Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Pale Blue Dot

While Americans fight over the State of the Union and Tea Parties and the "Jersey Shore" cast heads to Italy, please remember this:

earth from 3.7 billion miles away (pale blue dot halfway down the brown band)
"Look again at that dot [the small speck halfway down the brown band].  That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

"The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

"Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

"The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

"It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."

Sagan, Carl (1994). Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1st edition ed.). New York: Random House.
Copyright © The Estate of Carl Sagan

Friday, January 21, 2011

Revenio Melancholy

There's post-partum depression (baby blues), there's seasonal affective disorder (winter blues).  There's even endogenous depression (the no-good-reason blues).

I'd like to coin my own term.  Revenio Melancholy:  homecomer's blues.  Revenio means "return" in Latin, and melancholy...  well, you get it.

Today marks the end of the third week I've been back in the United States.  Unsurprisingly, I've had a rough adjustment to over-sized cars, well-maintained roads, and no health insurance.  But it's more than the superficial differences that have been driving me crazy.

First:  I am totally overwhelmed by STUFF.  I've always been a little squeamish about clutter; I probably had the neatest, most organized room of any kid in Eisenhower Middle School.  (An aside: I just looked up the name of my middle school, because I did not remember it.  Yikes.)  I picked up my clothing and outdoor equipment from storage in Ithaca and brought it to Dave's mother's house.  Six milk-crates, three boxes, one suitcase.  The pile of milk-crates and boxes that fit so neatly into the back of a Toyota Matrix was overwhelming; my little backpack, my turtle shell, held everything I needed for 10.5 months.

Have I mentioned that a Toyota Matrix, a "small car" in the U.S, is actually HUGE?  How can everyone agree that the Matrix is a small car?  Is this what insanity feels like, knowing that you see the truth while others conspire against your viewpoint?

And it's not just my stuff.  This country is just so full of STUFF that it blows my mind.  When I visited Ithaca, I made a pilgrimage to Wegman's, the best grocery store in the Northeast, and I felt my eyes turn into wobbly hypnotized spirals as I stared at rows upon aisles of cans, jars, and boxes.  I can't look at sales circulars without feeling lightheaded.  The only place I've ever gotten the feeling that "shopping" counts as a recreational activity--nay, a national pasttime--is here.

Second:  I miss movement.  Going places.  Or going nowhere, but having the freedom to go wherever I want.  I miss being able to say, "Nope, this place doesn't work for me, I'm moving on."  Or, conversely, "I love this place!  Let's stay here, until we leave!"  Or simply:  "This place was fine, but now I will explore a place I've never seen before, just for the sake of going somewhere new."

I love the feeling of walking in a strange place.  That's my favorite pasttime, whether I'm wandering through a city or a forest or a village.  Just walking.  In my mind's eye, I am looking down at my worn boots, swishing under a long gray skirt.  Over a curb, into a dirt road, crossing a snowy puddle, climbing a dusty hill, tiptoeing through an alley, stomping down a trail, carrying their owner:  and thus go my boots.  Moving.  Sigh.

So.  I'm in one place, surrounded by stuff.  How does it feel?

I'm depressed.  Definitely depressed.  As depression goes, though, it's not too bad.  I feel like I have all of the physical and mental symptoms of depression, without any of the emotional symptoms.  Like I said, not too bad!  This afternoon, I took the Mayo Clinic's depression self-assessment.

The Mayo Clinic asks:
Over the last two weeks, how often have you been bothered by the following problems:
  • Little interest or pleasure in doing things:  nearly every day
  • Feeling down, depressed, or hopeless:  nearly every day [well, the first two; the second, not at all]
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep, or sleeping too much:  nearly every day
  • Feeling tired or having little energy:  nearly every day
  • Poor appetite or overeating:  nearly every day
  • Feeling bad about yourself, or that you are a failure or have let yourself or your family down:  not at all
  • Trouble concentrating on things, such as reading the newspaper or watching television:  nearly every day
  • Moving or speaking so slowly that other people could have noticed.  Or the opposite--being so fidgety or restless that you have been moving around a lot more than usual:  not at all
  • Thoughts that you would be better off dead, or of hurting yourself in some way:  not at all
To sum it up, I'm: enjoying nothing, feeling down, want to sleep all the time, always tired, eating not enough or too much, and having trouble concentrating.  But at least I don't feel hopeless, or feel badly about myself, or want to kill myself, or imitate a sloth!

