Burma is Breathtaking

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Discover Vagabond Travel Photography Magazine for your iPad – Stunning Photography, Travel Advice on your next Journey and Inspiration

First: You fall in love with the people here. They want to help you.

All you have to do is look lost and someone will come to your aid.

This does not work in many countries but it works here in Yangon.

My latest thing to do is get on a city bus going in my general direction with a note written in Burmese where I want to go.

And I will get there. How?

This morning three people offered to guide me.  I did the same route yesterday so I didn’t need help but I did bask in their good will.

The bus looked like it was going to crumble into dust particles but I didn’t think it was polite to photograph it with all the passengers sitting on the peeling seats.

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Check out my Youtube channel to Discover Videos from all over the Globe – 176,879 downloads

So here I am in a swank coffee Garden Bistro looking out over the magnificent gardens of Kandawgyi Lake.

My favorite place to do wifi and drink coffee in Yangon. Ultimate reality. Garden Bistro, with Signature Restaurant next to Kandawgki Lake

My favorite place to do wifi and drink coffee in Yangon. Ultimate reality. Garden Bistro, with Signature Restaurant next to Kandawgyi Lake

I walked around the lake last night and even when it got dark I felt safe — there is almost no crime here – this may be because if you get caught you get executed but I think this may be changing.

I haven’t gotten a creepy feeling yet — oh wait…

I did get sketched out last night when I went to look at a room to rent. It was stinky and decorated with mold, low ceilings, and felt dirty for $22. It didn’t come with a smile so I bailed. I knew I would have nightmares in that room.

The owner looked bored/pissed off that I was showing up to book a room. There’s a scarcity of rooms available in town as it is the high season and they didn’t build enough hotels to accommadate all the people interested in coming to Burma now that restrictions have been lifted. It was not actually closed to outsiders for the last 20 years it was just more irritating to get a visa as I have met many people here in Asia who did get in – and they are foreigners like me. You had to wait longer and there were less tourists – sounds great to me.

Side note: it only cost $70 to fly one-way from Bangkok here. Now the doors to Burma are wide open and people are scrambling to start up hotels and guesthouses for us.

Transportation here varies:

Taxi, motorcycle, walking, decrepit bus, and my favorite; bicycle rickshaw:

See the Gallery of Worldwide Photography for Your Own Projects here: http://bartnikowski.smugmug.com

See my Gallery of Worldwide Photography for Your Own Projects here:

Coming soon the actual video of the above  photo – i have to wait to get to a country where it doesn’t take 3 hours to upload a 3-minute video.

So back to Kindness and More Miracles: in the taxi on the way to my guesthouse from the airport I was so excited to be here I was hanging out the car window waving and smiling and taking photographs to all of Yangon and I didn’t notice my passport falling out of my camera bag. It was dark when we to the guesthouse thru the insane traffic (not many traffic lights so things get clogged up fast) and i didn’t lsiten to the tiny voice inside me that said – check the car again — my mind said oh i have evruthing – –

Stop Listen to the Body!

So I noticed it was gone after I checked in and started to panic. I must have left it at the airport – so back I go to the airport in another over-priced taxi but on the way I realized – no it fell out int he first taxi and a peace settled over me – I would get it back.

5 minutes later the phone rang in the car — my passport had been delivered back to my geusthouse.

Meet the kind people who helped me here

Travel Advice: never get in a taxi with a person who feels creepy. I knew when I looked at this man that I could trust him.

He was kind and he had heaps of friends: while he drove me into town he said hello to other drivers and chatted with them in the choked with traffic roadways – smiling the whole time.

This country is full of love and kindness. Except for maybe the military who control everthing but even that is thawing. Aung San Sui Kyi is having meetings with her former captors who kept her on house arrest. The louts.


The military like to say she was free to go and that is true but they would have never let her back in Burma if she went to see her family in England. This is what can happen to large spirits. The Burmese love her. And the authorities find this annoying.

Fact: she was forced into house arrest after winning the people’s vote to put her in power 20 years ago. That’s when the barbed wire was installed around her home and her family in England forbidden to visit. Heinous. But she may be in command in a few years when they have another election. Sure hope so.

So I’ve been in Yangon for 5 days now and am finding new things to look at and people to talk with every day.

Check out more photos from Machu Picchu to the rooftop of the world in Nepal: http://bartnikowski.smugmug.com

Check out more photos from Machu Picchu to the rooftop of the world in Nepal: http://bartnikowski.smugmug.com

I am experiencing a tidal wave of goodwill towards me.

