A new tense

When we left on our world trip, my biggest cheer leader was my aunt, my mama’s baby sister.

All three sisters – my mama, my godmother, and my aunt – are renowned for their wilfulness (some may call them stubborn, perhaps even bossy 🙂 ). It’s possible that my aunt Gertrud, the baby of the family, was the most bossy of them all. She also had a great big heart and a sense of adventure that led her all around the globe.

I didn’t know her so well growing up, but I got to spend more time with her as an adult when I lived in Switzerland and I loved the woman I got to know – direct, strong, caring, warm and a great lover of life. She celebrated the idea of the highly ambitious world trip that Roman and I were embarking on. Unlike some people in our lives we tried to explain our idea to, she never hesitated for a moment in giving our plan her full endorsement and us her unabashed encouragement and I have been so grateful for that support.

She was very ill when she left and she passed while we were still in Asia.

It feels entirely unreal to me that I will be returning to Switzerland and that I won’t be able to hop on the train to visit her and tell her all about the fabulous places that we got to visit in Asia that she never saw, compare notes about both our experiences in the Galapagos, ask her for recommendations from her travels for our next trip (yes, we’re already dreaming of a sequel). I have a hard time comprehending that she won’t be there when I get back.

(Ok, let’s be honest. I HATE it that she won’t be there when I get back. I am ok with it because you have to be but still I HATE it.)

I mean, of course I understand that she’s gone. But some days, the precise sound of her voice still echoes through my brain as though I’d just gotten off the phone with her seconds ago. The feel of her personality is still imprinted so firmly on my heart. She has been in my thoughts at so many of the most beautiful places we visited on the trip. For me she is SO present.

So it feels wrong to me to speak about her in the past tense.

My mama and I were talking about her just this morning while I was helping her make her bed and I started to say something about my aunt and I found myself semi-consciously mumbling the verb in the sentence because my heart couldn’t decide between “is” and “was”.

Saying “Gertrud is so ….” feels like I’m being wilfully ignorant (wilfulness being a trait I am proud to have inherited from the strong women in my lineage). But saying “Gertrud was” feels even more wrong and also inaccurate. How can someone who is so very PRESENT with me be described in the PAST tense? I just doesn’t work for me.

So I need a new tense, one that can let me talk about the people I love with all my heart who may not be here in the world but who are very much here with me, today and always. Not entirely sure what I’ll say while who ever is in charge of the English language sorts that out for me but in the mean time, I will be (stubborn and proud of it) keeping Gertrud PRESENT in my thoughts and heart. ❤❤❤

From left to right: my mama, Gertrud and my godmother as girls

From left to right: my mama, Gertrud and my godmother as girls

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Full circle

I don’t have anything insightful to write. Only I want to make sure I mark the date.

Today is January 17th. Actually, by the time I post this, it’ll technically be the 18th, which is Roman’s last day in the US. His last day of our epic journey.

After ten weeks and two days driving a rather lopsided oval through the United States of America, we’re back where we started – that is, my childhood home, staying at my parents’ house in Connecticut.

US Road Trip

We’ve been here for coming up on two weeks now. When hit the road to head west back in the Fall, we were still fresh from our Southern Hemisphere adventures. Australia, New Zealand. Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Galapagos. What an awesome hemisphere!!

And exactly a year ago today, we were here in Connecticut as well, still reeling, trying to get our heads and hearts around the jam-packed 15 months of travel through fabulous Asia.

Two years ago today, we were in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where we were trying – there as well – to get our heads and hearts around all we’d just experienced in our three months in India – the spectacular first stop of our grand odyssey.

Tomorrow, I’m driving Roman to the airport, where he’ll head to his first (my second) home – Switzerland – for the first time in 850 days. That’s well over two years since he left Zurich, since he’s seen his family and friends, since we’ve covered all this ground and since we’ve made a third home of the world in general. Why be a citizen of just one country when this whole planet has so much to offer?

That being said, I’ll follow him to Switzerland in a month or two and am lucky and grateful that we have a chance to try and make that particular corner of Earth home again.

Although at the moment, I can’t even imagine what that’s going to look like or feel like.

Mostly, I’m focusing on helping Roman pack and tomorrow’s coming goodbye and wondering what it’s going to be like for him to take those first steps in the Zurich airport, to see his mom and step-dad waiting for him, to smell that distinct, familiar and oh-so-comforting Swiss air as they drive away from the airport.

But when I stop and think about our huge road trip, about where we were a year ago, and two years ago, about all that we’ve seen and done, I do get rather bowled over by it all. Hopefully I’ll be able to be a bit more articulate about it all at some point once I’ve been able to digest it a bit better.

For now though, I think it’s bedtime. There’s one more flight yet before the Journey’s over.

This is us on the balcony of our old apartment in Switzerland, the day I flew to India. Roman joined me there a few weeks later.

This is us on the balcony of our old apartment in Switzerland, the day I flew to India. Roman joined me there a few weeks later.

At a pooja in India

At a pooja in India

Zip lining in Thailand

Zip lining in Thailand

Exploring ancient ruins in Myanmar

Exploring ancient ruins in Myanmar

Bringing alms to a temple in Laos

Bringing alms to a temple in Laos

Cambodian tuk tuk!

Cambodian tuk tuk!

Trying to cheer up after my phone got stolen in Vietnam

Trying to cheer up after my phone got stolen in Vietnam

Learning how to manage an unruly camel in China

Learning how to manage an unruly camel in China

Wreck diving in the Philippines

Wreck diving in the Philippines

Carnival fun in Melbourne, Australia

Carnival fun in Melbourne, Australia

Silliness on an Argentine bus

Silliness on an Argentine bus

Chilean desert!

