Inspiration

2014 Wrap Up

Latitude 34 Year End Wrap Up 2014

Now that it is 2015, we wanted to take a look back at this past year. In just 365 days we traveled to over 30 countries on four continents. Jeff and I also both moved from Thailand. In June I moved back home to California, while Jeff took a new job and relocated to Dubai.

2014 was an amazing year! We got to Climb to the top of Sigiriya in Sri Lanka, I started my chalkboard photo series, we went off-roading in the Arabian Desert, we visited the Great Pyramids in Egypt, we went to the Maldives on a budget and got to ride in a sea plane, and we took a husky safari in Lapland, Finland!

We traveled over 32,281 miles around the world and had the time of our lives!

 

2014 Wrap Up

 

 

Bio Photo Marina 150x150 UPDATED: Taking A Chalkboard Around The World (PHOTOS)Marina Dominguez is the co-founder of Latitude 34 Travel Blog as well as a photographer and documentary film maker.

As a maturing women, Marina has dedicated her life to travel and new experiences. After working a 9-5 cubical lifestyle, Marina sold everything she owned, left her job and begun a new life with her best friend and travel companion, Jeff Johns. Together they relocated to Phuket, Thailand and founded Latitude 34 in which they seek to share their alternative lifestyle with the world. 

Marina is a Visual Journalism graduate of Brooks Institute of Photography where she studied photography, videography and ultimately caught the travel bug. Through creating several international documentaries, Marina realized there was more to the world than work and wanted something more. 


Bangladesh market, latitude 34 travel blog, smile

From the Road: Stranded In Bangladesh

In March 2008 I found myself in Dhaka, Bangladesh with two weeks to spare, directions to a small village written only in Bangali and my comfort zone nowhere in sight. Landing at Zia International Airport in the middle of the night, the dust, heat and cold stares hit me like a slug to the chest.

With no hotel reservation I jumped in a cab and simply told him to take me to a cheap hotel. I had one goal, to find my way to the remote village of Reyenda, deep inside the estuaries of Southern Bangladesh, close to the Sunderbans National Park. The area had recently been hit by a devastating typhoon and I was meeting a handful of dedicated volunteers who had set up shop in the village to lend a hand in the rebuilding effort.

I was told to book myself a ticket on a ferry called The Rocket, which took daily trips down the Meghna River out of Dhaka. Finding the ticket office took two days, and once inside, I had to trust that whatever ticket they sold me would get me to my destination. After all, travel is all about the journey and not the destination right? The adventure is half the fun.

Ticket in hand, I found my way to the dock and boarded the vessel in a small, cramped room with a small bed with sheets, once white, and a small pillow. The total journey would take 24 hours, and would, unbeknownst to me, leave me on the side of the river, with barely a person in sight.

The ferry ride itself was not too bad. People packed in every possible compartment, and many families simply sleeping on the hallway floors or decks of the ship, we slowly made our way down the river. By early the next morning we we far from any city and deep in the muslim south. The stares got more and more intense, the clothing more traditional, the customs more foreign to me. By the time I was told to exit the ferry I was certain I had missed my stop but was forced to leave, and barely convinced, through body language, that this was my correct stop. After all, my directions were written in Bangali, not English, so I had to trust them.

Once on the shore, I deduced that I needed to find my way to the other side of the mighty Meghna river, as the village was hidden in the dense brush on the adjacent river bank. Lucky for me a small boat, a large wooden canoe, seemed to regularly cross the river carrying no doubt double its recommended weight in families, supplies and livestock. Aboard the small boat I found myself sitting on one far end as the eyes of what seemed like hundreds of people stared blankly back at me. I had no choice but look into their eyes and smile, a connection so human, it was my only means of communication. I was stripped of all my linguistic skills, my learned behaviors and my comfort as I learned to rely on simple, brutal and basic body language.

Bangladesh boat, latitude 34 travel blogAcross the river I was dumped into a small but bustling market with children, dogs and chickens running free. As I approached the small town square, the noise and movement of the locals seemed to slowly die down and everything around me seemed to freeze. The woman, dressed in full burka tried to hide their stares. The men, bright orange beards and stark white dress, starred with not hate nor malice, but with utter confusion. I cannot imagine what I looked like to them, a big white skinned california boy with bright clothing, a large backpack and a goofy smile, covered in sweat. I had never been so far out of my comfort zone and the feeling left me with a smile on my face but a determination to act like I belonged there and knew where I was going. I slowly walked through the crowd and tried not to focus on the small piece of paper I had with the Bangali name of the area I was headed towards scribbled on it.

After what felt like hours, but was surely only a minute or two, I was forced to resign myself to the beautiful situation I had found myself in. In a short matter of days, I had gone from every familiar surrounding I could imagine in Los Angeles, friends on speed dial, fast food on every corner, everything in English, to a deeply hidden and traditional Muslim village far in the wetlands of Southern Bangladesh without a soul I recognized, a single word to communicate and no idea what to do next.

The accompanying feeling was neither one of panic nor worry but rather of freedom. Freedom from all I had known, freedom from the familiar, freedom from the predictable and freedom from the comfortable. I was stripped of my built up walls, of 23 years of assumptions and met, quite literally, face to face with the unknown.

