Merida, the heart of Yucatan

Merida is a city to be enjoyed. It is a city to be tasted slowly, without rush, with small, long sips, just like a glass of good tequila. A tasting to be done early in the morning or late in the afternoon, out of the way of the unforgiving tropical heat. And to be declined between tours of the city’s main square and long walks along El Paseo de Montejo, admiring the palace-like houses of the 19th century, and longer or shorter visits, as it may please you, to any of the city’s many museums, filled with local contemporary artists, historical tales and Mayan artefacts.

And for the long afternoon hours, or for the early evenings, it is best to take refuge into the comfort of your own home. Especially if you have the good fortune to stay in a place facing the main square, with a view to Merida’s beautiful cathedral, entertained by the passing people, cars and horse carriages, or by the occasional “trova” song played by one of the groups which are lining the square each night, offering their services and their serenades.

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A paradise on a beach, Mazunte

There is not much to say about Mazunte: a small village on the Pacific coast, with a sandy beach and palm trees, the ocean, the waves – yes, the waves: coming in, again and again, relentlessly, fiercely, all-mighty. More could be said, but little is of importance. It is a place to stay and enjoy, savor it with your full mouth and body, melt in it and then reconstruct yourself back again, just to live there yet another day…

Forgotten places of the Pacific coast

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A fishermen village hidden away in the natural park of Lagunas de Chacahua, mangrove tunnels, palm trees and “golden rain” trees, white sand and wooden huts, built right on the beach – this and much more was to welcome me in Chacahua, just south of Puerto Escondido. It took 2 minivans, a taxi “collectivo”, a boat and a truck to cover the two hour distance to the village. But once I got there, I fell in love with this forgotten corner of the world, full of peace, and sun, and easiness, and beauty. A place that now, in the low season, seemed to be forgotten even by tourists. People walking lazily on the sandy village roads, children playing around boats or sleeping, gently swung in a hammock, women preparing lunch in smoky wooden huts, vendors selling homemade snacks out of baskets carried on their heads, and the occasional one or two surfers that took the trouble of getting until here… and me, enjoying, looking all around, walking under the palm trees, smiling.

One of the days I took, together with other people I had met in Chacahua, a boat trip around the lagoons, enjoying all that there was there, the ride through the mangroves, the little animals and birds the guides where pointing us out, the crocodiles’ sanctuary, the stop for beer, snacks and stories, the sunset, seen for above. And one experience which I can only tell you about: seeing the plankton, little fluorescent organisms that live in the water, which you can only notice by putting your hand in the water and shaking it slowly. And it feels like little, little stars appear following the movement of your hand – it is as if, for just a moment, your hands are able to let out into the water, into the world, a little bit of fairy dust.

 
And finally I left, moving along the cost line, along papaya plantations and palm trees forests, along beaches and ranches, to arrive to Mazunte, yet another, although somehow differently flavored, beach paradise.

Oaxaca, the city of colors

In Oaxaca I found a celebrating mood, with concerts and traditional dances appearing out of nowhere in one or the other of the city’s squares, with film festivals and open air exhibitions along its streets. And with all that is always there, the city’s street food, churches, museums, little cafes, and many, many art galleries.

Ever since I had found out about Monte Alban in Mexico City’s Anthropology Museum, I wanted to visit this ancient city which the Zapotec people founded in the 5th century BC. The trip there also brought me to an almost deserted Franciscan monastery and little villages where local craftsmen have their workshops: wooden figurines painted in rainbow colors and pottery made out of black clay.

I could not be in Mexico without going to a cooking class (maybe you got used, by now). And it was an excellent choice: a trip to the market, a few hours cooking and a big lunch, including avocado ice cream! After which I just walked around the city, enjoying its streets, and little restaurants, and street life.

Next direction is west: to the sea, and sun, and sand of the Pacific coast! But this is food for my next post…

Living a city life again, Shanghai style

Shanghai – home to my friends from Iasi, the city of five-stars-hotel-Sunday-brunches and wide, long boulevards flanked by dazzling skyscrapers, the city of red communist flags and Starbucks coffee, the place where you are in China without really being in China, the city where I rubbed of the countryside spirit which had got imprinted in me during all that Indian part of my trip, the city to eat, relax, walk around, meet friends, and enjoy. And, then, to let yourself be taken away to the next stop of the journey.

Short journey into the Rishikesh of my heart

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The pace of this travel blog could not keep up with the pace of my travelling. In real life things happen sometimes much faster than they do in the virtual one.

