contiki tour. Frugal, with an uexpected punch. Please lap up today’s Summer Chick Tale.

It was fall of 2008, I had broken up with my boyfriend of two and a half years, moved in with a friend of mine who had a spare room and was coaching a Leadership program that was half-way done. Sounds like a sad state of affairs, yet the break up was long overdue and everything else in my life was acting as a catalyst for change toward the life I had always envisioned for myself. I saw it as the beginning of my freedom. One day my girlfriend, Laura, and I (who I was living with and coaching with at the time) were lounging at home and talking about traveling. When she mentioned she had never travelled internationally I nearly fell off the couch!

“What? You’ve never been abroad?! That’s it, we’re going somewhere together!” I felt like a mama bird that wanted to put her under my wing, whisk her off to a far away destination and let her soar towards her next life changing experience.

Besides that, I had not been out of the country in over two years thanks to being tied down in my relationship. Okay, we went to Hawaii, but that doesn’t count … it’s technically still the U.S.! I was itching to go somewhere, anywhere and bad!

Hence started the research of where to go once we finished with our Leadership program. Since Laura had never done anything like this, and she’s a controller by nature, she started the literal research right away. Honestly I was glad for that since my first two trips I was the one planning, organizing, making it happen, etc. It was a nice break to have someone else taking charge. So when Laura brought up the idea of doing a Contiki tour, that fit in perfectly with my mood of not doing shit but showing up and being carted around the country. My version of royalty, I know! Plus the idea of being with other people our own age from all over the world in another country during the holidays (i.e. Christmas hoopla), sounded pretty sweet. We picked a winter tour of Italy, paid for our package soon after and were set to head for Rome the day after Christmas.

Venice gondolas (Natalie and Laura)

As luck would have it, or maybe it was the cosmos saying we needed even more adventure, we missed our connecting flight to Rome (I swear we didn’t even hear them calling our names over the PA system) and had to take the next flight, which took off the following morning. We paid for a hotel in Atlanta and made the best of the situation. Since we did not arrive to Rome on the originally scheduled day, we also missed the Contiki group’s bus ride to Venice, the destination where the trip officially started. In order to catch up with them we paid for a train ride from Rome to Venice for the day we arrived and organized meeting up with the group at the hotel. Not only was the train ride gorgeous since we saw snow falling and rolling landscapes, but we got there just in time for dinner at a nearby restaurant. This should have been a foreshadowing of some of the shenanigans to come the rest of the trip.

Our tour took us to Venice for a day, a brief visit to Pisa, Florence for two days and ended back in Rome for two days. Like the bunch of tourists we were, we snapped pictures like crazy but also soaked in the culture and beauty that is Italy. Our tour guide, Cristian, was amazing. He was real, funny, knowledgeable and over all a little entertainer. Before long we were singing classic Italian songs during the bus rides and acting all sorts of silly. You really do bond with the people you are traveling with, not all but definitely a core group. We had between 30 and 35 people on our tour and I still keep in touch with at least seven or eight of those people today. It was a shorter trip, eight nights and nine days, and a chunk of it was transportation time going from city to city.

July 20th, 2011|Categories: July 2011|Tags: , , , , , , |4 Comments

Love Should Not Be My Drug

Love Love Love

I’ve been thinking a lot about love recently. Sometimes I’ve been accused of running away.

The concept of traveling alone, knee-deep in my own company is blatantly ridiculous.

Don’t all women, travelers or not, have throbbing, barren hearts eager to find that special someone and settle down?

This traveling solo gig is filler, a twiddling game until real life arrives.

The truth is I suck at relationships.

If you held my former relationship in your hand, felt its weight, twirled it around, what you would see are tiny fissures.

He hated crowds. I thrive on the energy. I had to convince him to travel. Nobody ever had to strap me in a chair, pry my eyes open and force-feed me National Geographic films.

I hummed with restlessness. His idea of a Friday night was zoning out in front of the TV.

Counselor, wasn’t this just a clear case of a mismatched pairing?

Hell, no.

Thereafter, I was introduced to Shy Stalker, who didn’t even own a passport, nursed a deep-seeded sexual dysfunction, and silently decided I should be the one to cure him. Note: I was not qualified to do any curing. He would drunk dial me. Hover, by staring at me across a street. Yet, somehow, I sopped up his sweetness (shyness) and actually dated him. Briefly.

Next up was Portland Man, a certified cutie with transparent blue eyes. He zoomed around on a Ducati (ooh), traveled at least once (improvement), and played Spanish guitar effortlessly (meow). His dysfunction was not sexual in nature, but mommy-centric. Now, my family history is not tied in a bow, and I thought he had dealt with his. He never

July 16th, 2011|Categories: Life|Tags: , , , |59 Comments