Bangladesh market, latitude 34 travel blog

The eyes of the village still fixed on me, I paused, sat my bag down and took a deep breath. I was giving myself to the humanity of the situation and trusting in the most human of instincts that the world would give me the answers, the guidance and the safety to help me along my journey. The children laughed, the men continued to stare, frozen in their steps. The woman, however, gave off a vibration I would not have expected but that I recognized instantly. They were motherly. They seemed to discard that I was so different, so foreign, so not Muslim. They seemed to only think about one simple fact. I was lost, and I too, was, somewhere, a mothers child.

Knowing eye contact with Muslim woman was traditionally frowned upon, and any contact, even that of shaking hands, was strictly shunned in most communities I attempted to return their warm looks without offending the men for fear of the repercussions. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a figure moving towards me, turning my head I saw an older Muslim woman, dressed in full Burka, only eyes viable, walking towards me. Unsure what would happen next, I too stood frozen by the moment. As she approached I could tell she had a rag in her hand and by the time I realized she had taken off my hat and was gently rubbing it across my sweat covered face, I could feel it was soaked in cool water.

Bangladesh market, latitude 34 travel blog

Realizing how taboo this interaction was, I only lived one second to the next and took her lead as how to act. Smiling, I thanked her for her kindness. Knowing she had shattered the social stereotypes and the local religious laws, I was left breathless by her kindness. Her deeply ingrained maternal instinct had taken over, unbearable was the thought that a lost child would stand helpless in her midst. All those watching, the children, the men and the animals seemed to agree with her actions. There was no gasp, no uproar, no resulting repercussions for her actions, only the silent feeling of approval from a small village deep in the heart of the Bangladesh jungle, whom, when faced with a lost child, no matter the sex, background or creed and surrounded it with love and care, gave it a sense of belonging, safety and love.

Minutes later a beat up truck rolled into the market and the driver motioned for me to jump in the back with my bags. The driver explained he had seen a couple other foreign people at a house a few km away and was certain they were who I was looking for, and he was right.

Bangladesh market, latitude 34 travel blog

The two weeks living and working in the village of Reyenda, Bangladesh were among the most rewarding of my life, and the experience I had that first day walking into the market one of the most memorable of my life. Travel the world, see new cultures, meet new people and shed those preconceived notions and stereotypes. People the whole world over all share the same instincts, to help those in need, lend a helping hand and contribute to the overall human experience.

I am lucky I was able to experience so many of them in one seemingly endless moment.

Safe travels, Jeff

* End note: Two days after riding the Rocket ferry back to Dhaka, as it returned down south full to capacity, it sank, leaving almost 200 people missing, many feared dead. Local authorities estimate that between 90-95% of small and medium sized vessels in Bangladesh do not meet basic safety standards.


Hoi An Vietnam
Hoi An Vietnam

From the Road: Solo Adventures in Hoi An, Vietnam

A few years ago while I was in college, I was fortunate enough to go on a documentary trip to Vietnam. As an American, Vietnam was an interesting choice and would be my first trip to Asia and only third time out of the country. I was eager, excited and nervous. I was one of ten students and a professor going with a goal of capturing the essence of life in Vietnam and exposing the realities of life in a country we knew little about.

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh city with eager eyes and trigger happy fingers grasping our cameras. Ho Chi Minh City is a great place. It is modern, chaotic and beautiful in its own way. Learning to cross the street here is the largest hurdle for travelers as crosswalks don’t exist. There are tall skyscrapers contrasted with hole in the wall restaurants. People are everywhere. From beggars to businessmen, people are the heartbeat of this city.

After spending some time based in Ho Chi Minh City, and getting used to life in such a hectic city, I was ready to explore more on my own. Halfway through the trip, the group was going to meet in Hoi An which is on the South China Sea in the South Central of Vietnam. As the student producer of the project, I wanted to get there early and find accommodations for the group and took the opportunity as my first solo adventure abroad. Translated, Hoi An means “peaceful meeting place” which was perfect for our group to meet halfway through our Vietnam adventure. I booked my flight on JetStar, packed my bags and headed out of my Saigon hotel looking for a cab.

I jumped in the cab and told him I was airport bound. This is where I made my first mistake. The driver saw a foreigner with all her luggages asking to go the airport so of course he thought I was flying home and took me to the international departure terminal. Since this was my first solo adventure I was at the airport several hours early and used those hours walking all over the airport trying to find the domestic terminal. Finally I found it and could feel some relief. Aboard the empty plane, I found myself sitting next to an older Vietnamese women while the rest of the plane was virtually empty. I’ll never forget the women’s smile as she offered me a box of chocolate milk. We couldn’t speak the same language, yet she was so warm and friendly and kept trying to make conversation. This is the beauty of Vietnam. The people appreciate life and everyone for who they are. It didn’t matter that we were from opposite sides of the world or our countries conflicted histories, all that mattered was that we were both on the same flight drinking chocolate milk together.

Hoi An, Vietnam Isabela Eseverri
Lantern Stall in Hoi An, Vietnam (photo by Isabela Eseverri)

Once I landed at the Hoi An airport and walked out of the terminal, there were dozens of cab drivers all yelling and trying to get me in their cab. If you’ve traveled at all around Asia, this is just a reality, however for someone who hasn’t experienced this before it’s a bit intimidating to say the least. I felt unsure and wanted to judge the situation before jumping into a cab. I had done some research before the adventure begun and chose a hotel for one night so that I would have an address written down to hand the cab driver. I had also previously called the hotel and asked how far from the airport and how much a cab should be so that I didn’t get taken advantage of, but in this moment with cab drivers grabbing my bags and yelling for me to choose them, all my confidence went out the window. Next think I know a man grabbed my bag and took off to put it in his cab leaving me no choice but to follow in his direction. I passively got in the cab and handed him the little paper with my hotel address feeling a little disappointed with myself for my lack of assertiveness.

