Monday, February 15, 2016

Iceland is very good at being Iceland and probably okay at being Greenland

I went to Iceland in late October because I knew I had lost some aspect of myself and I thought perhaps it was waiting in Iceland. A brief summary of my trip is that yes, it was. The photos show it, though perhaps in the background somewhere less than conspicuous, or perhaps only visible in tandem with this fantastic Piers Faccini album (Songs of Times Lost) that, for reasons unknown, distinctly reminds me of Iceland. It's in Italian and I heard it first in a yoga class, and so this association is largely illogical and thus probably Fated.

I love fields and I love moss and I love water and Iceland is captain of all of these things. The roads feel like ill-advised tattoos some old person received in a desperate attempt to be hip, because they are all kinds of inappropriate for the context and I wish we hadn't had to use them or look at them at all. Of course, if they hadn't been there, we would be dead! (That last simile may end here.) Mountains and all. But I still resent them slightly. Eric was a perfect roadtrip buddy because we didn't have to talk all of the time. Really, that's the most I can hope for in a person. Sometimes the world outside of the window does all of the talking for you.

I also appreciate that Iceland doesn't care if you're comfortable. The island itself, or its citizens. I mean sure, people are perfectly friendly and they are probably not going to throw rocks at you, but if your hostel bunk is ridiculously cold or smelly, eh. If there are no rest stops of any kind for hours and hours down the coast, eh. Hell, even the liquor is absurdly priced such that you cannot artificially make yourself comfortable. This is not some cruel and unusual karmic response to the fantastically low airfare, but rather the realization as a society that other things are more important than comfort. Like having good coffee, and hot springs devoid of trash, and searching for The Hidden People, and keeping up the mythology that the Northern Lights exist (they don't, I'm sorry, I checked. If you have seen them, you are hallucinating. I spent 8 days checking and so did Eric and they don't exist.) The beauty of it all is the top priority. This is my life motto--fascinating things above comfortable things--and so Iceland and I got along just fine.

This is also why I'm going to India in two weeks (for three weeks,) where I expect to feel similarly.

I encountered the end of the world so many times in Iceland. And the top of it, and the bottom of it. How can one place house so many dimensions? And feelings, and existential realizations even? I have never felt so content and so discontent in the same place in my life, and that is in part due to the aesthetic and in part because of the huge expanse of... nothing. No people, sometimes not even sheep. Just you. (Well, and Eric.) You're left to your own contradictions, and there is nothing there to distract you from them. Sometimes when Reykjavik happened and there were $22 White Russians and photography galleries I would forget for a few minutes, or when Eric and I would make weird Akureyri friends or get trapped in a mysterious foggy city on the east coast, or when I would roll around on the giant clouds of moss and eat a little because why not, or geyser bread, but all of the moments in between were just... the earthy sharp poignancy of Iceland and I, being.

Travel makes me deeply, profoundly grateful. Not only for what I will come back to--a lovely house and a lovely cat and lovely friends and work team and art and city and My Own Great Outdoors With Trees Beyond Birches--but for the validation that I still have so much left to see.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Indonesia! Part two!

People are great. Also, this wedding shot is great (for the bride.) Generally, this was a great moment and everyone should feel great about it. Weddings! One of my best friends got married last weekend, and I was this guy. The photographer. Sometimes things come full circle in an interesting way. I love photographing weddings because you encounter this poignant and boisterous nebula of a thing in a tiny several-hour package, and then you unpack it in the editing of the photographs, and if you are responsible for crafting an album, you have the opportunity to entirely rescaffold the narrative in this profoundly intimate way. I suppose you have the chance to do that with travel photography, also. It is a weighty thing!

Hanuman is incredibly popular in Bali, and for good reason. Not only is he relatable because monkeys are actually everywhere all of the time, but the Ramayana is an amazing story. Also, Hanuman thought the sun was a mango once and tried to fly toward it to eat it, and I can relate to that.   You can see him above, contently grasping at the sky, and not attempting to fly anywhere.

I'm not entirely sure of where my travels will take me next, or how, or why. I used to heavily rely on performing an act of service in some way while traveling, and then it was foreign language study, and now it's yoga--if I could do all three concurrently, I absolutely would. I need something to tether me to the place-ness of the place, when I travel, and creating a community for myself prior to arrival really accomplishes that. I don't want to float through it as though I were at home, or stick too much to what makes me comfortable, or to who I already know, or isolate myself. That being said, I need to be able to find vegetarian food and avoid abduction along some dark, decrepit side street. Priorities!

