A purifying simplicity

If I’m not currently travelling (and right now I’m not!), once in a while I tend to take a trip down memory lane ;). Sadly, details blur as the years go by, but the time stamp on this photo tells me I was here a bit over 3 years ago.

3 years ago.

I had reached Annapurna Base Camp the day earlier just after sunrise, and was currently on my 8th day of trekking, now making my way back to civilization after spending an afternoon at a local hot spring. There’s a purifying simplicity and an invisible beauty about going on a multi-day trek, with just a limited amount of possessions stuffed into a rucksack on your back, moving forward ever so gradually, one step at a time, with nature all around you and inviting you to just love where you are in the world and in life at that very moment.

I’ve been yearning for this for the past few weeks, and it hasn’t been a fleeting sentiment that just comes and goes. We tend to become too consumed in the material world, and often make life needlessly more complicated, especially living in a big city. But those material possessions don’t leave you fulfilled, at least not for me, anyway. It’s so rewarding on all levels to simplify things. I’ll be back in Nepal next month and hope to do another trek for a couple weeks or so. I’m looking forward to being in a different environment, to absorb the simplicity of just walking, to gain a renewed and clearer perspective on life.

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The first day

8 April 2016 … Day 1 of a 5-month adventure …

The first day – jetlagged and lacking sleep after a long flight from Toronto to Abu Dhabi, a bit overwhelmed with all the time I had in front of me and wondering how I’d fill all those days and if things I imagined in my head would go according to plan. Cautious and hesitant, not firmly in that traveller/backpacker groove just yet, perhaps reluctant to just embrace those moments which collectively would fill all those days. Optimistic, because I’d done things like this before and I had come to know that the best was inevitably to come, always, no matter how much I tried to downplay my excitement …

The first day – encounters, contacts, interactions, conversations, realizations, lessons, achievements, thoughts, sensations, feelings, emotions – all that would come but could not be predicted …

I am longing for the first day of a long adventure ………

(I intended to post this on 8 April 2017, which would have been a year since the photo below was taken. A few days late, but the sentiments and reflections still hold true!)

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Arrival in Santiago de Compostela – June 2016

19-June-2016

I’ve arrived!

After 7 days of walking about ~227 km (give or take one or two ;)) beginning in the outskirts of Porto, Portugal, I reached the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain at about 11:30 this morning. Excitement mounting within and wanting to arrive in time for the pilgrim mass at noon, it was my fastest day of walking. As I made my way into the city and realized that I would make it in time, I slowed down my pace, actually savouring every step, every foot forward knowing that I would soon be at the main plaza in front of the cathedral.

And then I was there. And then tears. Mine. Subdued tears of gratitude for arriving safely in good health, good mindset, and good spirits after 7 days of pilgrimage. Tears of happiness for being able to arrive here once again, under a different set of circumstances and experiences but no less memorable.

I only thought about embarking on this pilgrimage 15 days ago – I was on a plane from Kuala Lumpur and as we were descending into Bangkok, I looked out the window and felt a pull to go to Santiago. I can’t really explain it in words – the feeling was just there, and there was an inner urgency about it. And now that I’m here, it’s like every beat of the heart spreads immense joy through my veins. I’m simply elated to be here again, reminiscing my time here last and just marvelling at the beauty of life.

Tomorrow, I will head back to Portugal (by bus, not walking!) but this pilgrimage won’t be in vain. From here, I will treasure the lessons of patience, determination, and perseverance, and take with me more faith, hope, and love than I started with.

Life is filled with obstacles and challenges, but no matter how difficult or insurmountable they might seem, they can be overcome – one step at a time 🙂

Buen Camino!

Catch me if you can

So, I’m travelling again! And my upcoming travels might very well be the most intense and diverse that I’ve ever embarked on. This trip was supposed to be all about India, and I’m spending just over a month in the country, so it primarily will be about India. But in my attempt to look up flights to get there, I (eventually) ended up booking a more complex itinerary involving 6 countries on 2 continents – Taiwan, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, South Korea, and Malawi (that’s in Africa, folks) over the next seven weeks.

How? I figured out that I could use my MileagePlus miles from United Airlines to book a Toronto-Taipei, then Seoul-Lilongwe-Toronto trip. I then used my British Airways Executive Club miles to get me from Taipei to Hong Kong to Delhi, and then I purchased separate tickets on AirAsia from Calcutta to Kuala Lumpur and onwards to Seoul to close the gaps. The result? This…

map

Why? There’s always more to see, and there’s things to see again in Taipei, Kuala Lumpur, and Seoul. Whenever I’m somewhere for the first time, I’m not concerned about “doing everything” there is because I figure that if life has brought me to some incredible places, life might just be great enough to let me see some of these places again, and I can always do things that I may have “missed out” on the first time around. On the other hand, I’ve never been to India or Malawi. India has increasingly become a country that I’ve wanted to visit and explore, and attempt to know and become familiar with. I’ve heard a ton of stories from fellow traveller friends who have explored this vast country and their stories are always intense and strongly opinionated. I have to go and experience it all for myself. And Malawi – this country has come up at least twice from friends the past year. This was essentially a “bonus” country on this trip; I learned that I could go here without spending any additional miles. I’ve never been to sub-Saharan Africa, so this is a dip in the water that will hopefully lead to more forays into the continent in the future.