What felt like an eternity later we finally arrived at the hotel. I was delighted to find that the hotel I stumbled upon online turned out to be a great choice. It was clean, modern and a much needed improvement from the cheap room I had in Ho Chi Minh City.

The next morning was dedicated to exploring the ancient town of Hoi An. First impression: beautiful, ancient, and full of tourists. I can imagine that 10 or 15 years ago Hoi An would have been a gem. The streets were made of cobble stone and the city was built around the river. Now days the town has succumbed to its rich history and been over saturated with tourists. On the brighter side, the city had great restaurants and beautiful people. Despite the tourists roaming the city like ants, the quant town had lots to offer. There was great shopping and I found myself buying all my souvenirs for my family here and even had clothes made to bring back home. If you want any custom clothes made in Vietnam, Hoi An is the place to do it.

I spent a few hours walking around the city peeking into all the shops and restaurants. I turned a corner and to my surprise the street was flooded. At certain times of the year the river raises and floods part of the city. I was shocked and had never heard of anything like this. There were shop owners sweeping out water and leftover mud as if it was just another day, which I suppose it was. Looking down the flooded street, I could see a bridge that went over the river but the water was so high only the top of the light posts were above the water. A few days later when my friends started to arrive the water had already subsided and you could walk over the bridge.

Hoi An, VietnamI was eager to show my friends everything I had discovered about Hoi An. There were little bars/restaurants all over the town called, “Same Same, But Better” and even one called “Same Same, But Best” where we played pool and ate pizza. During our stay, the end of the lunar calendar meant Hoi An was hosting a lantern festival in celebration. Lantern festivals or full moon festivals are a huge part of Asian culture and a must if you visit. Hoi An’s festival proved to be photo worth, as young photographers, and a beautiful part of the culture. We spent hours walking around the city learning how to shoot in low light and find precious moments.

Overall I was proud of myself for taking on this adventure alone. Although my friends met me there it was a big deal for me to get on a plane in Vietnam by myself. Now days, when I find myself traveling and scared I think back to this memory and remember that I can do it. Traveling alone is something that everyone should experience. I personally believe that it is empowering for women to travel alone, even if its just a small trip like this one. It builds confidence and helps you discover who you are and what you want out of the world.

Safe travels, Marina

 

Marina Dominguez Latitude 34Marina is the co-founder of Latitude 34 – Travel Blog as well as a photographer and documentary film maker.  

As a maturing women, Marina has dedicated her life to travel and new experiences. After working a 9-5 cubical lifestyle, Marina sold everything she owned, left her job and begun a new life with her boyfriend and travel companion, Jeff Johns. Together they relocated to Phuket, Thailand and founded Latitude 34 in which they seek to share their alternative lifestyle with the world.  

Marina is a Visual Journalism graduate of Brooks Institute of Photography where she studied photography, videography and ultimately caught the travel bug. Through creating several international documentaries, Marina realized there was more to the world than work and wanted something more.


 

India, tiruvanammalai worship by latitude34 jeff johns

From the Road: Climbing A Mountain In India… Barefoot

 

Ever had the desire to climb a mountain barefoot? Yea, me neither. But this is the story of why I decided to, the most miserable 12 hours of my life, and why even thinking about the story brings a smile to my face.

In December, 2008 I was working on a documentary project in India. Traveling with my good friends and fellow visual journalists, we made our way to the small city of Tiruvannamalai, about 200km south of Chennai. Each year the city if flooded with Hindu pilgrims for the Karthikai Deepam festival which celebrates the god Shiva’s transformation into the cities largest mountain. Normally a city of 130,000, each December it balloons to over 2 million.

India, tiruvanammalai worship by latitude34The vast majority of the pilgrims arrive set on walking the cities 14km perimeter after ritualistically shaving their heads and going to the local temple. Some of the more adventurous pilgrims opt to climb Mount Aranachala in hopes of reaching the summit where a vast cauldron of burning butter sits atop the peak for ten days.

Intrigued by the idea of sharing this experience with those who had flocked to the city, as well as the potential for great footage and a memorable experience, myself and fellow adventure junkie Alana Fickes, decided to make the trek.

Backpacks loaded, memory cards cleared, cameras in hand, we excitedly walked to the base of Mount Arunachala. All was going great, and with grins on our face, adrenalin from the excitement and a healthy dose of blind faith we would make it down alive we were promptly stopped and informed of one thing; we had to climb the mountain barefoot and must leave our shoes at the bottom.

Ten minutes later, I was nearly in tears. Growing up in the city, my soft and supple feet could barely make it across my grandmothers gravel driveway let alone a rocky mountain in India whose only train was but a faint suggestion by the bent grass around the jagged boulders. Alana, who had grown up in Hawaii, had feet of steel and happily lead the way as a struggled to tie my socks around the balls of my feet to prevent further cuts. I hid my pain as best I could, with little to no success. She was carrying a backpack twice the size of my I may add.

