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!! 😀

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Here and now plus a bit of BA graffiti

Taking a break from the China catch up for some current events…

It’s our last weekend in Buenos Aires. We’re leaving the city on Friday, for our final destination in Argentina: Ushuaia. I’m really excited for our little foray into Patagonia, and in the mean time I am enjoying the heck out of what’s left of our time in Buenos Aires. We’re having a lovely weekend here with gorgeous spring-like weather and I’m soaking in as much sun and warmth as I can before we plunge into winter: the current temperature in Ushuaia is 3 degrees Celcius, 37 degrees Farenheit. The sun is rising around 10 in the morning these days and there’s a 60% chance of snow tonight. Brr! 🙂

I’m also trying to savor as much as I can in general. We still have a lot of travel ahead of us, but the truth of the matter is that the end of our big trip is starting to loom on the horizon. It’s still months off, but when you’ve been traveling for over a year and a half, a few months (or what ever it will end up being – dates are NOT set in stone) will naturally feel like a significantly smaller portion of time.

At the moment, our utterly amorphous future is a fun place for my mind to wander. Happily, some of the earlier pressures of feeling like I have to “figure it all out” have eased. I’m actually doing a decent job these days of trusting that the future will work out. As a result, daydreaming about what might be is a fun exercise only and in the mean time I’m actually enjoying and showing up for the present in the way I often desire, but seldom manage to. I’m not entirely sure what’s shifted but I’m sure the yoga helps, I imagine the finite timing of the rest of the trip is a factor as well, and I’ll put the rest down to grace. For which I am grateful.

I might write more about all three of those things later on, but in the mean time I want to share about the graffiti tour we went on in Buenos Aires yesterday.

(In fact if my photo card reader wasn’t playing up, I’d share a post-appropriate a picture here that we took of some simple but philosophical graffiti in Salta that said “Usted está aqui y ahora”. In English “You are here and now.” Good to remember. :-))

BA street art!

I’ve been a casual fan of graffiti ever since I wrote an article on it for the sadly now defunct magazine Inside Switzerland. It’s impossible not to notice the graffiti in Argentina in general and specifically in Buenos Aires. It’s a strong and significant part of the country’s art scene as well as it’s political discourse. Plenty has been written on the subject by people much more informed than me. Here are just a few articles if you want a bit more background:

http://maisonneuve.org/blog/2012/03/27/political-legacy-argentinas-graffiti/

http://www.therealargentina.com/argentinian-wine-blog/street-art-in-buenos-aires-so-much-more-than-graffiti/

http://abcnews.go.com/Travel/story?id=7697519&page=1#.T-dIJu2RSfQ

Some of the main points of note about graffiti here – it’s not illegal unless the owner of the property that’s painted on files a written complaint. Graffiti tends towards either the political or the lighthearted – it does not carry a heavy association with crime or vandalism here as it does in some other countries. Politicians actually hire people to paint their names or campaign slogans on buildings or walls. This of course isn’t real graffiti, and many artists focus a lot of their efforts on spreading political commentary of their own on the streets. But a lot of street art is truly art for art’s sake alone. Whimsical and colorful creations can be seen all over the place, and some of the pieces have actually been commissioned by neighborhoods who want to brighten their little corner of BA.

We took a tour yesterday with Graffiti Mundo, a small company that does a lot to support street artists in BA (they’ve just this week opened at a gallery in London and are currently working on a documentary and book). It was a lovely, sunny day to be exploring nooks and crannies of the city, many of them unknown to us. We finished up at the gallery run by the artists (with a handy bar attached), where we got to watch one of the members of the collective bs.as.stncl working on a new piece that is motivated by the current political/financial situation in Argentina – the same thing the protest during our first week here was about. It’s a picture of a mousetrap with US dollars as bait. I’m hoping we’ll see it up on a few walls before we leave the city. 🙂

Here are some pics, from the tour and from other days wandering around BA:

Maradona is everywhere of course. Here he is in La Boca.

La Boca

Graffiti about La Boca in La Boca

Tags in San Telmo

“No Bailarás” – “No dancing”. San Telmo

Murals in Palermo

“La ciudad es de todos” – “The city belongs to everyone”

One of my favorites. 🙂 In San Telmo

Murals in San Telmo

A mural about the forced disappearances during the military junta in the 1970s and 80s

Street art by rundontwalk

Stencil detail

Penguin! 😀

Our tour took us to see a different kind of street art. The artist Marino Santa María has transformed his street with brightly colored tile murals on his and his neighbor’s homes. The artist just happened to be hanging out when we showed up – this is him with our lovely tour guide Cecilia. Barracas.

