Tranquility

(written March 22nd 2013 in Playa Rincon, Dominican Republic)

I sit underneath a blue tarpaulin cover watching the turquoise Caribbean away to match the rhythm of the breeze.

Playa Rincon

I have seen this beach before. No, not this particular one but variations of it. In Costa Rica, in Mexico, in Thailand – there I have come across its brothers.

And yet, Playa Rincon stands out. It feels preciously undiscovered – hidden amidst the vast resorts of Punta Cana and Puerto Plata. Snuggled amidst green hills that line the Samana coast. I am lucky to have found it. To have come here. This beach is all mine to play with, to run wild on and weave my own stories in. Only a handful of people, 99% local, while away a relishly lazy afternoon. I breathe in the aroma of my meal – perfectly spiced chicken with fresh coconut water to top it off.

Fresh lobster to be cooked up!

Fresh lobster to be cooked up!

A 45-minute gua-gua ride from Samana town (which in fact, took 2 hours) and then another ride on the back of a motorbike of a local lends this destination its remotes and intimate. And the journey, adventurous.

Currently, I know not what I desire – wherein my core lies. And being here – cuddled in the arms of Rincon Bay – this fact doesn’t quite seem to matter.

Oh! To be Young! To be Free! Liberty at its best.

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Diving Once Again

Written in Samana on the Samana Peninsula, The Dominican Republic (March 21st, 2013)

“Run mad as often as you choose, but do not faint.”~Jane Austen

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I do not know how to dive – neither in a generic swimming pool nor in the vast ocean. And yet, I feel that I inherently know what it would feel like – especially that moment right before jumping in. The anticipation  the anxiety, the quickened heartbeat – and then splash, water, and in a split-second, the world closes around you. Bliss.

You are left in your own sphere – reflecting, breathing. Your thoughts, your experiences are all your own – no trespassing by any interlopers. The world moves majestically about you as you try to absorb, to embrace all the various ephemeral sensations that are evoked. You gasp on sighting something new, eyes twinkling when the sight is especially beautiful.

And therein lies the answer to a question I am oft asked – Why Travel Alone?

It is absolutely marvelous and wonderful – this feeling of being so in tune with one’s self. At the same time, it is empowering. Whenever I seek inner strength, my mind often drifts back and lingers to my experiences of traveling alone. Those were liberal, magnificent  even magical moments. Over time, they have come to define further who I have become.

Today (March 21st) marks the first day after a gap of two years that I find myself traveling alone yet again. All the experiences of when I did this last come flooding back.

Two years ago, my last excursion was in Cambodia. I remember reminiscing about my month-long travel across Southeast Asia on this last day in Phnom Penh. I recall missing my newly made friends who had departed that morning for the Cambodia coast.

And then, I remember being overcome by an emotional wave – of pure accomplishment.

Now, I find myself diving yet again – this time in the depths of the Samana Peninsula in the eastern coast of The Dominican Republic. I feel as though blood, that had laid languid these past few years, has started to flow once again. Living, relishing, reflecting is precious.

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And I walk barefoot – barefoot in the sand.

I Run. Liberation.

The Moment – all my own. 

Of Dawn and Youth

Dawn in Kampala, Uganda

Dawn in Kampala, Uganda

Some Ramblings to quieten an occupied mind.

There is something magical about dawn. When the night is not ready to quite let go and yet slowly, but surely, lets its darkness be chided into giving way. Dawn is the waking up of one’s soul to the offerings of the oncoming day. It is a slow realization – as if the universe understands that one can’t just be jolted on towards the blinding brightness of the sun.

While dawn brings hope – twilight is the pinching out of the day’s fire. In twilight – I see the End. I feel death. I feel sorrow.

Dawn – possibilities, optimism, expectation.  Perhaps I find myself gravitating towards dawn because I run from twilight. I want to continue living in my youth. I want to have that same sparkle in the eye, that same amazed look that I used to hold whenever I encountered something new. I don’t want the newness of things to diminish. I do not want to become seasoned or wearied by the sameness of things. I remember there used to be point in my youth when I cried out against monotony. It wasn’t in my rolling stone nature to be monotonous. While I still inherently believe that and seek change almost on a daily basis, I realize that I am much more content when in the routine. I find myself looking forward to future days when I will be in in routine domestic life with whoever my life partner will be. There is a certain level of comfort that I now find in stability and in sameness. I am turning old. This is what growing up and accepting (not yet, embracing) adulthood feels like. It’s almost as if my mind was tuned to change perspectives upon the clock striking 26 in my life. I did an almost about-turn.

