Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Coming Home

Sunset through prayer flags in Mcleod Gang, India
I know I have been absent again... this time for far too long.  I guess I have lost a bit of my blog energy and have been absorbed in my life, enjoying each day.  It has finally come to the end of this crazy journey.  I have been on the road now for over two years!  I have seen and heard and tasted and smelled and felt and experienced so may things.  It really does amaze me.  This world is such a rich and beautiful place filled with equally as rich and warm and beautiful people.  Life is the ultimate teacher and these travels have taught me so much.  I am forever grateful that I gave myself this experience.  I encourage everyone to get out of their comfort zones a bit more.  Push yourselves.  Be Bold.  Its your life.  Are you living it how you want to?  I know there have been many times in my life where my answer to that question would be no.  So many outside factors have a hand in controlling our decisions... societal expectations, fear of judgment and just fear in general, pressure from parents and peers to do what is "normal" or "acceptable" an to "achieve."  But nothing new or exciting or life changing ever came from following or playing it safe.  So "Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid."  One of my favorite quotes... along with the classic, "Everybody Poops!"  Truer words have never been spoken.
View of the Ganga from my usual breakfast spot in Rishikesh
I think I took about 20 pictures of this gang!  They loved the camera.
Too cute!
Well, before I completely say goodbye or more appropriately, till next time, let me fill you in on the last four months of my journey.  They have been some of the richest and opening experiences so far.  Last time we spoke I think I was just leaving Australia for India.  The excitement of moving again and going back to one of my favourite places was palpable.  Again I had that sensation of arriving home as I walked out of the Delhi airport and into the gritty, hot, sticky Delhi air, got into my beaten and worn yellow and black ambassador taxi and weaved and jerked and honked my way through the crazy streets.  Oh India... so often people ask me why I love you so much and to be honest sometimes I wonder myself.  Why should I find this dirty chaotic scene so comforting and enjoyable?  Well, the next day I made my way back to Rishikesh.  If you have been following this blog at all you will know this is my third time to this city on the Ganga.  Back again for more yoga.  This time for Ashtanga yoga.  I don't have much experience with this style of yoga, but something about it drew me to it.  I studied with my teacher for about a month and a half.  Religiously getting up at 5am every morning and practicing for two to two and a half hours.  Some days we met again in the afternoon for pranayama (breathing techniques), meditation, and yin yoga.  I really loved my teacher.  She was extremely knowledgeable and taught me so much.  I think I have found my style of yoga... at least for now.  Rishikesh, however, wasn't so much fun this time.  It didn't hold the same charm as it had the previous two times.  Something about it had changed.  Maybe the time of year or maybe the influx of tourists had finally spoiled it.  The streets were always crowded, there were more cars, which in turn meant more honking.  There were more vendors, more beggars, more tourists, more guesthouses, more cafes, more scams, more, more, more!  Plus the fact that it was over 40 degrees Celsius or 104 degrees Fahrenheit.  It was so hot during the days that the thought of moving was simply not a thought that entered into your mind.  I guess also the fact that I got sick three times in the two months I was there also tainted my experience.  Ahh, just one of the joys of traveling.  Bathroom marathons!  So when my course was done I was definitely ready to relocate. 
A hill station near Rishikesh
The local store
This man's legs look way too small for his body...
Indian Carnival.
I don't think this is a fair distance... but it still took her 6 tries
If you look closely this ferris wheel is powered by a man walking
in the center like a hamster
