Tag Archives: #travel

You Always Can – A Story of Coming Home to Myself

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I have always been drawn to water. Any body of water. Oceans mostly. Wanted to immerse myself. Dive in. Explore and discover.
But, as I grew up, I developed a spastic in my legs and couldn’t learn to swim properly. Later, becoming more and more aware of being stranded in a wrongly-gendered body, I felt too shy to take off my clothes and take the plunge. Until my 30ieth birthday it was all trial and error, climbing one obstacle after another. Searching for myself, slowly changing my body so I could truly become one with it, inhabit it, come home to myself.
After my gender reassignment surgeries, I gathered all my courage. Away with the shirt on hot summer days. Exposing ugly scars that looked like tectonic plates had clashed and created a whole new set of tender, jagged mountain ranges in the process.
At 31, during one stormy October week, I learned to scuba dive in the Mediterranean Sea.
One year later, I took swimming lessons, claiming the revitalizing, unpredictable element like I had always dreamt of doing.
In the years that followed, I left everything I knew behind. I lived barefoot on a Maldivian island, spent hours every day in the water – first as a snorkel guide then as a diving instructor. Every fin stroke brought me closer to my true self.
I hovered underwater. Weightless. Effortless. Aware. In the moment. Most of all: Alive.
I navigated pumping currents with the elegance of an adolescent dolphin. I helped people overcome their fear of the deep blue. Taught hundreds of students. Grew as a diving instructor until I finally even trained instructor candidates. Travelled the world. Then went on to coach performers underwater for ‘The House of Dancing Water’ in Macau – back then the biggest aquatic show on our planet.

Bottom line: Live your life. Own it. Dive deep. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do (least of all yourself). No matter how impossible or hopeless something seems at the time, no matter how daunting the circumstances: You can. You always can.

You Don’t Have To

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From when I was four years old, I was happiest during vacations, far away from all who thought they knew me. I ran out to play, introduced myself as ‘Stefan’, and no one was the wiser. I would play “Cowboys and Indians” with the boys, roam through the forests or sand dunes and be free… until my parents would come looking for me, searching for their beloved daughter ‘Stefanie’…

I treasured those short spells of freedom. Being Stefan. Those moments during which I reinvented – or rather – found myself.

Back home in our little town, life went back to “normal”…
“Stefanie you have to wear a dress,” I was told.
“You can’t come with us. You’re a girl. They don’t climb trees.”
“You don’t need to be interested in science. Girls rarely are.”
“You have to wear at least a little bit of red and pink.”
Best was when, during the last year of high school, we were given suggestions as to what professional opportunities awaited us.
Being all sincere and helpful, the school counselor said, “Forget about being a game warden in a big national park. That’s way too unrealistic. You’d make a great midwife though.”

Many years later, after I knew without a doubt that I had, in fact, been born into the wrong body, I began hormone therapy. Amazing how with every drop of testosterone my body felt a bit more as if it actually belonged to me.

Yet, already during and after I went through all my gender reassignment surgeries, a whole new set of labels and rules crept up on me.
“You’re a man now, you have to drink beer.”
“You have to carry my suitcase. Men are supposed to do that.”
“When I run towards you and jump into your arms, you have to catch me.”
“You’re too soft spoken. You have to be tougher.”
“How can you not be interested in soccer?”
“You’re too sensitive. Men don’t cry.”

Over the years, facing societal expectations, I asked myself “Who am I?” many times over… and I realized it truly doesn’t matter what anyone thinks.

I am a man. I feel it in every fiber of my body and soul.

Yet I am my very own kind of man.

Growing up in a girl’s body gives me incredible insight I wouldn’t want to be without. I don’t fit many of the stereotypes usually associated with men…
I love my sensitivity, cry openly when I am happy or watch movies; hug and kiss my best friends, have no clue about cars, sports clubs, or beer; don’t get into fistfights, and never whistle after a woman.

Nowadays, when I am out and about and hear people tell each other who they’re supposed to be, I pass them with an amused smile.
We don’t have to conform to any labels or stereotypes. We can just be ourselves.

Wide Open Spaces and Faraway Places

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Looking out at the snowy and, admittedly, romantic winter scenery in Zurich, I find myself thinking of far away places. All my life I’ve dreamt of living abroad. I’ve dreamt of wide open spaces, of being closer to wild nature. Thankfully, I’ve been there in the past and hopefully will find chances to venture out again in the future.

