On my way back home

It is time for me to go back. It is time to go back home, back to Romania, back to Iasi, my hometown. There where my roots are, where I grew up and got ready to stand on my own two feet, there where I am now coming back, to gather my forces and my allies, standing again, maybe differently now, on my own two feet.

The sun is setting, high above the clouds, sending its orange light into the dozed off silence of the airplane. I look around me for a moment, then I turn my eyes again towards the hypnotising light of the sun. The next time it will set, I will already be in Romania. I smile – the first day of my trip started into the light of a sunrise, seen high in the skies from another airplane, the one taking me to Paris. Now everything is coming full circle. One journey, which felt like a lifetime, is coming to an end, in between the light of a sunrise and the light of a sunset.

It is so that this Light Journal, the blog of a girl’s one-year trip around the world, is coming to an end. And we must say goodbye.

I want to thank you. It has been a joy to have you accompanying me along the way, sharing with you moments, and feelings, and images.

Epilogue on the back of a photo: The beginning of my life back in Romania came with orange marigold flowers, grey clouds, my friend Irina’s and her daughter Mara’s loving smiles and arms, and a lost luggage. Interesting mix, isn’t it? Well, if this is how it started, I can’t wait to see what the rest of it will bring!

Arriving in India – and stumbling upon a wedding

So, here I am…

I find it difficult to put in just a few words what exactly is India to me. In a way, this is why this first post took a little longer to be written (this and the fact that the wi-fi is it not a common sight in India – so we’re back to Romania’s favorite place during the ‘90s: internet cafes!).

The word that kept coming back into my mind, time and time again during my first days in India, was “more”: more colors, more dust, more smells (good and bad!), more noise, more people, more everything, than anywhere else I’ve ever been. Some would say that here there’s more LIFE – with its chaotic, crazy, beautiful, tiresome, full of energy, never-ending play. The first few days I could not stop but welcome everything around me with a bewildered smile, not really sure what to feel about the constant honking, the cows with painted horns, the old, dusty busses full of people, the saris (the saris… and it seems so wonderful and incredible to me that, here, the women are dressed in all these amazing colors, every day of their life!), the dust, the noise, the garbage that seems to pile up on the side of the street, the welcoming smile that I am getting from other women… All of this is too much to be captured in just a few photos. Hopefully, I will be able to slowly unfold it, through the posts of this blog, and bring you bits and pieces of what India looks to me.

For now I can show you just a little bit of Tiruvannamalai, a town in the south of India, where we spend our first week and half, in the company of friends from Bucharest. Here, near the sacred Hindu mountain of Arunachala, there’s one of the biggest Hindu temples in south India, as well as the ashram of Ramana Maharshi, an Indian teacher who lived at the beginning of the 20th century.

And it is also here that, courtesy of our resourceful friend Adar, we got invited to a typical south-Indian wedding: and you can imagine how excited I was to have such a change! The ceremony started in the evening, with different rituals expressing the agreement of the two families for the marriage, continued over the night, with more guests arriving from other cities (we were sent home and advised to come early the next morning) and was completed the next day with a ritual performed by the Brahmin, which lasted for almost two hours.

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…

I’ll close with pictures of one of the quiet nights. Just having a drink in our bay. With the occasional lampions and fireworks. Pictures made by my brother Alexandru.

The wonders of Angkor

Today I want to tell you about our trip to the temples of Angkor. You will have to bear with me for this, as there are many photos from this three-day immersion into the history and religious architecture of ancient Cambodia. Marta and Daniel, whom we met while trekking in Laos, were our companions for this part of the trip.

We started with the sunrise, in front of the temple of Angkor Wat, and slowly, walked (or better said, tuk-tuk-ed) our way through the other temples of what is said to be the largest religious complex of the world.

(For readers who are not familiar with the south-east Asian means of transportation: a tuk-tuk is a three-wheeled motorbike to which a cabin with seats for 3 or 4 people is attached. Each country has, of course, its own variations on it. In Cambodia, you can fit up to 4 people in a tuk-tuk and it is the most convenient way of visiting the temples – as no motorbikes are rented in Siem Reap, the base-city for the Angkor Wat exploration.)

And when in need of a break, what other better way than to find a hammock, ask for a fresh coconut and some smoothies and just doze away? A hammock station – a must-have in every house, as our friends Marta and Daniel put it.  With fresh strength, we get up for another round of these amazing temples.

On our last day we rented bicycles and we wandered around the Cambodian countryside, along rice fields, palm trees and small villages. A must – if you want to have a feeling of the real Cambodia. And one of my favorite days in this country.

On our last night in Siem Reap, we tried the (apparently) famous Angkor What? Bar. Good company, a bucket or two (or three) of Mekong-Whiskey-and-Coke, and there you have the recipee for a perfect night out! Topped with people dancing under the pouring rain…

Well, this was to be a first taste of our next destination, Ko Phangan, the Thai island where we are to spend our Christmas and New Year’s Eve: laid back, celebrating, meeting old and dear friends from Romania, on the seaside and into the sunshine. No more looking for accommodation and changing city every third or forth day – this is to be our holiday!

A walk through the jungle

Two days of trekking, visiting and spending the night in a hill tribe village, admiring and/ or swimming in a waterfall, with or without the elephants, and, finally, kayaking all the way back home. A full and wonderful experience, spent in the company of a great group of people, some of which accompanied us for the rest of our Laos trip.

