Tag Archives: traveling solo

What I miss….

7 Jun

I have been back in the states for a little over a month now.  In some ways, my life has slowed down a lot.  I go to the same place for work every day, I see my old friends.  I just got my car back.  I do ‘normal’ life things — like get my car inspected.  But at the same time, I am still in flux.  Still very much in transition – sleeping on an air mattress with my sleeping bag as a blanket.  Still unsure of where I will go beyond July 27th.  Still unsure of what I want.

But one thing is clear to me…  I know what I miss.  So, I thought I would put together a little list of what I miss….

sunset in southern india

I miss:

  • the taxis everywhere honking at me (except when i need them) – all I can think is – don’t you think that I would wave you down if I needed you?
  • freshly squeezed juice
  • buses with someone yelling out of them telling you where they are going
  • busy markets
  • street food – pork, tucanos and salteñas with hot sauce, empanadas

street food!

  • the ability to buy any movie on the street
  • markets that you can buy just about anything at (fresh veggies, fresh fruit, meat)
  • strangers wishing me ‘provecho‘ in restaurants
  • south american couples – young and old – holding hands, kissing in plazas
  • meeting strangers and within hours or days, feeling that they were old friends
  • being called mamie or mamacita in the markets where i bought my daily avocados and mangos
  • women walking down the street breastfeeding (ok, that was just SA)
  • the vivid colors of saris

girls on a field trip in southern india

  • everyone around me having dark hair and dark eyes
  • staying out until 4 in the morning, dancing at a club
  • meeting strangers
  • the mix of spices unfolding in my mouth
  • the smell of India
  • riding the trains, buses, rickshaws, motos
  • being on a train and hearing ‘chai, chai, chai’
  • mountains, sunsets, beaches, high altitude landscapes
  • the constant awareness of history and religion and spirituality

the eyes of buddha

  • fresh air and being outside every day
  • hearing a foreign language and trying to guess at context
  • learning to speak another language and get my needs met
  • walking everywhere
  • trekking
  • the Andes, Patagonia, Himalayas

mountains near Huaraz

and then there is the other stuff..   the stuff that is harder to find, harder to name.

I miss writing and reading every day.  I miss having the time to think and reflect and write.  I miss having the freedom to come and go as it suits me.  I miss people watching.  I miss what it feels like to wake up and think… huh, I wonder what I will do today? I miss not having a schedule.  I miss adventure.  I miss being by myself – but the prospect of not being by myself every day.  I miss the possibilities of saying ‘yes’.  I miss trusting that everything will work  out.  I miss freedom.  And choice.  And travel.

I miss feeling like I am exactly where I am suppose to be.

8 months in review….

13 May

8 months in review…..

Best Meal:

This is such a hard one…. I have had so much amazing food….  but here are a few of my favorites:

  1. grilled chicken from a street vendor in peru – plate with beet salad, maize and amazing chicken – though this was quickly overtaking by the roasted pig fresh out of the huge oven bought on the street a few days later.  Oh man, I could have had 3 plates worth!
  2. masala dosas in Southern Indian, eaten with my hands
  3. vietnamese soup from a street stall
  4. fresh fruit from the street vendors in bangkok
  5. not quite a meal but…. chai on the trains in india first thing in the morning

drying fish

Strangest food:

Oh man, SE Asia is the place for … different… food.  I wasn’t always terribly explorative but….

There is this sandwich that is really common in Vietnam.  It is combination of the French influence (a baguette) but truly Vietnamese – on one side is a pate-like substance, on the other there is butter.  Then you can choose between pork or a fried egg (or both). Then the condiments and extras include cucumber, tomato, chilies, fish sauce and other unknown stuff.  It is actually quite good – as long as you don’t think about the ‘pate’.

I had some meals in Thailand from the street carts that I have no idea what they were.  Some were strange, for sure.

And if I HAD tried it, baby bird still in the shell would make the top of the list!

Best Book

I have probably read close to 40 books this year.  I am a bit of a voracious reader, which was great because I read a lot, but not good because it meant that I finished books super fast.  So – I cannot remember them all – but one of my favorites was White Tiger by an Indian author.  It is super funny and reflective of life and people in India – I read it while there and I could not stop laughing.

things lost

2 pairs of underwear (but one was not my fault – the laundry service lost them!)

