When you let Life flow it surprises you and takes you to barely traveled roads that mysteriously fit in a perfect way with you. Getting to that flow requires previous work, mental openness and a lot of decision. Sometimes you can sense the change and sometimes, as for me, it catches you completely unprepared. It would seem that a chain of fortuitous factors inevitably take you to that point. Actually they are not fortuitous at all, they come from the unknown source that governs our lives.
The first days in Rishikesh were a hard adaptation to a heat difficult to carry during the day and impossible to sleep at night. The traffic noise on the nearby road was immense. My romantic idea of a peaceful retreat in the mountains was far from real. The vegetarian diet was what bothered me the least, the food was delicious and at no time I missed the animal protein. In addition to that my body was finally recovering after the ups and downs of the last weeks.
What marked the before and the after were the first classes of Pranayama (what in the West we call control over breathing and that actually encompasses a much more complex art). Pandeyji, the Master, told us about what well-used Pranayama means in a person’s life, techniques, uses and so on. I listened enthusiastically, just like when he told us about philosophy and ancient traditions but this was not what changed my mind. It was only when I began my first practical experiences in pranayama that I discovered a unique feeling, far beyond what any meditation has brought me. In my mind I began to consider the possibility of going deeper into that discipline, perhaps coming back later and do a longer course. Maybe next year, maybe in summer, maybe if everything goes well and I have the time … Maybe maybe maybe. You’re lying to yourself, I thought, maybe you never come back. You are here and now and you have the time, perhaps financially it is an unexpected investment in your savings. And maybe if you follow your intuition the investment is worth it. And so I decided to stay a month longer, live it fully, isolate myself and explore it. To give myself in body, mind and soul to the study of Pranayama, Meditation and Yoga in general was one of the most intense and rewarding experiences. Nine hours per day, four of them physical, have strengthened my body and expanded my soul keeping my mind under control. When I was not in class I lived with books in my hand, night and day, day and night. Several lives are necessary to understand everything that Yoga contains. In this short time I had a first vision from its original place in the Himalayas, from one of the cultures as old as the civilized world itself. My training has been a sensory experience rather than academic in the Western way, just what I needed. They say the Master appears when the student is ready, it seems that I was. I never thought of Yoga as something that identified me, although perhaps I never understood what it really was until now. I needed the effect of a trip like the one I lived to open this door.
I have a Friend with capital “F” who consciously started this path, the study of Yoga, a year ago. She understood that this was her way and gave herself completely, gave the best of herself and overcome many obstacles that have made her even bigger than she already was. Her path and my journey around the world have been parallel, one has learned from the experience of the other. She has been my first foot to understand Yoga. I loved listening to her dissertations and I felt it as a fascinating knowledge. My path instead has been unexpected and sudden. Both are two branches that flow differently into the same river, one long and serpentine and the other short and of quick current. Both go into the mother river, enormous and immeasurable and both support each other to keep going.
Here I am on my last day in this chaotic place where I found something so precious. I think of the many secrets that this country hides. Thirteen years coming here in businesswoman mode did not give me the opportunity to know its essence. Now I have discovered it and I have understood its charm. The reason why so many people come here and find parts of themselves that are unknown until now. Nobody prepares you for the parts of yourself that you find on the road. You think you know yourself when in reality there is so much inside that the rigid ideas about your own personality are dismantled by Life. That’s how we are, unknown to ourselves. Only when you transcend your mental limitations and accept without prejudice what comes to your mind you discover it. I invite you to listen to your own messages stuck in your internal answering machine. So, when you follow your intuitions, the deep will come to the surface.
How I got here, I do not know. How I’ve embarked on all my adventures, one by one. I do not know. What awaits me tomorrow? I do not know. I just let it happen, and I follow my intuitions, like never before.
This country is flooded with a thick, ancient, millenary, powerful, inspiring, contagious energy. To remain on the surface of its chaos is not to understand it at all. It takes a third active eye and a clear mind to glimpse its light. The offerings and chants that at first sight may seem meaningless and sectarian contain mysteries that nobody tells you. Only with genuine interest do you discover the rituals that originate them.
I feel fortunate to have opened this Pandora’s box to the thousand-year-old knowledge of Yoga. My learning has begun, my practice has become strong and stable. My mind is open.
“Yuj samadhao” (Yoga is the connection with yourself)
Fire ceremony,opening the course
On my way to class everyday
Books Books Books
Pranayama in Ganga
Meditation in Himalayas
Indian style stretching
My room, home is where you take your light
Sundays in good company
The Master and the Student
A baby Yogi is born
Arriving in Mumbai was like returning to a past dimension, to a well known planet. Like Hong Kong, Mumbai has been my recurring destination for the past … many years. And not for vacations. One of the wonders of my previous profession was finding people so far from my culture and so close to my heart. Gobind is one of those people. We met more than ten years ago in the professional world and we became very good friends. To that precious friendship his wife and children joined us very soon. Gobind and his family are my family in India. And that has been one of the great gifts of my time in the textile world.
At the airport his driver was waiting for me. It was the first time I was in India for pleasure and at the beginning I felt almost like in my work trips, except for the backpack. Sitting in the back of the car, I looked through the window at the city that so many times had welcomed me. Its highway, its streets and alleys flooded with bright colors, smiling people and the millions of honking cars. India is indescribable, when you arrive you feel that smell that defines it and that I find it impossible to explain. Smell of humidity, spices, humanity and the dust of its roads. Sitting there, I had the impression that at any moment the car would stop at an office building and the “business” Maria loaded with her laptop, her two cell phones and her technical files would enter ready to spend the next 7 days negotiating, seeing collections , solving production problems and explaining the new designs to the infinity of factories visit after visit. Maria in “official” mode was coming with a head full of results, prices, margins, sales, budgets, patterns, fabrics, buttons, washes, zippers, shrinkages, lengths, widths, consumptions, formulas … and with a very clear idea about what everyone should do. Effectiveness and demand in its pure state.
On the other hand, the Maria who came to Mumbai this time was wearing humility and mental openness of a trip that discovered her what is true and important. She opened the door of his Indian family’s house and received tons of love, smiles, care, conversations, walks, meals and select wines, a thousand and one stories about travel adventures, new discoveries about the culture of an India that after so many years she only managed to scratch with her fingers.
Both Marias so far and so close. And there the change is experienced. The updated version of a previous operating system. Maria 2.0.
Walk through the streets of Mumbai, mingle with people, soak up their culture in the National Museum, understand the Freedom Fighting in the house of Gandhi. I never had the time or the opportunity to experience it until now. Mumbai is full of secrets that I did not know. For example the Dabbawala, a very special food collection and delivery system. It works like this: pick up the container with your lunch and deliver it to you at noon anywhere in Mumbai. They move by bicycle through the traffic of such a huge and chaotic city. In the more than 100 years of service they have never mistaken a container serving the whole city. Prince Charles of England even maintains contact with the boss and invited him to the last wedding, how awsome is that? The city has made them even a statue. This is Mumbai. There you can find the largest slum in the world, an area of shacks where millions of people live. A local artist decided to make the lives of these people more pleasant and painted their houses with vibrant colors full of joy.