Chilean desert!

At the amazing Uyuni salt flat in Bolivia

At the amazing Uyuni salt flat in Bolivia

We wore ourselves out hiking around Machu Picchu, Peru

We wore ourselves out hiking around Machu Picchu, Peru

Galapagos!

Galapagos!

Horsing around on a misty day in the Grand Canyon, USA

Horsing around on a misty day in the Grand Canyon, USA

Holidays on the road

The year is almost out. The last time I wrote, Christmas and my birthday and nearly the whole month of December on the road was still to come.

Now it’s a rain-drenched night in Nashville where I’m sitting and tomorrow morning we leave for our final destination of this month/year (nearly the final destination of our road trip – of our epic journey – but that’s a though for another day), where we’ll ring in the arrival of 2013 holed up in a cabin in the Virginia woods, cut off from internet and, most likely, cell phone reception, where I plan to watch movies with Roman, cook, eat, nap, read, sit by the wood stove, nap, write if I get ambitious, walk if the weather cooperates and nap some more.

And it’s not a moment too soon.

The past month has been AWESOME.

December first saw us leaving San Fran for a couple days on the pacific coastal highway. Then there were all the dear friends we got to spend time with in LA. A rollicking drive through twilit Death Valley to a surreal stint in Las Vegas. Zion National Park. Monument Valley. The Grand Canyon.

DSC_0738a rare bit of sun along the pacific highway

DSC_0837Seasons greetings from Disney on the “It’s a Small World” ride

DSC_0951Rodeo drive all blinged out and sparkly for Christmas

DSC_0381Las Vegas’ take on the holiday spirit….

DSC_0798Zion for my birthday! 😀

DSC_0295Stunning Monument Valley

DSC_0867We visited the Canyon on a snowy, blustery, cloud covered and beautiful day

DSC_0944In the canyon

Reconnecting with my most favorite friend from college in Phoenix. Meeting her husband for the first time. Less than 24 hours in Santa Fe. A long drive to Amarillo, Texas for a surprisingly snowy and bitterly cold Christmas.

DSC_0040Christmas lights and cacti in Phoenix

DSC_0421Ceramic Santas in Santa Fe

Oh, and we got to watch the Hobbit in 3-D Imax at the movie theater next to our hotel – one of two places we could find in Amarillo that were actually open for Christmas. The other being the Big Texan, home of the 72 ounce steak, where we out of necessity and an appreciation for the kitsch factor ate dinner both nights we were there.

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And finally, two long days of post-Texas driving changed the landscape dramatically and brought us to Arkansas and now Nashville.

We’ve been on the road trip for just over nine weeks now. In the month of December alone, we covered 9 states, made 11 stops, spent time with lots of people I love dearly, saw lots of new stuff. And now I am TIRED.

This afternoon I crashed. We’d gone to see Jack White’s Third Man Records. I was so excited to be there. I took bunches of pictures, chatted with the friendly lady working the counter, fed the automaton monkey band a quarter so they would play a White Stripes jam.

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All smiles. Then I headed out of the studio door and walked head first into a big fat wall of grumpiness.

Suddenly I was just done. At the moment, there’s not a single thing more I want to look at, hotel I want to research or book, place I want to go, history or natural wonder I want to ponder or regional specialty I want to eat. Sometimes with travel this happens. You just get full up. Any drop more would simply be too much.

I’ve been watching sit coms in a horizontal state in the hotel room all night and it seems to have helped – I’m over the grumps at this point. But I’m still SO glad it worked out (in the last minute!) to rent this cabin that – from the looks on google map – is pretty much literally in the middle of no where. There will be nothing to do but chill. I mean, the closest Starbucks is an hour and a half away! 😉

And that’s exactly what I need. A few days to digest all that the past month – two months really – has been. And a few days during which the future – 2013 and the end of the trip both – can wait.

I hope December has been good to everyone out there. Once I have space to think again, boy will I be excited to see what 2013 brings. 🙂 Happy New Year everyone!!

Catching my breath post-Machu Picchu

And here we are in Nazca. We arrived last night after a long, hot bus ride from Arequipa. Machu Picchu, impressive as it is/was, is already fading into an amazing memory. The days have been busy and intense and wonderful with all sorts of stuff and this poor travel journal of mine remains neglected. We have a bit of down time in Nazca so I will make some attempt to get back into the swing of writing/posting.

First the random stuff.

Beginnings

While I was busy elsewhere, the two-year anniversary of my departure date came and went!

Insane but true; it’s over two years now since I said goodbye to Roman (for about three weeks, until he would meet me in Delhi) and the apartment that had become my home with him (most likely forever), and boarded a plane for India, kicking off this amazing adventure we’ve been on!

Last year this time, we were camped out in a lovely little studio apartment in Hong Kong and I managed to put together some video montages in celebration. I’m not nearly that organized or productive this time round, so for now I’ll just repost the videos at the bottom of this entry for anyone who might have missed them the first time, and I’ll say that I do intend to pay proper audio-visual tribute to the countries we’ve visited since then at some point. 🙂

Endings

Equally insane, we have just a bit over two weeks left in South America. We’ll be visiting Lima briefly, then hopping over to Galapagos (!!!!!) for the grand-South-American-trip-finale!!!

