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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Chalaadi Glacier, outside Mestia, in Svaneti, Georgia

People often ask me what’s my favourite country I’ve visited, and it’s hard to choose one out of the 55 I’ve been to 😉 But Georgia is definitely near the top of the list, with the sincerity of its people and its unending natural beauty, like this melting glacier flowing into the valley outside of the town of Mestia in the Caucasus Mountains. This little Asian guy felt so foreign and out of place in a land I knew little about, and yet I yearn to go back and experience more of it …

Sunrise over the Thar Desert

I’ve spent the past couple nights back home in Canada, and am grateful to be home again after the latest series of travels through Asia, although jetlag ensures that I will be sleeping and waking up at odd, random hours for the next few days…

One of the most unusual places I’ve ever woken up was in the Thar Desert in India last month. I’d fallen asleep on a cot, covering myself completely in a thick blanket to shield me from the blowing wind and accompanying sand. I awoke, not knowing the hour, and this was the first thing my eyes laid sight on for the day 🙂

Thar Desert sunrise

Thar Desert sunrise

Good morning, everyone!

Countdown to Zero: Day 30

Today’s throwback: Pliva Lake, an hour’s walk outside Jajce, Bosnia and Herzegovina, early August 2013. Clean and clear, calm and peaceful, and practically devoid from any other people, it took practically no effort to find a secluded place along the lake to go for a swim, soak up the sun, and relax before a bus ride to Mostar.

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My time in Thailand

I was supposed to be in Thailand for just 2 weeks, but have ended up staying 29 days. In Koh Samui, I struck a piece of coral and ended up having to get stitches on my right foot which affected my mobility and influenced my travel plans. Instead of going to Myanmar as planned, I forfeited the flight ticket and instead chose to recover in Thailand. And yet, life operates in the incredible fashion that it does, and things happen the way they are supposed to – in the sense that opportunities always exist in every situation, and when one door closes there’s at least another one that opens up.

Here’s a somewhat vague and disorganized rundown of my past month. I had intended Thailand to primarily be a stepping stone to get to other countries in Southeast Asia, but it has turned out to be quite the highlight. To be honest, it’s not because of the landscape or the food; it’s because of the company I’ve had the privilege of keeping. Travelling really is all about the amazing people you meet, and the past month I have lived is proof of that.

1
flight, Manila, walking, Silom, haircut, visa photos, taxi, turn the metre on, Chinatown, dinner, Luke, Wales, Jerry, US

2
application, embassy, Myanmar visa, food stalls, Grand Palace, Wat Pho, dinner, Oshiya, university, Spanish

30 April 2014

3
Wat Arun, MBK mall, $13 beer, most epensive beer ever, pay for the view, Sky Bar, cashews, Luke, Wales, Dan, Scotland, Sarah, Chris, Pasha, Philipp, Germany, bar-hopping, Silom, suggestion

Sky Bar

4
train station (intended to buy ticket to Chiang Mai, instead bought ticket to Koh Samui), Sukhumvit; failed sushi, failed pizza, street food, movie night, Siam Paragon, Transcendence

5
Chatuchak weekend market, rambutans, shopping, shorts, scarf, bloom, expansive, hot, KFC, train, Surat Thani, Lonely Planet, seats, fan, no AC

6
bus, ferry, Charlie, England, backpacker, jeep, Koh Samui, 20-hour journey, pool, sunset

ferry to Koh Samui

7
motorbikes, accelerate, traffic, waterfalls, hiking, beach time, finally, sunset, Felix, Germany, Melissa, England, restless, midnight swim, coral, blood, hole in foot, pain, cleanse, pain

getting ready for sunset

getting ready for sunset

8
pain, painkillers, Jessica, Quebec, nurse, advice, hospital, stitches, embarrassed, free coffee at least, grateful, hopping, defeated, dealing with change

9
goodbye, forced rest, forced relaxation, frustration, blessed, messages, around the world, English girls, card games, Uno

10
medical follow-up, hospital, taxi, ferry, bus, Nakhon Si Thammarat, plane, sunset, wow, Bangkok, realizations

NSM to DMK

11
walking, shopping, Silom, self-pity, new eyeglasses, 7-11 beer, Dan, outside Le Meridien, endless conversation

12
another follow-up, hospital, need to go somewhere, ferry, heat, sun, contemplation, Chao Phraya River, fortress, canal, water monitors

water monitor

13
day trip, Ayutthaya, Dan, Sharon, US, tuk tuk, temples, more temples, fluctuation, Thai face = free admission, birthday beers, 25 for the 4th time

Ayutthaya

14
decision day, stay in Thailand, flight (to Chiang Rai booked 5 hours before departure), at airport (with 2 flights to my name, still wondering which one to check into), takeoff, mountains, landing