Revenio Melancholy.  Homecomer's blues.  Alternate definition:  the gradual fading of uncomfortable, painful, boring, disturbing travel memories as the homecomer savors memories of the stunning, hilarious, ecstatic, and inspiring...  and longs for her boots to pound pavement once more.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Nomad's Resume

Realization:  I'm fully unemployed--completely without action-oriented verbs to go on a resume--for the first time since I was 14.  At that age, I worked at Alstede Farms in Morris County, New Jersey.  Now they're organic and run a CSA.  Funny how things come full circle, eh?

At some point, I heard that "breaks" in the resume are viewed unfavorably by employers.  But!  I would argue that travel, especially extended, non-vacation travel, is a better preparation for life and work than university.  Personally, I gained perspective and context from my travels that I could not have, indeed, did not gain at a university.  Plus, 10.5 months abroad was far less than 10% of the price of my Ivy League degree.  Which I don't plan to use any longer.  But that's another story.

To demonstrate that travelers can learn very real, very useful skills and abilities, I've prepared...

The Nomad's Resume

Passport Number:  memorized
Permanent Address:  unavailable

Employment History
  • Barber:  Styled men's and women's haircuts with only a Swiss Army knife, hot water, and bravado.
  • Language tutor:  Practiced English conversational skills with beginner through intermediate learners via impromptu interactions.  Focused on phoneme pronunciation via a self-developed lesson plan in a monastic setting.
  • Driver:  Drove on both the left and right sides of the road (not under the influence of anything).
  • Ambassador:  Represented the culture of New York and the United States to individuals who were unfamiliar with Americans who are not in movies or on television.
  • Cook:  Prepared snacks and meals with minimal supplies (a carrot, a package of instant noodles, a Swiss Army knife, and 1/2 teaspoon of imagination).
  • Accountant:  Managed trip finances and delivered an exceptional experience under budget.
  • Nurse:  Treated blisters, toenail afflictions, profuse vomiting, violent diarrhea, and so much more.  Attended Himalayan Rescue Association's altitude sickness seminars; correctly diagnosed AMS in idiot trekkers ascending too fast.
  • Guide:  Knows hiking trails from New Zealand to Malaysia to Nepal, proper method adjust a backpack, and correct trek pole technique.
Technical Skills
  • Diplomacy:  Can tactfully listen to the entire world complain about Dubya and praise Obama without becoming involved in political discussions.
  • Foreign languages:  Familiar with Indonesian, Malaysian, Thai, Cambodian, Nepali, Turkish, and Hebrew.  Speaks Spanish well enough and English fluently.  Proficient in Globeish (simplified international English) and, when all else fails, pantomime.
  • Negotiation and bargaining:  Adept at getting as close to the "locals' price" as humanly possible without facial plastic surgery, CIA-operative training, or conversion to Islam.  Remember, if you don't want to kill each other by the end, you left money on the table.
  • Mental currency exchange:  Able to convert between multiple currencies on-the-fly while bargaining hard (see above).  
  • Kung fu trip planning:  Expedia is for amateurs.  Who else would travel on Azerbaijan Airlines?
  • Metric system:  the only non-European, non-scientist, non-graduate student person in the U.S.A. to understand that salt should be purchased in grams, while salty snacks should be purchased in kilos.
  • Can sleep anywhere:  I'm sure this is relevant somehow.
Character Skills
  • Active listener:  believes that everyone has a story; even if you don't understand their language, you can still drink tea together.
  • Immune to culture shocktraditional squat toilets, water buffalo milk, riding on the roof of a bus?  Ok! 
  • Master of open-mindedness:  knows the difference between hijab, chador, and burqa, and no longer notices when a woman is wearing one.
  • Practices self-restraint:  spent 313 days within 10 meters (see "Metric system" above) of one person and did not murder him in his sleep.
  • From planner to do-er:  how many people talk about wanting to "travel more" and to "see the world," and how many actually do it?
Rheden in South Jakarta, Indonesia
Ng at Five Brothers Restaurant, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Uğur in Diyarbakir, Turkey