The days staying in Mumbai I experienced an Asian luxury that I enjoyed as a child. Gobind and his family treated me like a queen. All the comforts I could imagine. In the morning, breakfast with the richest mangos in the world (Alfonso mangoes) and Iberian ham (I was in tears), nights sleeping in a XXL bed with latex mattress, a bathroom just for me, hot water, air conditioning, meals in the best restaurants … I could not believe what I lived. Coming from a reduced budget trip all these conditions were far from occurring in most places. My trip has been the most basic in that sense: shared dorms in hostels, simple diet, tropical heats without air conditioning, hard beds, cold showers … they matter so little when you understand what you live. In Mumbai I enjoyed each of the luxuries with delight … and without attachment. Enjoy without needing. I am happy to need less, less and less, to feel satisfied.
And from Mumbai I flew to the unknown north of India, in the Himalayas. Rishikesh, the birthplace of yoga, awaited me for two weeks of yoga, meditation and ayurveda. Such a promising experience. I see you there, in the mountains where the Ganges river is born.
Karuna and Gobind
The most amazing room in my entire trip
Breakfast of a Queen
Prince of Wales Museum
Mani Bhavan, Gandhi Museum (his room)
Slums in color
Dear Myanmar, your teachings have been intense, your experiences left me exhausted and your people is gloriously genuine. I am thankful to have met you without almost any tourists and thus be able to experience the authentic contact with your children. They are one of the most kind and humble people I have met on this trip around the world.
You have not had an easy or peaceful history, many ethnic groups in the same territory with the same name. So many struggles for power, so much repression. I will never understand how a strong military presence can coexist with a strong Buddhist tradition in the same country, representing to my eyes completely opposite things. And still they live, or have lived together for a long time. Reality always exceeds all our expectations, for good and for bad.
The first adventure was to get to you. Being confident in obtaining the visa upon arrival at the airport, our surprise was enormous when we went to check-in for our flight from Bangkok and they told us that the visa can only be processed before and that we were left on the ground. Still in shock we sat on an airport bench to think about our options. Desperately we processed the online visa at that time, none of our cards worked on the website … Thanks to an angel friend (Anita I owe you a dinner) we were able to pay and send our request. They would answer us in one or two days. Again searching for a hotel in Bangkok and change our plans … Suddenly we receive an e-mail with our approved visa. We run to the counter. The girl, surprised, accepts us on board and tells us to run to the boarding gate. The emigration line is huge. I take Asa to the counter for disabled and pregnant women. Asa looks at me saying “they’re gonna get us out of here”. When it’s our turn, I say to her, “Take out your belly and pretend you’re pregnant or we do not take the flight.” And so, both of us with our bellies out and talking about babies, we passed the lines and got on the plane. Happy and laughing we were ready to discover you.
Yangon, the place where we started to meet you, is a very interesting city. Our first contact the first day was with all your temples and pagodas and your particular way of living. I looked for references from what I knew and everything seemed a great mix between China, India and Thailand, both in food and in traditions. The presence of so many monks in your streets fascinated me, from adults to children dressed in orange or burgundy, both men and women, boys and girls. It was clear how important Buddhism is in your land. The food was not so surprising though, we were coming from the delights of Thailand and its explosion of flavors, forgive us. Your dishes did not surprise us so much.
I remember our shock at the Shwedagon Pagoda. Groups of people came to ask us to speak with them in English and take pictures with us. We were amazed by the few number of tourists there and the sensation we were causing. Even a very talkative monk flooded us with questions, a walking nun wanted to take pictures with us. Your people is really magnificent, open to others, humble in their attitude and very generous. They always wear a friendly smile and an honest look.
We went around the entire perimeter of Yangon in a local circular train, sharing a seat with all kinds of people and goods. The markets in the stations, the tobacco stalls being just a chair and a box and the fruit sellers inside the car captivated me. The respect with which they treat each other is worth seeing and copying. It doesn’t matter if they have studies or never went to school. Kindness does not understand about titles. We spent three hours on that train, we came out with a square ass and a mind full of images of a real Yangon.
Our last night in the city was spent indulging ourselves in the terrace of the tallest building with a cocktail in hand watching the sun say goodbye. Sebastian accompanied us, a Chilean passing through Yangon who gave off good vibes. The three of us enjoyed good conversations and a dinner in a “clandestine” restaurant that my blonde friend found on her list of recommendations (she is an expert in discovering cafes and restaurants in any city in the world, so lucky I am).
Further north of this land of yours we found the most sacred place, where you can breathe the whole history of your temples, your Buddhas, your pagodas and your stupas. Bagan impressed us. Riding our electric bikes we made a tour around all those sacred places under the hottest sun. There, in your temples in the sun with the burning ground I found the most sweet and innocent children, as curious about me as I was about them. They had their “tanaka” on their faces and they were accompanying their parents, vendors at the entrances of the temples.
Bagan gave us orange sunsets cut with pagoda and temples profiles on the horizon. We wanted to discover an intimate place to enjoy intimately. Bagan closed all the monuments’ rooftops after the last earthquake so we only had one option, full of tourists who like us expected to be the only ones. It looked like a cool party on the rooftop of a 12th-century pagoda. Anything but intimate.
We have traveled in many buses through your roads from south to northwest, from northwest to northeast and from northeast to north. Many roads, many kilometers and countless stories. While traveling, my Swedish goddess slept. I looked out the window with my soundtrack music on thinking about everything I had lived and learned. Also looking forward to come back. Nine months are many months away from home, my mind continuously moves to the known places and faces. My loved ones, they know who they are and if they are reading this they will know that I miss them as much as they do miss me. My eyes inevitably get wet when I think about seeing them again. That’s how lonely journeys are, they take you inside, deep inside and reveal what and who is important in your world. When you say to me “I want you to come back” or “I’m waiting for you” or “I miss you so much” my thought automatically responds “Wait for me to come back, I just think about hugging you”.
The next bus left us at your most famous lake, dear Burma, Inle Lake. There, defeated by the heat and intensity of Bagan, we decided to stay more days resting. I needed that rest a lot and I took it very calmly. Now that the journey is coming to an end, I consciously reduce the speed and revolutions that I have lived in recent months. We loved the lake, the people was really friendly and open. Between temple and pagoda we discovered a great local market. Possibly we were among the few foreigners there and outside the stands for tourist the market extended in all directions with local products and unique exchanges. It reminded me of the markets in my hometown, where wrinkled faces and headscarves’ old ladies coming from the nearby villages are selling their cheeses, flowers and vegetables. The best products you can find are in the markets where they are selling, whichever country is.
And so, in another bus and another route we reach the northernmost part that can be reached in your territory: Hsipaw, the state of the Shan ethnic group. I never imagined I would see myself there in one of the worst situations that I have lived on this trip … It all started as a trekking of pleasure to the mountain sleeping in beautiful tree houses. You can not imagine how it ended. Should I tell you? Ok, I see you’re attentive.
Hsipaw is a small town almost on the border with China where all the merchants adopted names tourists baptized them with years ago. For example we have Mrs Popcorn who has a restaurant, or Mr Book with a book store, Mr Pizza and Mr Wok are also obvious. Mr Charles is the owner of the hotel where we stayed and one of the protagonists of my story is called Mr Bike. Mr Bike is a kind and smiling man who started importing motorcycles from China almost 10 years ago. The business of Mr Bike, however, is not the motorcycles but the trekkings. He and his team organize trekkings in the nearby mountains and built some tree houses from where you can see impressive views of the northern Burmese landscape. In those same mountains is where not long ago the different ethnic groups fought. In fact it is considered an orange zone of restriction. We had many recommendations of these trekkings so we went there, adventurous as we are, without expecting what was coming our way.