15
bicycle, iced coffee, caves, temples, more temples, noodle soup, sweat, bike on highway to another temple?, no, thank you

Chiang Rai

16
day trip, Mae Sai, border town, hike up hill, construction zone, Myanmar (seen from across a river, slightly lamenting that I didn’t make it there yet)

17
bus, Chiang Mai, tuk tuk, confusion, bicycle, temples, more temples, computer time

18
bicycle, hospital, stitches, removal, Philipp, catch up, biking, temples, more temples, Ping River, iced cappuccino, rest, good company, sunset, night market, kebab, rotee, shopping

Chiang Mai

19
motorbike, Doi Suthep, temple on mountain, corn, gasoline (bought in used glass bottle at the local market, which I had filled the tank of the motorbike with), palace, not paying, Hmong village, waterfall, mutant butterfly, attack of the flies, spicy fried noodles, muay Thai, Zoe’s, drinking, dancing

20
morning walk, espresso, Jessica, Hong Kong, Felipe, Brazil, Philipp, brunch, support, lunch, failed massage, night market, saffron shirt, fried chicken, walking pharmacy

21
pancake, goodbye Chiang Mai, crazy pick up, minibus, curves, Pai, taxi, resort, trees, bugs, dinner, curry, drinks

22
motorbike, Pai Canyon, hike, flip flops, extreme, climbing, dirty, dusty, beautiful, mountains, panorama, bridge, scarecrow, waterfall, cool down, coconut cheesecake, relax by pool, rain, more rain, rainy season rain, dinner at resort, invite by staff, fried fish, herbs, shellfish, rum, awkward (We were hanging out at the common lounge area of the hotel, relaxing before intending to head into town for dinner. It started to rain, then it started to pour, and it didn’t stop. The staff were about to have dinner and they warmly invited us to join in. It was a delicious if not slightly awkward affair).

Pai

23
hunt for bacon, bacon, future plans, motorbike, waterfall, Chinese village, viewpoint, mountains, human-powered ferris wheel, letdown, hammock, fell off, sunset, mojitos, English couple, beer, more beer, rotee, late night snack, resort, leaves, peanuts, herbs, fresh

Pai sunset

24
bacon, motorbike, 4 hours, Pai, Chiang Mai, sore muscles, straciatella ice cream, Mr. Kai, tom yam soup, Loco Elvis, live music, coup, curfew, garden bar, stay until closing time, cookies (couldn’t open pack)

25
women’s prison massage, twist, stretch, crack, cafe, lazy lunch, peanut butter banana smoothie, chess, lost (but close), train, rice wine and salmon chips = dinner, sleeper seats, AC, summer plans

26
arrival, Ayutthaya, sunrise, motorbike, temples, deserted, ruins, exploration, only ones, feeling of discovery, bats, snake, more temples, local market, pigs’ heads, KFC, more temples, hiking up temples, train, Bangkok, 7-11 beers, lazy night

Ayutthaya 2

27
spring rolls, movie day, X-Men, donuts, sneaking in, taxi, Khao San, scorpions, dragon fruit, maggots, grasshoppers, beer, coming to an end, shared understanding, beer, pushing curfew, sleep

28
malls, AC, tako katsu, shopping, impulse shopping, reunions, fitting, coming to an end, again, goodbye, impulse shopping

29
writing, blogging, …Myanmar!

One step at a time

One step at a time. A simple phrase, but one which takes on greater meaning when you’re somewhere on an 800-km trek from the Pyrenees to Galicia, Spain. One step at a time. That’s the only way you can accomplish such a challenging journey, to keep putting one foot in front of the other no matter what weather conditions you face and whatever physical or emotional baggage is weighing you down. One step at a time. This is one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned.

between Hontanas to Boadilla del Caminoon the Camino de Santiago

between Hontanas to Boadilla del Camino

One year ago today, I began this pilgrimage from St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela. I take a look back and memories flash through my mind, some like blinding lightning, others like a slow-motion replay of a sports highlight. Many memories will forever remain vivid, while I guiltily acknowledge that some are already fading, and might disappear with the passage of more time…

But I will remember to take life one step at a time. And with each step, attempt to recognize what makes life so mysterious yet gratifying, be appreciative of every breath, every foot forward, every person that shares my journey, and every person that almost inexplicably appears with an almost inexplicable precision when I need a reprieve from my solitude.

The Camino also taught me that the path – my camino – that I walk must be my own. I must walk at my own pace, not be afraid to take alternate routes, and always listen to my body, mind, and soul. I can’t live for the wishes and expectations of others and place their dreams in front of mine, no matter how good-intentioned they may be. I know it sounds incredibly selfish, but that path won’t create happiness and ultimately the person who ends up hurt is myself.

