Jumping Off Of Cliffs

I have a minor case of acrophobia (fear of heights). I realized this at the age of 10 when I was at a friend’s house on the 12th floor in Mumbai and was looking straight down. The world seemed to tilt and all of a sudden I had the feeling that the building was sagging, that we were all falling uncontrollably, to meet the earth. I took a step back and have always maintained this distance.

The reason my acrophobia is minor is because I truly enjoy climbing. I love vistas and the journey often endeavored to get to that point. I oft find myself inching towards the edge – taking a quick look down – and then running back to the safety of a hilly plateau.

Kuang Si Waterfalls, Laos where I hugged a rope swing to jump in

I also love jumping – off of cliffs, waterfalls, bridges. Granted the stark height is less of an issue here and I am breaking no new ground, my internal conflict before jumping off of each edge grasps me. That moment, when on tiptoes I stand looking down at the turquoise of a deep water pool, I struggle. Each and Every Time. Getting up to that cliff, to that rope, to that ledge is never the issue. All that involves is walking and following another person who has just gone before me. And then my turn arrives – the world closes. My mind wrestles between “Just Do It” and “Are You Serious?” I stand there as if the time has stopped, the world has stopped moving and it’s just me, my mind, and the water below. I do not know what that water holds – to me, my experience – that depth is entirely unknown, completely unfamiliar. Yes, I saw the person before me jump into the same and emerge just fine. But this is my fear, my perception.  Eventually each and every time, I feel will power slowly come in to render a decision. Determined – I go.

I don’t close my eyes, I forget the consequences, I leave my fear behind. And I drop, engulfed within microseconds by the cool arms of the once seemingly treacherous water. Waves of exhilaration and accomplishment soon follow and I glance a look back up at the stable ground that I just left and all I have left with me is a smile.

Oft, living life requires a similar debate and a similar determination. It is always tempting to choose an easy path – often at the sacrifice of doing something that one might have loved but one that required time, effort. In these cases, life soon becomes monotonous – the flavor evaporates, the color fades. Therefore, it is always important to wake yourself up – to dive, jump, run – and start beating once again.

Cenote in Cancun, MX that I jumped off of

Cenote in Cancun, MX whose dark waters I jumped into

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

Image

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.

DSCN9747

And I walk barefoot – barefoot in the sand.

I Run. Liberation.

The Moment – all my own. 

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!

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.

The beckoning of a continent: Africa

One of my earliest memories of Africa is of when I read Joseph Conrad’s mesmerizing, steeped in heavy symbolism novel Heart of Darkness. I read it once; then I read it a second and a third time. I came out of the experience having dedicated about 3 months writing an honors thesis on it. On how Marlow’s Caucasian friends are jet black, dark on their insides than the ones who are just superficially of that darker tone. That therein in Marlow’s society lays the true heart of darkness than on the skins of the Congolese slaves.

“And this also… has been one of the dark places of the earth.”
– Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, Part 1

That the book left an impact on me is an understatement. It started my (till now) unrequited love affair with the African continent. Africa became that land of mystique – that place far, far away that only a few could ever enter. It never seemed a possibility. I chased after it in college, I ran after it in Boston, and I am finally achieving it – reaching touchdown in a few hours – in graduate school.

Now to think that such a distant land is only a few flights away seems so impossible to me. And that so many friends of mine have been there multiple times and/or are working there for the last few months – that parts of the continent have become so accessible in the last few decades – just shows  how fast the world has progressed. And how, there are very few places truly left in our tiny globe that are unreachable.  In fact, I have a friend from business school who took a cruise up to Antarctica! Antarctica – just think about that!

I set off – travel to Kenya for a week first to take in some game, some beautiful views, and catching up on summer stories with friends. Then, the real fun starts. My friend and I will be taking a 14 hour long bus ride through the sinewy roads of East Africa to get from Nairobi to Kampala. There, in Uganda, my dream is realized. The rest of my team joins me and we’ll be spending 2 weeks conducting a market assessment for a point of care drug delivery tool. Having spent the last 4 months working on this project – with a wonderful group of people – seeing it come alive will be tremendous.

And personally, achieving that sought after dream of Global Health in Africa finally comes to life. Many, hoards of people have done such work before me – but to me – it’s my personal feat. It is what I had my eyes on when I started researching business degrees, global health, and social entrepreneurship. And my hunger will finally be satiated.

I’m nervous, apprehensive and certainly getting some pre-travel jitters. It’s funny – I’ve racked up many an international mile but before every trip that I take to a place unknown, my stomach ties up in a tight knot and my heart pleads to stay back in the comfort of the known. And yet, I plunge – and the swimming, the beautiful strokes – just start up naturally. The knot loosens, and the heart and the mind both become free – to roam, to breathe, to absorb the unknown like a second skin.

Shanghai: Capping it Off

Two weeks in China have flown by. Through the course of the last few days, I have witnessed slices of this country that are constantly changing my overall opinion of it. From the somber hutongs (streets) of Beijing to the cities in the skies in midland China (Chengdu and Chongqing) to the urban, international metropolis of Shanghai – Commercial China has been, overall, steeped in new money and quick development. The developing China left me impressed but there was still something missing to tie me inherently to the country. In Thailand, the history and markets of Ayutthaya were the trigger; in Cambodia, the ruins of Angkor Wat; and in Spain, the vibrant oranges of Sevilla.