1 pair of socks (damn laundry service)

umbrella  – uh, no idea where I left that…..

my SA cell phone – also no clue….

Best Guesthouse

I have stayed in many many crappy places.  But I have also stayed in some really nice places – whether it was a guesthouse in Vietnam that over looked the beach, or a simple room in a family’s home in Nepal, or a clean room with my own bathroom in Huaraz – the  things that started to matter to me was quietness, cleanliness and bathrooms.  Funny how your needs start to get boiled down to simplicity….

sunrise on the ganges

Coolest Wildlife Sighting

Seeing mama and ‘baby’ rhino from the back of an elephant!  I mean, it was a rhino!  And they look just like the pictures….  (which I know sounds ridiculous but that was totally my reaction….)

going for an elephant ride (not comfortable!)

Most beautiful scenery

How could I possibly pick just one?  I have spent time in some of the most beautiful mountain ranges of the world – Himalayas, Andes, Patagonia.  I have visited Machu Picchu and temples of Bangkok.  I cannot possibly pick one place that was more beautiful than another. But the diversity of Bolivia, the mountains of Huaraz, the raw beauty of Patagonia and the grandeur of the Himalayas definitely stole my heart.

crossing the glacier

Toughest moment

There were definitely times in the fall when I had a crisis of faith what am I doing here?  What am I doing with my life?!  I remember one day in particular.  It was a rainy day in India, I was in Kochi, a city in Southern India.  At that point, I had been traveling for close to 3 weeks or so in India, by myself.  I was enjoying India, at times.  But was also finding it difficult – the constant staring, the constant feeling of being a spectacle, of being uncomfortable.  I was at a coffee shop and just spent the afternoon staring out in space, trying to figure out my purpose….  it was a rough period.

Biggest scam

When I arrived in Mumbai, I had to take a taxi from one train station to another.  It was quite early in the morning, still dark, and I wasn’t sure exactly what I needed to do.  Taxis are always tough because they are really metered, you don’t know how much they should be charging you and how much you should bargain.  I found a driver and thought we had a deal.  When we got there, I paid him with a large bill (I can’t remember what it was, but I was almost positive it was enough to cover the fare).  For the sake of the story, let’s say it was a 100.  But, he told me, no, that is 20.  You need to give me more.  Confused, I handed over another 100.  Again, he told me that it was a 20.

Now, you have to remember that it was still dark out.  There is a chance that he was telling the truth.

But, I am pretty sure that I handed over a whole lot more than I should have.  My theory is that he dropped the money on the front seat and had a 20 there to show me.  Or, maybe I really was just overtired…..  Want to give him the benefit of the doubt but….. I think that I lost out on at least a few 100 rupees that day!

demon

meeting the locals….

I found the people in India to be incredibly funny and want to talk to me.  Of course, at first they stared, but if I smiled at them, chances were they would smile back.  I remember being in the train station in Varanasi and I had accidentally arrived early.  So, I joined everyone else in sitting on the floor.  There was a large group of women who were staring intensely at me.  I tried to smile, but it was hard to crack their stares.  Eventually, I got one of the little girls to smile at me – which in turn got the whole family to smile and giggle at me.  They waved me over and we spent 30 minutes of them staring at me, holding my hand, speaking to me in Hindu and me just smiling.  As they left, they all wanted to shake my hand.

Getting sick

I am not sure how I pulled this off, but I had it 8 months without getting sick – except for a few times that were pretty minor.  My body had a day or two adjustment from being a vegetarian for 4 months to jumping back on the meat-train (with no easing in).  Then in Bolivia, I got sick a few times, but mostly just for 24 hours or so. And one cold in Peru that lasted 48 hours or so.  Moral of the story? Traveling is really healthy for me.  Oh – and I lost my hand sani early on and never replaced it……  🙂

Craziest public transportation

This one is tough, as I took a lot of sketchy transportation this year.  I have been on auto-rickshaws and bike-rickshaws, motorcycles, buses, trans, cars, elephants.  And, as my brother can attest, I can be a nervous passenger.  But, for some reason, the sketchiness never really bothered me this year.  Maybe it is because people do not drive super fast, maybe it is because the lack of rules in so many places means that everyone understands that and works within those parameters (a lack of rules almost means that you are always expecting the unexpected).  And then there is the simple consolation for myself – well, I am sure the driver doesn’t want to die, so…. he’ll be careful., right?

