Tag Archives: life

Courage and Magic

I’m sitting up here on the same rooftop deck in Tel Aviv that I started my unforgettable journey almost three weeks ago! The late afternoon sun is starting to set over the Mediterranean Sea and the intoxicating breezes drift over me, telling me that I surely will be back here. I was born to live by the sea, and I am bewitched by this city and country, by the waves and the salt, the sand, the coolness of the ocean air, and the most beautiful boardwalk I have ever seen in which to take it all in.

I left off my last blog about to start my Jordanian cooking class, but I think I just wanted to get some general thoughts and experiences out on paper before I go to pack and get ready for one last night out before flying home tomorrow morning.

Over the last few years, I have had the privilege of traveling – a lot – and to many different countries and cultures. This has not only been a deliberate choice but something that was in my blood I think from an early age. Everyone laughed at me when I said in all the serious thoughtfulness of a young child that I wanted to be a professional tourist when I grew up. I used to pour over maps imagining what it would be like to actually travel to all those countries. I’m a bit obsessed with globes and still pour over maps. I’m curious and I love trying new things. I love meeting new people and making friends. I love home and family and always want a real home to come back to – I don’t think I could be one of those that travel indefinitely over years and years – but there’s nothing quite like the excitement of planning for a trip, the rush of airports, and the deep joy that comes from experiencing moments of breathtaking beauty in this incredible world we live in.

I guess I have heard so many times that traveling is “an escape from reality.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Travel drops you smack right into the middle of reality and demands that you confront what you see, feel, experience. Traveling requires guts. Guts to face the challenges to whatever worldview you might have or been brought up with. It requires courage to face yourself. Wandering through cities or wilderness or wherever by yourself, you are brought face to face with WHO YOU ARE: your assumptions about other people and cultures and countries. Perhaps you start to realize that that upper-middle class white American existence that was all you’ve ever known – and the concomitant worldview that accompanies it – is not the only valid way to think. Perhaps you realize that relationship you’re in is not really the right one for you. Perhaps you become aware of how crazy blessed you are when you see whole villages that have next to nothing and you tell yourself you will never complain about anything again. And because there are so many practical challenges with travel, you also are confronted always with CHOICE. Do you choose to live in and embrace the moment? – The bus schedules written in a foreign language, the missed train, the hard bed and getting lost for hours in a strange city, the forgotten toothbrush, or stolen bag. Of course, we have these opportunities every.single.day. to choose, to change, to examine who we are but all I’m trying to, perhaps inadequately, say is that travel accelerates that process in a crazy way.

And just as travel is about shattering worldviews, confronting assumptions and prejudices, travel is also about MAGIC. I have had my senses filled with so much beauty that the joy threatened to shatter my soul. It seemed at times too big to contain. I will never forget standing in the pure snow of Iceland as it whipped around me gazing into the glowing, gold horizon over a sea fronted by a black beach and the tears just came to my eyes. I thought perhaps it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced. I remember weeping my way through the Jewish center of Prague, just unable to contain the emotion from the thousands of lives lost and the children that had to go through such unspeakable things. I remember where laughter trumped any need for a common language in a little mountain village in Thailand as we sat around sharing a meal and an unforgettable evening. I remember the complete exhilaration of sailboat racing in Sweden with some of the finest people I’ve met in my life: a group of friends whose love for each other was so real and tangible and who opened that love to include me.   And just this trip I remember so much – the moment my guide, Mahmoud, led me blindfolded to the edge of a cliff to surprise me with a view of the Treasury in Petra, the crazy beautiful slot canyons, the delight of scuba diving – always – seeing enormous fish the size of bathtubs, sunken wrecks, crazy funny puffer fish, and the blues, yellows, greens, reds of coral. Its hard to even convey the magic. (and there’s my plug for scuba diving, people…do it. It’s the closest thing I can imagine to being on another planetJ One of my favorite things in all the world. …

Anyway, I’m not really sure I conveyed all that was on my heart, but I guess I’m just trying to encourage everyone to be open to new people, experiences, ideas, cultures. Perhaps the ideas you have about the Middle East are a bit skewed – mine were before coming here. Perhaps you just want to try something new! Don’t be scared! Step out. All I know is that my life has been indelibly changed and enriched by stepping outside my comfort zone and experiencing this awesome world we all share together. Shalom…

Border crossings, travel hiccups,…and finally, Jordan!