Street art by bs.as.stncl

New interpretations of Argentinian figures: a gaucho with a double guitar, a rare photo of Che Guevara and a strung out Maradona feature in this piece. I love the detail of the gaucho’s shadow on the sidewalk below.

Elephant stencils

I love this whimsical piece, with grates transformed into boxy bicycle wheels.

A memorial to a friend. Palermo.

Mural. Palermo.

Back at Graffiti Mundo’s studio/bar

An insanely intricate bit of stencil work!

Three miles of bad road: Day trip to Wat Phu

(I’m leaving off the back filling for a bit – this is a post about what we did yesterday.)

At the risk of sounding nerdy, I really enjoy history. Roman and I are lucky that we are getting to visit some amazing historical sites during this trip, and I love learning about and being able to imagine what daily life was like when these locations were at their height or why some building or person is historically significant. The red forts, the Taj, Mehrangarh and Hampi in India, Bagan in Myanmar have all been just fascinating to learn about.

But sometimes I want to set the dates, facts and names aside. Some places it’s enough just to be there – to see, to be with, to simply experience. To tap into and commune with the energy and mystery of the land and the layers of history that run through it.

Wat Phu, the temple ruins set on a hill in southern Laos, is such a place for me. It’s been a sacred place for multiple religions across the centuries and remains a place of worship today even as it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There’s a decent amount of information about it on the web if you are interested to learn more, but mostly I’ll just write from my perspective.

What I can tell you is that it is good-sized temple ruins spread up a beautiful, wooded hill with a lovely view of the valley stretching below. The ruins are centuries and centuries old. In its earlier history it was a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva; in the 10th century it was a sacred space for the Buddhist Khmer empire.

The journey

We decided to rent a motorbike in the city where we are staying, Pakse, and do a day trip to the Wat. It had not been on our radar, but the monk we met in Vientiane and his friends all raved about the place and said we had to go see it (even though they’ve not been – but they’re from the area and it seems to be a source of regional pride).

We took the new road (it’s less than a year old and not yet quite finished) from Pakse to Champasak, the town that is host to the UNESCO site. The journey took about an hour and a half in one direction; mostly easy-going and a beautiful drive. Even the bits where we got off course or the road quality deteriorated were good fun.

There’s not much along the way between the two towns but it was a gorgeous drive. Roman soon found he prefered driving to being a passenger, so I hopped on back and was at liberty to enjoy the scenery and flirt to my heart’s content; waving at any friendly villager who smiled our called out “Sabaidee” as we passed (which was most of them).

We stopped to photograph water buffalo cooling themselves in mud puddles. In no time we needed to cool off too; hopping on the bike and zooming across the gentle bends of the road was welcome relief from the pounding sun.

The landscape and weather began to change as we traveled on; towering mountains of earth and clouds reflected in the still waters of the rice paddies that flanked our path. We could see the rain moving in, a sheet of soft grey straddling the mountain. At one point we drove through a refreshing shower, cool drops hitting my cheeks and lips like unexpected but welcome kisses, but I’m glad that we made it to Champasak by the time the real rain started.

We managed to park under the awning of someone’s front porch just as the skies opened up. I felt bad parking and sitting just in front of their house, but Roman assured me this worry about invasion of space was Western thinking, and of course he was right – the residents weren’t bothered in the slightest. The rain came down hard and heavy for about a half hour. Villagers took shelter or continued on their bikes, utterly soaked and squinting through the down pour. Young kids threw off their shirts and took advantage of the chance to cool down, running and playing through the streets.

The destination

Finally the rain abated, and we headed through the village to the ruins. They are stretched across a large area, starting with an ancient stone-lined road pointing the way up the hill to the main Wat. It’s a steep climb up weathered stone stairs with much beauty along the way, and we took our time and savored each step.

Although the precipitation stopped, the dark clouds remained, and deep, sonorous peals of thunder punctuated and accompanied our journey up the sacred hill. The air was thick with the song of hundreds of bugs, a constant and ceaseless mantra.