Which is exciting but which also means that the final chapter of our big trip is staring us in the face. Which is wonderful and weird. Post South America, we’ll be doing a road trip in the US. Route and timing yet to be figured out.

I imagine we’ll stretch our time in the US out a good amount – there are friends for me to visit and family to hang out with at home (I’ll be there in time for my Grandma & nephew’s birthday parties at the end of the month!) and lord knows there’s tons of amazing places in the States that we’d like to visit. We’ll see how long our time there ends up being.

The end of the road trip in the US will be the end of the BIG TRIP though, which means time to figure out just how exactly to rebuild a stable life in one single location. It’s going to be another adventure no doubt. I’m excited and curious to see how we manage – what the transition from nomadic life will be like, what sort of a home we manage to find/create, what I and/or Roman will do for work… Will leave the musings for now – still plenty to enjoy in South America and loads that I’m excited about for the States. 🙂

Random

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It’s also coming up on six months since we left the States to start part two of the big trip, which means that I’ve gone just about a half a year without a hair cut. I haven’t done anything spectacular with my hair during the trip – just always kept it long enough to tie back. But this must be the longest my hair’s been in ages. I think I like it. 🙂 I won’t post a picture but Roman’s last hair cut was nearly as long ago as my last hair cut and there are days when he’s starting to look like one of the Beatles circa 1964. 😉 I think I like it too! 😉

Machu Picchu

There’s so much to write about Machu Picchu. I’ll save it for another post, another day. Suffice to say: it impressed.

We spent a half day wandering around soaking it in, another day hiking Montaña Machu Picchu (Stairs. So many stairs! Every single step worth it though – the hike will be one of the highlights of the trip for me, no doubt!) and exploring the ruins some more. Here are a few panoramic shots I took of the views from the trail and summit of Montaña Machu Picchu as well as from the ruins. WordPress won’t allow me to embed the images, so you’ll have to click through the links to go to Photosynth’s site to view.

The view about half way up the mountain
You can see Machu Picchu down below in the distance in the right half of the picture

The view from just-about-the-summit
You can see the last bit of steep steps off to the left. Felt on top of the world to be there! Just amazing! 😀

A view from within the ruins

Last year’s videos:

Intro

India

Myanmar (Burma)

Thailand

Laos

Cambodia

Vietnam

Holy cow what an amazing year that was!! 😀

One last (rambling and random) post on China

I’ve been meaning to wrap up China with one final post for a while now. At the moment I’m sitting on a plane that is taking us to our final destination in Chile. The Andes are blinding in the midday sun outside my window. I’m excited for Atacama, but I’m going to take this opportunity of little distraction to finally get this post written, and will post when we arrive at San Pedro. 🙂

All about expectations

When we started our trip, China was high on Roman’s list, but not on mine. For some reason I didn’t have much emotional connection to the country. All I could picture were mammoth, concrete cities full of faceless, pushy people. I expected it would be intellectually interesting but nothing more.

We loved our time in southeast Asia, and the Buddhism-infused countries we visited and people we met were quick to melt my heart.

Everything changed when we got to Vietnam, a country that (we had read) was heavily influenced by its big neighbor to the north, China. A different religion, a different culture, different values and very different experiences for us after gentle Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. We couldn’t connect to the people or the place, and we left with a bad taste in our mouths, and with apprehension about our next destination – China. If Vietnam, influenced by Chinese culture, was like this, would China be similar? We braced ourselves prior to getting there – for people to be pushy or insensitive, for a higher crime rate than we’d experienced before Vietnam, for being unable to communicate, for massive, characterless cities.

Something I’ve been slowly realizing in my life, and definitely learning more and more during this big trip of ours, is that expectations are pretty ridiculous things. At least for me. Basically, nothing I have ever anticipated has come to pass the way I had pictured it.

When I worry about bad things possibly happening (which is more often I care to admit and definitely more often than is helpful), they consistently never happen.

(On the plus side, I can now comfort myself when my over active imagination comes up with awful scenarios – my projections are always wrong so this terrible thing I am involuntarily worrying about definitely won’t occur. Sometimes this application of logic actually kind of works. I’m viewing this as progress. ;-))

When I have a specific vision of something that I view as positive – birthday parties, life plans, a particular destination in our travels – I’m always wrong about that as well, and my specific expectations get in the way and ruin what could other wise be a lovely experience by me spending all my energy comparing reality to the wish list in my head.

I am getting better at simply banishing – or at least somewhat ignoring – the expectations I build up for myself. But back when we were leaving Vietnam for China, I was too caught up in the fear. Luckily for China, this was a case of negative expectations, and the country could only end up being better than my worst-case-scenario vision. Which is totally what happened.

I am still surprised and delighted by how much I loved China. The two big cities we visited – Beijing and Shanghai – didn’t excite me as much, but they were hardly the soulless, depressing, aggressive megapolises (megapolisi?? what’s the plural???) I had envisioned.

I was amazed at the friendliness and openness of the Chinese people we encountered. Language was not nearly as big of an issue as I expected. The country isn’t as set up for English-language tourists as southeast Asia, but it is certainly manageable to get around – at least to the places we visited. And even when people didn’t speak a word of English, they still were willing to find a way to communicate and help.

Challenges and awe

There were two things I hadn’t anticipated at all that stand out for me when I think back to our time in China.

The first is China’s astoundingly gorgeous nature. Time spent in some of those amazing landscapes was like balm to my soul. The rice terraces of Dazhai, the karst landscape of Yangshuo, the astounding Tiger Leaping Gorge, and don’t even get me started about Xinjiang (province of like a hundred million posts on this blog. :-P).