But the craziest?  It was probably a rickety bus that had to be push started and had 4 out of 5 gears working and I could see the ground through the gear shaft.  And I was on it for 13 hours.  And the driver had to avoid dogs and monkeys and people and motorcycles.

worst food

This is hands down Argentina.  I mean, could the food get any more bland?  Yes, yes, I know – this is the land of steaks and good wine.  And I bet that if you have a lot of money to spend, you can have a really good steak. But, I never had a lot of money to blow.  So, I had some good steaks. And I had some good wine.  But on a whole, the food there is boring and bland.

worst guesthouse moment

This one is easy….  I was in Potosi, Bolivia and had gone to bed early, as I am prone to doing.  The other people in my room got back late – around 2 in the morning.  I was already annoyed with them, as it was a group of 3 and the couple of the group was staying in one bed above me (get your own room, please).  In any case, they were clearly a bit drunk, stumbling around, knocking things over. Eventually, they got into bed, when I heard the guy say to the girl above me ‘uh-oh, I think I am going to puke”.  And though I heard him clearly, his girlfriend seemed confused by what he was saying. In my head, I am screaming at her – get him out of the f’ing bed. But she is slow to respond.  Too slow, in fact.  And he pukes down the wall.  You know, down the hall onto the bed I am in.

Yeah, definitely a low point….

friendliest stranger encounter

There have been so many positive and helpful. Encounters with strangers – people have been kind of helpful to me all along the way.  But one memory, in particular was when I was in India trying to figure out how to get to this festival and I had to take a bus.  I could not find the street that I needed to take the bus on, so I got directions there.  When I approached the street, I saw that there were many buses to choose from – all written in a different language.  How would I ever know?  I asked a woman who was walking towards me – and she brought me over to the street, helped me find the bus and told the driver where I was headed.  When I thanked her, she said, “no problem.  You would do the same for me if I needed help in your country”.  Good reminder of what goes around, comes around….

3-faced buddha

Number of high passes (over 4500m) crossed (by foot)

  • 3 in Nepal (2 in the Everest region, 1 in the Annapurna region)
  • 3 in Argentina (2 in Patagonia, 1 on Aconcagua)
  • 4 in Peru (3 on the Ausungate circuit, 1 on the Lares trek)
  • and of course, 1 high summit in Bolivia!

how much rice eaten

let’s see….  I have been traveling for about 240 days.  Most of the countries I was in eat rice with their meals.  Let’s low-ball that I had about a ½ cup of rice with each meal.  And then let’s low-ball that 175 dinners were rice dishes, which means that I had approximately 87.5 cups of rice this year.  Which I would say is definitely a low-ball estimate…. which means that is a lot of rice.

Best luck (and worst luck)

I combined these too – because it was really hard to think of a time when I had bad luck.  Because even when things did not work out the way I had planned them, something always good happened to me. There was the time I had a day layover in Bengalore, but I ended up getting to sit poolside drinking gin and tonics.  And then there was that other time that I was delayed in getting to Huaraz, but my timing meant that I met my mountain guide.

poolside! always good to say yes!

how many miles/km walked

Ha.  Try and figure that one out – not only did I trek in Nepal, Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru.  But I also walked pretty much everywhere.  Like the day in Bolivia where I tried to walk to a school in La Paz – and it ended up taking me 3 hours.  Or all the times I was a cheap-ass and refused to take the bus or the taxi.  I mean, it has got to be 1000s and 1000s of kms….

biggest fear

Rickety buses?  no.

Muggings?  Nope.

Being abducted by a rogue taxi driver?  Hardly.