So I hopped a bus up to Mcleod Ganj, another one of my favorite spots and thankfully Mcleod didn't disappoint.  It's a small town up in the mountains and home to the Dalhi lama and a huge Tibetan population.   The cooler temperature alone made a huge difference.  I lived in an amazing guesthouse up in the mountains hidden away in the woods.  I would wake up every morning and go out on my balcony and look out through the trees over the valleys and mountains.  We went for hikes and had gatherings around camp fires.  I shared the tradition of smores... I know it is a tragedy that everyone does not grow up with these, we camped under the stars at the top of a mountain, I met my tabla guru and began learning to play the tablas (a type of Indian drums), I ate amazing food, made some art, had amazing conversations, and met amazing people.  Overall it was as close to perfect as you could get.  In fact it so outdid my expectations I couldn't have planned it better, but then planning is no fun anyway.  I met some of the most amazing people and learned so much about myself... I truly have so many strong connections for life.  Sadly we all live so far apart.  Seems to be the main downside to travel and life.  You can't control it... any of it for that matter.  If you think about it you really don't even have control over your own mind.  You may think I am crazy for this statement, but have you ever really sat down and just watched your mind?  Seen how it reacts to your surroundings and creates and churns out thoughts randomly and independently, that then create emotions, that then create more thoughts, and more feeling, and the cycle continues over and over till you are lost in thought.  Not knowing sometimes how you even came to be thinking what you are currently thinking.  If we had control over our mind wouldn't we all choose to have happy thought and be happy all the time?  Or be able to stop our mind wandering and remain focused when we needed to be?  So I accept that I have no control and in these situations when it comes time to say goodbye I say it with love and attachment.  Well, anyway, seems I have gone off on a bit of a tangent.  Maybe more than any of you care to know.  Simply put, Mcleod was great and while I was sad to go I knew it was out of my control and was open and excited to see what came next.
A florest very proud of his plants.  He insisted I take a picture with him .
A Buddhist shrine near the main Temple in Mcleod 
Swimming hole on a Mountain stream we hiked to outside of Mcleod
gotta love the high socks, but in his defense the water was ice cold
My friend Bruce contemplating a swim
What came next was Thailand!  Chiang Mai and Wat Chomtong to be exact.  I had been recommended to go there by a good friend I made in my Ashtanga yoga course.  They ran a 20 day silent meditation retreat.  Yes, I chose to do this to myself.  I was really nervous about it as the time to start approached.  Would I be able to do it?  Would I be able to handle what I found hidden inside of me?  Would I like it?  As my mother had wanted to know... Would I go crazy?  Well, without going into too much personal detail, lets just say... yes it was hard, one of the hardest things I have ever done, but also probably one of the most meaningful and beneficial learning experiences I will ever have.  I recommend everyone try it at least once.  I know it is something that will remain a part of my daily practice and I will do more retreats in the future.  It opened my eyes to so much.  I have such a better understanding of myself and my mind and the world and my relationship with it.  It completely changed my perspective and left me with an indescribable clarity.  That's all I will say for now.  If you see me in person and have a genuine interest I would love to elaborate for you, but for now I think what I said is sufficient.
Wat Chom Tong
Young Munks outside my house in the temple
Inside the main temple 
The lake near the temple that I would take walks around when I needed a break
from all the meditation
So now I am sitting in my small room at the temple.  It is my last night here.  I stayed a few nights after my course to slowly reassimilate back to the outside world.  I leave back to Chiang Mai for about a week before boarding a plane for the final leg of my journey.  It's finally time to come back home.  I am ready to just relax and absorb everything I have taken in over the past two years.  I have no idea what the future will bring.  I don't know how long I'll be back for, what I will do next and for the first time in my life that doesn't totally freak me out.  I will never have all the answers so there is no reason to fear.  What exactly would I be afraid of?... the unknown?  If I don't know it what exactly am I scared of.  The mind creates countless possible outcomes and judgments trying to define the unknown, but frankly, they are all just illusions.  How many times have you not talked to someone out of a judgement and later found them to be completely unexpectedly amazing or stressed out about a situation to find out after the fact that there was nothing scary about it at all... in fact maybe it turned out to be fun.  Fear is one of the biggest barriers in life.  It separates us from people and holds us back from experiences, but if you stop and try to find the source of your fears you will see they were all created in your mind.  You create your fears and you control them.