Barack Obama visited Myanmar, and the Burmese are now fond of us USA folk so come here now before anything screws that up. Their faces light up when I tell them I’m from USA — where else in the world are you gonna get that?

I am literally bowled over. People are asking to have their photograph taken with me – like the one above. I’m being called Madame and I finally like it: I feel like a quasi celebrity.

My favorite thing Obama has done is to come to Burma and make friends here. Never mind that he shouldn’t have kissed Aung San Sui Kyi as no one shows affection like that here except for teenagers in the park making out under their umbrellas to hide the fact that they are kissing. Cute.

The only challenge so far has been eating that prawn salad last night which resulted in getting the runs today but even that is not deterring me – I still took the local bus lurching over the road in downtown Yangon for about 3 miles.

And since I’m only paying $8 a night for a room with fan only and rather thin walls I can live it up at this posh place that charges $3 for a glass of juice and $4 for a caffe latte. And has a great view over the gardens.

The neighborhood is topnotch – a big public garden is steps away from my guesthouse where I plan to do yoga in the morning – Sule Pagoda is next door – see photo below – a golden tower of holiness that glows all day and tons of fascinating street life – you don’t even have to go anywhere but outside to see things you have never seen before:

Unusual Fruits, slinky skirts on all women, men in longyis, crumbling colonial architecture next to modern buildings, and poverty but not so horribly bad. Not as bad as Cambodia.

The best things so far:

Making friends with the Burmese staff and helping them with their English. See facebook page: Mary Bartnikowski – be my friend and I will be yours.

Seeing Shwe Dagon Temple in Yangon and feeling the astounding vibrancy penetrate my soul.

Check out: Photography from two trips around this planet earth here: http://bartnikowski.smugmug.com

Check out: Photography from two trips around this planet earth here: http://bartnikowski.smugmug.com

Moving to the Sule Pagoda neighborhood and being astonished by the rhythm of Yangon (some people call it Rangoon.) The food is delcious, the people are kind, there is no crime, and even though the streets aren’t clean I’ll take kindness over cleanliness any day.

I go to sleep to this view and I wake up to it too. Teashops, kind people, and fruit - thats all I need. http://bartnikowski.com

I go to sleep to this view. Teashops, kind people, and fruit – thats all I need. http://bartnikowski.com

Check out: http://bartnikowski.smugmug.com for more Astonishing Photography

Check out: http://bartnikowski.smugmug.com for more Astonishing Photography

The delicious food! Many times I am not sure what it is but it sure tastes good.

I’ll have more food photos and video — See my latest videos  here:


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Write me, I’ll write you back.

Next Stop Nepal!

Secrets of Cambodia

Mary with New Friends at OuMalay Guesthouse, SiemReap22Secrets of Cambodia

I extended my visa for another month, as I just couldn’t see myself crossing the border into Thailand. That’s the closest border to me so it would be easiest to get to – but I will be bussing to Bangkok for my flight to Burma later this month.

Burma. It is a place like no other place. Happy I’m going.

Have heard it’s challenging to find a guesthouse to stay at but if it’s a problem I will throw myself on the mercy of a temple and ask to stay with the monks and nuns. Surely they can relax the rules for me.

It’s a simple life here in Siem Reap. I have a richer life in some ways in Cambodia than I did in Northern Thailand – renting a small house in the mountains with a large view of the sun setting over clouds, hot springs, and waterfalls. My own 5 star view.

Angkor Wat, Sunset

Angkor Wat, Sunset

Here in Siem Reap, down the street from the 8th wonder of the world, Angkor Wat, I feel the mystical vibrations emanating from one of the holiest places on earth.

My jaw dropped when I saw this.

My jaw dropped when I saw this.

My favorite temple in Angkor Wat is Ta Prohm. Yes it was featured in the Tomb Raiders but its been here 800 years longer than when Angelina Jolie discovered it

My favorite temple in Angkor Wat is Ta Prohm. Yes it was featured in the Tomb Raiders but its been here 800 years longer than when Angelina Jolie discovered it

And I am paying $200 per month for my own room with bathroom.

No kitchen. But Ou Malay Guesthouse (with no sign) lets me put my fruit in their fridge. And I go to cafes and restaurants to do wifi and commune with my work. Yes it would be easier to have wifi at home but you know its been fun to get up and leave every morning – wifi is available all over Siem Reap – all you need to do is sit down and order a glass of carrot beet juice or a coffee or something.