The way up to the mountain was about 7-8 hours almost all uphill, I mean that uphill that cuts the breath. From the beginning my hips alarmed me, I had a throbbing pain, same as the one I have at the end of a 20-kilometer trekking day. The climb to the tree houses cost me a lot of pain but I got there. We discovered that the romantic tree houses were dirty and full of wasps. A whole hive lived there. The night passed between bugs, pains and heavy rains. I kept thinking about the reason of the pain, I made more difficult trekkings and never suffered like that. The answer came in a few hours.
In the morning our guide seemed quite concerned, the rain until early morning that day had been very strong and our way back was slippery, long and through the middle of the jungle. And yes when I say jungle is the real deal, dense and far from civilization. No town or highway in many kilometers. My main concern was my hip, with the pain and weakness I already had a bad fall could be dangerous and let me unable to go on. Anyway I got up decided and accepting the challenge. From the beginning the road was difficult and the terrain was really muddy. If we add no trees, bushes or rocks to grab and help you we have the ideal recipe for a good fall.
After a few kilometers, the nausea began. From the morning I felt strange, I did not want to eat anything at breakfast and the coffee I had was not feeling well in my stomach. When I vomited the first time I thought it was maybe something I ate the night before, I did not want to give it much importance. The second and third times I realized that I was probably having a virus and after the fourth time onwards I confirmed that I had a severe intestinal flu. And so severe it was, every 20 minutes I stopped to vomit, my stomach did not accept even the water I was taking.I had at least five hours of walking. I felt desperate, how I was going to get out of there? No one was going to carry me, each one was struggling to follow the path. I fell several times during many hours on the go. Crossing rivers through completely muddy trunks or rocks full of moss. I kept drinking even if I vomited. Something hydratation should stay at some point. In my mind I could only think about not dehydrating myself. And so the hours went by, with very heavy rain. I was soaked and holding on to a stick that Asa searched for me. The rain falling down my face. I totally surrendered to the situation, but I was determined to get out of there. I dreamed of the cold water in my throat, I was so thirsty, more and more. And the more I vomited, the more thirsty I was.
Six hours later we arrived at a town where a motorbike picked me up to take me to the city. What followed were days and days without eating or almost drinking, only vomiting. Asa took care of me and gave me an assurance that if something happened to me she would take care of it. Every time I was weaker, days passed until I assimilated the water mixed with minerals. Slowly I could eat something but a week had passed and my body was very weak. That’s how I said goodbye to you Myanmar, in full recovery and going through the worst illness I remember on the trip and I think in many years. Many lessons learned from there. I do not hold a grudge for that experience, in my memory your great values and your people with a radiant smile are stronger.
And I took all this from you, and more:
The best dawn, without hesitation in Bagan. We woke up very early in the morning, took our bikes and drove down the dusty roads to the viewpoint from where the magnificent, orange sun god was being born.
The sunset on the terrace of the tallest building in Yangon, with the city at our feet, a cocktail in hand and saying goodbye to our last night there.
The recipe, shan-style noodles, is commonly associated with the Shan state. A combination of thin, flat noodles in a clear, pepper-rich broth containing marinated chicken or pork. It is seasoned with toasted sesame seeds and a splash of garlic oil. It is served with a garnish of canned vegetables.
The superstition / tradition is called tanaka. It is a kind of completely natural sunscreen, which is obtained by scraping the trunk of a tree called tanaka and mixing it with water to form a paste. It is used by almost all people who spend a lot of time in the sun and children. It is also an indicator of social status, as it is used by rural workers, construction workers, street vendors, etc.
The bracelet, the red thread with the silver disc that the tribes of the mountain wear in Inle lake area. We bought it in the beautiful local lake market.
Myanmar, you have been the great mother of warm and loving welcoming and so you will stay in my mind. Your people is beautiful, your accents are soft and your places are full of diversity. I would say that you can be several countries at the same time, because of your ethnic groups and your landscapes. A factor in you is common, the smile. You are the mother of many different children who have fought each other for decades, while you patiently await their reconciliation offering them the religion of peace. I take your hands between mine and I thank you for absolutely all the experiences.
Monk children in Yangon
Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon
Circular train in Yangon
Bye bye Yangon from the tallest terrasse
Bagan with our bikes
Bagan and its temples
Sunsets in Bagan
Inle Lake traditional fishing
Inle Lake market
Hsipaw Trekking (Going up and excited)
On the top (painful and happy)
Coming back (No words)
Bye bye Myanmar
Entering Thailand meant to arrive at a modernity that we did not remember. Just passing the border by bus from Luang Prabang in Laos to Chiang Rai in Thailand (a 20-hour ride) left us with our mouths open. There were no queues, you did not pay for any visa and the bathrooms were the most modern that we saw in weeks … Such a comfort!
Chiang Rai delighted us with great coffees and a variety of supermarkets and 7eleven. My God, what modernity! We could not believe it. This was not an Asian country, it was a Westernized world … in a complete sense. I will tell you more later.
The temples in Chiang Rai are as interesting as they are modern. I’m “old school”, if I see temples I like them to be old and smell like old, I like them to have stories on their walls and many centuries of experience. That being said, seeing a white temple with Buddhas on one side and skulls, severed heads or hands coming off the ground on the other is a “must”. To see it under torrential rain and without an umbrella is to be a bit crazy but this was an adventure, right? The best anecdote of the day was in the white temple (Wat Rong Khun for the intellectuals), Asa and me we were discovering the surroundings surprised by a spectacular golden building, perhaps the most beautiful after the temple. We approached to see the Buddha inside (there is always a Buddha) and the plaque with the name of the temple. The name was Toilet.
Two days in Chiang Rai were more than enough. We were eager to know the hippie village par excellence in the north of Thailand: Pai was waiting for us. There we arrived on a hot afternoon, in a minivan from Chiang Mai, the necessary stopover. And right there, at the Pai minivans station, when I picked up my backpack from the ground I no longer felt connected to it as before. The feeling of “my backpack and I around the world” is changing. The return home is coming, and I am happy to think about it. It is time to leave it, the backpack and the nomad life.
Pai is a town of backpackers rather than hippies. Maybe that was its story before. What you see today are 20-year-olds who are scarcely traveling in Southeast Asia, the cheap and easy part of the world. And for that reason the businesses and activities are according to the client. Our hostel was a very nice place, next to the brown river. And yes, I say brown because the rivers of these countries are brown. The water does not go down clear, and it is not that they have mud but they are full of sediments and minerals. There we have a nice cabin for two in the middle of the jungle, with a good mosquito net and a fan that does not stop working. Asa tests every minute her fear of bugs, I think that after this trip she will have overcome it … or not.
The ideal activity in Pai is to rent a motorbike and discover the surroundings. It is a magnificent area, with very green landscapes, waterfalls, a small big red canyon, a giant white Buddha and many temples. We discover everything with a superhuman heat. We can not wear less clothes or drink more liquid. We are about to melt into millions of molecules and mix with the plastic of the bike’s seat.
