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 🙂

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Seeing clearly

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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.

Baltic Sunsets

Sunset … it’s that time of day when the sun descends from the sky and disappears beyond the horizon, signalling the transition of the afternoon into the early evening, and it has become my favourite time of day when I’m off travelling. I don’t often pay attention to sunsets when I’m back home, but when I’m away, I make an effort to find a good vantage point, usually from a spot a bit high up, and admire the occurrence of this daily phenomenon. I am prone to taking a plethora of photos when I’m travelling, many of which are taken during sunset. After my latest trip to the Baltics, I have a few more to add to the “sunset collection”…

Taken from the shore of the town of Kuressaare on the island of Saaremaa, which is the biggest island of Estonia, I took this picture after exploring the town’s castle and learning a bit of the island’s history. I was half a week into my travels and as the last of the sun’s light was reflecting on the Baltic Sea, so too was I reflecting upon my experiences during the last few days in Helsinki and Tallinn…

Kuressaare is the largest town on the island of Saaremaa, which is Estonia's largest island

Kuressaare is the largest town on the island of Saaremaa, which is Estonia’s largest island

South of Riga’s historic, UNESCO-listed Old Town is the Latvian Academy of Sciences, and from atop the 17th floor of this skyscraper is an observation deck where you get simply magnificent panorama views of the capital city of Latvia. I had just arrived into the city a few hours ago, and fortunate to see a clear sky (the weather is very changeable in the Baltics in September), I decided that it would be a good idea to pay the €4 fee to get a good bird’s eye view of the city during sunset. In the coming days, I’d explore the city’s Old Town and Central Market, green spaces and Art Nouveau district, and become acquainted with the main railway station where I took day trips to other parts of the country…

As seen from the Latvian Academy of Sciences observation deck

As seen from the Latvian Academy of Sciences observation deck

The Old Town of Vilnius, Lithuania felt the most vibrant and full of local life of the 3 Baltic capitals. Locals and tourists alike flock to Gediminas Hill during the late afternoon to watch the sun say goodbye for the day. The day I took this picture began very cloudy, and I took a day trip to nearby Trakai. As I mentioned earlier, weather is very changeable in the Baltics and by early afternoon, the clouds had cleared, allowing the sun to make an appearance. The sky was still clear by the time I got back to Vilnius so I wanted to make the most of this opportunity and was not disappointed when I got to the hill. I found a spot on a low stone wall, took a seat, and watched this…

From Gediminas Hill

From Gediminas Hill

I’ve been blessed to see the sun set from so many awesome locations in our world and can only hope that I’ll continue to do so in the future…

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…

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!