As a teenager, Debbie Jefkin-Elnekave had a very different idea than her friends about how to spend her senior year of high school. While they focused on cheering on the football team, homecoming festivities and what to wear to prom, she headed to Bolivia as an exchange student.
Such an experience at a young age leaves an indelible mark on one’s life. During her year abroad she was introduced to fascinating ethnic groups; learned to speak Spanish and dance the queca; and acquired a taste for chuño, llajua picante and salteñas.
But most of all, she discovered her own joy of discovery.
And so it was that exotic travel captured her heart, kept her in its grip, and after all these years, keeps calling her back.
She began her globetrotting career as a photojournalist, and her experiences and love of the cultures that she documented became the inspiration for Uncommon Journeys and our tours.
To learn more, please click on the brief video to the right.
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Excerpts from Debbie's travel articles
A Glimpse of Forever: A Journey through Bolivia
The sun sets behind a distant ridge, day fades into indigo-tinted dusk, and the city reveals itself in a million twinkling lights, shimmering and dreamlike, mesmerizing and surreal. For a brief, magical moment, La Paz lies silent, except for the haunting melody of a pan flute, which lingers for an instant, then vanishes into night.
Awakened by Midnight Chants: Timket in Ethiopia
Worshippers maintain a twenty-four hour vigil to honor the tabot. Their chanting continues throughout the night, and wakes me up at intervals. It is a soothing chant, of this devout congregation softly calling out for God's blessing, like rippling water along a riverbank. I wake up in the morning feeling renewed, in spite of, or perhaps because of, the interludes.
Gem of India: A Journey through Orissa
The hypnotic refrain of two drums and a hand-made wooden flute hang in the air. Dozens of women materialize, seemingly out of nowhere. Clearly, something extraordinary is about to unfold. The women link arms in a vigorous choreography of their native dance, which seems like an endless rendition of hava nagila on steroids. They invite me to join in my own two-left-footed version of the dance. But this is more than just an afternoon of entertainment. It is evidence of the unshakable foundation of their deep cultural heritage.
Magical World Afloat: A Journey through Inle Lake
The lake lies silent, motionless, and the encircling Shan mountains are visible only as a shadowy, serrated rim through the early morning mist. An hour passes in tranquil, meditative solitude. Then gradually, almost imperceptibly at first, the sunrise begins to transform the reverie, and a magical sight unfolds before my eyes.
Exotic World of Harmony and Grace: A Journey through Mandalay
Among the "rush hour" commuters silhouetted against the persimmon and amethyst sky are monks, fishermen, vendors, and those who come simply to behold the breathtaking sunset. Dusk falls on the U-Bein Bridge with the gentleness of a calm whisper, and the all-embracing serenity reminds me how every day cares fade away in the presence of nature's gifts.
Land of Harmony, Spirit of Grace: A Journey through Pindaya
Spindle-topped stupas of the village pagoda loom in the background as oxen graze nearby. Men crouched in ox-drawn carts move slowly along. People bathe and wash clothes, unfazed by the early morning chill. Women toting water pots on their heads walk so gracefully along, they appear to float across the landscape. The scent of cooking fires and the sound of pagoda bells hang in the air. This is the way it has been for as long as the centuries old banyan trees have stood here, and the way it will be forever, sunshine or monsoons, peace or war, democracy or socialism. Nothing upsets the timeless rhythm of daily life in Pindaya.
Sanctuary of Grace, Tranquility and Spirituality: A Journey through Bagan
As I reflect on these images in the scorching midday sun, I take comfort in this fortress of tradition, where the people are infinitely friendly and open, yet thankfully resistant to modern world intrusions. My thoughts are now accompanied by a monk's prayerful chanting. In his mantra I am sure that I hear the echoes of Bagan's ancient pilgrims, who have bequeathed us this sanctuary of grace, tranquility and spirituality.
The Chance to Dream: A Medical Trip to Bolivia
Although the surgeon modestly dismisses the notion that he is a miracle worker, when he entered the operating room this afternoon, a miracle happened. The look on Segundino's face, in seeing his son after surgery, twists our hearts into knots. No words are spoken. None are needed. The gratitude in his eyes speaks volumes.
Hidden Treasures: A Medical Trip to Peru
Alejandrina's eyes light up when the doctor pronounces Jose Guillermo eligible for surgery, as if these words hold the answer to her most fervent prayers. But as she hands her baby to the surgical team, the look of anguish on her face is so poignant that it makes time stand still. It is an act of blind faith to entrust a loved one to strangers. It is hope amidst desperation. Courage amidst fear. Appropriately, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" plays in the operating room.