The only thing is the music.

Today at the Blue Pumpkin where I was eating my dark chocolate one scoop of ice cream nestled on a sugar cone the music was on my nerves as it was Thai folk music and I dislike that kind of noise. It is a repetitive soap opera style of clanging banjos and primitive stringed instruments. I can’t hear my own voice in all that din.

At least I get electricity.

I can plug my computer into the wall here! Grateful for that. My appreciation for Power; the kind that comes from an electrical outlet has soared since leaving California.

Another thing:

Last week I was looking to get my hair trimmed and I went to a beauty salon and it was $15 to do a 5-minute job. That sounded too USA for me – nope.

So I went to a neighborhood salon where there was no English spoken and guess what, it was only$2 for a hair trim so I gave her a dollar tip and she did a fine job – and that was a good wage – it literally took 10 minutes.

Check out my Youtube videos on Cambodia here

And I will not pay $4.50 for a tiny jar of Skippy peanut butter either. Just because us foreigners like the stuff they jack it up in price –  I will buy pure peanuts and be happy with that. Besides the jars are always dusty.

Walk into any wat and usually you can chat up the monks

Walk into any wat and usually you can chat up the monks

Her family had the coldest juiciest coconuts in town. Every day I would visit them and they split open the coconut and stuck a straw in it for me - sublime.

Her family had the coldest juiciest coconuts in town. Every day I would visit them and they split open the coconut and stuck a straw in it for me – sublime.

Honoring the King's Death

Honoring the King’s Death in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

I met this little girl at Orchid Bungalows where I stayed for 6 days on Otres Beach

I met this little girl at Orchid Bungalows where I stayed for 6 days on the beach

Clean and serene - go here instead of Sihanoukville but don't tell anyone so we can keep it special

Clean and serene – go here instead of Sihanoukville but don’t tell anyone so we can keep it special: Otres Beach

Currently my favorite thing to eat is:

Fresh Pommelo  – it’s a gigantic grapefruit grown here in Southeast Asia — I eat it every day. Dazzlingly delicious. I’m eating it right now.

My diet has changed living here – it’s heaps of apples, bananas, dragon fruit, mangoes and mostly pommelo. I ate catfish barbecued from a street side stand and it was scrumptious but I need to do my pommelo run now.

So… come to Cambodia and discover her secrets:

The coast is not that developed outside of Sihanoukville. Otres Beach is the gem in the crown of the Southern Coast.

Kampot is small-town wonderful with its pepper crab, sunset river views, and friendliness. You can jump right in the river – it feels clean and silky.

Here are my picks for you:

Cozyna Hotel in Phnom Penh on the riverside.

Daughters of Cambodia – massage/mani/pedi for women only, lunch, wifi, AC and crafts for the rest of humanity. It’s a non-profit helping girls steer clear of human trafficking – support them.

Kampot – many nice places to eat – best prices on lodging and great value in Cambodia.

Otres Beach – Papa Pippo’s Guesthouse on the best part of the beach – authentic Italian food because real Italians run it – I met Papa Pippo himself and he is pure Italy – check it out.

Siem Reap: Rosy’s Guesthouse, Ou Malay Guesthouse – Check Out the Family I Stayed With Here, Peace Café

Eat at: Central Cafe on Pub street – Café Mie (see my video) – super good fresh fusion Cambodian/European food. A Cambodian chef owns and runs it – young whippersnapper who is enthusiastic and European trained – go there now.

Enjoying the moment – it’s a practice.  Gotta go get that pommelo now.

Big Blast of Light and laugher coming your way from Southeast Asia.

Angkor Wat soaking up the Love and Beauty

The Truth About Cambodia

Christmas Eve I biked over to Ta Prohm before the hordes of people arrived in Angkor Wat. No problem at 5:30AM – the place was filled with birds cawing and the sun rising in tree boughs over my head.

I’ve been in Cambodia for 7 weeks now and traveled all over this captivating country.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

You can’t rent a motorbike in Siem Reap – so the only option is a bike. Tuktuk drivers will ask 9,000 times a day if you need a ride. With a bike under me they don’t ask anymore. Yay.

You can rent motorbikes outside of Siem Reap in other towns of Cambodia for about $5 a day.

There are no buses in the towns. Taxis cost almost the same as USA – my rule of thumb is if it costs the same price as the USA I don’t need it. I’m in Asia to pay Asian prices – not to pay USA prices. And that goes double for buying Skippy peanut butter. It costs $5 for a tiny jar of it. Please! I’d finish that in one sitting.