I finally arrived in Tel Aviv, having flown the last leg of my journey from Instanbul with an abnormally high number of children aboard – I was soon to learn this is the norm around here.  Families have a HUGE number of children and traveling with all 5-8 children is certainly way more common than in the US.  Ben Gurion airport is beautiful and security was a breeze, despite my apprehensions from all the warnings I had been given about it.   Basically I just got interrogated with a few specific questions through some thick glass – I had to keep asking the guard to repeat himself as I could barely hear him with all the noise in the background. I’m sure he thought I was extremely dense and could do no harm in his country and let me through to claim my bag and get my adventure started! J

First couple hiccups included my debit card being refused by the airport ATM, and subsequently my taxi driver refusing to let me pay with a card despite my being told clearly before I got in that it would be no problem. So here I am in the middle of the night with a taxi driver who needs to be paid, me with too little cash and no clue where I am, and a debit card that doesn’t work… lovely J We found a little free-standing ATM that worked (thank goodness!) and I arrived at my little hotel…where I couldn’t sleep at all thanks to the time change. It turned out this place had an absolutely lovely rooftop deck that overlooked the Meditteranean Sea and it felt soooo good to be up there, feeling the night breezes and taking in all the sensations around me. Being awake in such a lovely setting was a great excuse to get a work out in and I felt truly ALIVE and so happy and excited to be exactly where I was and for what the next few weeks held in store for me.

Early the next morning I arrived at the little domestic airport in TLV way too early and had to wait outside the (well-secured) gates till the airport opened. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one that made that mistake so I had some good conversation to keep me occupied. And, oh, did I say that security was a breeze somewhere earlier in this blog?! Yeah…nope. They scrutinized my passport, didn’t really like what they saw, made a very long phone call to god knows who, scrutinized it some more, questioned me about pretty much everything, ran my bags through the scanner LITERALLY about 5-7 times (I lost track), unpacked my fastidiously packed backpack, and finally handed me my stuff and my passport back and told me to enjoy my flight to Eilat. Whew!

So I arrived in Eilat (very far south resort beach town on the Red Sea) but I immediately zoomed off to the Jordanian border to begin my grand Jordanian tour. The border crossing was another almost unbelievable amount of passport checks. I think I literally had to show 7-8 people my passport, stopping at each different window, checkpoint, gate, scanner. Carrying my bags down a rather long stretch of no-man’s land to the Jordanian gate, it felt exactly like something in a movie… the hot desert air, the tall white metal gates in the distance, a couple other people in the distance struggling solo with their bags as well… interesting. I’m learning to really embrace the moments though and roll with each part of the happenings as part of the adventure. It makes it way more peaceful and way more exciting too, ironically.

My Jordanian driver deserves a blog devoted entirely to him, but for now let me just say he and I were quite the buddies by the time we arrived in Wadi Musa 2 hrs later. An older gentleman with 8 grown children, he really had quite the perspectives on Jordanian culture and population, the world, the USA, people, marriage, etc etc. More on him perhaps later…

The first thing my tour coordinator had booked for me was a cooking class with the Bedoins. I really had no idea what to expect but it sounded fun… boy, was it ever SO cool and completely different than anything I could have even made up or wanted. My Jordan experiences will be continued in next blog… Have to get ready to go have breakfast and leave Jerusalem for exploring up in beautiful Northern Israel… J

 

 

Tordstock 200 År

Tordstock 200….

Words to describe this experience…hmmm. It’s tough. A music festival? A camping adventure? A birthday party for 5 Swedish guys all turning 40 (hence the “200” in the festival name)? All of that, yes, but most importantly to me, it was an almost indescribable weekend of witnessing and participating in the beauty of relationships – a celebration held and attended by a community of friends that rivaled, if not exceeded, anything I’ve ever experienced in my life before.

