2017: a heart opening year

[Português]

Days before I start a new year of my life, I’m finally able to finish this post looking back at 2017 and the lessons I’ve learned from months of traveling, experiencing, settling, working, and getting to know me better – and feeling comfortable with it 🙂

2017 was the year I (re)opened my heart and allowed love to flow (in and out) again. After surviving 2016 (how tough it was!), and traveling east, 2017 surprised me with lovely encounters with places, people, and experiences.

It was January 11th when I felt it was going to be a different year.

It was raining and I had been awake since 5am to catch the first of 3 buses of that day. I was extremely lucky that my travel  partner decided, last minute, to continue her trip with me. Because when crossing the border I realized we’d swapped passports by mistake. I had hers, she had mine, and despite the same nationality we don’t look anything alike [another lesson learned from the road].

I can’t imagine how 2017 would have been if I was not able to cross to Laos on that January 11th. I wouldn’t have met the Mekong, nor the weavers of Xamtai, nor started a new habit, nor improved my motorbike skills, nor enjoyed sunsets and the best hash browns at the border with Cambodia. I’d probably have had a different experience in Northern Thailand, skipped Songkran (the water festival), and most important not met all the incredible people along the way.

If 2015 was the year I was forced to embrace uncertainty and deal with it without time to think or breath, and 2016 was when I embraced it and tried to add some structure to it (at least in my thinking), 2017 was when I allowed myself to live it beautifully, to enjoy the uncertainty of the paths I chose, and to experiment without fear of failing.

I spent 3 months in Laos, visited Northern Thailand, spent almost one month back in the US – covering both coasts and a bit of Louisiana and Mississippi -, introduced my mother and brother to one of my favorite spots in the world – where he indulged himself with all kinds of bugs and weird food – and had a blast having them visit my Thai family, and flew back to Brazil for a work project.

Being back in Sao Paulo after 7 years away was an interesting experience, to say the least. I reconnected with old friends, made new ones, and was able to keep feeding my nomadic soul hopping from one house to the other, thanks to the generosity of friends who are more than family to me, until I found a perfect short-term place where I spent the last 5 months of the year.

2017 also taught me that sometimes the right people come into our lives at the wrong time, and there’s nothing we can do about it other than enjoy their company while it lasts. It also taught me that there are wrong people out there, and sometimes we have encounters with them right when we need to learn a few lessons.

It was also a year of love in terms of acceptance.

Acceptance of who and how I am. Of the fact that I don’t have a standard answer to the question “what do you do” or “where’s your home”. I understood that not having a standard answer to questions like these does not mean I don’t do the things I do with professionalism and passion, nor it means I don’t feel home in the places where I am. Regardless of what people might think (and judge), I know that I’m an excellent professional, daughter, sister, and friend who will always be there for the people I love and for the exciting and challenging projects that come along.

Bring on 2018!

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The French who meditate

[Or how to pick a new habit]

I met this French guy on Tinder.[1]

He asked me out for a beer (I don’t drink beer, but I said yes) and then he brought his friend along.

Weird, I thought at first. Maybe it’s a French thing? But after a while I didn’t mind. It was fun to be around them.

Papo vai, papo vem,[2] we realized we had exactly the same plans for the next few days: go on a 5 days bike ride.

“Wanna do it together?”

“Sure! Why not?”

And there we went.

It caught my attention that the French really liked to meditate. Several times a day.

Sometimes in the morning. Always in the evening; usually after taking a shower.

And so I joined them. In the evenings only. In the mornings I prefer to exercise.

For six days all we did was to ride on dirt and/or winding roads, visit caves, swim in cold springs, play petanque while drinking pastis, and meditate.

On the 5th day, we decided to do it before our ride back from the cave. I was so relaxed that I fell off the bike a few hundred meters before arriving at the guesthouse.[3] Nothing serious, no worries. I guess I was so relaxed that even the fall was smooth.

On the 7th day traveling together the French left. But the practice stayed with me.

As they continue to meditate around the world so do I.

Merci et à bientôt!

 

[1] No worries, my mom knows I’m on Tinder.

[2] One word leads to another.

[3] Can someone explain to me the whole mindfulness thing again?

Travel notes – Cambodia

I made my way to Cambodia from Bangkok, where I met a friend who came to SE Asia to spend her vacation with me. We took a flight in BKK and landed in Siem Reap 50 minutes later (Nok Air, USD55). It’s possible to do it by bus or train, you just need to be aware of the visa and border-crossing scams at the border. More about Poipet famous’ scams here. Because we spent more time in Bangkok than previously planned[i], the flight seemed a better option for us.