I still remember staying in the heart of the Rocky Mountains and feeling vibrantly alive.
The air was crystal clear. Walking to work through the crunching snow in the morning, a hot latte in my gloved hands to keep them from freezing, a quick sip here and there, sweet waves of momentary heat, my steaming breath… I loved walking up that mountain, seeing deer on the way, literally tasting the wilderness all around me. So exciting. True quality of life.
Or that day when we kept the fire going, wrapped up snuggly in five layers of clothing, sipping cold beers with the surrounding, icy forest crackling, the nearby river gurgling away, Inuksuks along its banks, sparks igniting within and around us…

Then there was life in the Maldives. Daily immersion in the Indian Ocean. The seafloor invisible, a thousand meters below. Feeling unchartered territory at my fingertips. Removing my mask and taking my regulator out on purpose at thirty meters depth to taste and feel the amazing living entity that we call ocean and absorb a little bit more of its strength…

Bucket List

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What will the future bring … ? I don’t care much about amassing material wealth but, oh wow, my head is spinning just thinking of all the points on my bucket list…

The seven most important ones have been fulfilled already:
– travel the world and live abroad
– become a professional scuba diver
– spend lots of time underwater
– write a book about my life journey
– find my soul mate
– be truly myself
– be happy

But may I be greedy? There are quite a few more points on that list tickling my consciousness:
– write many books
– travel to all Pacific islands
– travel more of the world
– spend more time underwater
– see Galapagos
– learn to fly a plane
– jump out of a plane (preferably with a parachute)
– find a tiny house somewhere at the ocean
– escape the grind by keeping a low standard of living
– have less instead of more
– give a TED talk
– make a real difference
– never stop living life to the fullest

Lots to do then, looking ahead. And of course to not forget to enjoy the present with all my heart, too!

Salt on my Skin

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One week since I got back from the Red Sea… I still feel the gentle swaying of the boat under my feet, salt on my lips and skin. Need to get back to the ocean soon!

Bedouin Brothers

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I’d never been to Egypt before and wasn’t quite sure what I’d find. One thing was sure though: after thirteen months of working full time while at the same time publishing my book ‘Paralian’ I was more than ready for a bit of adventure as well as relaxation.

Arriving at Lahami Bay resort three weeks ago, I found myself wrapped securely inside a miniature Germany-Switzerland – everything regulated and ordered, with hardly a trace of Egyptian culture detectable. The overall atmosphere was relaxing however and I hooked up with some old dive buddies to boot. Still, I had to almost force myself to ease into resort life and my traveler’s heart caught itself sighing deeply and counting the days. This place lacked authenticity, and the soul of the local people.

So my wife and I escaped the artificial resort world as much as we could and immersed ourselves underwater at the Housereef or dove in several times a day from the boat. The ocean was its deepest, most cerulean blue, with bits of sparkling turquoise twinkling around the edges.

Back on the boat for breaks between dives, I was delighted to discover the good-naturedness and fine sense of humor of our local boat crews. We got to talking and a few days later Hanna and I found ourselves walking along the beach late in the afternoon, sidestepping an armada of large hunting crabs, until we reached the small marina where all boats were anchored for the night. Ali, one of the captains had invited us to come over. As soon as we arrived, he introduced us to everyone and began preparing traditional hot beverages.

From then on we were with our Bedouin friends and brothers at the marina every day. We sat and listened, exchanged stories, cooked dinner together, learned how to roast, grind, and brew the most delicious Bedouin coffee. We marveled at the generosity and good humor of our hosts, even gazed up at the stars together late at night and shared our hopes and dreams.

This is how I like to travel, how I like to be. All that counts is the person. There is no judgment, no prejudice. There are no stereotypes, no boundaries, no labels – just human beings meeting each other with open hearts and minds. Intense eye-contact. Being fully invested in the moment. Individuals enjoying to learn from each other. Laughter, firm handshakes, sincerity, and a strong sense of self. May we meet again my brothers. Inshallah.

Indian Ocean Mementos

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Just yesterday, I re-discovered this picture from 2008. It used to be posted on the staff board of the Maldivian dive center where I spent four profoundly inspiring years. Consequently, today, I am feeling even more nostalgic than usual about those turquoise years. Let me share another little tidbit from my book with you from those times:

“With my clumsiness gone, water became my ally. Amidst the turquoise depths of the Indian Ocean, I gracefully floated, somersaulted, vaulted, stopped, and turned at my leisure. I was weightless and graceful in body – yet even more important, I was weightless and graceful in soul as well. This was the true sanctuary I had always searched and hoped for.

In addition to the Indian Ocean wrapping its strong, tender arms around me, I was blown away by the underwater life. Now that my uncoordinated struggles didn’t scare them into flight anymore, most reef inhabitants ignored my presence entirely. During every dive, hundreds of brightly-colored, graceful creatures went about their daily routines without so much as a glance towards the little guy hovering peacefully in front of them with a tank on his back. My first encounters with fully grown sharks took my breath away. Amazingly, while immersed in the Big Blue, I wasn’t scared of anything – respectful yes, but not fearful. I felt at home.”

If you want to dive in deeper, you can find Paralian in all major online book stores (Amazon, Waterstones, WHSmith, Google ebooks, Apple iBooks, Nook, Kobo, etc. as well as directly from my publisher, Troubador), or you can have your local book store order it… What better time to let yourself be whisked away on an odyssey than the middle of summer?