So, uh, anyone wanna give me a job?  (Just kidding!)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

2010 in Music

Per tradition, I've put together my 2010 playlist.

It was harder than I expected, because I listened to less music than usual this year.  No cooking in a kitchen, no hanging out with friends, none of the typical activities that call for music.  On long bus rides, I listened to podcasted radio shows from NPR.  It made me feel like I was connected to the United States somehow.

I'm not thrilled with the result, but overall, this is what 2010 sounded like.

January:  Bad Romance - Lady Gaga*
February:  Home - Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
March:  Windy City Nights - The Winter Sounds
April:  Blessed - Brett Dennen
May:  Ragged Wood - Fleet Foxes
June:  Say Hey (I Love You) - Michael Franti and Spearhead
July:  Go Do - Jónsi
August:  To the Ghosts Who Write History Books - The Low Anthem
September:  Present/Infant - Ani DiFranco
October:  Waiting - The Cat Empire
November:  Rengarenk - Sertab Erener
December:  The Sea Is a Good Place To Think of the Future - Los Campesinos!
*Oh yes I did, and oh no I'm not ashamed!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Ithaca Has Given Me the Beautiful Voyage

I met a Columbian in Cambodia.

A jovial man, the type of man who ends up in the middle of everything, he was convincing people on the street to eat at the restaurant where he sat.  Why?  Why not.  There was free popcorn, and this was amusing.

He found out that I was from Ithaca, not the Greek Ithaca.  He asked if I knew the famous poem about the place--the Greek Ithaca, that is.  I did not.

He sent it to me later that week.  Now I carry a copy with me always, in my mind.

I'm going back to Ithaca, my adopted hometown, though just for a visit.  I loved Ithaca--still do--but this isn't the time to drop my anchor in her port for very long.  I wonder what has changed since I left.  I know I have.  I'll go back someday, but that's not the point:  by the time I finally settle down, I don't think where I settle down will matter much.

Read this poem.  Read it slowly.  Enjoy it.  Remember it.  May your journey, not your destination, provide your riches.

Constantine P. Cavafy (1911)

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon -- do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not already carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.

Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise, mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds, as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithaca means.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

2010 By the Numbers

Once a geek, always a geek.  I might be smooth with my public words, but not in matters of the heart.

The year 2010 was all about heart, and I'm having a hard time answering the question, "Sooo, how was your trip."  I don't know.  Extraordinary?  What the hell does that mean?

No, it's better to take the objective approach.  I'll communicate in numbers, paint the picture with data. This was the monumental 'round the world trip of 2010...  in numbers.

  • Days outside the USA:  313
  • Countries and territories: 13 (USA, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Nepal, Turkey, Israel, West Bank, Ukraine) on 3 continents (Australia, Asia, Europe)
where i've been in 2010
  • UNESCO World Heritage Sites: 13 (Tongariro National Park, Sydney Opera House, Borobudur, Angkor, Kathmandu Valley, Lumbini, Chitwan National Park, Sagarmatha National Park, Historic Areas of Istanbul, Göreme National Park, Baha'i Gardens, Masada, White City of Tel Aviv)
  • Highest elevation: 5,550 m (18,500 ft), Kala Pattar, Nepal
  • Lowest elevation: -411 m (-1,350 ft), Dead Sea, Israel 
  • Favorite country:  First place:  Turkey, because of its culture, food, natural beauty, diversity, friendliness of the people, and ease of getting off the beaten path.  Runners-up:  New Zealand, because of its natural beauty, and Thailand, because I want to explore the north of the country.