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Siem Reap is a lively city with its economy based on the tourism around Angkor Wat. It’s quite busy, but nothing compared to Bangkok. Despite being pretty touristy, it’s the #1 “must visit” place in Cambodia, and I’d add, in SE Asia. Lonely Planet features Angkor Wat as #1 travel destination, and most people go to Cambodia only because of the temples. That (temples, not LP) was also the main reason we wanted to visit Cambodia.

We spent 4 days there. First day was a rest day – to recover from all the walking around Bangkok and to plan our visit to the temples. The ticket is not cheap and there’s talk around town that it will increase significantly in 2017. In December 2016 it cost USD20/1day and USD40/3days. I don’t think 1 day is enough to see everything.

We visited most of the temples in Angkor complex + three others located 30-40km away from the city. We were speechless most of the time. Personally, I’m not sure if I found Bagan more impactful. The style is very different and I keep thinking whether it would change my impression if I had visited Angkor Wat first. I really don’t know. Still, there were moments where my jaw would literally drop.

Ta Phrom, for example, is magical. All those trees hugging the ruins in such a delicate way, as if they were put there at the same time. The silence… well, silence until the arrival of hordes of Chinese – IMPORTANT: get there as early as possible! And don’t stress too much about the Chinese. They do outnumber everyone else and stressing about their loudness, selfie-sticks, and lack of “simancol” won’t change the way they behave and will just ruin your day.

We chose to do the long circuit first (on our 2nd day) and leave the short circuit, which include Angkor Wat, for the following day. On the 3rd day we visit the Lady Temple, a tiny but extremely impressive building with incredible details everywhere you look. So delicate and so powerful at the same time.

Siem Reap is definitely more expensive than other places in the country. If you get there from outside the country, you might have an impression that things are pretty cheap. Hold your consuming impulses though and buy your scarfs in Battambang or Phnom Penh instead.

You can visit the temples by bycicle, motorbike, tuk tuk, car/van/bus, but we didn’t even consider the latter. It’s a great feeling to feel the wind in your face while moving from one temple to another – and it’s also a nice way to recharge and get ready for more walking around ruins.

We found a nice tuk tuk driver and decided to stick with him during our stay. It was great. He had a really good vibe. He was so nice that – our mistake – we didn’t realize he was adding things to what was agreed and would charge for it later. So, as a piece of advice, you don’t need to change drivers if you like the first one, but don’t forget to agree on the price before you leave for the day and ask him over and over again if what he’s suggesting is included in the previous agreement. I know, I know, very basic thing, won’t happen again (so I hope).

Food: we rediscovered the meaning of “fresh fruit juice” with creamy and incredibly tasty smoothies for USD1. *** avocado + passionfruit is an awesome combination! I also loved Nom Krok, a rice-coconut pancake (gluten-free!) that you find everywhere.

Before heading to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, we decided to visit Battambang. Capitol Tours sells tickets for USD4.5 if you buy at their office (~1km from the old market). Hotels sell it for USD6-8. Important: call to confirm pick up from your hotel if you buy the ticket directly with the company. They “forgot” us and we heard it was not the first time it happened. Luckily our host called them and thanks to the delayed departure we were still able to catch it.

Battambang is the 2nd largest city in Cambodia but it feels like a small town in the countryside. It was founded in the 11th century by the Khmer empire.

It was a nice surprise after busy Siem Reap and before even busier Phnom Penh. In Battambang we rented a bike and rode along the river. Every kid in town would wave to us and say hello. When passing in front of a school where kids were going home we almost caused an accident because they’d look at us instead of at the traffic!

“Hello, bye-bye” was our motto in Battambamg.

Food: Domlong An or Noum Domlong Barang. Delicious sweet potato cakes for only 500 riel (USD 0.12)

From Battambang we took a bus (USD5) to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, situated on the Mekong River bank.

It was the first time we were shocked with the traffic and amount of motorcycles (it was certainly an anticipation to Ho Chi Minh/Saigon in Vietnam, but that’s another post…). It was also the first time we hated the place where we stayed and maybe it influenced the way we visited the city. Yes, there were better options but they were also more expensive; we just stayed out for as long as we could so we’d fall sleep as soon as possible.

The Royal Palace (USD6.50 > price will increase to USD10 in January 2017) deserves a visit according to Livia. I didn’t go inside but she loved – and I trust her, so you should go 🙂

On our last day in Phnom Penh we rented a bike and drove to Choeung Ek (USD6), a killing field during the Khmer Rouge regime, in the 1970s. It’s a very disturbing place. I felt a peaceful atmosphere in the area but then, listening to the stories of atrocities that happened there… it’s so sad to realize what the human being is capable of. It was the first place in Cambodia where I witnessed total silence among visitors (including the Chinese!).

