Travel Theme: Transport

What a difficult choice! I have so many pictures of transport. Here are a few. I think my photos tell stories more than demonstrate technical skill. I like to go back through the archives and look for stories.

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Jalsamer, India. Around 2004

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Morocco, around 2006

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My hardworking rickshaw driver waiting for me in the rain. Bangladesh, 2015

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Rajasthan, 2008

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Motorbikes, Vietnam, 2004

 

Finally! Oh no! Oh, yes.

After 24 hours of travel and little sleep, I arrived in Medellin. I slid through the airport, the English speaking (almost) taxi helper got me into a cab, and we sped downhill, and then uphill, for 40 minutes. OMG (as is said), we entered the picture I’ve had for a while of Medellin. Like waking up amidst a dream, but in the dream. From the plane I saw that the highways snaked, brightly lit, like rivers through the city. As we descended in the taxi, the barrios up the steep hillsides looked like densely lit electronic panels. In the US, the hillsides of cities have a less, and more sparsely distributed, light of the wealthy landholdings, thinning out from the tightly populated lowlands. Here the lights up the steeply slanted hillsides invoke vertigo.

We arrived at the place I had selected online. The driveway seemed almost overgrown and abandoned. The owners greeted me to  a place best described as shabby-chic Colombiano. I just felt the shabby part and had first-night nerves as I stumbled through an old villa that has seen better days and headier lives. Fortunately, I was so tired I crashed before I could worry much about the place I had almost randomly chosen many thousands of miles away.

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And this is where I had my morning coffee and reconsidered last nights exhaustion induced qualms.

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The house is an old museum that once housed a rollicking bunch of artists. Their spirit occupies the place, despite the rather austere Christian descendants who now eke out a living repairing the old pianos left behind, and hosting travelers. In one of the above photos, that would be the piano-man repairing one of many in a room across from the breakfast table. One can only imagine the party scenes that reputedly took place in that room between with the white piano and wonderful fresco on the wall.

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After arepas and eggs I wandered the grounds a bit. Something I have missed since Vietnam is orchids, and bees and bugs and, well, tropical gardens. I’m told there are some endangered monkeys here, though I haven’t met them yet. Tropical colorful birds eat fruit from a branch at the second floor of the house. Hopefully I’ll get photos tomorrow.

The usual arrival in a new country; elation, fear, and a bit of joy. It’s great to be on the road again. I think I’ll be sleeping for a few days, though.

 

 

 

 

 

Love

The romance of travel can be highly over-rated. Having been traveling for years, it is not uncommon to find that you have left everyone behind, in the dust, as it were. When you visit home, you learn that the life you once knew has morphed, for you this happened seemingly overnight, for people there, over the years, into a place place unknown, and, worse, unfelt. Sure, you can find threads of yourself here and there in the warp and weave of the old streets and cafes, but your ghost has mostly been replaced by newer, more vibrant ones. For you, “there is no there there”, to quote Gertrude Stein.

I felt this when I went to Seattle this year. I knew after 20 plus years and the high tech boom that it would have changed. But I really was apprehensive about encountering my own ghostly past and getting overwhelmed and disoriented with nostalgia. I almost changed my plans to go. I have felt lonely in a lot of strange places, but I didn’t look forward to feeling loneliness and longing in this city of my past, my family life, my children and my education. It is place where I lived the longest in one house, cooking and gardening, knowing the neighbors and the easiest routes to the parks and the uni. This was intimidating, going to the farthest north reaches of Burma into contested Shan territory was not.

What I encountered was almost entirely different than what I expected. There were so few traces of my life left there that I was more likely to find “myself” in the alleys of Bangkok than in Seattle. I would have felt less of an alien in Chittagong. I had spent those 2 decades working myself into the texture of other places.

Where I found my anchor, my Southern Star, was with my closest friends there, Julie and Christine, who welcomed me as the prodigal daughter. Sure they had changed, and had built lives that were unknown to me, but they were the loving connections to my past. Julie took me shopping for new glasses, as she had done many years before, because she was the one person I trusted most at that task.  We drank wine, ate great food, and shared old love, with the dogs in our laps.

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I had made up my mind several years ago to construct my travel plans around spending times with old friends. The last two Christmases were spent with John, traveling in Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia – last year included his partner, Parvis. This year I will spend it with Martin’s family in Melbourne. I’ll hopefully be doing some traveling this year with Sergio.