India, tiruvanammalai worship by latitude34 jeff johns

Eight hours later we were still climbing, and with the fall of night, had even less of an idea where to go. The scattered pilgrims had dissipated, and the terrain had gotten extremely erratic and unpredictable. What had started out innocently enough as a barefoot climb had turned into extreme bouldering in the black of night. It had gotten so steep, that although directly under the summit, the burning cauldron of butter was now out of sight.

We had to make a hard decision, and although I think we both regret it daily, we agreed the smartest thing to do was to turn around and attempt a descent towards the city lights below. As hard as it was to turn around, I was overcome with a sense of relief to no longer be blindly marching into the impossibly black unknown.

Two more hours later, at what must have been 10pm, we seemed to have  made little progress and hope was slim we would make it down that night. I remember thinking to myself that sleeping on a rock and waiting to the morning sunlight to help guide us down was starting to sound like a fairly decent option. Not wanting to give up, we kept sluggishly traversing the mountain towards the base, through areas so steep we resorted to sliding down on our butt.

Minutes later, out of the dark of night, an elderly man, wearing only a skirt and a turban, appeared with a small child on his back and motioned to us to follow him. Overcome with a sense of relief and sheer disbelief we followed this mystical man down the remainder of the mountain only to find our shoes had been stolen and the entire stand we left them at disassembled.

India, tiruvanammalai worship by latitude34 jeff johns

At this point we could only laugh or we would have been left crying. A short time later we were back at our hotel where we immediately threw out every piece of sweat drenched, mud covered clothing we had on. I’ve never enjoyed a shower more in my life.

Not having an extra pair of shoes with me, I wore a pair of flimsy hotel slippers for 3 days until our eventual departure from India.

Although right up there with the most miserable days of my life, and despite the blood, sweat and tears of that day, I still easily rank it right up there as also one of my favorite. A once in a lifetime memory, an unforgettable adventure with a best friend, an emotional roller coaster to say the least, and a mystical Hindu man on a holy mountain in a small city in the middle of India made for one of the greatest days of my life.

India, tiruvanammalai worship by latitude34 jeff johns

Six months later, back home in Los Angeles, I was at a party talking to an old college friend, whom upon hearing this story quickly replied with “Ohh yea, I climbed that mountain a couple times, right up to the top. I don’t think you really have to take your shoes off, I kept mine on and nobody ever said anything.”

Safe travels, Jeff

* For more information on “Svara”, the documentary project we were shooting during the trip, please visit http://documentary.brooks.edu/india/

** Additional pictures provided by Alana Fickes, Samantha Murphy and Adam Hererra


Help From a Stranger in Madrid, Spain

Help From a Stranger in Madrid, Spain

Part of the Sunday Traveler (#SundayTraveler) series!

Part of the Sunday Traveler (#SundayTraveler) series!.

It was 7:30 AM in Madrid, my friend Roy and I had just left a dance club when we  boarded a bus that we hoped would take us to the Complutense, the largest public university in Madrid. We realized we were lost as well as dazed and confused from a combination of jet-lag and having spent the entire night dancing and chatting it up with friendly strangers. Just as we were about to get off the bus to find our way back to our hostel, a fellow student walked into the bus with a sense of purpose that immediately told us that she knew this city better than we could ever hope for. After debating in English for a bit about asking her for help, Marta turned around and with a lovely Spanish accent asked us: “Where are you guys going and how can I help?”,  as luck would have it she was heading to the university and thus begun one of my most memorable couple of vacation days.

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“You guys were completely lost and I wanted to make sure that when you go back to your country you have a good memory of my city… “

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After a couple of bus transfers, we finally arrived at the Complutense where the morning was spent meeting other students, most of them understandably curious as to why we would voluntarily head to a university during our vacation. Unfortunately, the professor in the class we attended did not share that same curiosity as she proceeded to throw us out of the class for not being registered students. After being thrown out, Marta decided to skip out on her last 2 classes to take us on a tour of Madrid that included Retiro Park, Puerta Mayor, La Latina neighborhood, her favorite tapas bars, paella dinner at her favorite restaurant and churros con chocolate as a nightcap at the famous Chocolateria San Gines.

 

ChocolateriaThe second day was equally busy as she took us on a museum tour after it was decided that we could not leave her city without taking in all the art found in Madrid’s world class museums: El Prado and Thyseen-Bornemisza Museum. This museum tour was the appetizer to what ended being the main course:  a dinner with a few of her friends at a local restaurant. We spent the next few hours discussing perceived and actual differences in political, professional and cultural views. It was an impromptu cultural exchange of the innocent kind, those that happen when you approach travel without any expectations and open yourself up to any experiences that might come your way.

 

To this day it surprises me that we kept up with her considering the fatigue we felt throughout those couple of days but we did not want to waste the opportunity of having Marta give us a free and private guided tour of her city. At the end of the second evening, I remember asking her:  “What drove you to such generosity? I mean how many people would actually take 2 days out of their busy schedule to show two, disheveled college guys, the city that you so obviously love?” To this she responded: “Well, you guys were completely lost and I wanted to make sure that when you go back to your country you have a good memory of my city… plus you seem like good people.” We ended up saying goodbye with a bit of sadness as we did not know when our paths would cross again…

 

I returned to Madrid last year with my wife and walking through some of the same streets I had passed by 15 years earlier made me both nostalgic and grateful for the lesson that Marta taught me so long ago: When in doubt, just ask the locals. If done respectfully, chances are that that at the very least they will provide you with direction on what to do and if you are lucky, you might just end up with a story you continue re-telling 15 years later!