I’m nervous and beyond excited, adrenalin is pumping through my veins even though it’s just past 1 am here in Toronto. I’m about to board my flight to Taipei and I hope you join me over the next seven weeks to explore a bit of this beautiful world of ours! Cheers!

Countdown to Zero: Day 31

A month from now, I will be flying from Bucharest to Istanbul to Boston to Toronto. It’s a simultaneously frightening and comforting thought that almost a year and a half of travel around the world is coming to an end.

To commemorate, I would like to share with you each day something from these tales of travels, these trials and tribulations that went on somewhere in the world in that time span (really, just my misadventures). This will be in addition to my daily travel posts and updates. Each day, I would like to reflect on a memorable experience I had during the last year and a half of travel – something I did for the first time, something I learned from, something humbling, something that made me feel accomplished, something that made me feel a way I’ll never forget, something that impacted me and left me with an impassioned inspiration – anything, really, that manages to make me smile when I look back upon it with the filter of time which only manages to facilitate the nostalgia I feel.

Today’s throwback: let’s not begin with anything too profound. Instead, here’s something from my time in Georgia from August/September 2013 – the food and drink! Khinkali, khachapuri, ostri, roasted eggplant topped with a walnut/garlic paste, Khevsuruli beer, homemade wine in used plastic bottles – these were my staples, and though sometimes repetitive, were always filling 🙂 By the way, I absolutely loved my time in Georgia and it’s easily one of my favourite countries I’ve ever visited. This won’t be my only post about Georgia in the next month…

Khinkali

Khinkali

khachapuri

khachapuri

Ostri

Ostri

eggplant with walnut garlic paste

eggplant with walnut garlic paste

Khevsuruli beer

Khevsuruli beer

Homemade wine

Homemade wine

Another photo for the Balkan sunset collection

I’ve seen so many sunsets in the Balkans that I feel I can make a photo collection out of them. Well, I took another one for the collection today. Unfortunately, I took it from inside a bus and the windows were dirty and stained, which contributed to a blurry image, one certainly not worth posting. But the sunset was so vivid and stunning that it’s certainly worth the effort to at least attempt to describe what my eyes witnessed.

It happened shortly after crossing the Bulgarian-Macedonian border on narrow, winding, bumpy roads through empty hills with low-lying mountains in the distance. The horizon was every shade between purple and yellow, and the sun made a striking appearance under the few clouds accentuating the sky, clouds shaped like free-formed swirls echoing the whims of the people in the Balkans. It was the same sun I’ve seen thousands of times before, but today particularly remarkable and spectacular, a perfectly circular, pulsating orange sphere slowly descending into the mountains. A flock of birds, black shadows flying in unison in the sky, rendered the image even more arresting. A lone shepherd tending to his flock of grazing sheep in the rolling fields might, too, have noticed.

The sun’s disappearance signalled the end of another day of travel, a day when I left Bulgaria after spending two wonderful weeks there, a day when I came back to Macedonia and reminisced my time here last year. It’s the end of another day in the Balkans, another day of intense vibrancy in which I recognize how alive I always feel in this corner of the world. The Balkans is my favourite place in the world – there’s something about this region that does something for me – piques my senses, gives me energy and makes me feel more alive, makes me strive for something better yet makes me appreciate all that I already have…

How many sunsets I have admired over the past four years in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Kosovo, Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey, and hopefully soon in Albania and possibly in Greece…

By the hour

A look at the first 24 hours of my latest travels beginning 19 Nov 12:

04:45 iPhone wake-up call
05:45 leave home
06:45 arrive at YYZ, check-in
07:45 boarding
08:45 take-off!
09:45 I see NY state!
10:45 start reading book, feeding my Balkan fascination
11:45 attempt at some sleep
12:45 meal service over
14:09 touchdown at Panama City!
14:40 speaking Spanish in immigration; officer smiles trying to find an empty spot in my passport to stamp
15:00 I get on a colourful school bus just outside the airport, after failing to get onto a modern bus because I have no bus card
16:15 I recognize a building from 10 months ago after a long, crowded ride, get off the bus (surprised that the fare was just $0.25!)
17:00 get to Panama Viejo, disappointed that the museum is closed
17:20 get to posh Multicentro mall, have nice dinner
18:40 meet with taxi driver outside mall to take me back to PTY
19:40 arrive at PTY after lots of traffic
20:40 boarding for Santiago!
21:18 take-off!
22:20 dinner service, with a very sad-looking salad
23:20 attempt to sleep
00:20 falling asleep (gotta love the extra leg room in the exit row!)
01:20 snack service
05:22 touchdown in Santiago! (really 03:22 but lose 2 hours)