Sleepless night, shooting stars, and unspoken wishes

13 August 2016, (circa 3 am)

My ears were no longer able to block out the unceasing sound of the roaring river below me, and my body was no longer able to sustain the uncomfortable position I had taken for the past hours of sleep, wrapped in someone else’s sleeping bag over a thin mattress on a tapchan (evelated platform used mostly for relaxing and as a site to drink tea).

I looked at my friend still fast asleep on the other side of the tapchan with a tinge of envy. I was weary but unable to stop thinking about the previous day’s hike, encountering shepherds and goats, lakes of delicate aquamarine hues, mountains so rugged yet so refined in their, well, ruggedness. My mind has a tendency to wander as much as my feet, and here in this isolated corner in the Seven Lakes of western Tajikistan, in this much too early hour, my mind was spinning with thoughts and emotions and I knew I wouldn’t fall asleep again.

In an attempt to calm myself down, I looked up at the night sky, a black canvas on which golden celestial bodies illuminated the backdrop. How could it be that objects light years away shone so bright that their light could arrive at my eyes? I thought I had travelled far on this earth but looking up at the universe put into perspective just how little and insignificant I was. It was then that I saw movement, something I had never seen before – a shooting star – darting across the night sky. This drowsy, fatigued traveller couldn’t help but notice it. And the next one. And yet another …

This little moment in time … Was it too much to conclude that the heavenly bodies of the universe were conversing with me? One after the other, not too frequent to call it a shower of light but definitely more than a handful of these shooting stars, decorating the night, lighting the atmosphere on fire, tempting me to make a wish. And despite being a child’s tradition, I thought it foolish not to make at least one wish.

But what should I wish for? For love? For freedom? For safe passage back to town tomorrow? For courage to continue pursuing these adventures? For this serenity and peace, wanting nothing more at the time but to see the dance of these stars across the heavens, gently fading into oblivion, slowly evaporating into the darkness of the night? Though no words were spoken, I felt that the world listened to my heart’s supplications.

I also made a wish to remember this moment and all the circumstances that accounted for the peculiar time and place at which I found myself. A year has passed since that night, and I still remember.

the tapchan in which we stayed, right by the rushing river, taken at dusk

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More than a picture

2 August 2016

Ishkashim, Tajikistan (with Eshkashem, Afghanistan lying on the other side of the Panj River)

It’s incredible how a single picture can trigger so many detailed, vivid memories. While a picture may be worth a thousand words, here’s some things this picture couldn’t tell you.

Obviously there’s the sunset, but unless I told you, you’d never know that I had stopped at this town for the night because I thought (incorrectly) that it would have internet access. Having been travelling in the Wakhan Valley for the past few days and not having internet at all, I kind of hoped that there would be a chance to go online.

You’d never know that I had to register myself at the local military office and show the additional GBAO permit in my passport that allowed me to be in this part of Tajikistan.

You’d never know that I had just taken a stroll around town with fellow travellers David from Austria, who I had been travelling with we met in Sary Tash in Kyrgyzstan, and Charles from Québec, who we had met at our guesthouse in Ishkashim.

You’d never know that Fato and his kids Horod, Amir, and Yosomin, local Pamiris, were walking along the river bank where they encountered us. Fato talked to us travellers for a bit while the kids played around with carefree abandon, and all the while we enjoyed the cool breeze on another hot summer day.

You’d never know how much I pondered what life was like beyond the river, so close and yet seemingly still so far away, in a land that has been terrorized by war and invasion for centuries, in a land that I’ve heard about countless times in news headlines; it was surreal that I was separated from that land by only dozens of metres.

You’d never know that we cut through a field on the way back to our guesthouse and unwittingly trespassed through someone’s property.

You’d never know that we ended up at the house of an old woman who began yelling at us, resulting in my embarrassment for thinking that we made her angry, only to be surprised when she was just offering us tons of freshly-harvested fruits from her garden and invited us inside for tea.

You’d never know how much this day made me love travelling even more than I already did …

All of that I remembered from simply looking at this picture 🙂

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

Seeing clearly

img_3927

When I put on my first pair of glasses for the first time as a teenager, it was like I had a revelation. Things that were previously a blur now appeared clearly, and I could see the details of the physical world with ease – the math formula on the blackboard, the strands of fur on a cat, the intricate petals of a flower, even the wrinkles on someone’s face …

For me, travelling is like wearing that pair of glasses. But it’s not necessarily those physical details I notice more; it’s the heart and soul that feels through a different lens that is blown away by an initially unfamiliar environment. An increased awareness notices a set of profound thoughts and delicate emotions within, intangible objects one cannot see or touch, which rise to the surface and make me appreciate the simple fact that my heart is beating, that I am feeling, that I am among incredible beauty in this world. I feel like it’s LIFE that I see more clearly.

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

Short reflections on the Camino de Santiago

El camino que camino es el mío – The path that I walk is my own

I filmed a few short videos while walking on the Camino de Santiago in May and June of 2013. In general, they show the amazing landscape that my eyes bore witness to, and the emotions and sentiments that I felt on the trails. I hope to go into more detail at some point, but I thought that I’d share these videos now (some are over 2 months old already!), lest they remain mere digital footprints on my iPhone that are left unshared. This, frankly, would be a shame – the Camino for me was an incredible, restorative 800-km journey buscando un poco más de la verdad: searching for a little more of the truth – my truth – what compelled me to walk such a large distance in a month’s time, to leave everything familiar and comforting to me behind, to put my faith in the unknown, to question how and why and humbly attempt to find answers, to trust and seek companionship in people who were just strangers before embarking on this pilgrimage…

I don’t pretend to have all the answers or speak of my experience as authoritative, but being an experience all the same, maybe there will be those who will want to seek out answers and search for their truth, and will be compelled to learn more about the ancient pilgrimage route that grows ever more popular in a world of increasing disillusion…

Camino de Santiago, Day 2

Camino de Santiago, Day 2, part 2

Camino de Santiago, Day 3

Camino de Santiago, Day 4

Camino de Santiago, Day 6