The second is the incredible variety of the “Chinese” people. The richness and diversity of its “minority” peoples is in my opinion one of the country’s greatest treasures. (I’ve mentioned before I’m not too keen on that word but it’s what is commonly used in China, in the guidebooks, basically everywhere and I’m not sure what a better term would be…)

Unfortunately, it’s a treasure that is being exploited and potentially destroyed. It’s a complex topic that I have no authority to expound on. People rightly have strong feelings about what’s happening to Tibetan, Uyghur and other cultures in China. I can’t speak to the politics and economics, as I don’t know enough. I want to careful not to paint the picture in black and white, casting China as the big, awful bad guy when I don’t know the full situation, and I can say from experience that so many of the Chinese people we met were SO lovely. Like America, there is a distinct difference between the normal people living there and the country’s official policies.

But I do know that it feels wrong and like something amazing is being lost. Whether it’s the old city area of Kashgar in Xinjiang that is literally being torn down, or the “Disneyfication” of places like Lijiang.

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Plenty of useless crap to buy in the touristy part of Yangshuo

Mass tourism for locals was something new for us in Asia. There are wealthy Indian tourists in India. But for the most part, the average Indian doesn’t have the opportunity to travel the country like we did. In southeast Asia, the vast majority of tourists are western. China is a whole different thing though.

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Have an “authentic” Tibetan experience and make sure you have the photo to prove it!

There is a middle class that is eager to go out and discover its country, and there is a huge industry that is ready to cater to and make money off of these people. Places that are of cultural and historic interest have been or are being transformed into ready-made, pre-packaged experiences that people can achieve a minimum amount of time. Tour buses, packed to the gills, shuttle from point of interest to point of interest, where the standard photos are snapped, cheap trinkets are purchased from people in traditional garb, a local specialty is consumed, and another item on the tourist to-do-list can be checked off before it’s back on the bus for the next stop.

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Sun glasses for sale along side prayer beads and sacred thangkas at the ancient Tibetan monastery outside Zhongdian

I can’t hate on people who are eager to explore their own country in a way that makes sense for them. But the plastic-feeling tourist spots we encountered do feel like simultaneous erosion and exploitation of culture and people. And I can’t help but find it tremendously tacky.

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No visit to Xi’an is complete without a photo along side authentic looking terra cotta warriors! (I actually got told off for taking this photo 🙂 )

My advice if you are traveling to China is to do your best to get beyond these places. In some cases, it’s as easy as simply walking a few blocks beyond the tourist areas, like in Yangshuo or Zhongdian. Glimpses of local, every-day life were among the most enjoyable and interesting things about our travels through China. Try to avoid places during peak tourist season. Take mass tourism with a grain of salt (at the same time as I disliked it I also marveled at it as an interesting phenomenon of current Chinese culture). And take comfort that some places seem at least to get the balance right. Pingyao, for example, is certainly about tourism but still managed to feel very genuine to me. And try to be an informed and aware visitor when possible.

So, that’s my mini-rant on mass tourism. 🙂

Random nerd stuff

I was still being ambitious and trying to read up about places’ histories when we went to China. I got through some of John Kay’s China: A History and found it accessible but I admit I had a tough time having enough context or willpower to keep track of place and people names. Ultimately, the book was simply too massive for me, at least to read while also traveling. After all, China’s history is massive.

If you are looking for an intro to Chinese history in more bite-sized packages, I can recommend Laszlo Montgomery’s “The China History Podcast”. It does exactly what it says on the box. Montgomery’s tone is delightfully sardonic (not about Chinese history; I suspect he has that attitude about life in general :-)), he seems to really know what he’s talking about and the podcasts are interesting and not overwhelming. And they’re a great way to pass time during long bus/train/plane rides.

Although I have already forgotten most of the Chinese I learned (but look! I can prove that I did learn something!!), especially that I am trying to learn Spanish at the moment, I am really glad we took classes. It wasn’t the most practical thing but it was fun to have at least a few words and some more insight into the language and culture. I would totally recommend taking a crash course, and can also strongly recommend Omeida, where we studied. The podcast “Chinese survival phrases” wasn’t bad for double checking pronunciation on those key sentences like asking for the bill, and I found this website useful when studying at Omeida as well to look up words and check pronunciation.

Winter wonderland without pictures part 2, or “Overcoming my winter sport phobia”

And for my mental record, here is the verbal account of further snowy adventures in Ushuaia.

We got back from dog sledding and snow shoeing. High from the cold, beauty and exercise, we popped happily into our favorite café in town where I foolishly downed a Bailey’s-laced coffee. This pushed my sensibilities over the edge of a mountain, so when Roman suggested we forget the insane cost and just jump at the chance of skiing/snow boarding at the end of the world (for goodness’ sake!!), I was just silly enough to enthusiastically gush: yes, absolutely! I am up for it! How could we not??

We ventured forth to make arrangements and rent equipment for the next day – our last in Ushuaia.

We staggered forth from the rental shop to our hotel. I felt increasingly sober AND klutzy with each step in the cold winter air and my mind began to wander towards all the things I had wanted to do while still in town plus my last two experiences on the pistes.

The first was as a child, where I spent an endless miserable afternoon trudging duck like up a slope with what felt like lead skis attached to my feet while developing a raging fever. Strike one against winter sport.