I love visual creative outlets, which is I suppose why I like photography so much, but I often wish I were better at drawing. Most critical acclaim for my drawings has been based on their tragic hilarity. They are very bad, but they embrace being very bad. I would like to venture into the wild world of webcomics. Perhaps when I am older and wiser and need to convey this to 'The Youth.' I am getting a bit off-Bali-topic here, though I can perhaps tie everything back together by suggesting that Bali would be an excellent place to spend a year privately tutoring English, working on art, and inexpensively finding oneself. I could definitely imagine that life, and would endorse it to others. The Balinese people with whom I interacted were so welcoming and kind, too... it would be an easy place to escape for a bit. It helps that the Indonesian language is fascinating and extremely easy to learn from an English-speaking background. The Indonesian Embassy in DC teaches it for free on Thursday nights, if anyone is interested!

I did not ride on a motorbike while in Bali, which is either a travesty or the reason why I am able to type this blog entry using my fully-functional set of limbs--it's difficult to determine which. This is often a difficult decision I face while traveling... do I do the reasonable thing, or the daring thing that will possibly result in an awesome story and maximum comedy? I often go with the former, assuming that I will organically (inevitably) be faced with the latter at some point, anyway. Perhaps my adventures in parasites/dysentery/whatever count as that? It's a stylistic difference between myself and others, I suppose. It's also the reason why I never couch surf. I'm a firm believer in Murphy's Law (except perhaps in booking a flight from Singapore to Denpasar in the first place, which is risky business nowadays. Cheap, though!)

All up on somebody else's wedding shots again. As I was telling my sister the other day, one of my favorite things about the wedding shots on this beach in particular is that people regularly drown here from the enormous, completely spontaneous waves that crash on the shore and drag innocent bystanders out to sea. A very rocky, very heavily-currented sea. There's some metaphor about marriage in there, somewhere.

I am not sure what the purpose of this statue is, or was, but I would like it in front of my home. I did not go to any zoos in Indonesia because I hear that animal treatment there is seriously problematic--which is a shame, because I love nature reserves that provide much-needed refuge for animals (and often animals that are endangered or have been rescued from trafficking or inappropriate captivity situations.) Belize is an excellent example of a country that Does That Well. Someday, when I am my own country, I would like to do that well. If you would like a creature named after you, that can be arranged.

Bali: A Place You Should Visit. Excellent Adventures Abound.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

On Bali (Part one of... several?)

In writing this blog post, I realize that I never wrote about Belize in December! Whoops! Or Portland (versus Seattle, which I did indeed write about)--which is tragic--because I liked Portland far more than Seattle. Big surprise there, if you've ever watched Portlandia. But here we are: in May, and here I am, with a fantastically under-updated travel blog. Good thing I'm on night shift this week and anticipate having a lot of blogging time during the day.

Bali is in Indonesia. It is an island. The capital of Bali is Denpasar. The capital of Indonesia is Jakarta. I didn't love Jakarta, and so I'm not going to really talk about it (to be fair, I barely saw Jakarta.) I did, however, adore Bali and as such will talk about it extensively. I also saw a whole lot of it, because I scheduled all of these tours that involved Eva, sometimes Daniel, and I being driven around much of the island. A 10-hour tour in Bali is around 35 dollars total--no, not per person, and not with any hidden fees--and so there's really not any incentive to not do tours. Trying to drive yourself around Bali is a bad idea, anyway. It reminded me of China at times, in that driving without understanding A) the language (although I do know several compelling phrases) or B) the traffic laws or C) that unfathomable aspect of human nature that compels people in large cities to drive like total maniacs is probably... an atrocious idea.

So yes. Bali is basically one of my favorite places ever. It has nowhere near the same number of mosquitoes as Central America, and yet everywhere I made it a point to go was jungly, inexpensive, and down to earth. My entire trip, including my lodging and airfare and food, was less than $1500 for the 17ish days I was gone. A substantive percentage of that was probably spent on sushi at the Tokyo airport, for obvious reasons. I mention my budget because for the cost-weary traveler, this really is a solid location to consider going to that feels wholly and totally different. If you need an escape from the status quo, this is a wonderful option, assuming that you don't stay in a fancy spa or something (that being said, all of my massages were less than eight dollars.) Of course, the downside is that it takes around 30 hours to get to Bali. But hey, airplane food! Who doesn't love that?