I am still driven – I still find sweet pleasure in life. The deepest level of happiness, however, is gained not by actual experiences but just by sitting silently and steadfastly in the arms of an unchanging and beautiful nature. Golden leaves, turquoise oceanic waters, purple dahlias. And that’s the other thing Dawn is to me – the emergence of colorful nature from the velvety, indigo folds of the night. 

Kenyan Interjection: Backpacker insight – Hell’s Gate, Naivasha

Before I forget, I’d like to capture some core, rugged back-packer routes that a friend and I used to experience Lake Naivasha region and Hell’s Gate National Park and Green Crater Lake. They were fairly easy and showed us a slice of traveling local Kenyan style.

Hastily written entry but here goes!

What: Hell’s Gate National Park is located about 2 hours north of Nairobi in the Lake Naivasha region. It’s picturesque beauty is only magnified by the fact that a visitor can take a bike within the park and literally bike alongside wild zebras, giraffes, and buffaloes. The few KM bike ride culminates with a trek of the gorgeous gorge that is the signature of the park. Recommended to take a ranger/guide on your gorge walk – they weave in and out of spots one would have a harder time to find otherwise.

Green Crater Lake is a boat/mutatu ride away in the direction away from Hell’s Gate. One of the only few parks where one can actually walk alongside the wildlife mentioned above. A beautiful slice of nature in all its majesty only a few skips away from the hustle of Nairobi.

Watering Hole, Green Crater Lake, Kenya

Backpacker Transport:

Use 2 mutatus. Every 10-15mins or so, a traveler can find a mutatu going up to the Lake Naivsha region from the Nairobi taxi depot. Ask locals to point you to the right mutatu stop for this area. Get off at Naivasha and then take another mutatu towards the lake (going towards Fisherman’s Camp). Get off, spend the night at either Fisherman’s or the better quality Camp Carnelley’s (~$20 for a tent).

Eh, what’s a mutatu? The most frequent form of transport in East Africa – it is formally a 14-seater van that can informally take upto 20 people. Usually the longer duration rides abide by the 14-person rule but you may be lucky (or rather unlucky) and find yourself seated on a local or having been sat on by a local 🙂 I exaggerate – you are merely just squeezed.

However, if you are claustrophobic then I do suggest that you take caution.

Mutatu

Cost:

Mutatus are the quite inexpensive – especially when compared with personal hire taxis.

Nairobi-Naivasha: KSH 200 one way/ $2.5. This is a fixed rate and there shouldn’t be any bargaining involved. You should be able to get a fixed price ticket from a ticket window. Should touts come up to you and start shooting off different rates – they are probably taking you for a ride. A long-winded one.

Naivasha-Fisherman’s Camp: KSH 80 one way/ $1. Again, fixed rate. No more, no less.

Some parting words:

Is it daunting traveling like a local? Yes, in the beginning – it is. However, it is extremely do-able and one can easily find a few locals who will help you sort things out. If you are surrounded by touts, just move away (most of the touts and the peers that surround them are generally in on the scam) and ask some other passersby for help.

Is it worth it? Yes. Since English is a common language, one can find regular locals to converse with on the mutatu. Definitely should be sensible and not eat/drink anything offered to you but pure conversation is absolutely fine and quite enjoyable. We ended up meeting grandmas and local University students!

Happy traveling – carpe diem.

Cheers!

Uganda Health Diaries – Part 1: Potential

We had diligently researched and studied the Ugandan health landscape in our months leading up to our HIV-TB market study. We knew about the different tiers of healthcare delivery; understood the incidence of HIV-TB in the country; gathered scientific data on sputum induction (the technique needed to get TB specimen samples for diagnosis). I was even fortunate enough to attend the AIDS 2012 conference in Washington D.C. where I got acquainted with a superb individual, Dr. Moses Kamya – the Medical Director of Makarere University, Kampala – who drummed up my anticipation for our fieldwork in Uganda that was to follow in a month.