Guesthouses sell standard to luxury long distance bus tickets and you’ll get the same price as going to the station to buy it. Usually you can get some honest advice too. Language can be a problem so ask the ex-pats who have guesthouses to tell you how to get somewhere.

They know; they live here.

Angkor Wat. I was surprised by the hordes of tourists but hey I’m a tourist too. And I picked probably the most crowded week of the year to get my 3-day pass.

On the days I visited; all of humanity was there.

Angkor Wat attracts tons of tourists to see the sun rise over the temples

Angkor Wat attracts tons of tourists to see the sun rise over the temples



I had one of the best times in my life – how?

Get up early! Yes, at 4AM. I rode my bike in the dark with a headlamp you might want to employ a tuktuk driver. They show up where you are staying and take you over to the temples. I hired one once for the sunset at Angkor Wat but the other days I biked. More fun and slower.

So there I was riding the black velvet road on my way to Ta Prohm temple the one with the trees growing out of it.

I was the only one there!

Christmas Eve at the temples at 6AM - mystical moment of bliss

Christmas Eve at the temples at 6AM – mystical moment of bliss

It was dark and not lit up so I was glad to have my flashlight. Two other girls appeared; I called out to them, hey guys where’s the main temple here? Two North Americans, who also were enthusiastic to get up early, joined me and we shot photos, chatted, and had a blast.

Then we wandered off doing our own photo shoots before the hordes arrived. It was mystical to see the golden light dawn in the towering treetops over my head. I felt happy and full of shine.

Me and my yoga matt reflecting in the magical temple vibe

Me and my yoga matt reflecting in the magical temple vibe

It wasn’t that way at the sunrise at Angkor Wat with 12,000 people. Ok I exaggerate maybe it was just two thousand people but again I got there early. And bring a yoga matt to sit on so you’ll have more breathing space. The sun rises over Angkor Wat and the reflection in the lotus pond is divine and otherworldly. One of the most exquisite things I’ve ever seen in my life. Don’t miss it.

Discover delicious and astonishing photography of Angkor Wat that I shot this month click here for the app in the iTunes store


Captivating Cambodia, Issue 2 of Vagabond Magazine is in the iTunes store now for your iPad, check it out…be inspired to get that plane ticket and go discover the world.

As Yoon Leem from Korea said, after reading Vagabond, “Mary is the adventure guru, what are you waiting for, get your ticket and follow her!”

Intricate carvings of women adorning the ancient walls left me breathless. And I could get right next to them and see all the detail. Top level of Angkor Wat.

Intricate carvings of women adorning the ancient walls left me breathless. And I could get right next to them and see all the detail. Top level of Angkor Wat.

Sunset is also a wonderful time to see the temples. You can cuddle up with your pillow and wait for the end of the day.

The yoga mat is also good for having picnics far from the madding crowds. You can find shady areas to sit and munch and look carefully at a temple view or lotus pond.

Elephant Terrace at Angkor Thom

Elephant Terrace at Angkor Thom


This divine pond was radiating the love energy - I almost died and went to a new realm just seeing it. Early morning is best as the blossoms open invitingly to the sky.

This pond was radiating the love energy – I almost died and went to a new realm just seeing it. Early morning is best as the blossoms open invitingly to the sky.

Don’t miss the lotus pond- this is the biggest one I’ve ever seen in my life. Bigger than the Paul Gauguin garden in Tahiti.

Discover the amazing photography that Cambodia inspired here

More facts:

You will eat healthy here. You’ll find farmers markets filled with fresh fruit to make your innards happy. Here’s my breakfast, dragon fruit and bananas.


Cambodia has wifi in most coffee shops and restaurants now – yahoo – that makes me happy. We’ll see what happens in Burma if I can still stay connected.

The roads are not always smooth, for example the road between Sihanoukville and Kep/Kampot. You could rent a motorbike but you’d still have the craters, crevices, and dust clouds. I needed a massage after that spine-crushing ride over potholed roads. I’ll be going back to Thailand soon overland so we’ll see how that goes crossing the border from Cambodia. It should be easier than doing it the other way as every one wants to see Angkor Wat and I’ve all ready seen it and am leaving. Perhaps there is less tout activity on the Thai side too.