I believe I am still on a pilgrimage and that I continue to walk my camino. In fact, it’s an often arduous journey and the road looks like it never ends. But I can say that if there’s a destination, I’m closer to getting there today because of my experiences last year.

Tribute to my trekking boots, tribute to Nepal

Three nights ago, walking down the streets of Thamel in Kathmandu, I made one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make during my travels. After much deliberation, I decided to leave behind my trekking boots in Nepal. It’s something that I didn’t do lightly – these shoes had tremendous practical value for me as a hiker, and even more sentimental value – they’d taken me 800 km across Spain; I’d climbed 4 volcanoes in Nicaragua with them; I’d gone hiking in the Alps, the Caucasus, and the Himalayas with them sheltering my feet and guiding me through shaky and solid ground. I’d climbed more mountains than I can count with these buddies. But after almost a year of wearing them so often, the traction had really faded, they were no longer really waterproof, and they just looked really beat up. On a couple other practical notes, they would have taken a lot of space in my backpack and I wasn’t intent on wearing them through humid Southeast Asia in the months ahead every time I’d be moving from place to place. And so I left them at the hostel. Incidentally, I met a Thai girl during my last days in Kathmandu who intended on trekking to Annapurna Base Camp and needed a pair of boots, and (strangely enough) mine looked like a good fit for her. So it looks like my boots will continue to go hiking in Nepal 🙂

I feel like these boots were, and still are, a part of me and that they belong on my feet, or at least in my backpack, and that I left a piece of myself behind in Nepal (and you don’t have to tell me how silly that sounds – I know). At the same time, perhaps there’s a nice symbolism behind it. I’m sacrificing a part of myself as a traveller and a trekker. It’s like I’m paying homage or tribute to Nepal by leaving something so important to me behind, and it’s like a part of me is still in Nepal. I think it’s a nice sentiment because I really didn’t want to leave last night on the flight for Hong Kong, and right now I wish I was back in crazy Kathmandu, relaxing Pokhara, or hiking in the Annapurna Conservation Area. For reasons that I can’t fully explain in this post, Nepal has given me so much love, peace, strength, courage, determination, friendship, warmth, generosity, hospitality…the list goes on.

Kathmandu street scene

Kathmandu street scene

Nepal left such a wonderful impression on me. In fact, of all the places I’ve been on my travels, I can say that Nepal is the place I’ve been touched the most. I don’t even know where to begin and don’t think I can adequately describe the simultaneous joy that fills my heart when I recall all my experiences the past month, and the melancholy I feel because I’m no longer there. After visiting Sri Lanka, I told other travellers that I felt like royalty, being the object of so much attention and stares, and the recipient of so much generosity and hospitality. In Nepal, I blended in so much that Nepalis often thought I was a fellow countryman, but I received just as much hospitality and affection. People treated me as a friend and even like family. Despite the blackouts, frequent lack of water (hot and cold), the crippling traffic, the bumpy bus rides, the suffocating smog of the cities, the blowing dust…I often felt truly at home.

Machhapuchchhre‎, Annapurna Conservation Area

Machhapuchchhre‎, Annapurna Conservation Area

Just a few examples from yesterday alone: I was passing by a shop that I’d bought a jacket from earlier in the week, and waved at the shopkeepers. They returned the greeting and invited me to take a break and chat for awhile, and we talked for what might have been close to half an hour about life in Canada, life in Nepal, and the different people we’ve come in contact with. There was no pressure to buy anything else from their shop and they were quite impressed when I listed the countries I’d been to the last six years! Later on, I met up with some friends I’d met at the hostel and their Nepali friends, and we walked to Basantapur to watch the festivities of Ram Navami. They were so welcoming and hospitable, recounting some of the history of the exquisite temples that formed part of the Durbar Square complex. They were interested in my travels as well and wanted to know what I liked about Nepal the most. And when I was back at the hostel, ready to go the airport, the staff asked me if I had a taxi yet and when I said that I didn’t, fetched a taxi from the main street to the front door of the hostel, and negotiated a fair price. These are reasons reflective of why since my first day in Nepal, I knew that I’d make a return visit. That sentiment is even more true today. I’m so grateful that I made plans to come to this amazing country renowned worldwide for the Himalayas but for me, is distinguished by the unmatched warmth of its people.

So there’s my tribute to Nepal. And now, I’d like to take this time to pay tribute to these awesome pair of shoes. With fondness, I remember the mountains I’ve ascended, the trails I’ve gotten lost in, the cities I’ve navigated, and all the animal excrements that I’ve stepped on in them – be it from cows, horses, chickens, dogs, sheep, goats, yaks…With a sad resignation, I let go…

trekking boots - goodbye :(

trekking boots – goodbye 😦