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If you need a quick recap on how to link-up your post, here are the basic rules you should follow:

  • Add The Sunday Traveler badge to your post (badge codes) & and a link back to one of the hosts. This helps to promote everyones hard work. Posts without these will be removed because we want to encourage everyone to share and credit their work.
  • Follow your co-hosts! You can follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Link up your holiday travel related post. Link ups will always open at midnight GMT on Sundays.
  • Try to view, comment and share ALL linked-up posts during the week. The more you do, the more you will get from this linky!
  • Use the #SundayTraveler hashtag when sharing on Twitter and other social media (do a quick search on Twitter and you will be amazed at what is already out there for this!).
  • Most importantly, SPREAD THE WORD AND COME BACK NEXT WEEK!

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Cris Sierra is an avid traveler who has lived and traveled to 4 and 40+ countries respectively. He is a firm believer that travel is enhanced when you allow yourself to not only get lost in the destination but to interact with the locals. With that in mind he co-founded tripniks.com to help fellow travelers get free personalized tips from local experts. Cris really enjoys talking about travel so if you have questions or just want to chat about travel in general feel free to drop him a line at cris@tripniks.com

Where Will You Be In 2014?

Where Will You Be In 2014?

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With 2014 shaping up to be our most adventurous year to date, we hope to make the year all the more memorable by connecting and meeting up with new friends, bloggers, photographers and strangers all over the globe. As many of you know, for most of 2013 we lived in Phuket, Thailand which we absolutely loved. While we will be returning to Thailand in 2014, we will be taking a very backwards and exciting route. We realized that we will be working through most of Europe, the Middle East, and India before finding ourselves back in South East Asia and want to meet up with and cross paths with as many of our friends and fellow travel loving bloggers as we can while we are on the road.

Where Will You Be In 2014?Let us all use this space as a place to loosely lay out our 2014 travel plans and see where we all might cross paths and plan a couple travel blogger meet ups. Now, if there is one thing we have learned during our life on the road, it is that plans change, and we all end up in far flung corners of the Earth without really planning it, but, let’s just pretend some things might end up going according to plan and we find ourselves in the same cities at the same time.

We will use this place to update our 2014 travel plans, post about possibly meet ups in different cities and see who is going to be around. If you have travel plans for the year ahead, simply post them below in a comment and look at the other comments for people you might be crossing paths with. We will post ideas and possible locations for meet ups for drinks, photo walks and sheer exploring of new locations.

So, where will you be in 2014? Let’s all have a fantastic year, see the world around us and inspire those around us to get up off the couch and travel like they mean it!

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Our 2014 Travel Plans (subject to massive and unpredictable last minute changes)

January – Ireland

February – England, Wales, Scotland, France

March – Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Sweden, Romania

April – Turkey, Dubai, Iran, India

May – Thailand, Vietnam

June – Thailand

July – Thailand, Japan

August – October – Thailand, Cambodia, Laos

November – Thailand

December – Australia, New Zealand, Fiji

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So there you have it, our extremely adventurous, tedious, robust and improbable 2014 travel plans. Our first few months in Europe will be mad, and we really hope to get to Iran and India before heading back to SE Asia. We know plans will change and who knows but we hope this can be a thread for us all to comment and hopefully share info, tips, contacts and travel plans.

Cheers and we hope to see you along the road in 2014!

– Jeff & Marina

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jeffjohnsheadshotJeff Johns is the co-founder and editor of Latitude 34 Travel Blog. Through 65 countries on 6 continents he has accumulated a seemingly endless stream of odd information, interesting stories and helpful tips and tricks to better travel. Jeff’s goal is to visit all 204 countries on Earth before he is too senile to remember them all.

A graduate of the Visual Journalism program at the Brooks Institute, his true passions lay in honest visual storytelling, documentary filmmaking, Thai food and a good laugh.

Together with his girlfriend Marina, they run Latitude 34 Travel Blog as a source of helpful information for those who love to travel or those who simply dream of it. If you have a comment or suggestion, send them an email at hello@latitudethirtyfour.com and they’ll respond super fast!


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Latitude 34 Year End Wrap Up 2013

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One year can have a major impact on your life. In just 365 days you can alter your entire lifestyle for better or for worse. Since 2014 is just around the corner we thought we would recap Latitude 34’s highlights from 2013.

This year has certainly changed our lives, and for the better! In January, Jeff and I finally had the courage to tell our parents, families and friends that we were moving abroad to Thailand. Since we made our decision our lives have been filled with wild adventure, unique experiences, new friends and fond memories.

We loved celebrating Thai New Year in April, visiting the Phi Phi islands, playing with Tigers, witnessing the Phuket Vegetarian Festival and I even tried eating insects! So enjoy our Latitude 34 year end wrap up of 2013 and see a bit of what we got ourselves into this year.

Easily our most exciting year yet, we are thrilled to be starting off 2014 with a bang as we head to Ireland in just a couple weeks for what we hope shapes up to be an even more exciting year than 2013 – with just as many laughs, friends and memories.

Cheers and hope to see you all along the road in the upcoming year!

xoxo Marina

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Latitude 34 Year End Wrap Up 2013

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Marina Dominguez Latitude 34Marina Dominguez is the co-founder of Latitude 34 Travel Blog as well as a photographer and documentary film maker.