From Phnom Penh we bought a bus ticket with Mekong Express to Ho Chi Minh, in Vietnam, for USD12. The trip took us about 7 hours.

It was a short visit to Cambodia and I’m sure there are many other interesting things to do there. What we could notice is that people are extremely friendly, food is similar to Thai food in many ways, and the Khmer culture is present everywhere we visited. For next time we’d love to visit the mountains and the coast. One more thing for next time… I guess I’m never leaving SE Asia 😉

 

PS-You can pay pretty much everything in American Dollars throughout Cambodia.

 

 

 

 

 

[i] Because I had to get my visa to Vietnam and thought that it would be easier at the Vietnamese Embassy in BKK – oh, make laugh! First I tried in Yangon, Myanmar, and they wanted to charge USD70 for the visa. I knew it should be cheaper so I tried BKK… but no. They wanted to charge me USD61. I ended up getting my visa in Siem Reap, Cambodia, through an agency recommended by the guesthouse where we stayed. I paid USD41 and got the visa on the same day. I had no problems getting into Vietnam with it.

Respirando e vivendo Tailândia

Chegou novembro e com ele um sonho se torna realidade: eu vim parar em Myanmar! Mas ainda não é dessa vez que eu vou escrever sobre esse país que tem me fascinado nos últimos anos. Calma! Calma! Logo mais eu compartilho minhas impressões. Abaixo seguem alguns detalhes sobre minhas últimas semanas na Tailândia.

Como eu já falei anteriormente, eu tive muita sorte de ser “adotada” por uma família tailandesa que me ajudou na aclimatação cultural e culinária. Com eles eu passei minhas primeiras duas semanas. Desde que me despedi deles e de Phuket, visitei lindos lugares – mas ainda falta muita coisa para visitar na Tailândia e já estou planejando a volta e os próximos destinos por lá.

Quando você viaja por viajar, sem ter que estar num lugar específico, numa data específica, você acaba se permitindo passar períodos mais longos em cada um dos lugares que visita. Você se deixar levar pela velocidade, cultura e atmosfera local. E é exatamente isso que estou tentando fazer – claro que reconhecendo que o tempo que passo nesses lugares não está nem perto do ideal para assimilar o modo de vida local – e ainda por cima é bem óbvio que eu sou turista estrangeira por aqui (ou como diriam os tailandeses, farang).

Com a exceção de Ko Phi Phi – de onde eu saí correndo depois de passar 2 noites (uma delas em claro) – eu senti que poderia ficar mais e mais tempo em cada um dos lugares que visitei. Todos esses lugares me colocaram em contato com coisas que são muito importantes para minha vida e bem estar; coisas que eu gostaria de incorporar ao meu dia-a-dia. Racionalmente eu sei que não preciso estar nesses lugares para poder continuar escalando, meditando, praticando yoga, evitando carne e álcool; mas parece que essas coisas fluem com mais facilidade em determinados lugares. Taí algo para trabalhar e mudar daqui pra frente!

O primeiro desses lugares foi Tonsai – uma praia em Railay, Krabi, que é um paraíso da escalada em rocha. Lá eu me reconectei com a escalada e percebi, uma vez mais, o quanto esse esporte alimenta minha alma e me energiza. Mesmo estando fora de forma, mesmo meus braços e pernas não aguentando meu peso por muito tempo, mesmo com hematomas espalhados pelo meu corpo, eu me senti completa, plena, feliz de uma forma que só a escalada me faz – e que eu tinha, mais uma vez, esquecido.

Eu saí desse paraíso apaixonada. Apaixonada pela geologia e sua formação rochosa – sério, no meio de uma via eu virei para quem estava me fazendo segurança e perguntei se podia chorar, tamanha a beleza daquela rocha! Apaixonada pela energia de paz das marés alta e baixa. Apaixonada pelas almas lindas – umas mais que outras 😉 – que conheci por lá. Se não fosse por um dos únicos compromisso que eu assumi para essa viagem – um retiro de meditação em Ko Samui – eu acho que ainda estaria em Tonsai. Certamente voltaria para lá. Provavelmente vou voltar.

O retiro em Ko Samui começou no dia 20. Foram quase 7 dias de silêncio total, acordando às 4h30 e indo pra cama às 21h, apenas 2 refeições diárias, e muita meditação sentada e caminhando. Por mais difícil que tenha sido deixar Tonsai, eu sabia que algo muito interessante me aguardava. E estou estava certa.