The best place in Pai is without doubt a jazz bar with a central patio where the microphone opens to anyone who wants to perform a song. These sessions are coordinated by a 100% Bohemian French girl. Her wide jeans, her tank top and her bangs perfectly accompany the cool and casual attitude reading “I have nothing to prove to anyone”. The people who come to the improvised stage have a lot of talent, so much that they transport me to other moments and to forgotten feelings. It is a cultural and genuine atmosphere that takes me inward, to a world of my own built a long time ago.
Chiang Mai is our last stop in northern Thailand. It is Chiang Rai’s older sister. Its night market does not impact us, rather it stresses us. Their temples do make a difference in me. They are those who have inspired me the most peace in recent weeks. I like to sit in them in silence, just be there, present, and observe. The great lesson that inspires me is humility. I feel it as necessary, essential to understand everything that is happening to me and perfect to receive everything that comes after my return. Buddhism is an unexpected source of sensations for me. It inspires me to continue discovering and assimilating.
The great gift of our visit to Chiang Mai was the day in an elephant shelter. There are many things to keep in mind when traveling to Indochina. There the elephants are exploited in many ways: performance for tourists, the circus or heavy work. They use and abuse them and they are extremely sensitive animals. I encourage you not to participate in these shows and not to contribute to continue torturing them like that. They deserve a dignified and respectful treatment. Reading “blogging literature” on the subject we discovered a refuge that a Thai woman had created in the south of the city. We loved the place and the comments of the people. The day was spent with a group of Karen people who were the owners of the three elephants we saw (an ethnic group from Myanmar who is also present in Thailand) and the caretakers of the elephants. We gave them food, we accompanied them to the bathroom in the puddles of mud and we learned with the caregivers. The most important thing for me was to be able to contribute to that project moving forward and becoming more and more known.
In Bangkok we say goodbye to the country. There I expected chaos, traffic, tourists, massage shops, Tattoo shops … but I did not expect the intimate and wonderful temples and the beauty of the diversity in the city. My perception was that people go to Bangkok to live something intense, whatever it is. And few approach the delicate and intimate side of the small neighborhoods. The most accurate answer was given to me by a couple of Irish people I met in Laos and who lived in Bangkok: There is a Bangkok for everyone, they told me.
My gifts in Thailand:
- The dawn entering Thailand with the bus from Laos, our last road trip crossing borders and the delicious breakfast that we gave each other as a prize in Chiang Rai
The sunset from a Bangkok temple observing as the light played with the golden figure of a Buddha
The Thai Recipe for me is undoubtedly the Pad Thai (although it is originally a Vietnamese dish). And it has a very interesting story. The Pad Thai was “invented” in the Phibun dictatorship in the mid-twentieth century as a national dish to raise awareness of Thai cuisine. At the time there was a great shortage of rice so rice noodles, cheap and satiating were used instead. The result is a delight for me. You can find thousands of Pad Thai recipes on the web.
The Superstition, Thai tattoos (roi sak) empower those who wear them. They are usually done in temples by monks, without a machine, with a needle. Tattoo masters are often those who choose what to tattoo according to the personality of the person and their needs. It is usually about animals. You pay for the tattoo at a very cheap price and it is usually identied with the poorer classes.
The Bracelet that I bought with Asa in the elephant shelter was sold there by the women of the Karen ethnic group.
Thailand in general is full of possibilities and facilities for foreigners, so many that it overwhelms me. My reflection is that they have lost their essence selling their soul to the devil, being the devil the tourism of the West. That tourism that wants to reach a country and that everything is easy to not bother to discover the soul of its people. The same tourism that pays many green notes to silence their vices. That tourism destroys the soul of a country. And this is why I prefer to barely understand with looks and smiles in Laos to have a room in a hostel to speak in perfect English (language of the oh great globalization!) In an American hotel chain in Thailand. And with that being said I also tell you that you can find everything in every place, you only need to really look for it.
White Temple in Chiang Rai
Blue Temple in Chiang Rai
Our little hut in Pai
Big White Buda (Pai)
Pai Red Canyon
Slow Life in Pai
Chiang Mai Temples
Chiang Mai elephant sanctuary
Reclining Buda Temple in Bangkok
The journey from Vietnam to Laos by bus was not exactly as I expected to be. Maybe being exhausted, weak and ached by pains in my stomach had something to do with my perception. What seemed to be a 16-hour flat-bed bus ride became like a nightmare of almost 30 hours in reclining bus seats impossible to move, crowded with people in the corridors and my feeling of not being able to move at the risk of continuing vomiting . What better way to start the adventure in a country?
Arriving at the border with such an adventure on your back and finding yourself with abusive extra rates for foreigners and aggressive treatment by customs agents does not sound very tempting. Before entering Laos I already wanted to leave. No, I thought, now I can not make all the way back. I had no choice but to continue until I reached the next place to fall into a bed and say goodbye to the world for a few hours. Thus we arrived at Muang Khua, without expectations and with a lot of fatigue. An overwhelming calm received us, a slow and quiet place. Also an invasive, humid and heavy heat. We were in a small town. Unexpectedly we found one of the most comfortable rooms we have ever tried on the trip. When the woman from the hostel showed it to us we could not believe it, the universe had given us a reward for everything we had experienced before. Two comfortable beds, a nice window, a clean and new bathroom, air conditioning, fast wifi, ... and at a very economical price. That day we won the lottery after all.
We spent few time there, we wanted to continue discovering the country so we got into a little boat on the brown river and went down to Nong Khiaw. Discover Laos is to meet friendly and generous people who live at a pace that represents what we call Slow Life. We made friends on the ship, a couple of Irish living in Bangkok and a French girl. All together we went to eat at Nong Khiaw after six hours of travel on the boat and our butts square. They told us why in this part of the world people will hardly answer you negatively. It’s about not “losing your face”. What is this? Simple, do not fail in your response in society. And this is very important for them.
Nong Khiaw continued giving us a lot of smiles, landscapes of diverse and intense grades of green and brown rivers. We came up with the idea of climbing one of the hills surrounding the town a particular day after heavy rain. What comes next was interesting, not to mention crazy and risky. The climb to the hill was pure mud and stones, vertical climbing mode in most sections and lacking any security. Wild, like us. In several sections I thought about turning around, I felt the risk every second, the mud made us slip continuously without much support to grab. Exactly like climbing a mountain with skates. So we kept going, sweating crazily. Two and a half hours later we got to the top, as from a triathlon, out of breath. When we looked around to the view, all the effort was worth it. The images below illustrate it perfectly.
The days in Laos pass slowly, drinking coffee and enjoying the landscape and the nature sounds. Several days after arriving at Nong Khiaw we decided to move to the jewel of the area, the city of Luang Prabang. Again we took the night bus with “drawers-bed” full of packed tourists and local sleepers. On that trip I understood how badly I had been sick in the previous one. If the experience is hard in good health, being sick is a real nightmare. And again I prove to myself my resistance, my strength and my resilience and I feel proud of myself. I was born being an adventurer.