Kampot, Kep, and Otres Beach don’t have strong Internet connection – probably OK in Sihanoukville if you can stomach the litter and touts. Go to Otres beach instead – it is about 6 kilometers south of the big Sihanoukville area. Quieter and prettier too. Or one of the islands, which I did not get to.

I loved Kampot – fresh seafood comes in from Kep and it has a small town feel that is friendly and non-touristy.

Kep – fun for an outing but maybe don’t ride your motorbike there like I did. Traffic on the dusty skinny road to get from Kampot to Kep is scary. Tourist vans and drivers who have just discovered motor vehicles are not all that interested in staying on their side of the road or giving much leeway to bikers. Glad I arrived with all my skin intact.

Yes I wore my helmet – always do.

Phnom Penh – I didn’t hear anything about it until I stayed there 10 days. Many great restaurants, cheap high quality places to stay, and good markets if that’s your thing – check out the veggie and fish market – real stinky but fascinating for 5 minutes if you can stand the stench.


I’d Like a Stench-Free Room, Please

in Vagabond

click here: http://tinyurl.com/byg76kx

My recommendations for Phnom Penh:
Cozyna Hotel on the riverside
$18 per room AC + wifi in double room. Good bed, super clean.
Daughters of Cambodia: for eating, massages, wifi, handmade items
Blue Pumpkin for breakfast/good coffee/real yogurt/on the riverfront
Markets galore, Central Market within walking distance to the hotel

Russian Market is a short tuk tuk ride away

Massages everywhere for cheap $5 to $9
Visit the kings palace –
He had just died so we couldn’t go inside it.

There are 2 cons:
The insane traffic, which will not stop for you
Pedestrians don’t have the right of way
I think I’m still alive because they don’t want to kill tourists
It would be bad for business.
And tuktuk drivers who sleep in their cabs then wake up and ask you if you want a ride 200 times a day. Go back to bed!

Anyway I notice I have not left this country and extended my visa for another month. Glad of it; otherwise I would have been traveling on Christmas Eve instead of being at Angkor Wat dancing around

my favorite temple Ta Prohm. What fun!


Cambodians are super friendly and want to learn English and try out their English on you. But be sure you speak so slowly so there are no misunderstandings in communication.

Their smiles are genuine – I’m tripping out on the love I feel here.
No matter what I do at my guesthouse the Cambodian family who owns the joint is treating me like royalty. I think I’m the only white honky there. They don’t know much English and I know far less Cambodian but we try to understand each other; the unspoken love is radiating out from them.


Don’t miss this country – it gets under your skin and you don’t want to leave! I’m still here and it’s been 7 weeks.

Thats when you know you are in the right place. When you can’t imagine leaving it.

How to Travel Solo and Be Safe (for Women and Men)

Trust your gut. Your body knows before your mind does. Listen. If your body tells you not to go down that street in the dark – don’t. I’ve stopped my friends from walking down a street with me in Bogotá because it felt off.

Don’t get so caught up in checking off the sites to see that you forget to listen to your gut. If you listen and act on it, your gut gets stronger and gives you more and better advice. Follow it.

Solo Travel Tips:

Don’t say you’re traveling alone or where you are staying to all and sundry.  I was followed once in Ecuador. Why are they asking you? This is a personal question and similar to asking a person’s age in the first 2 seconds of meeting them; you don’t have to tell them. Invent a partner if you like – if you’re feeling the least bit anxious.

Taxis: keep your luggage next to you on the back seat not in the trunk. If there is a dispute with the driver you can open the door and leave with your stuff. I had to do this once when it was clear the taxi driver didn’t know where my guesthouse was located after he assured me he did know and expected me to pay for his blunder. I got out of the car with my luggage. Drivers encourage you to put it in the trunk so they have you hostage in case there’s a problem.

Leave your passport with hotel or hostel and carry a copy.

Picnic at markets if the food is too pricey or makes you puke. Fruit, cheese, and

olives work for me. Add a few hard-boiled eggs and I’m set.

Eating out solo: I love to listen to people talking and watch the passing scene. If you like bring a book, do some writing, or be more daring and ask to sit with others. In many countries this is encouraged unlike in the States where it is frowned upon.

Be careful who you are intimate with. It may be a lark for you or him, but feelings

can be hurt.  Be responsible and don’t lead someone on making him or her think its love. Be careful dating, you don’t want to trust someone too soon. I may be the only person who left South America with the same camera I started the journey with. Expensive items have legs and can exit quickly.

Learn how to greet people rather than just intrude on their space. Manners are important and people in most countries outside the West are taught to say hello, Buenos Dias, etc before asking questions or blurting out comments.