The hills are covered with rich vegetation – great flowering trees, vines, thick, vibrant green grasses. With only few other visitors to the site, it felt like we were entering the deepest jungle. The great stone steps and temple walls are being claimed by the plant life; flagstones are crooked where roots flow under and through them, tumbling walls begin to disappear under a cover of ferns and moss. The buddha statues and other sites show evidence of modern day worship; bundles of incense are secured under a vine and statues that have witnessed the passage of centuries are garlanded in bright, plastic flowers.

The place feels bigger than us but willing to hold us too; a place of worship for all, from the smallest ant to the gods older than mankind. The sacred cycles of nature – from ceaseless destruction of the man-made buildings over the years to the ephemeral adornment of flowers and leaves, perfect for a moment, before they fade – encompass the stumbling gestures of man like a mother taking a beloved child into her lap.

Suffice to say, the whole day was magical, and we absolutely loved Wat Phu. I’m still taking it in, so that’s all I’ll write for now – but here are some photos before I end the post. 🙂

The pictures

A panoramic shot of the view from the steep, stone steps, shaded by magnificent leelawadee trees at Wat Phu. Click for a closer look.

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Some very happy, very muddy buffalo

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Sun and shadow, mountains and rice fields

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The rain approaches

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Heavy drops fall into muddy puddles, Champasak

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Approaching Wat Phu

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No entry – a girl plays where restoration work is being done to some of the structures in the site

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Butterfly landing on a fallen frangipani bloom

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Headless statues, incense sticks

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Incense and flowers in a tree

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Overgrown walls, mountain views

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Steps and roots

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Jungle Buddha

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Temple detail

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Making miniature stupas out of banana leafs and flowers – an offering

Along the way – a travel journal. Or, I don’t know what I’m doing.

Welcome to my online travel journal. Today is the first of September and I’m just days away from embarking on the biggest travel adventure of my life (so far).

An alternate name for this blog was “I don’t know what I’m doing”. By way of introduction: I grew up in America. Over five years ago I moved to Switzerland for a job and ended up staying for love. I’ve been living with my boyfriend for over four years now. We have a fantastic life in Zürich – good jobs, a lovely apartment, wonderful friends. We have been very happy together, and I’ve been very happy with my life here in Switzerland.

But starting last year, something began to feel like it was missing. Where before I had delighted in the smallest details of my life overseas, I found that the sparkle had gone out of even the nicest experiences. Somehow, I had gotten trapped in a never-ending cycle of ‘shoulds’ and obligations. My time no longer felt like my own and I felt increasingly that my true self existed more and more on the outskirts of my own life.

I’m still not entirely sure how this happened. I had a very demanding job that took a lot of time and energy. There are certain aspects of Swiss life that can be a bit rigid (Sunday means stores are closed and doing laundry is forbidden, for example. And making plans with friends and family, you usually have to get into their calendar at least a couple of weeks in advance, if not longer.). I also have a tendency to over-commit myself in a need to make others happy. All of these things probably contributed, but even when feeling stressed, I could still see the good in my life – I just no longer felt it. Maybe it was simply time for a change. All I know is that one day in December I was on my yoga mat in class and this voice inside me said loud and clear and totally undeniably: something’s got to give. The seed was planted and my heart started to move towards change. Easter weekend, my boyfriend and I were sitting at the station cafe by our apartment when we decided.

Traveling the world is something we’ve talked about doing since we met, something we’d thought about individually even before we met, but for various reasons, we hadn’t been able to make it happen – until now. We’ve chucked our corporate jobs, given up our apartment and are saying our goodbyes to the people we love. Friday I’ll be taking a one-way flight to India (boyfriend will meet me there three weeks later). The first three to four weeks of the trip are planned. After that we’ll just make it up as we go – destination, activities, duration all up to how we feel and where the journey leads us.

As I can’t say why my life as it was wasn’t working anymore, I also don’t know what I hope to do or find out there in the big world. Like I said, I don’t know what I’m doing.

I don’t know how long or how far we will travel. I don’t know how I will react to the lands and cultures I have never experienced before. I don’t know how we’ll spend our time. I don’t know how I’ll handle being essentially homeless. I don’t know how the travel will affect our relationship and if we’ll come out the other end stronger as a couple or ready to go our separate ways. I don’t know where we’ll land when it’s over, where we will live or how we will earn a living. But, I do have hopes for how it will feel (honest, open, relaxed, joyful), and I know that every step taken since December has let me feel more like myself, more honest, more open, more relaxed, more joyful. And even though I don’t know what I’m doing now, I do know I’ll figure it out along the way.