Millennial artist Yam Otarra has most likely set foot in more countries than other people her age, and her world encounters prove that one learns about the beauty of life not with age, but with experience
INTERVIEW BY JAMILLE DOMINGO
PHOTOS COURTESY OF YAM OTARRA
Meriam “Yam” otarra used to be an introvert before she was exposed to the world of traveling. The former graphic artist of TRAVEL NOW, and now a design consultant based in Austria, Yam has made it hard to believe for those who know and work with her that she was a shy person who couldn’t care less about communicating with people and creating new relationships with strangers. It was, however, one of the major things she was able to change, all thanks to traveling.
“When I went on a trip on my own for the first time, I was forced to talk to people— whether it was asking for directions or simply having small conversations with people at the hostel,” she said. “I owe all of my confidence now to traveling.”
Now, 53 countries later (and counting), Yam has managed to make friends around the world—creating special relationships and long-term connections with most of the people she’s met on her trips. “While there are so many hassles and inconveniences I encounter along the way, I would say traveling is still a fulfilling experience because I get to meet interesting individuals or reconnect with some friends I have not seen in a long time,” she says.
This sociable personality of hers— which she credits to her adventures—has also made it easy for her to adjust to her current work. “Becoming a full-time design consultant for international organizations means I have to be familiar with international environments and deal with different types of attitudes. I’ve worked with people from Australia, US, Europe, and India, and I realized that their approach towards the work is varying (in terms of negotiating and design thinking). If it weren’t for traveling, I never would have found it easy to deal with this type of work environment.”
Traveling has also helped her become more open-minded about everything— appreciating the cuisines of other countries, the hype behind tourist traps, and the beauty of off-the-beaten destinations. “My love for traveling is unconditional, no matter the circumstances. Whether I’m sleeping in a camp, in a dorm, or at a five-star hotel, traveling is traveling and every experience is unique. Each trip changes you for good,” she says.
As she shares with TRAVEL NOW some recommendations from her favorite countries and cities, she says, “there are so many bad things happening in this world, but traveling opens your perspective about the world. You not only mature, but you also see the goodness in humanity—making you realize that sometimes, it’s okay to trust strangers.”
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL
I’m pretty biased to places close to the beach and this place has one right in the city center. Facing the Mediterranean, Tel Aviv has a long stretch of great beaches. The weather also doesn’t get too hot nor too cold compared to Europe, and it is also dotted with beautiful Bauhaus buildings, street art, and good restaurants.
- Bask under the sun at Frishman Beach. This is where all the young people come to sunbathe during summer. You will even see them playing their favorite sport matkot, which is like table tennis without the table.
- Enjoy the street art around Florentin. Without a doubt, the hipster neighborhood in the south of Tel Aviv is full of colorful (and sometimes political) street art, cafés, stray cats, and specialty stores.
- Walk along the Rothschild Boulevard (and maybe have a cup of coffee along the way). This is Tel Aviv’s most iconic street and it’s not without a reason. Walk down the tree-lined boulevard and marvel at the Bauhaus architecture of the buildings, the historical museums, and theatres.
- Have a taste of Israel’s favorite snack Bamba. It is a peanut butter-flavored snack by Israeli manufacturer Osem Corporation.
This little island off the tip of Italy just feels like home—with its warm weather, happy people, and good beaches.
- Visit the Blue Lagoon. I didn’t regret visiting Blue Lagoon even if it was a bit crowded. The waters were crystal clear, the weather sunny, and the piña colada refreshing—and those were more than good enough for me to enjoy the island!
- Enjoy a sunset dinner along St. Julian’s Bay. I highly suggest that you dine in St. Julian’s Bay because of its various options for good dining. The restaurants facing the bay are a good spot as well to enjoy the five-hour “golden hour” of Malta—or its magical sunset.
- Walk around the old city of Valletta. You’ll come to realize how Catholic this island is when you walk around this walled city. Museums, grand churches, and palaces with opulent interiors are not rare.
- Take a day tour to the Blue Grotto. Go here in the morning or lunchtime when the waves are not so strong to see how the sunlight turns the waters in the sea caverns into numerous shades of bright blue.
- Visit the old capital in Mdina. It used to be the island’s capital in the medieval period and has been preserved to look exactly as how it was before. The interesting thing is that there are only about 300 people living inside this city.
Travelers usually just pass by Ecuador especially when traveling on land from Colombia to Peru. When I went to South America, I didn’t have any expectations as well about this country, so imagine my surprise when my three-day transit plan became a three-week adventure!
- Go nature-tripping in Baños de Agua Santa, commonly refered to as Baños. Rent a bike and go chase the many waterfalls in the city. Along the route, you can try zip lining or riding their tarabita across a hundred-foot drop canyon. You can even cross the suspension bridge if you’re not too scared of heights.
- Swing to the edge of the world! Another must-do while in Baños is to visit this old tree house up a mountain where they have strategically put a swing on the edge of the plateau.
- Enjoy the surfing and party capital of Montañita. Like any other beach town, it’s easy to find good seafood and good parties in this very small town. Professional surfers come here during January to April where the swells are the biggest. It’s also a very good sunset spot as it faces the Pacific in the west!
- Walk around the beautiful cobblestone streets of Cuenca. This city is famous for their Tomebamba River, and this is where you’ll find the blue-domed New Cathedral of Cuenca, as well as the Old Cathedral of Salamanca. Also interesting to look at are old Ecuadorian ladies wearing their traditional dresses with colorful accessories.
YUCATAN REGION, MEXICO
Aside from its good food and stunning beaches, one thing you’ll enjoy in this country are its affordable expenses!
- Visit the ruins of Chichen Itza. This Wonder of the World, one of the largest and most- visited sites in the Yucatan region, takes you back to the pre-Colombian civilization. The complex is so big you would need half a day to visit all the sites.
- Marvel at the picturesque Tulum Ruins. A Mayan ruin situated at the edge of the cliff, overlooking the most turquoise waters you’ll ever see in your life—why would anyone want to miss that? The best view is actually by taking a boat from the beach and looking at the ruins from the middle of the sea.
- Try their Yucatan specialty cochinita pibil tacos. The best tasting cochinita pibil tacos you’ll ever try are of course the ones on the street! Locals love to eat it with a bottle of soda.
- Go cenote-hopping in the city of Valladolid. Two and a half hours away from Cancun is this small town, where you’ll find numerous cenotes to jump into. Ik-Kil Cenote is one of the most visited, with its almost perfect circular hole and aqua blue waters.
Although I mentioned that I am pretty biased to places near the beach, Vienna is an exemption because the vibrancy of the city is something I will always be attracted to.
- Walk along the Donaukanal during sunset while sipping a glass of weißer spritzer (a blend of sparkling water and white wine). Donaukanal is a water channel that has turned into an urban hub with bars, cafes, pop up street food stalls, gardens, and street art. Don’t worry, it’s allowed to drink everywhere in Vienna so you won’t have to worry about carrying alcohol in public!
- Visit the Schönbrunn Palace. This is Austria’s very own Versailles, which is just as beautiful! Don’t miss climbing up the gloriette to get an awesome view of the palace and the city.
- Visit the flea market at Naschmarkt every Saturday morning. Even when you don’t feel like shopping, Vienna’s flea markets are very interesting. In the background, you’ll see art nouveau buildings, and after walking through the flea market, you’ll be rewarded with multiple options of good restaurants.
- Try their Viennese mélange. Vienna is proud of their coffee culture. You won’t run out of cafés to try, but my favorite is along the cobblestone street of Maria-Treu-Gasse called Café der Provinz.