But being attached by animals?  Yep!  Top of the list.  And not just dogs (though they are definitely scary in South America), but my biggest fears are being attacked – no, that is not the right word – being charged by farm animals – you know, the cows, horses and yaks that are frequently in the areas where I trek.  I know that a cow is not likely to charge me, but surely it has happened before, no?  And the yaks are so damn big.  And donkeys are total spazzes, hard to predict what they will do!

And, just for the record, I was trekking through a meadow last week and a horse did try to charge me (swear to god!) and the dogs that were following me (I might have fed them…) charged the horse and barked at it and scared it off.

So, I think that my fear is justified.  Ok?!

fishing on the China Sea

Best ‘just say yes’ moment….

there have been a few….

  1. Getting invited to a fancy hotel and getting treated to lunch, G&Ts and dinner while sitting poolside in Bangalore
  2. Getting to visit a Peruvian school with a local teacher and meet and talk with her students
  3. Going to review maps with a mountain guide and then spending the next two weeks together!

rule of life — just say yes!

  1. Getting to try delicious food from all over the world when I let the ‘salesperson’ talk me into it!

No…. I don’t wanna leave….

18 Apr

Quick update on my plans in my remaining 12 days…..  (EEK!  how did this happen?  why did this happen?!  no……)

I am in Huaraz, the climbing and trekking capital of Peru (think Touching the Void mountains…..).  I spent the day yesterday getting organized for a trek.  Opted tonot do the Huayhuash circuit (mountains of Touching the Void) because it would be a little rushed and expensive and long to do solo – and the season is not right (it is on the bucket list…high on the bucket list – like kind of kills me to not be doing it now… ).

I am going to do two shorter treks in the Cordillera Blana after consulting with a local guide who gave me all sorts of beta and recommendations.  I spent the day collecting food and gas, etc. for my first 4 day trek but it rained ALL day.  It was actually quite miserable.  So, I decided to spend another day in Huaraz before trekking — let the snow up on the high pass settle.  Of course I woke this morning to amazing blue skies….  but he guide promised to show me some great stuff close to town.

So, hoping tomorrow is good weather when I leave for another solo trek (go me!).

Solo trip

14 Apr

Though I have been traveling solo all year, I have never done a solo trip.  And by that I mean, a solo backpacking trip.  I have done lots of day hikes by myself and I have thought about doing some solo overnights, but I never got up the courage to actual go do it.

a few of the high alpine lakes near the pass in the Lares Valley

[Full disclosure — i did a one night overnight in Oregon a number of years ago with my dog — so kind of solo, but i wussed out on the trail I was going to do and headed back to the car early the next day]

When I was in Nepal, I thought about doing another trek (because if you remember, I was there when it was the rainy season).  But, I wussed out, not wanting to go by myself.  unsure of how it would be, unsure of the world around me.

So, here I was in Peru, wanting to get out of Cusco before my trip to Machu Picchu, wanting to trek more in the beautiful andes, but not having anyone to go with.  Do I wuss out and just do day trips?  Or do I put on my big girl pants and head out for my first solo trip?

sunrise on the mountains over Cancha Cancha – a traditional village close to 4000m up above the Sacred Valley

yep.  I put on the big girl pants.

I headed out for the Lares Valley, which leads up from the Sacred Valley.  I would do two days with the 3rd being a transport day to get to Aguas Caliente for my visit to Machu Picchu (but more on that in a different post).

looking back down into the Sacred Valley

I got my tent, my food, my map and headed out – taking buses to the trail head, asking locals for directions.  Feeling a little nervous, but ready to be out there.

So, what made this time different?

self-portrait (as usual)

I remember the first time I really, truly fell in love.  People all around me were telling me that I looked different.  That I looked good, that I was glowing and radiant and looking so happy (maybe looking a little bit better than that picture above…..).  I remember thinking, at first, well, that is strange — I don’t feel different.  I am not doing anything different.  Why would they be telling me that?

And then I realized what it was — I was happy.  I was content, in love with my man and in love with the world.  Life was …good.  And it showed in me — as I smiled and radiated my way through the world.  And though that feeling (and that relationship) ended, I remembered that time and that feeling well.

Which, is really similar to now.

Life is good.  There is no place that I would rather be, then right here, right now.