Luang Prabang surprises me, there is something magical here difficult to describe. It may be the Mekong that bathes the city and gives us wonderful sunsets, or the hundreds monks who at 5 am walk the streets in a row begging for their food. One of the most beautiful rituals I have witnessed. It is celebrated every day at dawn, the monks leave their temples in total silence and barefoot through the streets of the city collecting alms, rice offerings of the people who wait for them kneeling or sitting on the ground. It is a ritual not made for the tourist but for the people of the town and who wants to join respectfully. I loved the idea of joining and living the ritual. It is something very meaningful, humility leads the monks to beg for their daily meal. The locals do it as part of their Buddhist devotion. In turn, the monks give part of their alms to the poorest children who, plastic bags in hands, receive it kneeling on the ground next to me. It is a wheel that calls for abundance and balance. Being there at sunrise, sitting in the street in silence with the bowl of rice in hand distributing to the monks is one of the most beautiful feelings of humility I have had in a long time. Buddhism is very coherent and simple in its principles as well as honest and humble. The temples of Luang Prabang inspired me to reflect and contemplate. The monks with their orange habits create a spectacular contrast with the intense green of the surrounding nature. They inspire me respect, both elders and children. Their devotion moves me.
Travelling as a couple is fantastic, Asa and me we adapt to each other perfectly well. And I learn a lot from her, to take care of myself more and to lower my speed among other things. Now my days are shared and full of laughs and good times. My days in solitude are also precious to me. As everything in life is a matter of balance, according to everyone of us, in its measure. I increase my expenses in food and coffee but I reduce it in accommodation, now I can share a room with only one person and also with a friend, what more can I ask for?
The gifts from Laos in my backpack:
The sunrise in Luan Prabang in the ritual of Alms Giving awaiting the arrival of the monks.
Sunset in Utopia, a chill out in Luang Prabang where we bid our last night in Laos
The recipe, the larb, the typical salad in Laos (attention spicy)
4 white fish fillets. 50 grs of boiled sushi rice. 1/2 bunch of scallions, chopped. 1 clove of garlic, chopped 75 grs coriander leaves cut. 75 grs mint leaves cut. 75 grs Asian / Thai basil leaves. 1 tablespoon of fish sauce. 1 chopped chilli pepper 1 tablespoon of brown sugar. 2 tablespoons of grated ginger. 2 limes (juice). 1 stalk of lemongrass (lemon grass) to slices. 1 pinch of salt. Lettuce leaves to serve. Ground roasted peanuts (optional). PREPARATION Cut the fish into very small pieces, like crumbled. Pour the juice of the limes and let it rest until it is opaque. When you're ready, remove the leftover lime juice and put the fish in a bowl. Saute the rice in a pan with oil and then grind it with the chopper, the finer the better. Add all the ingredients in the bowl containing the fish. Mix everything Serve with whole lettuce leaves and fill these sheets with all the previous mixture. (Optional) Sprinkle ground peanuts on top. You can serve any rice, but when more glutinous better. If you decide to make the meat version , pass the meat through a mincer. In a frying pan, sauté until it is cooked and drain the liquid that is released. When it has cooled, mix it with the rest of the ingredients. You can also take meat that you have left over from another meal to chop it and make your carnivorous version of this dish so fresh. It can be served with or without lettuce leaves, with pieces of cucumber, with peanuts ... up to you!
The legend or superstition in Laos says that if you cross some chickens on the road is a bad sign for your day. If a snake crosses you, it is a good sign ... (if you survive of course) The bracelet from the Luang Prabang night market.
Laos, the kingdom of Lan Xang and land of the million elephants, left me a sweet taste and a longing to know more. The beginning reminds me of Ecuador, despite the many inconveniences of my arrival both the country and its people have won my heart. I'll come back to Laos, I'm sure. And with time enough to enjoy north and south, its cultural richness and its extraordinary people.
Nong Khiaw Hill
Nong Khiaw Hill champions
Nong Khiaw Hill
Luang Prabang Ritual
Luang Prabang Ritual
Luang Prabang Ritual
Luang Prabang temple
Bye Bye Laos, I’ll be back
Land in Hanoi, make friends on the bus, get to the hostel ... Easy-going. First experience in Southeast Asia, in the area called Indochina (in the middle between India and China, easy right?). There, where the French settled and colonized, my particular Swedish goddess was waiting for me. My new companion on the way, my dearest Asa. We meet in Hanoi, two souls travelling in search of the lost time in which we sold our souls to the devil of the modernity. We knew we would meet. We went in opposite directions. I started in Africa, she did in Nepal. In my round the world trip we would coincide somewhere. Let's say Hanoi, for example.
Considering that both of us have been traveling alone for several months and now we plan to share together a 6-weeks' trip, a month and a half, 24-hour together through 4 countries, that's a real challenge. We are not afraid of the mirror that each other reflects over the other. We have both learned a lot and we want to put it into practice and test ourselves.
Hanoi is a vibrant city, bright in colors and with immense possibilities. Our excitement to see us again led us to enjoy something as Spanish as having countless beers together (I confess that Asa has a Spanish soul, sometimes even more than me). Guided by the recommendations of my beloved Oscar, my particular Southeast Asian guru, we met at a local bar drinking Hanoi beer. The only foreigners in the whole place and the only women. Bravo to those brave women, traveling and without prejudice. That night we talked without stopping, eight months in summary, we looked at each other without believing we were finally together. After many months traveling alone, it is wonderful to chat with one of your friends face to face, to give a hug and to share laughs and stories. It's like coming home in a way.
In Hanoi you can still smell the fight of the war, the militant posters and the challenging messages. The war ended but leaving behind much death and many consequences. Maybe that 's why in Vietnam I haven't felt the cordiality of other countries. Relations with foreigners are eminently commercial. On many occasions I felt like a euro note with legs. That being said, Hanoi surprised me pleasantly, it is full of interesting corners that we discovered by walking, savoring the Vietnamese coffee (what a delight!) and the local gastronomy.
Our base of operations was a hostel in the center, full of 20 years' travelers. From there we moved to Halong Bay on a tour for a couple of days around different bays. Being honest Halong Bay surprised me especially because of the dirty water. After coming from the pristine waters of Palawan in the Philippines I felt sad to see the dirt and poor maintenance. It was so bad that in our boat almost nobody wanted to jump into the water. The place is a natural paradise, a true beauty. The people who live in the houseboats around throw waste into the water. Our guide told me the problem is that these people did not go to school ... will it be necessary to go to school to realize that? After the night on one of the islands, Isla de las mujeres, we returned to Hanoi the next day.
Our next stop was Sapa, Northern Vietnam, almost bordering China. Sapa is famous for its rice paddies and its trekking in the humid hills with panoramic views. We headed there on a "VIP bus". This was a bus divided into drawers with a double bed in each, a flat screen TV and the ceiling imitating the sky. Ah! And a heart-shaped window. There we got in both, being our size almost double than Vietnamese we fit as we could. On TV we watched "Gone with the Wind". After the first laughs we fell asleep. We stop twice and buy something to eat. That was the beginning of my particular nightmare. After the second stop I felt very tired. We arrived in Sapa and my backpack weighed five kilos more on my back. Fatigue overcame me. We moved to our accommodation in a family house in the hills. I was really tired. As soon as I arrived, I went to bed and had no strength for much more in the next two days. Our house was a refuge for 20 years old backpackers, mainly Anglo-Saxon. Yes, at this point I hope you have realized what is the main traveler profile in Vietnam. If you are not there in your 20's, you missed something in life. I cannot tell you much about those days, I got very sick, so much that I got scared thinking what to do if it got worse. My itinerary did not go through countries or better said areas of trust in terms of medical care: Laos, Thailand, Myanmar ... Having Asa with me was such a relief, if something happened to me I was not alone. My stomach burned and my fatigue was increasing. The last day I recovered a bit my strength and went to see the spectacular landscapes of the rice fields. I loved the panorama, it made me think about the mountains of Peru and the terraces of the Inca land. Actually, these are structures you see all over the world coming back from ancient times, from forgotten cultures full of wisdom.