Answer: Eva and I don't love that, because we got our first cases of food poisoning from one of our flights to Bali, likely Jakarta to Denpasar. My second case of--well, my doctor was undecided between dysentery and parasites, but why choose?--was probably from one of about fifty things I shouldn't have eaten for sanitary reasons... but people kept trying to bless me with stuff! I can use all of the blessings I can get. Really. Religious inclinations inside, I am open to all prayers, offerings, and devotionals. Raw rice? Holy water? I do not discriminate, and this is why I have strange gastrointestinal animals, probably forever.

I mostly chose Bali for yoga reasons. I love doing yoga on trips, and it's about 50% the yoga and 50% the people who do the yoga. The latter 50% tend to know the interesting places to go, where the best vegetarian food is, and enjoy community activities. The former 50% is advantageous because I stay active while traveling, get time to meditate on the many new things I am seeing, and have an excuse to bring a very limited wardrobe (and usually smell. But strangers anticipate that hippies will smell, and so no one is unpleasantly surprised.)

That being said, I also love temples, mythology, tofu, and beaches... and boy, does Bali have all of those things. In droves! I saw many of the major temples during my trip, a lot of which have to do with water. I also hiked a pretty sweet volcano with some pretty hilarious monkeys in tow, one of whom completely unapologetically threw Eva's water bottle down a cliff. This would have been a lot less funny if we were going up at that point, instead of down. Anyway, every other restaurant was a vegetarian restaurant, which was probably due to a combination of the preferences of some Balinese Hindus and the swarms of hungry ethnically-diverse yogis. Eva and I did yoga at Radiantly Alive and Yoga Barn in Ubud, and at Serenity Eco Guesthouse in Canggu. My favorite teacher of the trip was at the latter location, because he reminded me of a surly Anthony Bourdain (but is there any other kind, really?) and had studied with some of my previous Yoga to the People teachers from the East Village. The world is very small.

And on that note, more soon.

Friday, September 12, 2014

On Seattle

Seattle is a very peculiar place because it has the ethereal airiness of somewhere close to the sea that I love, in tandem with this... underbelly of sordid weightiness that I love *less* but find to be a  necessary quality in almost all fascinating places.

It would be an epic city to see in dystopian ruins hundreds of years from now because of how aggressive the nature surrounding it appears to be. It would just be... completely consumed! When I buy a house, this is the aesthetic I want to attempt: post-human Seattle. Seattle ruled by small furry mammals. Hedgehogs can be an exclusion to the 'furry' guideline, as long as they are friendly. I recently invested in a necklace that is a little bottle full of porcupine spines. Is this vegetarian? I have no idea. Don't tell them.

It's amazing how reinvigorating it can be to go somewhere new. Especially somewhere as magical-feeling as the giant forests in the Pacific Northwest... I wish I had been able to spend more time camping/canoeing/hiking/in the wilderness than I did this time around. Someday. It is so beautiful and honest to feel so small and yet so brimming with possibility.

[Also, the coffee was stellar.]

I love having time for art! I miss normal academic classes, but that's why I'm getting certified as an emergency responder through Arlington's CERT program, which is funded by FEMA. Work as Officer Christina and learnings and art. I'll go back to language study in the later winter and early spring. Now is writing and reading and cooking weird vegetables like avocado squash. And exploring America! In October I am going to Amelia Island in Florida, and later that month I want to find somewhere neat to celebrate Dia de los Muertos. In December I plan on making it to South America... where precisely, I am not entirely certain? 

Nature is strange and hilarious. It is my favorite thing, and place, and person, and time.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Summer 2014: UPDATE

Usually, this is the time of year in which I am finalizing my summertime-epic-adventure-plan. Reading sordid tales of debauchery on Hostelworld... regarding my places of residence for the next several months. Repairing my backpack. Preordering the necessary flag patches. Booby-trapping my many travel wallets. Relating on more than a vague nostalgic level to the writings of Paul Theroux.

Not this year! For the first time in almost a decade, I will be spending a summer predominately in sunny Washington, DC. Sweating. With the politicians. And my cat.

I keep on getting the usual question:

"Where are you going this summer?"

And my answer:

"McLean (work.) Clarendon (home, many activities.) Rinse and repeat."