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A little background: My San Diego/Swedish friend Karin has a whole group of close friends back in Sweden, of course, and on the agenda for our trip was this huge birthday weekend for 5 of her good friends who were all turning 40 this year. They had been preparing this event for months and it involved music, stages, grills, hot tubs, campfires, beer, tents, and people – lots of people.

One of the birthday guys has a lovely, rather rural piece of property and had cleared out a gorgeous little plot in the middle of the woods. By the time we Americans showed up (a day early to hang out and help with the last minute prep), there were already multiple booths, stages, grills, hottubs, etc set up. I was extremely impressed! We jumped right in with helping set up tents, make food, test out the beer selection and pretty much laugh our guts out in between the welcoming hugs and extensions of love and friendship.

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The first night  we spent at Karin’s best friend’s home with his lovely family. Omg. The sweetest little family in the world. The next day was unofficially a bit of a more intimate gathering I suppose – which was great for us newbies because we got to meet and get to know some people before the huge Saturday crowd showed up. I think we Americans established ourselves as the master grillers – We really had a blast helping out with everything. It took me right back to the good ol days of my past manning the grill for 1-200 people. Pounds and pounds of Bacon, eggs, hotdogs, hamburgers. Even the Freddie Special (don’t ask…;)

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Ryan manned the woodfired hot tubs! So fun! I guess this is a sorta popular/common thing in Sweden to rent these portable hot tubs. Im so impressed by the lovely portable items you can bring to these festivals – even the mobile port-a-potties were heated and lit. I almost camped out in one it got so cold the first night! J Probably the most impressive piece of equipment was the grill. Johan – who is a genius with his hands – designed and built the one we used. I want one.

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We stayed up till the wee hours of the morning singing and talking around the campfire, hollering out both Swedish and English tunes even if we could only join in in the “lah lah lah’s” of the chorus… Those who know me know that I am quite obsessed with campfires – some of my favorite memories involve friends and campfires and nights under the stars… I was pretty much in Heaven soaking it all in and enjoying the music and keeping the fire stoked. 🙂 We Even busted out another batch of grilled hotdogs at 2AM for those who had worked up an appetite (again)!

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Karin is friends with a rather well-know European musician named “Yellow Mike” and she had secretly arranged with him to stop over on his way up to Oslo for a surprise concert – it was completely amazing. We loved it – his stage presence and music were stellar and it was so kind of him to swing by for a couple hours and honor us with his time and music.

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One of the birthday guys’ brothers has been in a band since 1978. They were the main presenters of the weekend and, gosh, do these guys rock. They sound SO great and filled the woods with such an epic mix of popular songs – both Swedish and English. We stayed up through most of the nights too, just singing around the campfire and enjoying these perfect moments in time.

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So, this is really just barely scratching the surface of an outstanding weekend, but hopefully the pictures will help bring it all together. I know I made some epic memories – the love and laughter, the fun and music, the bonding. I was so touched by the palpable love most of all. There was no holding back on hugs and kisses. You could see, touch, feel and were basically immersed in a mileau of deep comraderie and could clearly see the affection that these special group of friends shared. I feel deeply honored to have been not only invited to share in the activies but to be welcomed warmly into those bonds of friendship.   Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of you lovely Swedes. I really do miss you.

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Fifty Shades of Green

As is the usual case with my little (or not so little) ventures, we packed so many activities and sights into a few days that its crazy thinking back on everything that we fit in the last three days. When I say “we,” I am referring to my fellow travel nurse friend, David, and his friend, Amanda. David and I met in Washington while on assignment and I am delighted that he and his brother Stephen just moved near here on another assignment. Yay for friends, reunions and new adventures! 🙂

David picked me up after my last 12 hr shift for the week so we could start off early the next AM from his house to Yosemite and Mono Lake (4 and 6 hrs away, respectively) and still be able to take advantage of half of the day. Boy, am I so glad we started off early!

Yosemite, as most of you know, is ginormous and so crazy beautiful that one could wander there for a lifetime and still find things to do and explore. We rolled into the valley floor about midday and started off in search of a hidden trailhead David had heard about from a friend – to a now closed trail, presumably because it was so dangerous – a fact we swiftly found out while hiking up it.