And so, while I was writing about Taj Mahal and Rajastan, I was already walking the streets of Rishikesh, a town in the north of India, close to the Himalayas. A self-proclaimed international capital of yoga, with teachers’ training yoga courses and drop-in classes, advertised at every street corner. The place where people who feel they have something to share hold “satsangs”, open discussions where questions are asked or thoughts are just shared. Where Hindu pilgrims come every day, from all over India, to bathe in the saint Ganga river. The place where some of my friends from Bucharest came to participate at the satsangs held by Sri Mooji. And where I settled down for a couple of weeks and enjoyed the company of my friends and an easy life in India. The place where I said goodbye to my brother, who decided to go north, towards Nepal, to walk the white peaks of Annapurna. While I wanted to stay longer here, in Rishikesh, to go walking on the shores of the Ganga, listening to its sounds and stories, to stay in the afternoon sun, watching it slowly rolling over the hills on the other side of the river…

The place where I felt that things which are difficultly put into words were happening inside me. Sometimes even flowing outwards, as smiles, or tears, or silences. A place I will remember in my heart. For all the reasons one may need. And for no reason at all.

Udaipur – the city where India becomes lovable

We arrived in Udaipur in the morning, after one long overnight journey with the train, coming from the south of India. And the first thing which stroke us was that everything seemed so much more quiet here… We crossed the Walking Bridge and, before even starting to look for accommodation, we stopped for a morning coffee, by the side of the lake. The sun was gently warming us, the air had a soft, spring-like note to it, the buildings were sending glittery reflections of themselves into the waters of the lake. While Indian women, sited by the edge of the water, undisturbed and apparently unaware of the people around, were doing their laundry.

There was more to discover of this “Indian Venice” – the streets, the people, the roof-top restaurants and handicraft shops, the wonderful lake that somehow manages to bring peace and serenity over Udaipur’s hundreds of years of life and history.

The city also reveals what the lives of the Maharajas used to be, these Indian princes who were governing rather small states, and who often retained some degree of autonomy even under the English domination. And we got to enter into the palaces which they build, and rebuild, over the centuries, for the court, for official business, for their own pleasure. Or for the exclusive use, and confinement, of their wives.

And, finally, I would like to show you the place where we stayed in Udaipur, one of the accommodations I liked best, so far, in India. Don’t miss the photos of its roof-top restaurant!

About happiness

Thailand-7859Back in Bangkok for a few days. One of the evenings, I go for a walk by myself, in the park close to our guesthouse. I sit somewhere near the river. I can see in the water, glittering and moving lazily, the lights of the buildings next to me. Boats pass from time to time – boats from the five-star hotels down the river, small, decorated with little strings of lights, big touristic boats, sliding across the waters surrounded by a halo of colored light and music, long cargo ships, dark, anonymous, noticeable only by the dark enormous shades with which they cover the reflection in the water of the buildings across the river. Closeby, a Thai young man is playing the guitar. A girl is sitting beside him, holding out a notebook from which they both read. Sometimes I can hear her voice, timid, slightly off key, singing. The sound of the guitar reaches me faintly, like in a dream. I cannot recognize the song, but the warm and gentle notes of the guitar make my heart soften and smile, opening up and filling as if to the memory of a long forgotten love. And to all the beauty that is now around it.

And I suddenly have a feeling, a familiar feeling that it’s been creeping into my life, the last year or two: that THIS, this moment right here, could be a scene of a movie. One of those movies that we love to let ourselves drawn in, enraptured, intoxicated by. The kind of movies that we want to be a part of. And my mind instantly creates the whole story around it: it could be about this girl that left everything and when on a trip around the world. To look deeper into the world, to look deeper into herself. She is now in Bangkok, exotic, chaotic Bangkok, looking at the lights of the boats passing by. And a soft soundtrack music kicks in, the distant sound of a guitar blues.

Yes, it could be a movie! One of those romantic, I-want-to-be-in-it, happy-ending kind of movies. But – and I start laughing by myself – all of it is just such an illusion! I’ve been in Bangkok for several days, visiting, going around, trying the street food. And I did not have that “this is a perfect moment – I am perfectly happy“ kind of feeling. And I realize (a realization to which I come back, again and again) that the scenery of our lives does not contribute but little to our feeling of happiness. That you can be in the most extraordinary and exotic place on earth, on a beach in Thailand, sitting in the sun, but if you don’t open up to feel its beauty, to fill up with the wonder and gratefulness of you living all the sun and the sea and the sand, it is as if you were not really there. And then, you can be in your own house, in a little apartment in Bucharest (let’s say :) ), having a glass of wine with a friend, on your balcony, or a cup of hot tea inside, with some music and small candle lights, and you could feel, as I felt many times, truly blessed and perfectly happy.