The family house where we stayed could be compared to any village house in Galicia. On the outside there were some dogs, chickens and millions of flies. On the inside, the kitchen was very old and rustic. There we learned to cook several local dishes (for a small fee), what are now called cooking workshops. Among the dishes Vietnamese fried rolls (nems) and different vegetables made in the wok. Those who know me know that I do not spend too much time in the kitchen. After the fourth dish (there were six of them) and being sick, I was already wondering when did I find this as a good idea.
People in Sapa do not consider themselves Vietnamese but from their own ethnicity. Eight of the 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam live in the Sapa Mountains, and each is very different from the others in customs and clothing. In my mind I compared them to the ethnic groups in the mountains of China and saw many similarities. At the end of the day being on the border it is difficult to say where one begins and where the other ends. In Sapa, the trekking guides are women, not men. Their skill is amazing, they walk all day along the trails with a high degree of humidity and dressed in their heavy traditional costumes. They take with them groups of tourists who, having 20 years of age, do not have the strength of these women. The rest of them are dedicated to sell handicrafts in a very insistent way to all tourists who spot kilometers away. We went during the low tourist season so the harassment was exaggerated and we even asked some of them to please stop following us after 40 minutes persecution.
In Sapa we said goodbye to Vietnam, preparing to spend 16 hours by bus to Laos. I was a little recovered and with the bus from Hanoi in mind my expectations were very optimistic. I did not imagine what was coming over me and I had better not know before … but this is a story for the next chapter.
My gifts from Vietnam:
The best sunrise on Isla de las Mujeres after the Halong Bay cruise, the sun did not show up behind the clouds but waking up close to the sea was priceless after so many cities.
The best sunset in Hanoi from the huge Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, the city was lit and we were happy to walk together.
The best recipe, the nems
- 5 dried wood ear mushrooms
- 50g dried bean thread noodles (vermicelli, cellophane or glass noodles)
- 200g raw prawns
- 200g minced pork
- 1 small jicama, peeled, julienned
- 3 small red shallots, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp Vietnamese fish sauce
- 1 tsp quality sea salt
- 1 tsp pepper, freshly ground
- 1 egg
- 20-24 dried round rice paper wrappers (22 cm width; the pack should say ‘Bánh tráng’ and we buy them in 500 gram packs)
- vegetable oil for deep-frying
- Salad and herbs to serve on side:
- 1 small iceberg or butter lettuce
- 1 handful mint leaves
- 1 handful Vietnamese mint leaves
- 1 handful coriander
- 1 handful perilla leaves
- Soak the dried wood ear mushrooms in warm water for 20 minutes or until they’re soft, then drain, squeeze out excess water, and slice thinly.
- Soak the dried bean thread noodles in hot water until soft but firm (this could take anything from a minute to a few minutes depending on what kind you use), drain, and cut into uneven 4-5 cm pieces.
- Peel and julienne the jicama, squeezing it in paper towels to remove moisture, and let sit to further dry.
- Finely diced the small red shallots.
- Pound the prawns in a mortar and pestle to a rough, chunky texture; stop before it becomes a smooth paste.
- In a bowl, combine the mushrooms, noodles, prawns, minced pork, jicama, shallots, egg, fish sauce, and pepper.
- Prepare a large flat tray with 1cm of water into which you should quickly submerge one sheet of rice paper, for no more than a second, then quickly lay it on your work surface.
- Place 2 tablespoons of the filling at the centre of the bottom third of the rice paper, forming the filling into a sausage shape, fold each of the sides in and over the sausage shape, roll over tightly, squeezing out any air as you go, then place your roll (seam-side down to secure) on a plate.
- Repeat until you have used up your filling.
- Pour enough vegetable oil for deep-frying your rolls into a wok or fry pan and heat to 180°C or until you can drop a cube of bread into the oil and it quickly browns.
- Fry the spring rolls in batches of 3-4 until crisp and golden brown.
- Serve whole or cut in halves on a tray with mounds of fresh greens and herbs, perhaps some cold rice noodles on the side, and small bowls of dipping sauce, and let people help themselves. Or distribute across individual bowls. If you’re serving them with bun cha, cut in bite-size pieces as above.
The superstition or legend that tells the origin of their ethnic varieties. The Dragon King of the South married Au Co, a beautiful northern fairy. Initially they lived in the northern mountains, where she did nothing but lay 100 eggs. After hatching, out of the 100 eggs, 100 plump children came out. Later for nostalgia the king returned to his humid southern plains and took half of his children with him. They would be the ancestors of the majority ethnic group of Vietnam, the kinh or viet. The remaining fifty who remained in the north are the ancestors of the country's ethnic minorities, the so-called "hill people". The bracelet made by the women of Sapa, not the one that chased us for 40 minutes, another one more peaceful.
In Vietnam I changed from traveling alone to traveling in company, this is a challenge after eight months alone. I am lucky to experience it with someone like Asa, happy to adapt to any situation and always with a smile. Hanoi will always be the place where we met again and that's why the whole trip in Vietnam made sense. The reunion with a friend is a small return home.
First day together
Coffee and conversations in Hanoi
Life in Hanoi
Life in Hanoi
Kayak in Halong Bay
Psychedelic bus Hanoi-Sapa
Rice fields in Sapa
I returned to Hong Kong expecting familiar sensations, like feeling at home again and I was surprised by a totally different vision, a new perspective that I discovered only by returning to a place so familiar to me after 7 months of new discoveries. For the first time I recognized how much I had changed throughout my trip.
The changes were innumerable, since the very moment I put my feet at the airport. Until then my visits had been professional mixed with some leisure time and there were no economic concerns, on the contrary. Upon arrival I wanted to follow my routine, grab a coffee in my favorite corner of the airport and walk the road from there taking it with sips. The first sign in my face: that corner no longer exists. Of course that’s not a strange thing in my second home, where everything changes at breakneck speed. There is no room for sentimentality, never better said. Changing the taxi by bus was not a problem for me. I find it much more interesting to live locally, now that I am not in a hurry to get to meetings or to get some sleep for negotiating 12 hours in a row the next day. Now my life is more mine than ever, with all its consequences.
The next change was to get to the island of Hong Kong and not to Kowloon (the peninsula where most of the hotels are). My dear Carmen, an amazing Hongkonite and former co-worker, let me stay with her for a few days. Her small and charming apartment on an 18th floor of the island received me as if it were my own home. I could not ask for more. I did not long for the luxury rooms of the hotels where I stayed, there I did not feel the warmth of home or the love I was feeling right now. All the following days I was seeing friends and former colleagues who accompanied me and offered me perfect moments as family.
I was looking at Hong Kong, my Hong Kong, and I did not see it in the same way. I knew almost every place, I identified the temperature, the sensation of humidity, the people rush. My favorite places, my favorite stores no longer meant the same thing. I felt like another person in the same city. What once amazed me now did not move anything in me. My filter and my perspective of the city had nothing to do with my previous vision. My eyes had changed. If this happens to me with Hong Kong, what will happen when I go back to Barcelona? – I thought. I’ll tell you when I cross that bridge.