in the back of the ute
Catching ZZZ's
  • Hostels and guesthouses:  somewhere around 22, plus 28 teahouses while trekking in Nepal
  • Couchsurf hosts:  9 (every country except Singapore, Cambodia, Nepal, and Israel (see below))
  • Family and friends:  3 (all in Israel)
  • Airports:  4 (Auckland, Singapore, Istanbul, Tel Aviv)
  • Oddball places I've spent the night:  in a tent in New Zealand for several months, in a van in New Zealand for one month, under a mosquito net in the back of a Ute in Australia, on a yacht in Australia, at a monestary in Nepal, in a concrete cell in Thailand

shoot me now
  • Flights taken: 17 (many flights from one city to another had multiple segments)
  • Miles flown: 28,695 (damn)
  • Long-distance bus rides: 17 (Yogya to Bromo, Bromo to Denpasar, KL to Cameron Highlands, Cameron Highlands to Taman Negara, Taman Negara to KL, Butterworth to Hat Yai, Siem Reap to Bangkok, KTM to Jiri, KTM to Besisahar, Pokhara to KTM, KTM to Chitwan, Chitwan to Lumbini, Lumbini to Pokhara, Pokhara to KTM, Diyarbakir to Urfa, Urfa to Goreme, Goreme to Istanbul)
  • Long-distance train rides: 4 (Jakarta to Yogya, KL to Butterworth, Surat Thani to Bangkok, Bangkok to Aranyaprathet)
  • Ferry rides: 2 (Java to Bali, Istanbul)
  • Motor vehicle rentals: 3 (Bali, Australia, Israel)
  • Which country has the worst buses?  Nepal
itty bitty writing muse kitty

  • Languages spoken: 11 (English, Indonesian, Malaysian, Thai, Cambodian, Nepali, Turkish, Kurdish, Hebrew, Arabic, Ukrainian) 
  • Alphabets seen: 7 (Latin, Thai, Cambodian, Devanagari/Nepali, Hebrew, Arabic, Cyrillic)
  • Alphabets read: 3 (Latin, Devanagari/Nepali, Cyrillic)
  • Easiest language to learn:  Indonesian
  • Hardest language to learn:  Nepali

  • Photos on the hard drive:  10,885 (mine), 6,117 (Davo)
  • Blog posts:  126 (though some were written before departure)
  • Personal journal entries:  313 (one for every day of the trip), plus 9 special entries, in 3 volumes (2 digital, 1 hand-written)
  • Favorite memory:  too many to list!!!

sunset at angelus hut, nelson lakes, new zealand
The Great Outdoors
  • Total trail (hiking) days: 83 (New Zealand 30, Indonesia 1, Malaysia 4, Nepal 46, Turkey 2)
  • Rock climbing: twice (Wharepapa, New Zealand and Koh Tao, Thailand)
  • National Parks: 18 (Tongariro, Taranaki, Nelson Lakes, Westland, Aoraki, Mt. Aspiring, Fiordland, Litchfield, Bromo Tengger Semeru, Taman Negara, Chitwan, Langtang, Sagarmatha, Annapurna, Göreme National Park, Caesarea, Ein Gedi, Masada)
  • Most magnificent natural place:  Kala Pattar, Nepal and Nelson Lakes, New Zealand
the view from kala pattar, nepal

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Go West, and Grow Up With the Country

At 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, January 1, 2011, Aerosvit Airlines Flight 131 touched down on the JFK tarmac.  After 313 days for me, 365 days for Davo, we were back in the U.S.A.