Assume that everything will go well for you. It works until it doesn’t then you must learn deep breathing and how to stay calm. I do kundalini yoga and meditation every day – it helps.

Decide to be happy. Leave your Western ways in the West, shed your pre-conceived ideas when your passport is stamped and enter a new country with a fresh perspective.

There will be moments of culture shock.

It happened to me yesterday. I hired a Thai tech guy and he wanted me to pay him by depositing the money in his bank account. For this I had to pay extra even though I have an account there too. I will continue to do business with him so I said, I’m going to close my account, having all ready decided to do so earlier.

The bank teller said, “You can’t close your account here – you have to do it in Chiang Mai.” Four hours away from here. How idiotic is that?

So I asked to see the manager, “There is no manager here,” the teller told me, smiling. In Bangkok Bank, the biggest bank in Thailand, with shiny countertops and bonafide tellers, I am hearing this.

I soon calmed down after talking to my friends from Belgium and Italy about life here. They have businesses in town so they are used to the mafia malarkey mentality. I had an iced coffee and remembered I am in a foreign country, I’m a guest here; this is not my home country. I am visiting until I buy land, then it will be my country too. Oh right, I can’t buy land here, only leases.

The most important thing to remember is to have fun, be safe, learn something new, make friends, and take photographs.

Flying free of the West solo takes practice but you’ll get the hang of it. Soon you’ll be smiling and feeling drunk on your own freedom – let it happen.

In 6 years of world travel I’ve been robbed only once and “lost” one camera, gratefully without bodily harm. Read or hear the audio on the incredible journey from the rooftop of the world in Nepal to the magnificence of Machu Picchu here:

Kitten Heels in Kathmandu, Adventures of a Female Vagabond

How to Travel Solo and Be Safe is excerpted from my new magazine:

Vagabond, it will be available soon in the iTunes store for iPads.

Mary Bartnikowski


Discover Mary’s worldwide adventures on Youtube:


Why I Travel Solo

This is the introduction for my new e-book:

Kitten Heels in Kathmandu, the Adventures of a Female Vagabond on Amazon:


And an epub version for ipads and iphones: http://www.bitmenu.com/widget/offer.html?offerId=2633

I was sitting around one day and I noticed there was no one to make dinner for. My son was riding camels in Morocco on his own dime, when suddenly light entered my brain.

I need adventure and the unknown! If he can do it at age 17, I can sure as hell do it – it should be easier for me I’m older than him.

So I went on my first three-week vacation in fifteen years to Italy and Spain. The Italians said I was plumb loco for waiting so long. They checked my head for fever and suggested there may be cellular damage.

But I had an epiphany in Florence walking under an umbrella in the rain. I was ready to leap into life and not look back. I felt utterly at peace and so happy that I didn’t want to ever leave. I felt each hour in a blissful state of not knowing what will happen next so I’ll take my hands off the steering wheel and let the journey take me.

I was happy being hit on by handsome men in Italy. Probably would have married one of them if I’d stayed another week. One man’s dimples were divine. I swam in them with my eyes.

That was just the beginning.

My son then informed me that he was going to Asia for nine months – no problem I said as I cried into my pillow. But I wiped away my tears and decided to take the world by storm and live a life I was excited about.

I always wanted to be a nomad but didn’t know exactly how this was done.

I raised my son to be adventurous and to express his heart’s desires. To reach out to the world and love it. He flew over oceans, continents, and the Himalayas spreading his wings so wide it felt like an umbrella for me and the wind caught me and I floated like Mary Poppins.

It carried me to Nepal to teach photography to the staff of the Nepal Youth Foundation.

Kathmandu felt like third rock from the sun. Everything was different; the light, the food, the faces, the language, the clothes. The way people worshipped God. It changed my life and made me see my purpose.

I was off and running. Drunk on my own freedom.

I continued to take 6 to 10 month solo trips every year and after going around the world twice, and teaching and traveling in 27 countries I knew this was not just a trip; it was my life.

So I sold all my stuff: car, furniture, jewelry, my favorite red vintage motorcycle jacket. I gave the rest away. No more stress, insurance, car maintenance or rat race.

Poof – all gone.

It was liberating.

Now I’m a professional vagabond. I teach photography worldwide, shoot for businesses, non-profits, and ex-pats. I teach kundalini yoga and meditation, play with people, and love elephants. My title? I’m an artist and CEO of fun. Projects find me, travelers want to learn photography and yoga, and invitations arrive for me to volunteer my skills. It’s a big wide world full of people who need help and inspiration.