There was only a place that made me feel the same again and it was my favorite park in Hong Kong, Nan Lian garden, Its bonsai trees and its red bridge transported me to moments of relaxation in the vortex of a city that does not sleep. Because Hong Kong, symbol of capitalism and China double standards, is the city of shopping (the best and most complete I’ve seen in my life) and I, immersed in the return to the origins, to Mother Nature and to simple life was no longer feeling impressed or attracted by the big cities, much less by their kind of life.
I spent my last day in Hong Kong climbing the Peak, the highest point on the island. This time I did not do it by taxi but walking all the way up. I was encouraged by my dear Carmen who showed me a hidden path from the University. I did it alone, sweating through all the pores of my skin and enjoying the thick, green nature of Hong Kong. I felt on a bench in the middle of the road and reflected for a long time.
Kowloon from Hong Kong Island
Hong Kong street art
Carmen’s place 18th floor
Hong Kong friends
Nan Lian garden
Nan Lian garden
My best moments in Hong Kong were spent with the two best persons: Vera and Ana. Together in Hong Kong we worked a lot, we negotiated from sunrise to sunset and also discovered all the life that surrounded us. There were millions of conversations in my head, dinners at dawn, weekends in nature visiting temples to relieve stress … experiences “made in Hong Kong”. The eyes of the present Maria smile at the magic of the moments and reaffirm that now is the time of change and a new stage. The eyes that see Hong Kong at present are from the Maria who has already turned over more than half the world and many other corners of her soul. Now she guides the rudder with a firm hand, convinced of who she is, and also of who she is not.
I did not fall in love with Japan from the first moment. It slowly undressed before me showing just enough for my interest to be in crescendo and only then has it revealed to me his warm and delicate beauty. And it is overwhelming.
Arriving in Tokyo after being used to the calm of the filipino “dolce fare niente” made me a little stressed. With the little internet I received I read websites where you were given almost a master’s degree on symbols to take the subway and the train in the Japanese capital. After several articles read on the subject, I decided that I would continue doing the same as before: Going with the flow and trusting that with all my travel experience anywhere is explorable. Asking takes you anywhere, whether to Rome or Shinjuku. So it was.
Tokyo is the biggest city I’ve seen and in four days I’ve maybe seen 5%, but who cares? I followed the advice of my friend Yumi as a good mix between japanese and German she is the best planner in the world and makes the best travel guides, not even Lonely Planet. She, a lover of Tokyo and Japan, advised me the best of the best. It was like having her by my side every day. Tokyo is such a diverse city that you could live in anyway you want. If you want to be in the coolest spot you have it, if you want to be a thematic freak you have it, you want to live in the calm you have it, if you prefer a more hippy artistic vibe too …. one condition, fluid Japanese or social isolation.
Let me tell you the most interesting experience I had in the city. After almost 8 months without stepping on a hairdresser (I used to go every month and could not conceive life without my hairdresser) I needed to consider an immediate visit. My hair was a scourer about to fall off. My look was the origin of the California wicks, and without paying them. It was time to surrender to the evidence. I asked to 5 hairdressers in my neighborhood. Nobody spoke English to explain my needs. And suddenly I found her, the kindest and most effective girl in all Tokyo. As we could we talked, Google translator was the third in the conversation and she, the most patient in the world, managed to explain the day I could go and the approximate budget (quite similar to what I would pay in Barcelona). D day arrived. The next challenge was to explain to the stylist the story of my hair and what I expected from him. Neither they spoke English nor I Japanese and it was not an impediment. We understood each other perfectly. And the result was very good. Graphic document below.
Kyoto was the second stop of my adventure. The city of the maiko or geishas. I rented my bike because of the feeling of being a local (and of moving independently of transportation) and I expected for an immersion in an authentic world of temples, traditions and ancient flavor. I found a giant mass of tourists everywhere and a lot of marketing. Not much old flavor and more Chinese tourists disguised as geishas than real maikos. The best thing was the feeling with the bike through the city, my legs worked great because Kyoto is not a completely flat city. Sakura looked everywhere at its best, even more flourished than in Tokyo. In my walks with the bike I stopped to eat by the river and there I did what the Japanese call "hanami", observing the blossom. And I really understood what a local person can enjoy. Kyoto is a much more manageable city than Tokyo and with a lot of nature around. The second-hand kimono stores were my weakness, the fact of buying a kimono that another Japanese woman has worn is full of charm, as if it already had a soul of its own. Kyoto gave way to Hiroshima. The night bus has been my usual transportation between cities throughout Japan. And much cheaper than the train, about three times less. This is for those who want to go to Japan without returning with only one eye. The fashion of the Japan Rail Pass is anything but cheap. I arrived in Hiroshima at 6 in the morning, with the dawn and several unexpected messages from Spain after a night of insomnia and melancholy memories of those who are no longer there. It was a hard start in a city with a dense and sad energy. Maybe that's why I found myself all day with a deep sadness and many tears. I was so sad that I could not explain the magnitude of my feeling with anything external that had happened. After visiting the place of the atomic bomb I had to escape from there. I sought refuge in Miyajima, an island in front of Hiroshima with one of the most memorable sunset that I can remember on the trip. My sadness continued , I was sitting on a beach in Japan, on an idyllic island, in front of a magnificent tori and a sun that descended looking like a movie scene. And my sadness was still at its peak. And this is the trip, I can not (and I do not want to) stop life or feelings. I need to respect my feelings at every moment, and live sadness just as I live joy. Without programming it or stopping it. In the second part of this trip I discovered the true Japanese life. And I owe it to Moano, a wonderful person I met in Peru traveling with her boyfriend Sean. A Japanese and an Australian in love with travel and with much experience already behind them. Moano invited me to his house in Shimane and that was the greatest gift of my time in Japan. Imagine a small town in the west of Japan, all the neighbors know each other, they give each other vegetables, they treat each other as family. Few or none have traveled and not many foreigners go to this region. So when someone arrives they turn to welcome you, dedicate their best smile and show you their land, their sacred places, their mountains and their excellent gastronomy. It is worth telling you that I would have stayed there for several months. The tatami room in Moano's house was an Asian luxury for me. I could never imagine that I would enjoy something like this after all the hostels and the lack of privacy. Every morning that I woke up in my futon I looked at the delicate details of the room and I thought how immensely grateful I was. Japan is a delight for the senses on many levels.