The second encounter was more recent. Roman is a snow boarder and had convinced me to overcome my childhood misgivings and give his favorite winter sport a go. This was after I’d already lived in Switzerland for many years without ever visiting the mountains at winter – a feat I had found very sensible and was quite proud of. I gave in to his coaxing and even started boasting around the office about how we were taking a week off at a ski resort and I was going to learn how to snow board, just watch me!

So children, let this be a lesson about hubris, because I didn’t even make it through the first day.

My instructor was a sweet lady and we were taking it slowly, learning how to stand and slide on the board on a flat bit of snow, not even on the bunny slope yet. I made one stupid move and down I went – crack! – right onto my sacrum. The wind was knocked out of me and my eyes teared up as I lay there, stunned, staring at the sky. I got up and tried to get on with the lesson but by the time Roman and I had left the slopes for the après ski beer, it was clear that something was wrong – I couldn’t stand to sit down, even for a reviving beer.

I spent the rest of my ski-vacation-week moving around our rented flat like an arthritic 100-year-old woman, lying on my stomach reading magazines and books and trying to nurse my bruised ego. The worst was showing up at work the next week, having to tell everyone the story AND stand at my desk, because it was another week or so before I could sit properly again. 😛

So, all these fond memories were swirling through my head as I tried not to drop my ski poles (still too soon for snow boarding!) or impale Roman or myself on my skis. By the time we made it to our hotel room, I was having a full-blown freak out. I did my best to contain it, but it was still there when I woke up in the morning as we boarded the bus to take us to the slopes. Boy was I a miserable cow! I buried my head in Roman’s shoulder and tried to sleep until we arrived, hoping for oblivion and that this whole thing was just a bad dream I could still wake up from.

But then we were there, having a coffee, buying our lift tickets and signing me up for an afternoon class. Roman offered to stay with and comfort me until the instructor showed up but I thought there was no point as I was inconsolable and I wanted at least one of us to have a good time. I sent him on his way and proceeded to wait till it was time for class, experiencing the definition of a bad head space:

Suddenly all the people around me looked 20 times more glamorous, sophisticated, at ease and graceful. I, by contrast, felt like I was stomping around like an elephant in a tea shop. I felt ugly and awkward and out of place, lurching around in my massive ski boots. I already had lost complete feeling in my feet and was getting colder and more miserable by the minute. I was convinced I was going to injure myself again and started fantasizing about skipping class, going back down the mountain to where my comfy Ugg boots were waiting, and drinking beer all afternoon while Roman boarded. I decided my teacher was going to be some arrogant guy who only spoke Spanish, and I started working on phrases in my head with my rudimentary vocab about how I was scared, not feeling well, currently hating my boyfriend for “convincing” me to go through with this, etc.

I’d worked myself up to a point where tears were actually welling in my eyes when this little sprite of a girl in oversized ski gear, a wild pony tale on the top of her head, a button nose and apple red cheeks came up and kissed my cheek (as Argentinians do with friends), introduced herself as Dana, my ski instructor, and immediately, effectively washed away all my fears with the strength of her warmth, ease and down-to-earth presence.

I don’t even know how she did it but clearly she is a charmed ski instructor because before I knew it, I was swishing my way down gentle hills, taking turns, laughing out loud at the rush and yes, even ENJOYING myself. Miracle worker.

She is ten years my junior, has been competing in ski competitions around the world for well more than half her young life, is from Ushuaia and LOVES the place, loves the sport, loves what she is doing. And that love and passion was so strong that I couldn’t help but focus on that instead of all those cobwebby fears I’d spun in my head.

We chatted about all sorts of things and I even got to practice some of my Spanish, and in between that, she taught me the basics of skiing. She also reminded me to stop, to breath and look around at all the beauty – the light coming through the criss-crossing patterns of black, back lit tree branches. The stunning, wide view over the mountains and valleys. The color the sky turned as the sun began to get low. This is the power of a true, passionate teacher.

So, thank you Dana, for not only helping me to overcome a fear, but transforming it into something really joyful – a beautiful memory from our last day in Argentina!

Obviously left the camera at the hotel for this day too, but here are some pics Roman took with his phone

Elated not only about having survived but about having actually skied AND enjoyed myself!

Days without pictures: Ushuaia

We had a super winter adventure yesterday in the Torres del Paine national park. It was overcast but the weather held out and we got to see some beautiful things. (Post about that to come at a later date… 😉

We timed things right. Today it’s nasty out which is just perfect for us. Full license to have a lazy/admin type Sunday in our wonderfully cozy temporary home here in Puerto Natales. The snow and slush are coming down outside. The wood stove is clicking and creaking gently as the fire burns inside. There are plans afoot to cook a curry for dinner at home with the owners of the B&B. I’m a happy girl.

Some snaps from right now, here in Chile…

 

And in the mean time, there’s a chance to finally catch up on some blogging…

So leaving Chile for now to return to our last stop in Argentina, Ushuaia… We had a total of four days there. The first day was a recovery day. Although I thought I had factored in plenty of time to do everything we needed and wanted to fit in prior to our departure from Buenos Aires, inevitably there was too much to do and too little time – how does this ALWAYS happen?? – and our last days there were busy, busy, busy and of course we got the minimal amount of sleep on our last night. So Saturday, our first day in Ushuaia, was all about recovery – relaxing, getting organized and gathering energy for the next four days.

We’ve been traveling for ages now and I’ve learned that it’s good for me to take a break from photography from time to time. I’ve got more pictures than my laptop has space for anyhow, and it DOES change your experience of a place when your more focused on just being there, rather than being behind the lens.