Some parts of this experience are not present in the photos below (especially the kayaking, due to obvious incompatibility between my camera and the large amounts of water surrounding us). But they are still present in my mind, memories of the green rice fields and little wooden sheds, local people going up and down the river in their motor-less boats and the immense silence of the mountains raising up, on one side and the other of the river that was carrying us forward.

Going back home

Although I had not planned it when I left, my trip brought me back home, back to Romania. Half-way through my journey, I gave myself the time and space to see my family again, to re-meet my friends, to come back to my hometown. And to taste all of it as part of my trip around the world, and to live all of it as part of this craziness that I let myself live. And it felt good, really good!

Out of all the places I went back here, there is one place, deeply rooted into my heart: my grandparents’ house – breathing the calmness of nature and the wisdom of generations, always welcoming me with love and opened arms, still having somewhere on a wall a photo of me and my brother as children. Tempted by the splendid autumn sun this morning, I visited my grandparents again, with my father, for a last, long and smiling goodbye.

May God keep you safe and strong until we see each other again! Until then, I’ll write you about Thailand!

Bits of Afroz – saying goodbye

Time has come for me to leave Afroz, to leave the island of Lesbos – my summer home, the place where I worked, the place where I had my holidays, the place where I re-met dear friends and where I met some new wonderful people, the place where I loved, and laughed, and cried, the place where I’ve been truly happy – for no reason at all, a place of understanding others and understanding myself. A place which left in my heart a mark, a distinctive trace, as if it were a person. Because, for me, Afroz it is not just the sum of all the people that live in it, or the enumeration of all its buildings, or a list of all the events that took place there over the summer. It is more than that – it feels like it is a living being, a living entity, having its own will, having its own path into existence, having even its own body that you can sometimes feel (in the evening, after the sun has set and the evening meditation is over or when walking around, on the dusty pathways, under the sun at midday), but above all, having a deep wisdom of life and immense reservoirs of acceptance and unconditional love.

Before ending my Afrozian summer, I want to share with you some photos of little moments which happened in Afroz and did not find their way into my blog. Like the mess in my luggage just after arriving, or the first storm of the summer, in June, with dinner by the fire, like the lunch with the girls in Skala (“Let’s do it now, before you guys start Primal!”), the bar, the Buddha Groove, an afternoon of wonderful playing and dancing which happened spontaneously one day, after lunch, the new Osho Afroz sign, old and new friends gathered in Zorba the Buddha on our last night there, Mytilini in the light of the rising sun, just before leaving the island.

“The best things in life just happen” read the sign in a bar in Mytilini where I bought my last coffee. I would just add: All we have to do is to let them happen. Thank you, Afroz, for teaching me what it means to “let things happen”!

Holiday mood

My (extended) Afroz summer gained a more holiday-ish spirit when I received the visit of my friend from Bucharest, Irina (the same Irina I met in Nice, maybe you remember), who came together with her husband and with my brother, Alexandru. Having people from my Romanian life, people that are so dear and important to me, joining into my experience of Afroz and of this island felt like an unexpected blessing.

One of these holiday-days, Irina and I decided it was the right moment for a “girls’ morning”. So we drove up to the village of Eressos and there we found the perfect place for our morning coffee: a little wooden bench under the big oak tree in the village square. Here, we enjoyed our coffee and the view of people coming and going out of the square, we listened to each other’s words, and hearts, we welcomed a stray cat that jumped out of nowhere besides us, on the bench. And, at length, we stood up and waked slowly the streets of the little village.

In the evening, now in the complete formula of four, we chose one of the restaurants over at the seaside to have dinner and to look at the sunset. And here it is another surprise that September brought into my life in Lesbos: the sun is no longer setting behind the hills, unseen, unnoticed, but into the sea, capturing the eye and the attention of all. Having been raised in a country where the sea faces east, this has been the first time in my life when I could watch, over and over again, the sunset on the sea. And sometimes I would just lock my eyes into the setting light, welcoming it inside me, wondering where the sun was going, what people and places would receive its light, now, that we could not see it anymore…

Scaring and partying – Afroz style

September time in Afroz. Life is quiet and the winter seems to be silently creeping in. To scare it away, we had, on Friday, the 13th, a loud and noisy “Scary Party”! On the soundtrack of the movie “Rosemary’s Baby”, most adequately provided by our vampire DJ Kaifi, we dressed up in Margarita’s hand-made clothes, put glitter on our cheeks and make-up on our faces, and we partied away, barefooted under the stars! Perhaps, for the last time this season…

PS:Some of the pictures have little comments under them.

Friends and smiles. In the September sun

A sweet first of September spent in and around the little town of Antissa, saying goodbye to our redhead Turkish friend who will be leaving soon. Incredibly delicious food (that disappeared before I could take any pictures – but trust me, we had the best octopus I ever tried!), laughter, all kinds of stories from all kinds of countries, home-made waffles and kaimaki icecream, listening to the waves crushing on the shore. And above all this, the autumn sun sending its light over us.

September is here and I feel the air already changing. The light is more mellow, the leaves loose a little bit their color, the mornings and the nights are getting chilly and there is a sweetness and a quiet coziness in the air. After the rush of the festival period, the center is getting more and more quiet, with new people saying goodbye every day. I will be saying goodbye as well, some day this month… But for now, I am still here, tasting the flavor of the island in the autumn. And I was surprised to feel already, on this first of September, so different from the exuberant, full-on energy of the summer months. September brings a calmness, a sweet melancholy, that I feel in my body and my heart. I feel good, happy, but in a different way than before, in a more quiet, mellow, going-inside-myself kind of way. A feeling that has a little taste of sadness in it. And I let it be and enjoy it. As much as I enjoy the light of the September sun.