Following directions Via screenshots of a blog that described in detail where this trailhead began, we started clambering over huge boulders up a steep mountain side and found our trail. To say I felt ALIVE and IN LOVE with life and this amazing world would be an understatement. It was incredible. No one but us as far as the eye could see overlooking as we climbed what can only be described as some of the most beautiful scenery on earth. Breathtaking in its grandeur and the glory of rocky mountain cliffs rising thousands of feet from the valley floor – I was in awe and delight. (in between panting from the 1000+feet climb)… As we rounded the last corner, the view from our summit of gushing waterfalls far below us nearly brought tears to my eyes.

We barely made it to Glacier Point for the sunset but enjoyed the views and a couple freezedried meals on top of the parkJ I had fun experimenting with lighting and a couple night shots. One of the highlights of the evening was meeting this fellow who had set up a telescope in preparation for a star tour he was giving later that night and he allowed me to look into it. At 2800x magnification, the planets are so beautiful. I saw Jupiter – and all four of its moons, Venus, and, in exchange for guarding his telescope for a few minutes, he turned the scope around and let me view Saturn in all its glory with its beautiful rings around it. I guess we hadn’t planned our somewhat spontaneous trip very well as we still didn’t know where we were going to stay for the night, but left the park about 9:30 PM for Mono Lake, another 2 ½ hour drive! Poor David was the only one that can drive a clutch, so allll the driving was up to him (while we slept)….

I think when we finally found a campsite about 1AM, it was the fastest anyone has ever set up camp. Within 10 min, tents were out and up, sleeping bags unrolled and into an exhausted sleep we fell. I woke up early, as usual, and re-discovered my joy of campsite mornings: hot fresh coffee, crackling fire, a quiet campsite, sizzling sausages, peace…

Peace, that is, till I had to try to reserve a campsite for the following night. I almost had smoke coming out my ears – first as the office didn’t open for 1 ½ hrs after opening time, second while waiting in line listening to an inane discussion figuring out logistics for a large camping party, and then, thirdly while actually dealing with the lady behind the counter. I shall refrain from getting too descriptive but I haven’t dealt with someone so DUMB (or slow) before. Just picture walls full of knick knacky fishing sayings, marriage jokes, old cash registers, handwritten schedules, rulers… and you kinda get the idea.. I seriously felt like saying, “Lady! We don’t want to stay HERE all day – we actually just want to be on our way enjoying our day!!” They ran that place like Nazis too. Just sayin…we could have found a better campground…like the beautiful state owned one literally a hundred yards down the road that we couldn’t see because we arrived in the dark.

I had something of an obsession to see Mono Lake and take pictures of the Tufa (towering salt residue structures) , especially at sunset and sunrise when everything turns orange and pink, but David talked me into checking out Mammoth Mountain and a couple cool things he wanted us to see. (once again, trying to cram as much as we possibly could into the day! J )

Once there, we took a shuttle bus down a very steep mountain road to see Devil’s Postpile (very very cool!) and a 2 mile hike to view Rainbow Falls. Beautiful!

Mono Lake was next and it was extraordinary. Tufa are large salt formations and they were splayed out in front and around us like something unearthly and magical. It felt like we had stepped onto another planet. I wouldn’t have been surprised in the least to see some strange, mythical creature rise out of the water at any minute! After a while prowling around and deciding the sky wasn’t going to be great for sunset pictures, we attempted to visit Bodie, an old ghost town way out in the Boonies, but were turned back at the gate as it was after hours. NOT to be deterred, we vowed to come back the next day as this place was high on our list to explore.

That night we roasted up some red bell peppers, baby red potatoes and teriyaki chicken! Delicious! I should call myself a campfire gourmand or something! Maybe start an outdoor cooking show…hey. That’s not a bad idea…:)