This is that romantic time of the year, when certain songs bring tears and longing, and thoughts of home weigh heavy. If there is no longer a “home” to long for, a snowy Christmas special on television becomes the object of desire. Home for me now is the friends I love. Attachment to place feels like an obliterated abstraction, but in the end, the “place” in my heart is the love of friends. They are the real and the tangible, even if they are thousands of miles away.

 

 

Travel theme: Self-Reflection

Where’s my backpack? has a travel themes photo challenge this week of (nontraditional) selfies.

I have the following to to contribute:

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The front camel is carrying me across the Sahara (or a small part of the Sahara to be truthful). This was a few years ago in the south east of Morocco and could even have been about this date. We went to Oasis Merzouga, as well as a lot of little villages out towards Algeria. It was Eid al  Adha, and we witnessed the sacrifice of sheep, and sat in a tent where some Mali musicians danced and played music. A Tuareg family hosted us for a day long dinner of…sheep.

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This is on the same trip. We were terribly cold in the open Jeep as we crossed the desert. Splendid trip. My friend I traveled with had no interest in taking photos, so if I wanted to capture myself in the desert, and my Taureg head gear, it was up to me.

When you travel alone, or with people who don’t take photos (rare, really) taking selfies is a way to capture your reflection in new places. Most of my travel photos of myself I have taken myself. I know this is solipsistic, but it is what I do, and it’s my selfie.

 

Curiosity without action is a bird without wings.

The assignment for my wordpress class is to take a quote from Twitter and riff on it. The quote I chose is “Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings” (which I just found out was said by Salvador Dali). While this might be true, I have some ambivalence about what ambition means and implies. And I think that the world suffers from an overabundance of the wrong kind of ambition. Anyway, the bones of the quote are good, and I have chosen to paraphrase it to suit my blog.

One of the first sparks in our minds is curiosity. It may have killed to proverbial cat, but the cat died happy. Babies’ curiosity probably starts before ever leaving the womb. Mothers can feel their babies kick and poke, and explore before their maturity gives them entrance to the bigger world. Every lesson their learn is guided by curiosity. Unfortunately, it is the task of parents to bind that natural instinct to explore and enquire and guide it in safe directions.

So we come into out own with the competing impulses of natural curiosity and mama’s limitations. While it may be necessary to clip an infant’s wings for her own safety, too many of us go ahead and keeping getting regular trims.

My blog title “A Bird with Wings” was inspired by Birds Without Wings by Louis de BernièresBernières‘ book’s title is taken from a saying by one of the characters, Iskander the Potter, “Man is a bird without wings, and a bird is a man without sorrows.”(wikipedia)

Traveling involves both following our curiosity and escaping, as much as possible, our sorrows. In my life, a good deal of my sorrows have been caused by staying in one place longer than I ought have. Relationships, jobs, places. In the end, as they so often say, you cannot escape yourself. But traveling has allowed me to have a more informed perspective of my “self”, and also to have a better perspective of my sorrows. Maybe we can’t fly away from our sorrows, but we can rise above our self-pity.

The way we live our lives may differ, but we all have the same impulse- to alleviate pain and pursue joy. For me that has meant travel and exploration, for others (whom I often envy) it has been staying committed to persons and places. I am a bird with wings. It may not be the best way to live, but its mine.

Maps

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I learned to read maps as a young girl in the Brownie Scouts. Having moved all over, well, the world, by now, I find them indispensable. Imagine my shock to realize that not everyone even knew how to read a map!

My first experience of this was living in Korea. Before about 1986, few Koreans had traveled outside the country, or even their home town. The streets are not really numbered so much as known in relationship to certain landmarks or buildings. Where numbering exists, it is a scattershot affair, with numbers randomly placed along a street in no order whatsoever (that I could discern, anyway). I remember the first time I got lost in Daegu and pulled out a map and, myanhamnida, pointed to something on the map to a stranger. I might as well have shown them a diagram of neurons. It was simply not necessary to have maps for where you lived! How silly of me.

When the subway arrived in Daegu, there were, in fact, maps, big maps, on the wall. They were of little help to me, as north was not, well, north at the top of the map, but wherever. Not knowing the language, and not being able to reference direction, I was still at a loss.

This is really an example of ethnocentrism. Yes, Asians and Portuguese invented the instruments for navigation and map-making, but still in the world, most people live where they were born. Only about 3-4% live in a country they weren’t born in. People know their places by heart, as it were. Maps were developed by those few who ventured out, and, often, for those who would conquer and colonize those who stayed at home.

A map is a sign of being out of your territory, on other terrain than your mind can fathom. For that reason, for me, maps are essential. Map-lessness is a state of being I cannot imagine at the moment. Maybe that place is what I am looking for in my atlas?