As a maturing women, Marina has dedicated her life to travel and new experiences. After working a 9-5 cubical lifestyle, Marina sold everything she owned, left her job and begun a new life with her boyfriend and travel companion, Jeff Johns. Together they relocated to Phuket, Thailand and founded Latitude 34 in which they seek to share their alternative lifestyle with the world. 

Marina is a Visual Journalism graduate of Brooks Institute of Photography where she studied photography, videography and ultimately caught the travel bug. Through creating several international documentaries, Marina realized there was more to the world than work and wanted something more. 

Welcome to the Launch of Sunday Traveler!

Welcome to the Launch of Sunday Traveler!

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The day is finally here! We have been very excited to recently announce our partnership with some of our favorite travel blogs out there and our Sunday Traveler weekly blog meet up! Each week we will be publishing a new post which will be a place to come and get your needed fix for the best travel related articles floating around the net that week.

Each week we will post our own new article as well as share articles from our 6 amazing co-hosts. How only can you read through all of the hosts posts (see what we did there?) but you can also add your own to the meet up and have it read and shared world wide!

As this is just the first of many weekly meet ups, we wanted to use this launch post to introduce you to our amazing co-hosts and share what they are all up to in all corners of the globe!

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A Brit and a Southerner

A great team made of A British Lad and a Southern Belle in love, sharing their traveling adventures around the globe. Based in the US but always traveling and publishing great content, make sure to follow this fun couple.

A Southern Gypsy

Ashley is a solo female traveler who is gearing up for a huge solo trip to SE Asia. She is constantly posting great content about her preparations which should be read by all preparing to travel on a big trip in the future.

Chasing The Donkey

Sarah-Jane is half of the Aussie couple behind Chasing The Donkey, who share great travel tales and stories on expat life in rural Croatia. We are always super exited to read any of their info on Croatia as we hope to link up in person this winter when we are in Europe!

Frank About Croatia

Vera and Frank and professional expats, having lived in four countries together! Currently in Croatia (what are the chances we have 2 Croatian based bloggers?) they post a lot of great travel and Croatian content. Now we have two great travel blogging couples to meet up with in Croatia!

Ice Cream and Permafrost

Jess, the first of our final two bloggers, posts fantastic travel content, especially about food! If you want to learn about far flung cuisines, odd eats and yummy desserts, head over and get lost in her site!

Pack Me To

Adelina, a serial expat and food lover provides a deep passion for travel and food and will give anyone reading a reason to get out on the road and start eating their way around the globe with her.

 

So that is our amazing team and we cannot wait to “meet up” with all of you as well. Make sure to check back weekly, read, share, like and comment on our posts, feel inspired, share your own and catch the travel bug with the #SundayTraveler!

 

How to Get Involved!

Here is the lowdown on the #SundayTraveler (yes, this is our Twitter hashtag that you can search for to find our latest news and stories) and what needs to be done by YOU to participate:

  • Add the Sunday Traveler badge to your post (thanks to Sarah-Jane for providing a great page with links to the various colored badges etc. Find them here).
  • Follow your co-hosts on Twitter/Facebook etc (they will all return the favor).
  • Link up your travel related post (click on the ‘Add your Link’ button underneath all the other links at the bottom of this post).
  • Use the hashtag #SundayTraveler when sharing on social media.
  • Spread the word and come back next week!!!!

If you have any questions at all about this process or idea, just ask one of us and we will be glad to help you out!!!

The spot to be to get the low down on all things travel. Link up your blog post or read ours and be inspired for your next venture. No matter if it’s around the globe or close to home The Sunday Traveler has got you covered.

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The #sundaytraveler is the spot to be to get the low down on all things travel. Link up your blog post or read ours and be inspired for your next venture. No matter if it’s around the globe or close to home The Sunday Traveler has got you covered. Cheers!

Sunday Traveler is Coming Soon!

Sunday Traveler is Coming Soon!

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We are super excited to announce a new partnership with some of our favorite blogs on a new project called “The Sunday Traveler”. Each week we will be posting great new content based on different themes, locations and topics related to travel. The Sunday Traveler will be a place to check out weekly for travel inspiration as well as a place to add your own content and have it shared worldwide by other travel bloggers!

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“If you are a fellow travel blogger, make sure to bookmark this page and come back this Sunday to link up a blog post this Sunday!”

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So set those alarms, get those posts ready and plan to join us this Sunday for the official launch of The Sunday Traveler!

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Join us by:

  • Adding The Sunday Traveler badge to your post
  • Follow your co-hosts
  • Link up your post
  • View and comment on at least one other link
  • Spread the word and come back next week!

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Cheers and we’ll see you all soon!

Jeff Johns Volunteering after Tsunami in Thailand

From the Road: Tsunami Volunteering in Thailand

I honked the horn a couple times letting him know I was there, it was far too cold to drop inside for a chat.  In the five seconds it took him to run to the passenger side, I  remember hearing “the death toll has risen to 500” coming from the radio speakers in my Mom’s van.  I listened intently for a couple more seconds, something about a Tsunami in Asia somewhere. It all faded away under the sound of Matt slamming the door shut as I felt a blast of cold air on my cheek.  Down the dark street – I’m sure we were off to a party, a get together, a forgotten hangout – the only thing that mattered to a kid who just returned for the holidays from college in California. The one memory I hold from that night was the voice of the woman on NPR as I sat in the car, waiting for Matt, on a cold December evening in Washington, D.C.