Bodie did not disappoint in the least. I can’t tell you how much fun I had, map and descriptions in hand, perambulating about this old town, taking pictures, experimenting with angles and colors and just basically being fascinated by the history, as well as getting very sunburnt! I have just finished a book by Isabel Allende that centers a lot on San Francisco/Northern California during the Gold Rush era, so this all felt familiar and super interesting. Only 5% of the town remains now which, considering the number of buildings still standing is impressive! The following are a couple little facts and links of interest:

http://www.bodie.com

“Almost 10,000 tons of rich ore was extracted from this mine, yielding close to $15 million in 25 years. Bodie became a boomtown in 1877. By 1879 Bodie had a population of approximately 8,500 people and more than 2,000 buildings.” http://www.monocounty.org/bodie/?gclid=CjwKEAjwtr6sBRDv7uzB492H9XISJADj6aqb8kkJw3pVVl3WOYJp1rKn35YNxBhMFzULAEjlJ8OIfRoC_5zw_wcB

Just driving around from place to place was so impactful: literally “fifty shades of green” covered the hillsides and mountains and plains: soft sage colors of brush to dark, scraggly pine trees emerging straight out of rock cliffs, to vibrant bushes, and rustling tree leaves, white birch trees crowding the banks of a lake, still and peaceful forest trees unencumbered with any underbrush – all combined with vibrant blue skies and cloud formations made for just unrivaled beauty. I just could barely take it all in and tried to keep imprinting it all in my mind (sometimes via my trusty camera:)

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)

After much debate and pondering about whether to head to Bristlecone Pine Forest to take spectacular photos, we decided the sky wasn’t going to be good..:( Pretty hazy due to the ongoing fires…so, we hoofed it back through Yosemite and spontaneously stopped at Pothole Mountain after seeing this guy run up it. Easy peasy, right?! I nearly puffed out a lung but it was so gloriously worth it! Stunning. I definitely get a natural high from scenery like this. I can’t wait to go back again. Amazing. We stopped for pizza (no, not freeze-dried!) and made it home safely, accompanied into the city by the most mind-blowing sunset. It was truly a fabulous way to wind up our adventure.   A big thank you to my great companions for a lovely time.

True Currency

100% chance of rain…yeah, I went motorbiking anyway…I’m laughing even now at myself. Sheesh. What an experience. I alternated between singing Eponine’s dying song “A little fall of rain can hardly hurt me now” from Les Mis and grinning my fool head off as I puttered about a very wet Thai countryside taking in the vistas, coffeeshops, elephants, hot springs, and Buddhas. Oh, did I mention it was my first time ever on one of those scooters? Don’t tell my mom, ok?

Anyway, it was exhilarating and beautiful and I got very wet despite my $3 rain jacket. So after a hot shower I’ve been spending the afternoon in my hotel room getting lost in computers and pictures, laundry and writing, and chocolate bars.

…I’ve migrated to a new setting: a lovely little café/restaurant owned by an Italian (yay!). Already ordered a whole carafe of wine (which the owner has already teased me about) and mushroom bruschetta…anyway …this post is supposed to be about my trekking trip to the Karen tribes outside Chaing Mai…

My good Swedish/San Diego friend, Karin, has told me for ages about her time with the village people years ago and what an incredible experience it was (it was partially her stories that started the flame of desire to visit Cambodia); and then one of the British girls I met told me about HER time doing the same thing and how amazing it was. So, I knew then and there if I made it up to chiang Mai, a multi-day trekking tour was a definite must on the agenda.

The way everything worked out still just has me SO grateful!! I ended up with another fantastic group: A dutch guy, another American girl my age and her brother and sister-in-law, and two guys from Paris. We all got along spendidly, laughed and talked a lot and had about the same level of ability and shared topics of interest which just made the experience that much better. Harald, the Dutchman is a great photographer, so we had a lot of fun with that as well.

Our guide, Supot, being half Thai and half Karen brought not only a deep respect and knowledge to our time with the villagers, but the authentic love and friendship between him and the villagers was beautiful and inspiring.

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We drove a couple hours outside chiang Mai before beginning our trek to the first village. The first thing Supot taught us was how to say “hello/thank you/goodbye” – all the same word, which we practiced and used constantly over the next couple days. I might add that I am impossibly hopeless at languages. We enjoyed greeting people as we passed, learning about their culture and watching the kids go through their little kindergarten drills. Supot was amazing: as we trekked up little mountain trails he was constantly pointing out little things from huge termite hills (the villagers put little sticks on the top of them every time they pass one to help out the termites) to huge spider holes; had us chew tangy flower buds and sour monkey fruit. Taught us about bamboo trees. History. Science. Geography. He is a wealth of information with a peaceful, confident demeanor. He spent 12 years as a monk which might explain a lot. I think we all emerged from this experience with a great respect for him. It says a lot about him that his best friend is this 72 y/o Karen elderly man. Wow. I loved that.