And that, in turn, gives me the courage to try the things I have not yet done – like trek solo.  Like talk to locals in my sometimes butchered spanish.  To smile and laugh with strangers.

And so I went and trekked solo.  And it was good.

Traveling solo

31 Mar

I knew something was wrong when walking up 10 stairs winded me and left me sweating and needing a break.  The  young Peruvian woman carrying a a full load of goods to sell up high, who passed me, asked if I was ok, assuming it was the altitude.  No, no, I responded.  Only a week or two ago, I was at 6,000m.  She looked at me dubiously, but passed on.

ruins in pisac

I pushed thoughts of sickness out of my head – not now, please not now.  I am visiting the sacred valley for just two days and then a trek, I thought to myself.  I racked my brain for what I could have eaten in the past few days that would make me sick.  I tried to think of others around me who were sick. Nothing came to my, no reason why I should be feeling this way.  I hadn’t even been eating street food (well, not that much!).

As I reached the top of the hill, I collapsed onto a rock (yeah, it was probably sacred, but I really needed a place to sit at that moment), coated in sweat  and shaking slightly.  What was wrong?  What was wrong?!   not now, please….

more pisac ruins

After taking a few pictures (to remind myself I had been there), I made my way down and caught a bus to Ollanta, the town where I planned to spend the night.

the ruins at pisac

After two bus rides and a conversation with a man on the bus (who told me that my spanish was good — whoa, he must not be used to gringas speaking spanish!) — I clumsily made my way to a hostal.  At that point, I was ready to collapse….

Fortunately, the first hostal had  a room at a good price (though I might have paid anything!).  Shivering, I crawled into bed with all my clothes on and prayed for sleep.  It was 3:30 in the afternoon.

17 hours later, following shivers, sick dreams and worries that I was really sick, I decided I had to get out of bed — at least to make it back to Cusco.  I tried a light breakfast, I did see the ruins in Ollanta and I did make it back to Cusco (though I skipped the ruins in Chincero in favor of more rest).

impressive ruins of Ollanta

But during those 17 hours, in between worries that I had the flu or worse, giardia,  I realized that no one knew where I was at that moment.  There I was, sweating it out in Ollanta, feeling like hell, and no one who loved and cared about me knew where I was at that moment.  No one was going to come in with chicken noodle soup (which I desperately wanted).

the view down into the impressive village of Ollanta (which has not changed much in 700 years!)

I have lived on my own for a number of years.  I have traveled, I have been independent (fiercely so at times), I have taken care of myself.  But, for the most part, people have known where I am.  People can get in touch with me.  I can get in touch with people.  I might live alone, but I am not alone.

Traveling solo, I have had a few moments like this — when I am acutely aware of how alone I am.    I love traveling solo.  I love the freedom of choosing where I want to go, when I want to go, how I want to go.  Traveling solo has given me the freedom to talk to strangers, to meet people and share dinner.  And also the time to spend with myself, to get a sense of what I want and where I am going (more on that in a week or so….).

But, there have also been these other moments, when I am sick or tired or scared….  when I feel utterly and totally alone.  When I cannot (due to lack of connectivity or sickness or distance) reach out to others around me.  Those are the tough moments.  Fortunately, there have only been a few of those.  But after I recover (which I seem to have now — fever and pain free!), I am always so happy to connect with friends and family — I have new appreciation for those connections.

old rocks, new flowers

I have not always made people my thing, opting for skiing or climbing, hiking or travel — by myself if need be, in order to get out and go!  But, one of the big lessons on this journey for me, has been to start making people my thing.  To start opening my world to those around me and, maybe not less to the things I want to do, but more sharing in the things I want to do.  Being in that room, 17 hours of utterly-alone-time, I know that I do not want that. 

So, here’s to Inca ruins and traveling solo and making people my thing!

and special thanks to C.P. for reminding me of that!

Home

11 Mar

Sometimes it is hard not being ‘home’, though the longer I am away, the more I think about what makes up a home.  Like other travelers, turtles that we are, we carry everything we need on our backs – moving from place to place, able to make that our home.  Whether it is the dirty hostel or the place I have treated myself to in La Paz (clean, quiet AND friendly – whoa!), I am able to make a bed my home city after city.