So there are days that I leave the camera behind, and I am always happy when I do. But Ushuaia was different.

We only had four days there, I was head over heels in love with the place, and God was it beautiful. I wanted to photograph EVERYTHING. And in my defense, we have seen and done so much on this trip. Capturing images are a great way to jog your memory later on, to help bring you back to a place and an experience. And Ushuaia is definitely a place I want to remember clearly.

But I also wanted my camera to survive the visit, which means that it got left behind, much to my chagrin, during our winter sport outings.

So, here are some verbal snap shots from my days without pictures (supplemented with some of Roman’s pics – his camera is pocket-sized and therefore much more portable! :-))

Ushuaia winter wonderland number 1: dog sledding

We are picked up by our tour operator and drive out of the city. Any buildings disappear pretty quickly as soon as we reach the city limits, and the views outside the fogged windows are replaced by nature. Snowy woods, pristine mountains. I wrote earlier that Tierra del Fuego looks like a landscape out of a fantasy movie, and today I narrow things down: it feels like I am entering the eternal winter of Narnia.

We come to the lodge where the dogs and sleds are. Inside is piping hot, with wood fires blazing in every room. Next to one a grey cat is stretched on a couch, napping. We are out all day and I swear it hasn’t moved an inch when we come back later in the afternoon.

The crew is organizing the sled and us tourists; Roman and I get to meet the dogs. Siberian and Alaskan huskies. It was awesome to learn about them and they were soooo cuddly and sweet. Apparently they don’t get along so well with each other, and the sled teams have to be carefully arranged – pairs are made up of a male and female dog for example, and order is determined by personality – to ensure fights don’t break out.  But they are tremendously sweet and affectionate with humans, and we got down to petting them every chance we got. The team of the second sled was younger dogs – teen agers – and they acted the part, barking and howling, a lot of talking with not much to say – while our team sat around with quiet dignity in the snow, waiting to get going.

 

Thank you Roman for sharing your pics with me. 😉 The dogs had the most amazing eyes. A lot of them had two different colored eyes. Gorgeous!

The sledding was fun – except for when a dog stopped for a bathroom break. If you ever find yourself traveling by dog sled and you see a dog stop to drop a load, make sure you hold your breath when the sled starts moving again. Husky poo is potent and you don’t want to breath in a cloud of it, trust me on this.

What a sweet face!

We sled along into the woods until my feet and cheeks are just about frozen with the cold, and then it’s time for…

Ushuaia winter wonderland number 2: snow shoeing

I’ve snow shoed before once, with Roman’s mom and step-dad back in the Swiss mountains. That was an awesome experience, so I’m so excited to have the chance to try it again.

There’s a lot of standing around, trying to stamp feeling back in to my feet, as everyone in the group gets kitted up with shoes. Finally we are off, and at first I am underwhelmed as we move slowly through flat forest. Eventually, our quiet but kind guide turns off the flat path and we start to head up hill. It feels good to use my body. The blood starts to pump and I find a rhythm to my pace. My footsteps in the crisp snow are like a yeti systematically making his way through a lifetime supply of Captain Crunch cereal. Up, up, up we go through the hilly woods. I start to forget my frozen toes and notice little details.

The delicate tendrils of sage green moss on the trees. Naked, knobbly, symmetric branches forming vivid patterns above the snow. Small but hardy leaves on bushes, spikey and defiant. The color of the snow. It is thick, pristine and white, but where crevices form – fine cracks that run inches deep along the side of the path – there is a subtle glow of the most pure aquamarine, as if snow and cold were the birthplace of blue.

We come to a clearing and that magic moment happens, when the work of my body has warmed my blood and the heat zooms down to my toes all at once. I love this feeling and savor it as we take in the view that stretches for miles before us. The valley down below, the ranges of mountains reaching out in either direction behind it. Stunning views. This place really is magic.

Then it’s time to head back down. We return to the woods in the valley where a small wooden hut has a fire, hot cocoa and cake waiting for us. Cheeky birds, like sparrows but with vivid yellow breasts, sneak in through the cracks and jauntily land on the table, the cake, claiming it as their own. We laugh and watch them flit about, and take another round communing with the huskies outside before heading back to the lodge and returning to town. An awesome day!

I loved this collection of colorful lanterns back at the lodge. Roman kindly let me steal is camera… 🙂

Homesick in BA

We land at Buenos Aires in a shroud of mist and thick, low-slung cloud cover. The streetlights are on by the time we leave the airport; night is drawing in. I struggle against the siren song of jet lag in the darkening back of the cab, trying to keep awake for my first glimpses of the city. Ragged, low buildings along the highway slowly give way to increasingly tall blocks. Eventually we are dipping off the highway, descending into the dark city herself. Roughness and beauty flash by the window in turn; I try to be intrigued but really I am just relieved when we pull up to our apartment building.

A quick exchange with our Airb’n’b host, a grocery run, and a hazy hour or two fighting the urge to nap make up enough of an evening for me. I collapse into sleep. I’m wide awake again around 3am local time. I sit in the living room, waiting for the dawn that takes an age to come. By the time the sun is up, I’m exhausted and realizing that I am feeling awfully homesick.

It doesn’t happen often, but I shouldn’t be surprised that I would feel this way sometimes. I don’t know if it’s the rainy weather, the stark contrast of Argentina (so far) to the exuberant welcome and sunshine, the pristine cities and stunning nature we experienced in Australia and New Zealand. Maybe it’s down to how much time we spent in the cozy homes of friends the past weeks back in Oz and NZ. Or how hard I fell for both these countries.