We trekked 2-3 hours up to another village, where we spent some time with the villagers before settling in and getting set up for dinner and the night. I had just so much fun getting to know the people and trying to communicate. Its amazing what one can convey with such a great language barrier. One guy I was “talking” to while he cooked us some soup over a little outdoor fire was absolutely ecstatic to learn I was the same age as his (rather shy) wife. They thought it was quite funny that I was mildly distressed by the slaughter of our poor chicken we brought live all the way from the market. Truly farm to table that night. Doesn’t get much more organic than handfuls of herbs from the forest, fresh chicken, open fire…

In the evening, we ate on the floor, family style and just enjoyed the next few hours of each others company – looking at pictures, asking questions. Laughing uproariously. Arm wrestling on the floor. Passing around hand rolled leaf and tobacco cigarettes, shots of (horrific) sake and vodka. Occasionally the villagers would break into a raucous round of “jingle bells” which still makes me laugh. They always loved to get to the “HEYYY!!” part. We kept them up much too late and finally retired to our communal “sleeping” room. Im not sure how much sleep I got –It got VERY cold and I kept waking up. But we had a pretty fun time – felt like a grown up slumber party.

We started trekking again the next morning above the clouds – absolute pure, foggy beauty. Little did we know what was in store for us: this day’s trekking was not for the faint-hearted. It really was TOUGH. We waded through rivers, over slippery rocks, up muddy inclines, clambering along unmarked trails. Wet, bruised, muddy, scraped, we finally made it to a little waterfall oasis where we had lunch and a bit of a swim. It was absolutely amazing: during one of our breaks, these incredibly talented guys MADE us chopsticks for our lunch – out of bamboo – with a MACHETE. They are SO talented with their machetes. Absolutely use them for everything. Same goes for Bamboo: baskets, bridges, houses, chopsticks, cups, railings, etc. etc.

Next came the cave (homemade bamboo torches too of course). I felt exactly like I was in the pages of Jules Verne’s “journey to the center of the earth”. So romantically adventurous – one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.

After a VERY hot, sunny uphill climb, we clambered into the back of a truck and started our homeward journey home.

Take-away memories: The universality of love and humor… Language barrier simply fades away. Meeting new people and the kindness of strangers. Attention to details: what a difference it makes (homemade chopsticks! Real bamboo torches! Banana wrapped packed lunches!) . How LABOR intensive life without technology is: we watched these two guys HAND-saw whole planks of teak wood.

Memories I will hold forever.

Traveling has only reinforced my beliefs of the primal needs of the heart for love, belonging, community. No matter where our feet take us, we need that person and/or people with whom we can feel HOME, safe and completely accepted. Personally, I find contentment elusive without that. So, now having almost completed my carafe of wine (no judging)…here’s to unconditional love and friendship.

“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.” Lester Bangs

Aaaanndd I have all these amazing photos I picked out to go along with this whole trek but I just started shooting in raw format and am not having an easy time figuring out how to transfer to JPEG and upload so I shall have to repost this with pictures or something when I figure it out… sorry!

Viva la Mexico!

This morning I am snorkeling between dark stalagmite studded caverns and shimmering aqua cenotes…this afternoon sitting on a crowded airplane enroute to frigid Denver and sunny San Diego. The world has become so easily accessible to us, and yet so full of endless wonder and newness that it seems a lifetime of lifetimes is not enough time to explore it all.

These last few days exploring the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico has been amazing and such a treat. Having been rather spontaneously invited by one of my nursing friends to tag along on a family vacation, I had NO idea what to expect and so every day was such a delight and filled with adventure. My friends and I are not the type to sit around an all-inclusive resort for days on end (seriously, how could you…?) so we found ourselves out the door every morning only to return after dark every evening, still glorying in the sights seen, tacos eaten, waters played in, ruins explored, and the great company.
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my first walk along the beach! The sky along with the setting sun made for an awesome photo shoot! 