Asakusa Temple in Tokyo
Ueno Park in Tokyo where japanese sit to enjoy Sakura (Blossom)
Sakura in Tokyo
Asakusa Temple in Tokyo
Art Gallery in Tokyo
Finishing work (Tokyo)
Life in Tokyo
Life in Tokyo
Before with natural Californian wicks
After with Japanese style
Kyoto, mi bike and me
Life in Kyoto
Kinkaku-Ji Temple in Kyoto
Sakura in Kyoto
Life in Kyoto
Kiyomizu-Dera Temple in Kyoto
Fushimi-Inari, the toris path in Kyoto
Miyajima Island in Hiroshima
Big Tori in Miyajima
Moano and Sean
My Tatami Room
Ascending Mount Mitoku
Ascending Mount Mitoku
Ascending Mount Mitoku
Nageiredo, the end of ascension to Mount Mitoku
The best sunrise I saw on my arrival in Kyoto on the night bus. The city woke up with me
The best sunset without doubt from the island of Miyajima, when the great rising sun was going to sleep
The best recipe, the mochis, my favorite Japanese dessert since the beginning of time Ingredients 1 cup Mochiko (sweet rice flour or Mochi flour) (160g) 3/4 cup water (180ml) 2 cups sugar (400g) cornstarch Anko (sweet red bean paste) or Green Tea Ice Cream if you want Instructions Mix Mochiko and water in a glass (or other heat proof) bowl and mix well. Add some more water if it's too dry, 1 Tbsp at a time. Steam the Mochiko dough (leaving the dough in the bowl) in a steamer for 20 minutes. Transfer the steamed Mochi into a pot and cook at medium to medium low heat with 1/3 of the sugar (2/3 cup). When the sugar is completely dissolved, add another 1/3 of the sugar and mix well. Add the last part of the sugar and cook some more until the sugar is dissolved. Take the time to melt the sugar, but be careful not to burn it. Take the hot Mochi out from the pot onto a sheet pan liberally dusted with cornstarch. Shape as you like.
The superstition or tradition of purification through the ascent to Mount Mitoku. The ascent to Mount Mitoku (Mitokusan) is a unique experience. It is the same path used by the monks to train themselves and it is a way to sharpen and purify the six senses of human beings. The ascent is a challenge and it is necessary to use all the senses. Through the ascent the person is freed from his weaknesses and purified.
The bracelet in Mitokusan with the symbol of the monkey and the magic of the most special moment in my stay in Japan.
I said goodbye to Japan with tears, who would have said it after my initial disappointment at the biggest tourist invasion. It seemed to me that Japan no longer had a soul. It was with the days and experiences that it showed it to me. It made me wait like every good thing. In Japan I found magic, respect, wisdom and a family. Moano and his mother made me promise to return to Japan. The three of us cried while saying goodbye and I made the promise, both to them and to myself, that my return to Japan is sure. There I found the delicate and exclusive feeling of meeting people destined to accompany you for life.
When stress fills you up and you seem stuck in the middle of a thousand obligations it's when you dream of a paradise of crystal clear waters, white sand and palm trees where the temperature is perfect, the food is fresh, people smile at you and the sun gilds your skin. That paradise has a name, it's called Palawan and it's an island in the Philippines. The Philippines was a decision I made at the last moment. My initial plan was to go to Japan directly but I discovered that the Sakura (cherry blossom) would be later than planned. That gave me the possibility to include another destination in my itinerary and the Philippines were surrounding my mind for a while. I could not make a better decision. This is pure paradise.
My arrival in Manila was a shock after the charms of Sydney. The visit to the capital of the Philippines was fast, wet, polluted and also full of history. My step was the visit of a doctor and even though I could explore Intramuros, the old neighborhood with all the Spanish past in it. In the Philippines everything seems Spanish: The names of the streets, the meals, even the family names. The 300 years of colonization have left a lot of traces although nobody speaks our language anymore.
On my flight to Puerto Princesa, the largest city on Palawan Island, my Filipino adventure begun. There, chatting with my rowmate, I started a new friendship with three guys, two Turks and one Spanish. The next three days were full of group activities, lots of laughts and sun. This country is incredible, a literal paradise. El Nido, the city of entrance to the island tours, is a small town crowded with tourists. Two days are enough to see everything it can offer you. Tomorrow I’m leaving and I’ll leave the boys. On my own, with my solitude, rest and reflections before the great Nippon country.
At last alone, again. I love sharing moments with new people and I like even more to enjoy my loneliness, my own company. This has been accentuated in the trip. What a rest to be here, on this beach, sitting in this chiringuito drinking a beer, eating prawns and enjoying the sea in my hammock.
The trip to my hut in Sibaltán, on the east coast, has left me exhausted. The feeling on the bike has been great, it reminds me to my own bike and the feeling of freedom that I have when I drive. I arrive at Sibaltán at dusk and very tired, I think I have some fever and my throat cries for rest. All my body asks for it. I take care of myself the three days that I am in the cabin.
The dawn is covered with gray clouds that do not let me see the sun, only glimpse its orange halo. Sibaltan wakes up cloudy, fresh and light. I feel better, my sensitivity in the skin has diminished and my mood and my strength have improved. The sacred rest. A little red ball looks out over the horizon. It is a ball of fire, similar to the color I saw in Africa. A gift for the eyes. A marvel. Today it seems a bit shy with all those clouds covering it.
I do not know what this land has, if it is the turquoise blue of the sea, the white sand or the green around. The colors and their combination. The smile of its people, the ease on the relations make it a true paradise. Not for being perfect and commercial, but quite the opposite.
Lunch, before leaving: chicken adobo, something typical in the Philippines. It's like a stew with rice, it reminds me of Mozambique. My strength is back and I am aware that I need to take much more care of myself. I have six more months ahead and I need to be strong. I have made the decision to relax and rest to the fullest this last week. I will do it in the small town of Port Barton. This peace that I have now can not be compared with anything. I have experienced it only in exceptional moments before. Since the start of his trip I enjoy it continuously and the exceptions are the moments of stress.
I walked out my hostel in Port Barton, the sky is clear, today I can see the sunset at a chiringuito beach with a beer in hand. I ask Ryan, the owner of the hostel, which is the best place to enjoy it, he simply directs me to the beach. On my way I watch many children happily playing, young people with easy smile and dogs, chickens, ducks and other animals crossing the street as a human.
I sit in one of the chiringuitos following my intuition. I like the energy. The cadence of the waves, the relaxed atmosphere, the overwhelming nature that surrounds us, the music selection … Everything helps to feel comfortable. I see myself from above, and I recognize my fortune. I am proud of my decision, difficult to explain it with words. The purest feelings are not explained or analyzed.
Failed attempt at yoga at 8 o'clock in the morning. I remember the words of my dear Rosa, from the hostel in Puerto Princesa, "in the Philippines nothing is certain." I have slept 9 hours or more. And I feel amazing in terms of rest. My body needs to stretch. My time has stopped here, in this small town on this island. And I've listened to me wanting to stop, recover strength and take care of myself. I have become all the heroines I dreamed of in my childhood. Incarnate the best qualities of all of them and every day I see more clearly what to do from here on. The Philippines has given me the time and space for my reflections, among other things: The best sunrise from the cabins of Sibaltán
The best sunset from Port Barton
The best recipe, the adobo
The superstition In the Philippines, if you dream that you lose a tooth, then it means that a member of the family is going to die. Horrible, huh? Attention to what you dream about. The Philippine bracelet on the ankle, accompanying the one I bought in Hawaii
The Philippines have treated me so well.I have felt living in that paradise with which I have always dreamed, the perfect vacation of relaxation and disconnection where everything flows and people treat you with the greatest respect, cordiality and closeness. The Filipinos are wonderful, very generous and open people like my dear Rosa, we met in a hostel in Puerto Princesa, she worked there, I only spent one night and the connection was immediate. I already believe that there is no part of the world I can not manage and I feel comfortable doing it, I feel comfortable everywhere. I do not conceive the world as that huge and dangerous place where bad things will happen to you, better to stay in your comfort zone. On the contrary, this world is a wonderful place full of beautiful people and if you open yourself to them your life will change. For sure.
Me and my bike
My hut in Sibaltan