Sometimes Georgetown (campus,) sometimes Vienna (other activities.) I feel fantastically weird about it, of course. But May was a wildly transient life period in terms of finishing my masters, beginning the shift to a different position at the office, searching for meaning in non-academia-centric existence, and a number of other Big Things--and so it just didn't seem like the right time to up and voyage to South America/Southeast Asia/etc. for three months... like it usually does. For my personal life, or my continuity of paycheck. (Let's be real, mostly the second one.)

And thus, here I am. Tentative long weekend trips to Nashville, Seattle, Portland, and Disneyworld--essentially another country, arguably all countries--on the docket. Getting to know good old America.  Celebrating the 4th of July here... I don't even remember how people do that anymore. Something about fire. Very strange. I do intend on doing a trip abroad later this year; I've applied to multi-week photography workshops/residencies in Cambodia and Bangladesh, and I'll probably throw another few applications in for good measure. But right now, there is very little travel to recount. This will force me to take better pictures of America. To find stories in America.

If this sassy broad I captured in Southern Virginia some years ago (more from this series here) is any indication of the opportunities that await me here, in the United States...  well, I am ready. I was born ready. 

(And in the United States. Convenient!)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Costa Rica is pretty

I find meditation to be almost impossible. I suppose I get a certain version of it through yoga, but when I try to do non-moving meditation... I'm in a hundred places at once in seconds. This makes the "Mind Fitness" course I am doing through my program at Georgetown surprisingly difficult. The next time I am in a yoga retreat style environment, like I was in Costa Rica, I really look forward to being able to fully immerse myself... both because of my wrist surgery, and presumably because I will have achieved a new level of zen.

My cat has mellowed out considerably. This blurb-y section is not about my trip. I suppose I could try. I am glad that she has mellowed out considerably because this means that I can... smuggle her onto flights... and through customs? Because she can come to the beach with me on a leash? Because she can catch us food on the rough streets of Hanoi? No, none of that seems quite right.

I don't know why I like traveling so much. It's expensive, and often lonely, and I usually under-pack so by Day 5 it's game over on any plausible chance of my smelling like a clean and presentable human.

Maybe I'm searching for answers where there are no answers.  e.e. cummings said:

'always the beautiful answer that asks a more beautiful question.'

e.e. cummings is always right, too. I know this because of how large the spaces between meanings are in his writing. You can fit two worlds in there! One for your language, and another for the amorphous and incomprehensible mutterings of everyone else.

[I assume that is where the wisdom is. That is why I am learning all of the languages.]

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Last full day in Costa Rica

This is the view from our cabin. The spiral is for meditation (and sungazing... but I'm not really sold on that practice just yet.) The other day we hiked way down into the valley--far past the last tin roof that is visible in the image. It was to a place called 'Big Rock'... as photos after I get home on Monday night will display, the rock is seriously big. But with fantastically tiny frogs surrounding it! The mind boggles.

It is overcast in Costa Rica for the first time in almost ten days. Tomorrow morning, Julian and I begin the arduous trek back to San Jose from the mountains near the Pacific Coast--a formidable drive of 4-5 hours (but the taxi driver will be doing most of the work.) It is odd to think of leaving here after having adapted so much to a different lifestyle: yoga every morning from 7-9 (with a number of bizarre alterations to the Ashtanga primary series thanks to my similarly weird wrist injury), only raw food, hiking every day, water everywhere, enormous spiders, bed at eight. But... so it goes! Back to 'civilization' tomorrow, and the office on Tuesday morning.

I'm hoping to carry some things back with me. More raw fruits and vegetables in my life (perhaps investing in a Vitamix?), yoga in the morning (though I get my surgery next week, so that might be a bit short-lived in terms of developing a habit right now), and the importance of having puppies wandering around always. Also getting outside more often. Graduating in May might help with that--right now, classes and work get a bit in the way. Practicing speaking Spanish more... I really enjoy Spanish. What beautiful sounds. But finding a balance between activities and places and passions can be a real challenge.

Dominical Beach and the surrounding town were full of air and light and little kids running around. We got the most amazing banana mango smoothies I have ever had. The secret ingredient to everything appears to be A) Cinnamon or B) Garlic (but rarely combined.) (In this case, it was the first one.) (Thank god.) The coast line looks like something out of Jurassic Park... probably because *I think* that it was filmed here. If only DC had a solid beach. Just one!

The people here have such interesting stories... I could talk to them all day (and often do.) I need to do a better job of seeking out people with narratives this diverse at home. Maybe I'll post my new year's resolutions here. Maybe I should be better about having daily resolutions.

Frogs and birds and kittens and wind and toucans. Arlington is going to feel so quiet.