Two weeks later I was sitting in the transit lounge at Chicago O’Hare Airport and was glued to the television. CNN had been playing a 90 second loop of the footage for hours, but I couldn’t look away. The death toll, now over 100,000,  hadn’t stopped rising since that night I heard about it on the radio. An underwater earthquake had cause a Tsunami to rip through multiple countries in Southeast Asia, killing scores and wiping out entire village, cities, nearly countries.

I wasn’t sure where Thailand was, but the particular news clip that struck me the most was of a woman weeping as she desperately clung to a piece of floating debris in a literal sea of destruction.  I couldn’t look away, and for the entire flight to Dublin, I could not get the woman’s face out of my mind.

Sitting in a dimly lit cyber café off a busy street in the city center, I found myself trying to find information on Thailand, a country, a people, a culture I knew nothing about. Nothing except that there was a woman, a family, a people that could use my help, and at that particular moment in my life that was enough for me.

It took me a couple attempts to get the message worded right to my college professor. “Fred, I am taking the spring semester off and will return in the fall. I am in the process of buying a ticket to Thailand to volunteer after the tsunami”.  I anxiously stared at my Hotmail inbox for a few minutes trying to summon an immediate response, which I knew I’d have to wait for.

I found the official website for the Red Cross, but they only wanted money. I thought I was getting closer when I found an organization in India accepting volunteers, but closed the tab when I saw they charged nearly $700US to house and care for a volunteer for a single week. Just as I was about to give up I scrolled way down the page and saw a sentence that would change my life. “If you feel like donating $20 doesn’t make you a humanitarian, I have an extra shovel.” I kept reading, on the edge of my seat, surrounded by the dull and dreary Monday evening conversation in an internet café in Dublin, but filled with an excitement I had never known. Someone, somewhere, had felt the urge, the calling that I had, to drop everything in that moment, travel to the other side of the world and help someone who needed it.

After a couple exchanged emails I had learned that Tim was in a small seaside town named Bangtao on the southern Thai island of Phuket, I had never heard of it before. I quickly learned Phuket was a gorgeous exotic island full of crystal clear waters, palm trees, elephants and locals with smiles from ear to ear. Tim had been living in Phuket with his family when, on December 26th, 2004, the morning after Christmas, the huge wave had come and destroyed much of the west coast of the island. Quick to get to work, Tim grabbed the few shovels he had and posted a plea for help on the internet.

After two days I got an email response from Fred, it only contained four words. “Freaking go for it!”, it read.

Walking off the plane in Phuket, a heat hit me I had never known before, and I grew up with humid summers in Washington, DC. The heat was disorienting, and to a 19 year old kid who didn’t know where on a map he was, it didn’t take much for me to be overwhelmed. I smiled at the beautiful Thai woman greeting our plane, laughed when I went to the ATM and realized I had no idea what the currency or exchanged rate was, and held my breath as I jumped into the first cab I saw and handed him a crumpled up piece of paper with the word “Bangtao” written on it.

Jeff Johns Volunteering after Tsunami in Thailand

I had only planned to stay 3 weeks but ended up living in the small seaside village for over 3 months. During my time in Thailand I met some of the most interesting people had ever known and was introduced to the kindness, warmth and culture that is Thailand. Here, my eyes were opened. I took in every experience that was placed before me. I ate foods I had never heard of, learned words I had never heard and listened to stories that would change my life. For the first time in my life I realized the true impact that visual storytelling could have, and with my trusty point and shoot, starting taking the first pictures that would wind up pushing me to pursue a degree in photojournalism.

Now, 10 years later, I am writing this from my home in Phuket where I live with my girlfriend, another photojournalist and fellow world traveler. I could never have imagined the impact the experiences I had on this small island would have affected the trajectory of my life, or the effect that news clip in the Chicago airport would have on me. Who knows where I would have ended up or what I would have been doing if I had never come to Phuket, but for now I am only looking forward to the future and trying to guess where I will end up next. It’s still too early in my life to try and make sense of the past.

The Southeast Asian tsunami of 2004 wound up leaving over 230,000 dead in 14 countries, started by the third largest recorded earthquake in history.

The small gathering of international volunteers in Phuket, Thailand after the tsunami has grown over the years since, and developed into a disaster response organization named All Hands. Since its conception in Thailand, All Hands has empowered over 11,000 volunteers on 33 projects worldwide.


 

johns_celin_14

From the Road: A Life Of Polio, Dominican Republic

Finding myself in the Dominican Republic one summer a few years ago, I was on the beach one morning in the small town of Don Julio , when I saw someone coming towards me out of the corner of my eye. Not wanting to stare, I immediately noticed the man moving towards me was walking only on his hands and scooting himself along the hot sand in the morning sun. Seeing as he was approaching me, I knew I was going to need to summon what little Spanish I knew and take a look at what he was selling, which happened to be pirated DVD’s.

Taking a look at the DVD’s I didn’t want to be rude but was more interested about this man and his life story than the cheap DVD’s of movies I had never heard of. After talking for a few minutes, through broken Spanglish, he opened up quite a bit and told the story of how he was only 4 years old when he developed a fever which turned out to be polio. His name was Celine Montero.