I used to spend over $500 a day on vacations. I drove a new car, bought cashmere and silk clothing, lived in a swank apartment, and regularly went out to eat and drink at posh places. I worked incessantly so I could afford this style of living. Now I spend $500 in a month and live a happier, richer, and simpler life.

I don’t need a car; third world countries are notorious for providing low cost and good transportation. Yes, it can be colorful to sit next to a large box of baby chickens with a fresh caught flounder at my feet in Ecuador. I do sometimes travel in air-conditioned buses; in Thailand where I live like a queen.

Solo travel makes me stronger. It’s a learning eye-opening incredible journey. I would never be growing like this if I stayed at home stuck in the safe and swank suburbs. I’m meeting dynamic people from all over the world and having my eyes pried open and wits sharpened. I’ve learned how to trust my gut with unflappable certainty.

And now I can sleep on a plank with my camera as a pillow or under a table at the airport after a cancelled flight with my backpack bolted to my thigh and just to be certain a table leg as well. Squalling babies and rock-hard mattresses don’t annoy me; air turbulence lulls me to dreamland.

Traveling into the unknown has transformed me on a cellular and spiritual level. I no longer see life as black and white – there are a lot more gray areas and I’m not just talking about my hair. I’m talking about being opened up and deeply changed by new people, foreign money, fresh ideas, and new spirits.

I’m not in a rush anymore. Now I just wait. The answer will come.

Sometimes I want to be alone with my own soul to see what is in there. I never know what I will find so I am just letting it be. Letting the world come to me as I quietly get on a plane and fly to a new country then hit the ground running and travel overland to feel the energy of the place bubble up from the soles of my feet into my heart and explode out the top of my head.  How will I change from it? I never know. That is why I travel not just to take photographs and capture a place on film. It is to know myself through the eyes of a different world; the rarified air of a new culture with new customs, new souls, and new faces. And food I can’t identify but it sure tastes good.

The best places never seem to be in the guidebooks. They just pop up in a friendly face, an accidental discovery, or a change of plans. Nothing is set in granite and that is also why I travel to see that everything is impermanent – this could all be over in an instant. We could die suddenly, get sick, or be annihilated. If the world is going to hell in a hand basket why not see it before the basket breaks?

I live outside the USA to stop thinking about myself all the time – it’s exhausting. And reaching a hand out to someone who needs it is fulfilling.

There are worlds to discover in our own souls. I’m digging with a big shovel to get to those new layers inside me. To change and to keep on changing.

I’m rich with experience, seeing how the world lives out side my former bubble of a life devoted to the almighty buck, cashmere, and comfort. I’ve been stupid, smart, lucky, well off, broke, mocked, and loved. And I’ve learned something from every second of it.

I’ve had an astounding education in life: being a professional photographer, a published author, a hitchhiking hippie, teaching Buddhist nuns kundalini yoga, leading programs at major corporations in the USA, photographing the Dalai Lama, riding elephants bareback in Nepal, learning how to surf, ride a motorcycle, and scuba dive, living in a home for abandoned people in Argentina, exploring the Himalayas and the Andes, teaching and shooting photography in humanitarian foundations, a swank boarding school and ashrams in India, nunneries in Thailand and Nepal and in my own private sessions worldwide.

I am on an open-ended worldwide adventure. I’m grateful for the blessings and every moment of the ride. I didn’t set out to have a nomad life – this life found me. But when it did I was ready to take the leap.

Kitten Heels in Kathmandu, the Adventures of a Female Vagabond  http://www.bitmenu.com/widget/offer.html?offerId=2619

And an epub version for ipads and iphones:


and downloadable from http://www.facebook.com/Bartnikowski

The first reviews are in:

Lisa C., “I just read the introduction and am already crying. Tears of joy and gratitude for your sharing, your courage, your curiosity, your spirit, and YOU!”

Jemie S, “I couldn’t put it down, it spoke to my heart, it paints a beautiful portrait.”

Satya M, “I am inspired how you surrender everyday to the unknown.”

Nancy R, “The photographs are mind-boggling and beautiful.”

Jenn H, “It’s a great read!”

Tulum, Mexico, Simply Being


Life has been so juicy that I have not had time to write. I’ve been too busy eating fish tacos, guacamole, and growing another rear end. I’m teaching private photo crash courses, walking around with a look of wonder on my face, eating, reading in a hammock, dreaming about my next adventure in Belize and seeing my son in Guatemala, and trying to stay warm in the soft rain but mostly just being content.