But sometimes, I miss ‘home’.  And maybe it is not home, as in a place, exactly – but it is being there for the important things.  Like a friend’s pregnancy, a new baby or a death in the family.

So, today, in my new home (for a few days) of La Paz, I will raise a drink for the father of my mentor who passed away this past week.  I have been thoroughly blessed in my life to have a series of amazing, kind, thoughtful and awesome mentors who have helped shape my life – both personally and professionally.  My mentor’s father, who I met at least a half dozen times, was also kind, thoughtful, and funny.  I always enjoyed meeting up with him.

Being a turtle, carrying my life on my back, allows me to see the world, learn from its people and experience what is our there.  which, my mentor helped me be ready for.  But, being a turtle, I am far away from the people I love.

I am thinking of you all.

Vietnam

6 Jan

Two weeks is officially NOT enough time to see much of Vietnam! Even with the change in my plans, I feel like I barely know Vietnam. I got so use to really knowing a place (and it is questionable if I even did get to know much about Nepal and India) from being there a longer time, so this two week blitz was definitely different. It felt a little bit more like checking off various tourist sites than really getting to know Vietnam. I have so many questions….

After I left Chloe in Nha Trang, I headed 5 hours up the coast to Quy Nhon, a quiet little city with a beautiful coast. I hung out there for a day — walking through the city, along the beach and to a beautiful little pagoda where I spoke to a monk for awhile. The city is pretty empty of tourists, or at least compared to Nha Trang! I also found a little hotel that for 10$ a night I was on the top floor with a balcony that overlooked the ocean. And the two mornings I was there, it was clear out!

From Quy Nhon I took a 9 hour bus ride to Dalat, which is up in the mountains. It was a beautiful ride up there, past rice fields and lush mountains shrouded in clouds. The actual town is nothing all that spectacular, but made for a nice relaxing day here — lots of cafes overlooking the lake in the center of town and a fun market to walk around. This area is much cooler than anywhere else in southern Vietnam, the temperature difference was a definite welcome! That also means that lots of fruits and vegetables grow here — all the markets had strawberries for sale and there were lots of dried berries for sale too. Here, like everywhere else I have been in Veitnam, the main streets are converted in street restaurants and markets selling just about anything at night. It is amazing to see all the chairs and tables laid out and the stalls appearing out of nowhere. The street food is pretty good (and cheap) – and the pho (soup) was a nice treat on a cool evening. Though, I have tried some things that I am not totally thrilled with — for instance, last night I had a soya bean drink that was warm and sweet – kind of a shake. Not sure what I thought of that. Then today, I had something that looked like a quesadilla, but definitely was NOT one. It had a mild fish taste and was crispy… and i really can’t tell you much more than that. maybe there was some egg in it? it wasn’t all that interesting. There are still a lot of foods that i would like to try – my last day may be a feeding frenzy!

I like Vietnam, though I feel that I need to spend quite a bit more time in Southeast Asia to feel like I get it. It is pretty different here from India and Nepal (obviously) – and so I just don’t think I get it all. I kind of keep expecting people to act like they do in India and Nepal — which of course doesn’t happen. But, people are very friendly here, and I love seeing people smile at me even with their face masks on (they are real into those face masks — makes me wonder what I am breathing in!).

It is interesting being in a communist (er, rather, socialist) country — though there are not too many obvious signs of it other than flags and facebook being banned (you can get it some places, but most wifi signals do not allow you to get on). I was in one town where all the sidewalks had little communist insignias all along the sides (little stars and hammers and sickles and some other little symbols). But, there are flags everywhere! People seem very proud.

All through my journey, when I say I am American (which people almost never guess — I hear Italy, Spain and Israel mostly but rarely American), people all over respond with “obama!” which is a fun response. He is a big time celebrity in India and Nepal, at least. But here, I wondered what it would be like. I felt shy saying I was American – after all, some of the hillsides are still denuded from Agent Orange, and people are still having birth defects and health problems from it. But, it does not seem to be a problem here — people are quick to smile and are kind and helpful. Just like all the other places I have been.

(No pictures at this time…. the connection is not good — but i promise to post some good ones!)