We had the privilege of acquiring a spacious condo at the Vendante, Grand Luxxe, and I have to say, while I don’t require a lot of luxury, it was a pleasure staying at a lovely resort where a maid comes and cleans your whole place twice a day, turning down the beds, leaving little chocolates on your pillow, washing dishes, straightening up all your things, hanging up clothes. I could get used to such. ☺ I’m afraid I would get dreadfully lazy though. I did love our little Mexican housekeeper. She always greeted us cheerfully every evening and left the place nicer simply by being so consistently sweet to us spoiled gringos.

Before I get going too much on my narration, I have to preface this by saying my last experience of Mexico was mixed: the pyramids of Teotihucan were incredible, the nightly streetside Styrofoam cups of hot Escitas became a staple, the bustling and colorful town of Peubla was fun, but the continued lack of a hot shower, the fear of getting sick, the horrendous border crossing experience, the poverty, and I guess, fear (?) discomfort (?) all left a rather unpleasant aftertaste in my mouth for the whole country. I had gone down to southern Mexico to visit my poor lonely sis who was teaching English in a little rural town, and I returned to the US, shaking the proverbial dust from my feet with no desire for a repeat visit. So, to get ahead of myself a bit, I am returning from this trip with a transformed mindset and experience ☺ Yesterday, I even romantically fantasized about living in a beachside villa in the little town of Akumel, with daily routines of snorkeling with the turtles, drinking cold cervezas under palm trees, and reading on the beach. Maybe look for me there someday…

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lunch and cerveza along the Akumal beach! glorious!

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had to capture some of the local bar art 🙂 this, despite being a skeleton really is full of joie de vivre and makes me chuckle!

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i loved this little humble nativity set up in the splendor of beachside condos. Shot on our long but lovely trek to the Akumal lagoon.

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they’ve been waiting for a beer for a loooong time…

Sunday, in an attempt to avoid the crowds (haha), we decided to venture over to the Isle of Cozumel. The choppy ferry ride had me green around the gills and almost in need of the green plastic barf bag thrust into my hands by attendees trained to spot the white faced nauseated passengers. All that was soon a distant memory as we drove down a dusty unpaved road to emerge upon the quintessential postcard Caribbean beach…little palm frond covered booths, peppy Mexican music emitted from behind open air bars, white sand and turquoise waters as far as the eye could see. And it was delightfully uncrowded. I wasted no time donning the virgin snorkeling gear (thanks, Mom for the Christmas present! ☺ ) and with just a bit of training on proper techniques, I was off and running, er , paddling away. I can scarcely describe the feelings. It truly is like discovering for the first time another world for that is indeed what under the ocean surface is. Teeming with life. Beautiful life. Quiet. Solitary. Glistening. The soft in and out sounds of my own snorkeled breathing. Colors. Wonder. These are all words and phrases that come to mind in an attempt to describe this experience. Newness. Whatever heaven is like, I remember thinking, it surely has to be a place of this: not the physical facts of swimming through water, but the constant state of wonder, discovery, awe, newness, excitement. I really feel it cannot be less. I was a child again and unashamed of the joys of discovery.

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my underwater photography did not go as planned…but I got a few shots before deciding to give it up all together. at least my little case kept my phone dry but wasn’t the best at helping me get some pictures, sadly…

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seemed so incongruous to be sitting on a hot beach while listening to christmas carols…

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Monday we ventured further south to the beaches and Mayan ruins of Tulum. Another day of lovely experiences: hiring a boat and a guide to take us out to the reef where we prowled around coral reefs eying funny looking, large-eyed squid floating along, black spiky anenomies fastened securely to the coral, bright blue flat fish the size of dinner plates, yellow striped fish swishing in and out of dark crevices, skinny translucent barracudas, skimming along the surface. It was amazing. And I learned that spitting in your mask helps it not fog up. Who knew?