A week has gone by and what an enlightening, informative week it has been. It feels like we have barely scratched the surface, however – because every conversation we have unearths a new layer of complexity in an issue that on the surface and from our bookish studies prior had seemed somewhat simplistic.

Thus far, in the chain of command – we have examined top government Ugandan hospitals and rural level IV health centers.

Is there a health system? Yes. Is it functioning? To some level, yes. Is it bogged down with lack of resources, finances, and increasing incidences? Yes. Is it bloody difficult and depressing to try to implement something? Yes, yes, yes.

And yet, late night conversations with my friends here – both working on the project and those exploring similar areas in social entrepreneurship – underline the fact that there is tremendous potential. In fact, on all the rungs of healthcare here – we have spoken to persons who are passionate, dedicated, and really committed to this collective thought of eradicating suffering. Through whatever skills that they are able to contribute. We have talked with healthcare workers, medical doctors, pharmacists – who all greet us with warm smiles and then engage in a sincere conversation about the issues that Uganda is facing today.

I met a man today who left a strong impression on me. A health care worker at a Center IV, he is the individual responsible for facilitating HIV patients through the diagnosis – education – treatment – adherence process at the health center. His core responsibility, however, lies in empowerment. Asking him how he manages to truly connect with the patients, he responds that it is because he is one. And has been HIV+ for the last 10 years. And he has, first-hand, seen his CD4 count grow from 20 to 500 in the matter of months due to the work of ARVs (antiretrovirals).

I have been through this – I know the suffering, the denial, and the longing to just give up. And by revealing my own status to them, I want to show them that there is hope – there is a healthy, thriving life – if all they do is comply.

He is fervent, and strongly emotional. We feel his strength and can-do spirit affecting us, especially as we try to unravel the myriad of strings that a jumbled healthcare system initially presents us. It is this man and many, hundreds of others like him that will lead Uganda to a better tomorrow. This country is not called the Pearl of Africa for no reason – it is precious, gorgeous – and its shine only brightens with men like my friend from Health Center IV.

The Colors of the Wind – Masai Mara

Can you paint with all the colors of the wind” Pocahontas [movie]

NOTE: We saw many an animal across Kenya – walked alongside giraffes and zebras at Hell’s Gate National Park – but Mara delivered not only the animals but also a beautiful background to their wild beauty.

The background was indigo. The golden savanna, vast and majestic, stretched towards stubby emerald hills. The emerald beckoned the indigo shaded hues beyond to blend into its frame and merge with the turquoise sky to help create a landscape that was preciously vibrant and visually stunning. The clouds, pregnant with rain, played tug of war with the sun – leading to changes in the shades of nature’s wardrobe every few minutes.

And the wind – crisp, cool – roared with satisfaction.

Afterall, it got to freely dance along these curves, touch these hues, and feel the sheer wildness.

Our safari jeep traversed through this grand setting, a mere white spot in the vastness – hugging the curves of the raw, red roads of Masai Mara. The world was laid out for us to see – to take it all in, one breath at a time. The landscape, astounding already, became even more vibrant as the wilderness of Mara came more to life. We ran alongside of dozens of zebras, thousands of wildebeests, savage lions, and hungry vultures.

Unaltered terrain despite man’s lust to see the wild. Man, in fact, became a wild beast in himself – peppering the immense Mara with his own white and green four-legged jeeps. Roaming with beasts, them examining us just as curiously as we stared at them. We had cameras; they didn’t. We cared to see them more; they, after a momentary glance of interest, got bored and continued on as before.

Free. Gorgeous. Endless. Amidst all this beauty, my soul flew. It soared to join with the eagles – spreading their wings and flying high above. It swayed to match the rhythm of the tall savanna grass. It frolicked with gazelles as they skipped across tiny streams. It was free, it felt endless, and it looked on thirstily at the gorgeous palette surrounding it.

Nature has a wonderful way of resting an uneasy soul. Of brightening an unhappy heart.

The feelings, perhaps ephemeral but the memory of the sights seen always remains. And when back into the harshness of day-to-day reality, the mind seeks an escape from a darker place, all it has to do is close its eyes and remember.