Experiences around the world

HARLINGEN — Brazil. Thailand. Greece.

Sounds like the resume of a National Geographic reporter, right?

Sure. It’s also the wistful memories of a local world traveler named Laura Garcia. The 1996 graduate of Harlingen High School has spent the past few years traveling to Spain, France, Japan, Cambodia, Egypt, Sri Lanka and so much more.

And everywhere, a smorgasbord of humorous and unlikely experiences waited to fill her memory.

“India and the awesome technicolor,” she said recently as she soaked up the winter sun at a local park. Her vitality conjured images of her trip in 2015.

“It’s one of the poorest countries in the world and one of the richest,” said Garcia, 38.

“It’s so colorful,” she said. “Even in the slums it’s so beautiful.”

Garcia was recalling one of her more recent experiences abroad. Through various sources of income and intriguing accidentals, she’s managed to spend the past few years exploring.

A sudden and strange turn of events suddenly changed her direction in 2012 and opened the way for her journey to begin. However, she’d already seen something of the world. The previous year, she was in Hawaii, and the previous two years she traveled to Madrid, Jordan and Israel.

Now she had a new opportunity. The University of Pittsburg accepted her application to earn her master’s degree in business, and she flew to Sao Paolo, Brazil, for a study abroad program.

Brazil had attracted her interest as a child with its bossa nova musical tradition.

“That was always my dream destination for most of my adult life,” she said.

She took her first trip in 2010 and it was everything she thought it would be.

“I was in Rio with a girlfriend of mine,” she said. “It was amazing. The beaches, the food, the people, the language. I just love Portuguese. The cultural diversity, the African Brazilians and the white Brazilians all coexist naturally, especially in Rio.”

She knew when she returned to Brazil she wanted to live in Rio. But Sao Paolo was 30 minutes away by airplane. Classes in Sao Paolo were held Friday, Saturday and Sunday every other week.

In stepped life’s mischievous nature in the form of an American in Rio named Jake. He taught English part-time and managed an apartment complex. He was trying to get away for a few months and take care of matters in the States. Various constraints had intruded into those plans, but Garcia now presented a possibility.

“How would you like to take over my life?” he asked.

Say no more. It was done. Her living expenses were now paid for, and she found a way to fly each week to Sao Paolo at a very cheap price.

She completed the 18-month program in 2013 and traveled once again to Europe. One of her many destinations was Greece.

More trips took her to the Far East and other parts of Europe. India in 2015 entertained her with all the colors emerging from the clothing, the food, the music, and the religious sites. Among the many intriguing places she visited was Vrindivan. Its twin city, Matura, is believed to be the birthplace of Krishna, the Hindu god who started Holi Fest to celebrate the coming of spring.

“They throw colors on everybody,” she said. “They use natural things for colors. Yellow is turmeric. Red comes from a flower whether it be the hibiscus or chrysanthemums.”

Her visit to Katmandu, Nepal, was an entirely different experience. An earthquake had leveled pagodas, homes and other buildings. One day while eating at a place called “Friends” she saw a call for volunteers on a community board. The posting was from an American aid organization called “All-Hands Volunteers.” She signed up and met at the designated time and place.

“There were six teams going to different areas,” she said. “We went to this family home and just literally dug for eight hours. The barn for the animals was level to the ground. We tried to dig up as much as we could. If you found a whole piece of brick you had to save the whole brick.”

The family was exceedingly grateful.

“Lunch, it was so amazing,” she said. “The family would prepare lunch for all the volunteers.”

Life has taught her many things along her journeys across the world. One stands out in her mind, which is the avoidance of fear. So many fear the unforeseen accidentals encountered through life.

“No matter where you are, if you’re supposed to be there, someone’s going to help you out along the way,” she said.

Her next stop?

“Wherever the universe takes me.”