 

 In my last two days in the Land of the Pandas, I have found that trigger – it’s called a tiny city of Shanghai. This city is the perfect blend of modernism, Europeanism, and ethnic Chinese culture. And there is a further element to it that renders it a perfectly suited city to my sentiments – its love for art and architecture. Ranging from an exposition on Miro’s modern swirls to ancient Chinese urns, sweeping from wooden houses of old China to Nuevo-Greco architecture brought on by European colonizers, the flavor that Shanghai gives is that of historic east blended with aspects of the west.

What sweetened my already favorable opinion of the city was seeing the place through the eyes of a local Shanghainese. My friend and I had the goodfortune to meet a friend of a friend who is from a smaller town in China but has spent about 10 years is Shanghai. He showed us bits of the city here and there to indicate why this city really has a character that is truly its own. We went to an area in Shanghai that was less accessed by tourists – cobbled roads, narrow streets, intricate wooden buildings. And within these structures lay galleries, artisans, and restaurants that were so unique (and some, so Chinese) that we spent hours roaming a very small circle

A perfectly spiced lunch was fueled by conversation that for both my friend and I was riveting. For the last 12 weeks, we had been studying Modern China and its business growth diligently. We had spent the last 2 weeks in country visiting stalwarts like IntelJohnson and Johnson, and Baidu to better understand growth, government, and, to an extent, stagnation. We had even had the opportunity to meet with the Chongqing government (currently in the center of global media frenzy due to the sacking of a top official, Bo Xilai). Getting a perspective from our friend, a budding entrepreneur in a country where innovation is now a top priority was a fascinating cap to our ideas. Through him, we saw a China whose young people were passionate, driven, worldly, and above all, very confident in their country’s future prospects.

The China that I got to see in two short weeks is one that has an underlayer of tradition and order while opening its arms to embrace modern ideas and thoughts.

The youth wore the latest designers but in their own unique way, the buildings (especially those in Shanghai and Chongqing) could give some western cities a run for their money, and the interior street- and food-markets, selling a vast array of animals and vegetables that I had never seen consumed before. It was an interesting visit and in Shanghai, I felt that pang of saying goodbye before one is ready to do so.

Summer’s Twilight in Vermont

Blast from the past:

Same time last year – late August 2010 – I had taken a solo roadtrip to sightsee New Hampshire and Vermont on a weekend. The reason I did it was because somehow, in my heart, I knew that my time in New England was coming to an end within a year. It was a wonderful, enriching trip. Beautiful Vistas. Cool Waters. Warm Sun. 

I had written this piece during that time. It’s fun reading it this year – looking back and remembering the uncertainty that existed in my life at that moment. 

—-

I know that I am going to look back on this afternoon and wonder, life was full of possibilities then – did they ever become realities? Perhaps at that juncture in life, they might have remained possibilities and I got lost in finding my way to realize them. Perhaps though, that when I look back to this moment, I might try to taint my then reality to measure at least some form of success.

The Greens of Vermont

I am sipping a perfectly blended iced-coffee, with a taste of Vermont, of Maple Syrup, in its flavor. And I am composing this entry, sitting on a shaded porch, in a dusty armchair, looking onto vast farmlands and beautiful, picturesque rolling hills. Life cannot be more peaceful than it is at this very moment. I cannot be more at ease than I am right now – with no immediate deadline and just wallowing in a vacation phase and darkening under the glory of Summer’s last sun.

I had thought that this trip would be one that was reflective, a trip that would open up my mind and ideas to get started on those pending essays that will decide the future of my career. Instead, it has turned out to be one where I seem to be withholding my foray into an ambitious future and instead, immersing myself into the last of my carefree days.

I am no longer young. 24 is the emerging of adulthood and I have to leave behind my early twenty, exploratory, hippie spirit. This trip, then perhaps, was a last hurrah. I know that I cannot afford many more of these. At least not until I have a good, future path set in stone. This is for the benefit of my life after all – I don’t want to wake up and suddenly realize that I am 30 and still musing over what to put in my personal statement for M.B.A. school.

Yet –once the planned, (if realized) future gets into place and I find myself successful, will I be happy? Or will I miss these days of the carefree, when my spirit had finally woken up to all the beauty that Living has to offer.

I am single. I travel alone. And still, I continue to be blissfully, pleasantly happy. It is only then that I glance up, smiling and lost in my sense of self, that I am jarred back into this reality as I realize Time’s ever-ticking presence. It truly stops for no man.

So, I say, make the most out of these days but they are my last foray into running wild and unhindered as I need to now, heavy-heartedly but with a finality, plan for the future and jump into it without regrets and without looking behind.

To Youth. To Freedom. To Life.

Written outside of Jeffersonville, VT at Brown & Jenkins Coffee. Pure Bliss. And what a view!

View from Brown & Jenkins Coffee Shop