So hopefully I will be seeing most of you in person soon and can give you all warm hugs.  It has been close to three years since I have seen some of my friends and can't wait to see all of your beautiful faces again.  Hopefully I haven't gone on too much of  a crazy rant.

See you soon,

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Adventures in Hiking, Eating, and Drinking in Brewster

Hiking Bull's Bridge 

Dear Kiki,

This winter is one of the mildest winters ever in New York. I had all these great plans of cross country skiing and snowshoeing, and what do you think I get 40 to 50 degree days with two days of snow. I know I should feel lucky that I did not have to work in -5 degree weather with frozen toes and fingers. Due to this warm winter I have gotten to ride my bike twice and realized that I am in horrible cycling shape. It is a bit sad and you would be ashamed of me. I need you here to push me past 8 miles. I have been swimming twice a week and doing yoga at least once a week and hikes on the weekend. Wish you were here to hike with. I miss all our hikes in South America.
More of the bull's bridge hike

Work is stressful at times but fun most of the time. I am glad that traveling made me very patient and easygoing otherwise I might not make it through a day. One of the students I work with told me that he never wanted to come with me again to the farm because his shoes got muddy. Another eats the grain that we feed the animals. Yet another is a cleaning machine. I can hardly keep up with him. I heard a story from another staff that one she was walking into the barn with a group of kids including one kid that was trying to get all the animals to share. The llamas were mating and two of the males were on one female. The kid that was trying to get the animals to share walks over and tells the llamas that he is so proud of them and that they are sharing so well.  Every day is something new. I have watched a piglet get castrated, wrestled a sheep, been kissed by a llama, and cried in front of my boss after a goat died.
Wilbur the new piglet before castration

He thought my camera was food

So I went on a hike by myself the other weekend and met two guys in the woods. We walked together for a little while and talked about the area and other hikes that were good. He mentioned a chocolate place Belgique Patisserie in Kent that I just had to go check out. I got a hot chocolate and let's just say that I am glad that I met those guys on the trail. It has to be one of the best ones I have ever had. The chocolate was rich and smooth with a whipped cream was impossibly thick and creamy. I am going back tomorrow for another hike and another hot chocolate. After the hot chocolate I was pretty much full but I had planned to get tacos at a little place in Danbury called Pancho's Tacos and I did not want to miss it. So in true Lula fashion I had four tacos and a beer and I was way past full. Good thing I went on that hike. The tongue taco was the best. It was so tender and full of flavor. Talking about it is making me want another one. I am a bit sad that I am the only one in the house with sunday and monday off. I guess it is good for me to get out and do things by myself since I have such a hard time doing anything by myself. I am trying to be less dependent on someone motivating me to do something. That being said I am looking into changing my days off.

I have been eating out a little bit but I have been cooking a lot more. I made empanadas and black beans from scratch. The beans were not as good as Albert's but they were pretty okay. I need to keep working on my recipe. I made grandma's chicken and rice soup and it was really tasty. I am trying to perfect at least a few cuban recipes.

I learned how to make maple syrup and how to tap trees. It has been a really sweet couple of weeks and I am hoping that I can buy some of the finished product. Making the syrup is not that hard of a process. It is basically getting a fire going and then watching it for about 8 hours or until the sap gets to a certain temperature. I used to know what that temperature was but I have forgotten. I also know that one side of the tree is better to tap because it gets the most sun but I can't remember that either. I think it is the south side. I hope I don't have to survive of maple syrup because I obviously forgot everything I know about it other than the eating part.
Erica and Ryan making syrup at Clearpool

We had a birthday party for a friend this weekend and I of course got really drunk and did inappropriate things. I had all my roommates looking out for me so I only did a few really silly things like yoga, wearing a mustache, and pulling my friend's hair. Even those things are not so bad. but I am sure that I am forgetting a few things.  We taught our italian coworker some american phrases like "balls to the wall" and "rock out with your cock out." It was an interesting night.
I am glad my friends were there to watch my back

I did not get the silly face memo

I should not wear a mustache I look like dad

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