Throughout this year of travels I have been, many times, more often than I would usually find myself, in places and situations in which I said to myself: “wow, this is a truly perfect moment!”. About some of these moments I wrote in this travel journal. But each time it happens, I realize that it is not necessarily the place and the time that makes it perfect, but the way my heart, in that moment, melts down a little, opens up to receive and understand the beauty around it. Because the beauty is always there! Even in the most ordinary situations of your life, even at the breakfast table, pourring your coffee, or going to work in the morning, looking at all the different people around you, each with their world and life around them, or looking at the clouds in the sky, with their different shades and colors, or going to a park, or meeting a friend, or enjoying the comfort and coziness of your home. Or reading a book, or playing a computer game you love, or cooking for someone you love. All of these can be moments of happiness – only if you acknowledge them as such. Of course that when you travel, as I am now, it is easier to let your heart open in this way and feel this happiness. But I tell you, precisely because I do feel it now and because I felt it sometimes when I was back home, happiness does not depend on what is happening in your life or in the world around you! I know that many have said this before and that this is not anything new, but I just want to share this with you, my own little revelation: happiness is about opening your heart to receive the beauty that already IS there. Sometimes this is easier to do, other times it’s more difficult. That’s why we should practice it, whenever we find it easy, so that we have the experience of what happiness feels like, for those moments when everything seems dark and gloomy and hopeless.

So go out today, and choose one place, one moment in which you can just relax. Look around you as if it were the first time you see everything, with new eyes and new heart. Smile and look at the beauty, the tenderness, the sweetness in the things and in the people surrounding you. Invite all that into your heart and let it sink in, until it reaches every fiber of your being, until you can feel it in your toes! Then breathe in, smile and feel how blessed you have been today.

After a while, hearing again the tune of the song that lighted up in me all that stream of thought, I got closer to the Thai couple, made friends and listened to what they were singing. And a new smile took over me. It was an old song that I had just discovered this summer and with which I fell instantly in love. I heard it from an Irish guy, who stayed in Afroz for a few weeks and used to play the guitar in the afternoon. It brought back memories of wonderful times, full moons, and loves, and friends, and smiles.

Christmas tale

This is the story of my Asian Christmas, the first Christmas I spent at temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius, in the sun and by the seaside. A Christmas on which I re-met old friends from Iasi, people with whom my brother and I have spent most of our high school and university years, spending our holidays and weekends together, going partying or just playing cards at somebody’s place (usually ours). This year we met for Christmas on the island of Ko Phangan, in Thailand: Diana and Ovidiu came from Shanghai, Tudor, from Romania, and the two of us, from Cambodia. A nice follow-up to our high school years – maybe next time there will be more of us!

Having around my oldest friends made me feel more close to home and less “on the road”. But not even their presence could give me the feeling that it was Christmas. And I promise I tried: the first day of Christmas I wore all day the Christmas hat Diana had brought for us. Once, overhearing from the reception a Christmas carol (the reggae version of a Christmas carol, to be true), my heart rose up in an “aaah, it’s Christmas!” exclamation. But the feeling vanished quickly when I rejoined my friends and heard the waves and felt the sand under my feet – it was hopeless, so I stopped trying. Not that I’m complaining, don’t get me wrong! (and the pictures will show you, I think, how exactly we felt on that day.) Just that this year I didn’t feel that Christmas has passed. Well, I guess I’ll just have to celebrate it next year twice as much!

For the Christmas dinner we found, almost by accident, a lovely little restaurant, on the beach (the Beachlounge in Thong Sala, for any future reference), with good wine, great food and (our own) very good company. We were together with Marta and Daniel, our friends from the road that you probably know already, as well as Eugen, a friend of mine from Bucharest who is on his own “trip around the world” this year. And to have the full picture, just a few days earlier I had met Lia, a friend from Bucharest who is now living on Ko Phangan and who was the first person to tell me about this island.

The rest of the days we explored the island. All was there: the sea, the sun, the sand, good Thai food, winding roads, the (sometimes) cloudy sky and, of course, my personal favorites, the ever-careless, tall and proud palm trees…