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The Mayan ruins were super cool: right along the beach. They were so advanced in their understanding of astronomy it never ceases to astound me. Many of the Mexicans in the Yucatan still speak Mayan. Our guide in Chichen Itza had Mayan ancestry and showed us the flat back of his head, which is just one of the physical characteristics that distinguishes the Mayan bloodline. Chichen itza we visited the following day – barely made it there in time to get a guided tour before closing time. I suppose we were having too much fun exploring the shops and eating a delicious lunch in Vallodorid on the way there! The only thing that I really would have liked more of was a bit more wandering down city streets and just prowling around. I love to explore as well as play around with street photography. Maybe next time. Playa del Carmen….Akumel, etc etc. : a veritable wealth of interest to take in. I did spy this super cool bus in the parking lot of WalMart and started talking to the lovely couple that owned it. They are from Argentina and have been traveling for 9 years, selling t-shirts and copies of their photographic narrative book to be able to stay on the road. I loved their cool dog and they had a lovely daughter, who had been born during their traveling, making this the only life she’s ever known. She would be an interesting one to interview several years from now.

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first lunch in Playa del Carmen. I really wanted some of that pork on that spindle thing but it wasn’t ready yet..:(

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I arrived in Mexico with one burning desire: to swim with the turtles in Akumel. Finally…the day had arrived. First we snorkeled for hours at the lagoon: a sort of paradisiacal inlet/sanctuary for oceanic wildlife. I think I paddled a good mile or so all around the perimeter, exploring the deep crevices, spooking out the fish from their hiding places, looking at conch shells, watching the Barracudas, battling the currents. All in all, wearing myself out in a most satisfactory way☺ Akumel Bay was probably the most crowded beach we went on but after haggling and being haggled, we finally found a guide to take us out to see turtles and sting rays. There is something SO indescribable about these animals. Gazing down at their beautiful markings and the patterns on their shells I could see why they have become the stuff of legends and objects of worship. To have these mighty and ancient animals swim past you was such a beautiful experience. I desperately wanted to grab one by his front flippers and have it take me for a swim. Alas, no touching allowed. The sting rays are so creepy with their long, lethal looking tales and evil eyes, but also beautiful. I would be so scared to step on one!! They settle into the sand so you can’t even see them. Spooky.

Absolutely determined to experience a cenote before leaving, we all gamely got up early this morning and drove about an hour to Los Ojos, the largest system of cenotes in Mexico. Three caverns all interconnected by underground tunnels. I have always been quite scared of dark underwater depths and snorkeling around the dark, deep edges of the beautiful sun splattered cenote, I felt a frissone of fear creep into me. Through water as clear as glass, I couldn’t stop staring at the divers silently slip past me and venture into the dark tunnels…it was such a surreal, monumental feeling for lack of a better way to describe it. Finally it was our turn to be led through the caverns connecting the cenotes and into “Bat Cave” – ew. I like bats but they really are gross, hairy little creatures all clumped together hanging in obscene little lumps from the ceiling. Anyway, the caverns were incredible!! Silently snorkeling along with our waterproof flashlights, single file, we gazed down around, ahead, behind us at enormous stalactite formations, deep hollowed out voids of darkness, twisted corridors of rocks and edges, and curves – auras from other divers lamps creating bluish black illuminations farther down in unreachable places to us snorkelers. What a mystical experience.

All that loveliness and mystery followed by a sub-par roadside lunch and a speedy drive back home to hastily change for the plane ride home only to sit in the airport for ages – the story of my life☺. (My airport experiences this trip are a whole different, much less glorious chapter of this story that really doesn’t need to be told.)

So, Mexico, you have sung me a different song on this trip. One of seduction, adventure, romance and beauty….Thank you for generously sharing your wonders with me and maybe…just maybe, one day we shall meet again. Till then, Cambodia is calling my name and I must answer….

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apparently the baby Jesus doesn’t make his appearance till christmas (or xmas eve?) Town square of Valladolid – inland city on the way to Chichen Itza.

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our favorite lunch we had! best enchiladas ever.

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apparently this is how one can meet a stranger here in this town…

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…and if you’re lucky it will go like this!! 🙂

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so the idea is to get this little rubber ball through the circle…the captain of the winning team gets beheaded by the captain of the losing team – it was an honor to be sacrificed by the gods…sounds like an all around lose-lose situation to me!

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