Friday, November 27, 2009

Bangkok and Beyond

First impressions of Bangkok…the city felt incredibly different from both India and Nepal. The traffic was more under control, there was less honking, waste baskets actually existed for trash (like, if I threw something on the floor, it would make it dirty!), and I wasn’t pestered nearly as much to buy things (taxi, tuk tuk rides, hashish, food, trinkets, etc. etc.) from street vendors. The change was actually a bit of a relief, despite how much I’d enjoyed the previous two countries. At the same time, I was a bit overwhelmed by the number of backpackers in Bangkok! I’ve never seen so many in one place! They were all eating pineapple on sticks and watching afternoon movies in the common rooms of their respective hostels. Ha! So…instead of spending two nights there as planned, I simply left the day after arriving.

Since then, I’ve been heading north through Central Thailand, in search of mountains and quieter places. Along the way I spent time in the historic capitals of Ayuthaya, Sukhothai, and also a few days in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city, the “capital” of the north. In both Ayuthaya and Sukhothai I rented bicycles and honed my peddling skills on the left side of the road. It was very relaxing to spend the days on the cycle, drinking coffee, and looking at old ruins from the 13th and 14th centuries while trying to absorb Thai history. In Chiang Mai, I took a Thai cooking class, hoping to learn more wheat-free dishes. J It was fun to spend the day at an organic farm, with some other foreigners, even though that’s not my normal mode of traveling.

Speaking of traveling…I am daily asked if I’m OK traveling by myself. In actuality, I’m enjoying it a lot. Even as a solo female traveler in Thailand, I feel quite safe. Yes, precautions always should be taken, but Thailand is a very easy country to travel in as a female. There are so many other travelers, I find that I can enter into conversations and socializing as much or as little as I like. Traveling solo, I also have the luxury of stopping when I want,

and going where and when I want. While there are also many benefits of traveling with friends, and I’m excited to do that again, too, for the moment, I am quite content wandering around South East Asia by myself.

I’m currently headed north, touring the northernmost part of Thailand along the Burmese border. More on that to follow soon…

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Smiling Yaks and Praying Flags: Trekking the Annapurna Circuit

To the untrained eye ego-climbing and selfless climbing may appear identical. Both kinds of climbers place one foot in front of the other. Both breathe in and out at the same rate…But what a difference! The ego-climber is like an instrument that's out of adjustment. He puts his foot down an instant too soon or too late. He's likely to miss a beautiful passage of sunlight through the trees…He rests at odd times. He looks up the trail trying to see what's ahead even when he knows what's ahead because he just looked a second before…He's here but he's not here. He rejects the here, is unhappy with it, wants to be farther up the trail but when he gets there will be just as unhappy because then it will be "here." What he's looking for, what he wants, is all around him, but he doesn't want that because it is all around him. Every step's an effort, both physically and spiritually, because he imagines his goal to be external and distant. (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)

I love how open spaces open up the mind to reflect, to wander, to be still, or to process life. I had a lot of time for all of the above the last three week. Trail thinking. Nothing better than some physical movement to direct the movement of the mind as well. And, in all of the miles of footsteps, maybe I made some mental footsteps as well.

Hiking the Annapurna Circuit was an exercise in “presentness” – allowing each step to remind me of where I am, Nepal, and the ground I am walking over. During the trek, I read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” The metaphor of the trek as a life path, one which I walk in terms of who I am, permeated my thoughts. My friend Hana (who I was trekking with) and I had many conversations on how to walk the fine balance of expectation for future events alongside interacting with the present moment – not what has been, not what is to come, but what is now.

And the “nowness” of the trek was incredible. Nepal is a country rich in jaw-dropping scenery. Being surrounded by 24,000+ foot mountains was like walking through a land of giants. Imagine standing in the Annapurna Sanctuary at 14,000 feet, looking up, and realizing that the mountains surrounding you are still ~12,000 feet higher. Some of the “giants” we walked by included Dhaulagiri (26,795ft – 7th highest in the world), Annapurna I (26,502ft), Annapurna II (26,041ft), Himalchuli (25,801ft), to name a few.

I could explain more details of the trek itself. But I think I'll leave you simply to ponder the present-ness of life right now, in this moment, instead of filling it with noise. However, here are a few story-starters...when we meet again, ask me about:

1) Nepali-boy
2) The dog on the roof
3) Figurative leeches
4) The Karma Cleansing Clinic
5) Television noise
6) #1 Halloween in Nepal