I've been back for 36 hours.  I'm adjusting ok.  I washed my clothing in a washing machine and dried it in a dryer.  For the first time in months, my clothes felt clean, like really clean, and the colors are brighter.  If you wear the same clothes for a year, you'll know what I mean.  I've enjoyed drinking water from the tap.  I could do that in Israel, and even in Turkey, but the water tastes better here.  In fact, I'm going to get a glass of water right now.  The first time I plugged in my computer, I wondered which plug adapter I should use and decided on my universal adapter, but then I realized that I don't need a plug adapter anymore.  That was silly.

It's no secret that I didn't want to come back.  The world is big and beautiful, and I want to be a part of it, everywhere, all the time.  I've learned what types of experiences are fulfilling to me, which types of places I love, and I know how to spot the open, warm, wise faces of people who are my future friends.  If I could take off again, oh! the adventures I would have...

But here I am.  And I'm ok with that.  I've been singing a little song in my head, quietly reminding myself
"Don't give the sellers of stuff
power enough
to rob you of your grace--
Love is all over the place."

So what's next?  Where will I go, what will I do?

Well, it's become abundantly clear that Davo and I are not "desk job" people.  In retrospect, I'm surprised I survived at a desk for as long as I did, though in retrospect, I was awfully depressed at times.  Dave?  At a desk?  Wearing a collared shirt?  I'd eat a maggot before I'd believe it (apologies to people who eat maggots).

I don't remember which of us said it first, nor when it was said, but at some point our gentle jokes about "Well, we can always be farmers, har har har" stopped being facetious and started being real.  All we need, all we want, is a small piece of land where we could grow our own food, generate our own energy, find our creativity, and generally live our lives away from televisions screaming buybuybuy.  Is a homestead the idyllic dream of naive kids from the 'burbs?  Well, was an open-ended wander around the world an idyllic dream of cubical rats?  Who's afraid to live their dreams?

Changing subjects.  I met an Iranian in Nepal.  After making me eat almonds and raisins out of small burlap drawstring bags with red Arabic letters (yes, Iranians will carry almonds and raisins to 16,000 feet), after taking photographs together with his friends on multiple cameras (man, Iranians are friendly), he proceeded to give me advice on which canyons I should visit in the western United States.  Despite our governments' mutual loathing of each other, the Iranian had obtained multiple visas to my country and had seen three, four, ten times as much of it as had I.  I was slightly embarrassed.

I would have talked more with the Iranian, but Dave started vomiting blood, so we needed to excuse ourselves.  But it got me thinking--I've seen a little bit of the world, but I haven't seen much of my own country, the place that everyone and their brother loves and loves to hate.  Through and through, I'm American, a Yankee girl.  What if I explored the U.S.A?  What would I find?

And so the idea was born.  An epic road trip across North America, combining apprentice work on organic farms with hikes through the monumental National Parks system.

Davo and I have talked in circles about 2011.  Would he thru-hike the AT while I went to Argentina?  Would we both go to Mexico?  Would he stay in New York to play Ultimate while I went to British Columbia to plant trees?  Would we head west, together, again, this time on the Epic North American Road Trip of 2011?

Ok, ok, I'll get to the point.  As of 6:46 a.m. on Sunday, January 2, 2011, the probabilities of the known possibilities are as follows:
--Epic North American Road Trip of 2011:  95% and trending upward
--We both go to Latin America:  2%
--I go to Latin America, Dave thru-hikes and plays frisbee:  2%
--We "grow up" and get jobs:  0% and trending downward
*Probabilities do not sum to 100% due to rounding.  Haha.

So there it is, Mummers.  You've been asking what the hell I'm doing in 2011, and now you know.  We're packing the car with our work gloves and our hiking boots and we're heading west.

If you're reading this, and you know farmers who use organic/ permaculture/ biodynamic methods, especially in the northern States, drop me a line.
If you're reading this, and you live somewhere in North America, and you would enjoy a visit from two vagabonds, drop me a line.
If you're reading this, and you've got suggestions on which National Parks we should visit (all of them?), drop me a line.

Onward and upward!  :-)