What ever it is, even though our rented flat is nice and I have nothing really to judge Buenos Aires by at this point, I find myself feeling awfully whiny, getting pissed about stupid stuff and longing for a familiar bed, familiar smells, things I can trust.

It’s ok though. Observing the weather as the plane touched down in BA, I thought to myself, no bother, we have time for good weather to come to us. We’ve rented the flat for five weeks, and we’ll be in Argentina at least that long. No rush.

There’s plenty of time for my homesickness to work itself out, and to gently, without expectation, to get to know this place. There’s no rule that I have to love a place right away, or ever if it comes to that. It doesn’t mean I have to make my initial reaction into a big deal. Mind over matter – just be patient Jenny and see what there is to see. Sometimes doing the thing just involves hanging in there. And no expectations.

We take our first exploratory walk around the neighborhood later that day. Getting out of the apartment, despite the gloomy weather, is a step in the right direction for my head space.

Lonely Planet describes BA as “somehow strangely familiar, but unlike any other city in the world.” There are elements that evoke bits and pieces of other cities to be sure.

The traffic sounds – squeaking breaks, honking horns, wailing sirens – and the ravines of one-way streets below canyons of looming buildings call to mind New York. At moments as we walk through the streets, I’ll catch glimpses of Europe – Paris or Madrid – hologram like, superimposed on the scenes in front of me. The park we pass through is full of tropical trees and smells like a zoo. (Full disclosure: it smells like animal poo). This and the trash on the street bring to mind some of the Asian metropolises we visited. The rough and tumble corrugated iron houses we passed on the way from the airport make me think of India, of Manila.

It’s a new sensation on this big trip of ours too to look the like locals. At this point I’m used to either being in an English-speaking country or sticking out like the obvious tourist. I find myself feeling a bit shy where in Australia and New Zealand I would talk to anyone (cause they would talk to us, easily, openly, effortlessly) – and hoping that Spanish classes will give me a chance to interact with more than an awkward smile. Although Roman (who already knows some Spanish) says that the people here talk SO fast.

It’s also a new experience on this trip to do such a big geographical and cultural jump so fast. We worked our way so slowly through the different shades of Asia; each new flavor providing context for our subsequent destination. And now here we are, from one day to the next, in South America for the first time ever, and my mind is kind of sort of blown.

I’m curious how all these different parts will congeal over the next weeks to form in my mind this new (for me) city in this new country on this new continent. How I will feel about it at the end of our time versus these first jet-lagged days.

Today, after another too-short night of sleep, we woke to the din of heavy rains washing through the soundscape of morning traffic. Even though the weather has only gotten gloomier, my heart is lighter today. The apartment is getting more familiar and it feels nice to have an idea of where we might try and pick up a few things we need when we go for a walk later today. Let’s see if we can’t make this little corner of the world into a home, even if it’s just temporary.

Travel is ruining me

Being on the road again after the three-month break in the States with my family has got me thinking.

If you don’t count the visit with my family as being home (which it is and it isn’t, since home for me for nearly six years prior to that had been Switzerland, and living with your parents temporarily isn’t the same as having your own home, even if you DO feel wonderfully at home with them and in your childhood house as I luckily do.), I’ve been homeless and traveling for a year and 8 ½ months; Roman’s been away from Switzerland three weeks shy of that. Kinda crazy.

It’s feeling totally normal and wonderful and great to be traveling again. Australia, I have to say, is a fantastic country to get back in the saddle with after the comforts of my parents’ house. No language barriers like in Asia and thus far the people are tremendously friendly and it’s been drop dead gorgeous. But I digress.

I’ve been catching some of the thoughts that float from time to time through my mind since we’ve been on the move again and I’m wondering if travel – this sort of travel anyhow – isn’t making me into a slightly worse person. You always hear that travel broadens your perspective of the world but I am wondering about the areas where things might be getting more narrow.

This first came to my attention in Sydney, where we met up with some friends of ours.

The couple we met worked at the same company I did in Switzerland. They quit around the same time Roman and I did to do an extended trip around the world, just like us. We traveled to different places, but some themes were the same. One was how it’s often difficult to talk about the trip with “the folks back home”. We loved being able to “talk shop” with fellow travelers, we oohed and ahhed as we compared itineraries and travel experiences in a way that we would never inflict on most people.

Another friend was an awesome guy we had met and hung out with in India over a few days in Varanasi and one super dinner in Delhi. We met for drinks and dinner and although we caught up about life in general, we also spent a lot of time collectively missing and loving India. Between the good memories, wonderful conversation and delicious wine, I felt like I was floating on clouds by the end of the evening, basking in the goodness of what was and what had been.

These get-togethers were fantastic, but they made me ponder about shared experiences and if my/our chances of sharing about some of the places we’ve been and things we have done have grown narrower as we’ve spread ourselves more widely across this big planet.

And then I realized that maybe even having thoughts like this make me into a wanker. Like, who has these kind of problems/musings??

Let me demonstrate. Here are some of the ways that this kind of travel is ruining me.