I moved off of Isla Mujeres and now I am in a tiny town by the sea living in a hostel where I finally have a kitchen to make a darn cup of tea. I had my water heating coil from Thailand with me but those prongs don’t ignite in Mexican electrical outlets.

So I was camping at the sea and got tired of sand in every crevice of my body, spartan accommodations (meaning no sofas or cushions) and living on sand. But now that I am in a crowded hostel I appreciate seaside camping.

Nature rocks! Nothing comes close to its beauty. As I laid in my tent trying to sleep while the rain pelted my tent I thought warm thoughts of Belize and being in the sun – being safe in Guatemala with my son and daughter and eating healthy food. Just appreciating that we are alive in this moment and not elsewhere.

I am experiencing the good karma of simply being. I am shedding anxiety and just being. I don’t feel in a rush.

Today I felt happy just walking my laundry to the cleaners for them to do and having my teeth cleaned. I felt I had achieved something. The dentist told me I have a bunch of cavities – I don’t believe him – I think he wanted more money. But I paid him only $60 to clean my teeth – the other dentist wanted $80 but I didn’t want to pay $20 more than I pay in Thailand. I know I am not in Thailand but I also do not have health insurance – my health insurance is traveling to third world countries and hoping to never get ill or injured in the USA as I can easily afford paying for my medical maintenance out of pocket when it is in rupees, Thai baht, or pesos. My teeth feel yummy and smooth now. The dentist was a lot younger; I am now old enough to have my doctors be a decade or two younger than me. I just told the girl in the other bunk here in the dorm what my age was and I’m even older than her parents who are 48. She was lying on her bed when I told her and looked like she’d lose her lunch in a New York second.

She said, “You are NOT 54.” I usually don‘t tell people but I sometimes like the shock as it is a comic moment.

These youngsters here are partying non-stop and won’t shut up until 1AM but usually it’s later. I don’t know if I can take 2 more nights of this stupidity. A bunch of twenty-nothings getting drunk and listening to moronic music that will not be remembered in 10 years. Push my ear plugs in way deeper. I still heard them.

But these young ones are in some ways wiser than I was at their age. Some of them even get married and are responsible like my own son. And they know to travel and not get tied down to a job right away.

Some of these sweet youngsters are able to sleep in all this noise – astounding.

But after a few days I am learning how to do it too.  I always wanted to be able to fall asleep on a plank at the center of the universe, on an airplane, bus, or boat, in the middle of a rock concert.

Oh dear maybe I should not have had that pork taco right before bed preceded by the sugar doughnut slash croissant – it was not a proper croissant but a puffed up piece of bread with sugar sprinkled all over it.

I feel actual bliss and freedom. I can roam where I want to. I feel less and less anxiety. I left the western world only 10 days ago but it takes time to wash off the west.

When I made more money I was less happy. I didn’t know this until I left my life behind, filled with expensive clothing, ritzy furniture, top dollar restaurants and deep debt. I owed so much money living like that but now that I live simply I don’t owe anyone anything.

I was at the bank the day before I left the USA and was getting my finances in order with one of the bank clerks and she said, “You can sign up for online bill payment” and I said oh I don’t need that and she said, “Well how do you pay your bills?”

I said, “I don’t have any bills.”

She was stupefied.

She said, “Many people would want to be in that position.” And she smiled through her gasping. I felt so grateful that I had no debt. I am free and clear and can live my life the way I like. That is a grace and a beauty. It took a lot of work to be debt-free. Keebler cookie elves did not arrive and give me a full bank account in the middle of the night.

Courage takes practice.

Living the high debt life made me sleep less peacefully. I was nervous and stressed trying to earn more money to pay everything off.

But I can travel because I have no debt – that is bliss – I could not do it before because I had to pay for my ultra lux life; I owed on my cashmere sweaters and all the toys we used to buy. I can live life more richly without that stuff. I feel rich now but I did not feel rich when I made more money.

Interesting how more stress isn’t worth more money.

Major insight revealed.

Piling up stacks of money isn’t that fun. It is stressful and I like being relaxed. It costs a lot more money to be in the States working than it does to be here having a wonderful time.

for now kindly go to http://www.youtube.com/user/zestyzippy

to see the latest videos from Mexico – Fun in Tulum and Simply Being.