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Asking if I could follow him home and photograph his daily journey, he happily allowed me to see how he lives his life and the struggles he faces on a daily basis. We made our way to the main road and flagged down the local bus driver who knew Celine quite well and was excited to welcome me as a guest on the afternoon bus ride into town. A larger smile than I had ever seen, and the generosity of a friend you’ve known your entire life, Celine welcomed me into his home, introduced me to his family members and was proud, excited and beaming to show off pictures of his four daughters, the oldest of which he was saving up money for to send her to college.

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He thought once about getting a $9,000 surgery in Cuba which could possibly allow him to walk again but he immediately put his family first and, being the most able and hard working in his family, continued to support not only his children, but many of his brothers and sister and his elderly parents by selling those CD’s on the beach.

Welcomed into his home, I sat with him and his family, ate the food of his people, listened to his countries music and couldn’t help but smile as I realized how lucky I was to find Celine on the beach and be welcomed into his life, family, community and to be able to tell his story for years to come.

Dominican Republic, Polio

Now, after nearly 18 years later, he still works on his hands and knees selling the music of his country and living his life to support his family, no matter how hard he has to work to do it. Its amazing what a lesson in humility can teach you and that we all have struggles, we all have triumphs and we all just want to be happy.

Safe travels, Jeff


Throwback Thursday Chilean Hospitality

From the Road: Chilean Hospitality

Everybody travel for different reasons. Some travel to run away from their past, and some travel to chase after their future. Some travel for fun and relaxation and some to gain experience, knowledge and memories so they can sit back when they are older and fondly reminisce about their adventurous past.

Marina and I found ourselves in the south of Chile late at night, in the pouring rain, driving up when was supposed to be a mountain road but in reality was more like a level 5 hiking trail. It was complete with boulders, deep puddles and fallen trees. Sure we had made a mistake, our nervous laughter had almost turned to genuine concern when we started to make out a waving figure through the rain drops, standing in the dim light from our rental cars headlights.

We could smell the fresh baked bread before we even got to the front steps. Nicole, running after Pedro, their rambunctious and energetic two year old, welcomed us in the door and offered us each a pair of crocks to slip on. Their house was high up a mountain road, at a dead end right at the base of a snow covered volcano. Of course, we could not see this in the pitch black and falling rain, but trusted we would see the beauty of this place when we awoke the next morning.

Alfredo, who had found us struggling to drive up the hill, kindly chuckled as jumped in our car and drove it up the rest of the hill to his house, parking it behind his car in his driveway. A practicing lawyer, Alfredo had moved his family into a this beautiful home in the wilderness to act as a caretaker of sorts. Sitting in their homely kitchen, feasting on bread, a fresh wheel of cheese and chilean beer, we exchanged the pleasantries which come along with meeting people for the first time, but for some reason this felt different. I felt at home, at ease, relaxed. Alfredo, passionately strumming chords to classic Chilean folk songs, smiled from ear to ear as he sang the words of his countrymen.

Late now, after midnight, we had been talking for hours and the long hallways still rang with the sounds of our laughter and storytelling the night had produced. Nicole, now asleep in the living room with Pedro on the couch, the rest of us sitting around the huge wooden table in the kitchen, our conversation now dimming to a murmur, each listening to the crackle of the dying down fire. The floorboards cold beneath our feet for the few steps to the bed from the carpet, jumping under the thick feather blankets, we drifted off to sleep in what had only hours before felt like a strangers house,  was now a friends home.

As the sun lightened the mountain we had only heard of the night before, the cool morning air rushed into the room and woke us all up refreshed and smiling. Again greeted by the familiar scent of freshly baked bread, Nicole had a breakfast spread only a mother could make, on the table when we entered the kitchen. Bread, cheese, jam, nuts, juice and fruit all filled the kitchen table. Alfredo, taking off his boots from an early dawn hike, greeted us happily as he walked into the pantry off the kitchen after placing freshly collected chicken eggs on the stove.

Emerging with two bottles of dark ale and a handful of small brown paper bags, he motioned for us to stand with him at the stove. “Classic Chilean breakfast” he said, “who doesn’t love beer for breakfast?!”. Alfredo proceeded to mix the dark beer with oats, brown sugar and an egg before proudly handing us a glass and waiting eagerly for our reaction. Surprisingly tasty, it had a certain hearty and homely taste which I was not expecting. The oats and sugar offset the egg and beer flavors I assumed would overpower the drink.

Throwback Thursday Chilean Hospitality
(Alfredo, Nicole and Pedro in their family kitchen in Puerto Mont, Chile)

Lightly scrambled eggs with bright yellow yolks, perfect for dipping fresh bread into, rounded out our meal and we were wide awake, happy and feeling alive before we had time to realize it wasn’t even 8am yet.

Everyone travels looking for something different, but sometimes when you take a chance and take the road less traveled, the dark and windy mountain roads in life, you get lucky and find an amazing gift at the end of them. Its been almost four years since we met Alfredo and his family yet I can still smell the fresh bread, hear the music of that old wooden guitar and see Alfredo’s warm smile like it was yesterday.

I travel for the unknown, the mysterious and the magical. I travel to discovery new people, places and parts of myself I have yet to meet. I travel to leave my comfort zone, to take a chance and place trust that the world around me will reveal to me things I can’t even imagine. It is people like Alfredo and Nicole that strengthen my faith in humanity, who teach me that strangers can turn into life long friends and that we are all the same. I could never repay them for their endless kindness, and only hope I can share their spirit further along my travels.

Safe travels, Jeff


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