  • We’ve been in Australia for 3 ½ weeks. We just booked our flights out of the country, which means that we are currently half way through our time in Australia. Considering that we spent over three MONTHS in India, which is about half the size of Australia, 6 weeks in a country this size now seems like only a short visit. While most people in America only get 2 weeks off per year. I may be a jerk.
  • We’ve been to some absolutely amazing places. We are becoming increasingly hard to impress. (Although on the flip side there is a lot of stuff we love and are interested in so we aren’t at all jaded about any of the stuff we’ve done.) For example, while on the Ocean Road here in Australia we went for a tree top walk through a gorgeous rain forest in Otway. The woods were lovely, the trees stunning. The dinosaur exhibit was hilarious. We enjoyed it totally but there was not much “wow factor” compared to the views of the ocean we’d been treated to earlier and indeed we were a bit disappointed by the lack of fauna, since that morning we’d literally woken up under trees inhabited by super-cute-adorable-cuddly-looking koalas. Which was just as awesome as it sounds. I may be a snob.
  • If you’ve been following this blog at all you may have noticed that I. Love. Food. Well, let me be more specific. I love good food; I really love REALLY GOOD FOOD. We’ve had all sorts of REALLY GOOD FOOD all over the place. Which is awesome. And awful. Cause now I’ll find myself craving home cooked Indian food from my friends’ house in Delhi. Or that bangin’ ginger salad that the totally rad skinny little chef made on the cargo boat on the Irrawaddy River. Or mango sticky rice from my favorite place in Thailand. Or a Beerlao. Or that incredible fish dish from Cambodia. Or the best espresso I have ever had in Siem Reap of all places. Or fried up lotus root that we had at our Chinese school in Yangshuo. You get the point. And the point is, when the heck am I going to get to eat those delicious things again?? The point is also that when you get to eat such awesome stuff, your tolerance for sub-par food goes down. There is no “may” about this one, I AM a food snob.

So, is travel opening my eyes, heart and stomach to big, wonderful, exciting world? Yes! Is it turning me into a snob and possibly a jerk and/or wanker? Yes to the first and quite possibly to the second. Am I ok with this? If being ok with it means we get to keep traveling, I think I am. 😉

Wait, what??

My last post on this blog was written about a month ago in wintry Connecticut, about our autumnal adventures in the southern hills of China.

A lot of things have happened since then.

There’s been loads going on at home – soul searching and trials by fire within my heart, exciting exploration in the name of future scheming, lots of time spent with beloved family and friends, yoga, yoga and more yoga, travel research and preparation – and while all this has been going on, Spring managed to arrive on the scene. While I’ve been busy, my hometown exploded into full bloom, sunny afternoons, and birdsong. (Morning birdsong is how I was waking up each morning the past week or two – beautiful sounds that transported me, in the comfort of my familiar bed – right back to childhood memories) It’s been absolutely glorious!

All of this important and lovely stuff has kept me engaged in the present and not very keen to look forward. Or, put more accurately, to think about leaving. I’d been decidedly sticking my head in the sand, assuming that we’d figure out some sort of scheme by which I’d get to stay home for longer. However, the expiration date of Roman’s visa began to loom in a most un-ignorable way and forced us to decide and act.

Which is how we’ve some how, suddenly seemingly (to my heart at least), landed here in Sydney, Australia!

We booked a couple of weeks ago (I think – my sense of time is not the best at the moment!) and it’s been a mad dash to prepare in time for our flight plus I’ve also been busy wading through Olympic sized swimming pools of sadness about leaving my family. We flew into Los Angeles on Wednesday to break up the journey, where we had a fantastic overnight visit that ended with us leaving the country with about an hour to spare on Roman’s visa. 😉

15 hours of plane-ride later and we arrived in Sydney, who was gracious enough to welcome us with her best face forward. I had no preconceived notions about the place and really, with everything going on prior to departure, didn’t really think or care much about where we were going. Yet now that we’ve arrived, I’m SO excited and glad that we’re starting part two of the journey here.

We landed on a perfect Autumn day. Warm sun, brilliant blue skies, and that crisp feel of Fall in the air.

Sunrise and a first glimpse of Australia from the plane

After leaving the airport (where we got our first auspicious sign – we got to watch Nestor Carbonell and his family rent a car. 🙂 Even though we’d just been in L.A., we had to come to Australia to see a famous actor…), we headed straight to the prime tourist spot where we’re spending our first couple of nights: the Rocks. This part of Sydney seems spotlessly clean, at least what we’ve seen so far, and absolutely stunning with a lovely mix of older, colonial buildings in lovely shades of brown and beige countered by impressively sleek modern skyscrapers. All the urbanity is off set by fantastically massive, tropical trees of the many parks in the area and the amazing and iconic harbor at Circular Quay.

We ended up spending most of the day wandering around on foot and discovering delight after delight. Sydney seemed determined to offer us a spectacular welcome. 🙂

Incredible tropical birds, a massive cruise ship parked across from the opera house, an open-air artisan market, fantastic musicians performing Spanish guitar under an overpass, our first didgeridoo performance, delicious food, peaceful parks stunning scenery.

These funny looking guys were hanging around scrounging for food the way pigeons would in New York or Zurich. Anyone know what they're called?

Love was in the air in the city the day we arrived too; we must have seen three or four hen parties cruising the town and countless wedding parties having their photos taken in front of the city’s iconic spots, boarding ships at the Quay for a celebration on the water; there was even one party taking place AT the Opera House. All this added to the magical atmosphere for me and I’m so grateful for this welcome, which has eased the heartache of leaving home and gotten me completely juiced for Part Two of our Big Adventure!

Obviously at this point there is a LOT to catch up on. 🙂 I’ll be doing a combo of posts going forward – filling in all that we did in Asia, bits and pieces about our time in the States and more current events now that we are here in the Land Down Under. Hopefully one of these months this online journal will be up to speed… 🙂