Ainda rola muita incerteza no estágio em que me encontro nesse mundo da meditação. Eu não faço ideia quais as peças que minha mente e meu corpo vão me pregar; para onde minha mente vai perambular; como manter o foco na minha respiração quando meus pensamentos vagueiam por aí. Nesse sentido, a experiência de respirar, sonhar, andar, comer meditação por uma semana foi uma agradável surpresa. Enquanto tentava domar meus pensamentos e me concentrar no ar entrando e saindo pelo meu nariz, minha mente me levou para lugares imagináveis e inimagináveis. Eu tive visões – reais e psicodélicas, caí no sono durante as sessões de meditação, fiquei entediada, frustrada, fiz listas de coisas a fazer, e-mails a escrever, telefonemas. Até escrevi e-mails e cartões postais na minha cabeça!

Mas para a minha surpresa, a parte mais difícil não foi lidar com o silêncio e com a minha respiração. O mais difícil foi voltar para o mundo “real”, barulhento, cheio de carros e motos, cheio de opções de comida, de gente falando comigo e esperando uma resposta. Daí que a decisão de seguir para Ko Phangan e ficar hospedada num bungalow na praia (por U$4/noite), com um restaurante delicioso a 5 minutos de caminhada, e aulas gratuitas de yoga foi perfeita! E mais uma vez eu senti que poderia ficar por lá – Haas Chao Pao – por mais e mais tempo.

No entanto, tinha uma outra coisa já planejada – quem disse que eu não faço planos? Meu voo para Myanmar sairia de Bangkok e eu precisava começar a seguir para o norte.

No caminho para Tonsai conheci uma brasileira e passamos a viajar juntas. Acaba sendo bem mais em conta poder dividir as despesas – principalmente de acomodação – com mais alguém. Claro que é preciso dar sorte de encontrar alguém bacana. E esse foi o meu caso. Ela acabou se juntando a mim no retiro, onde conhecemos um russo – professor de yoga – que nos seguiu até Ko Phangan. De lá, nós três resolvemos ir juntos para Ko Tao, uma ilha pequena conhecida pela grande oferta de cursos de mergulho – e que, aparentemente, é um dos lugares mais baratos, no mundo, para aprender a mergulhar.

Mergulho, no entanto, ainda não é muito a minha praia. Então quando meus parceiros de viagem se inscreveram num curso de freediving eu decidi cair na estrada a caminho de Bangkok. Lá passei mais tempo com a Namsai, lavei – e sequei!!!! – minhas roupas e organizei minhas coisas seguir, finalmente, para Myanmar!

[Escrito em 08 de novembro de 2016, Yangon, Myanmar]

 

 

 

Breathing and living Thailand

[leia em Português]

Yangon, Myanmar – November 07, 2016

It’s November and a dream comes true: I made it to Myanmar! This post, however, is not about this country that I’ve been fascinated by, but the past few weeks I spent in Thailand. Hopefully on the next one I’ll be able to share some of my impressions on this intriguing place.

As mentioned previously, I was fortunate to spend my first two weeks with a Thai family, getting acclimatized to Thailand and learning the basics about Thai culture and food (so good!).

Since I left my adopted family in Phuket, I have visited a few places – but still far from seeing most of the country. When you travel for the sake of traveling, and don’t necessarily have to be in a specific location by a certain date, you allow yourself to spend longer periods of time here and there. You allow yourself to experience the local pace, its culture and atmosphere. That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do, but I have to recognize it’s still not enough time to assimilate the local way of life – and I’m an obvious foreigner – farang – here.

With the exception of Ko Phi Phi – that I left after 2 nights – I felt like I could stay longer and longer on every other location I visited. Somehow, all the places exposed me to things that are important in my life, and that I’d like to do more often. Rationally I know it’s not a matter of place/location, I should be able to climb wherever I go, or meditate, or practice yoga, or avoid meat and alcohol; still it feels like certain places are more favorable than others to do so, and that’s something I’ve been trying to change during this journey.

The first place where I felt it in a powerful way was Tonsai, Railay, a climbing paradise where I reconnected with rock climbing and realized, once again, how climbing feeds my soul and energizes me. Even though I’m out of shape and my arms and legs can’t hold for long, even though I left with bruises all over my body, I felt complete, happy and fulfilled in a way climbing allows me to feel – and I had forgotten.

I also left this climbing paradise a bit in love. In love with the geology and rock formation. In love with the peaceful and calm vibe of the low and high tides. In love with the beautiful souls – some more than others 😉 – that I met there. If it wasn’t for one of the few ‘time and date’ plans I have during this trip – a meditation retreat in Ko Samui – I think I would still be in Tonsai. I could certainly go back. I’m probably going back.

The meditation retreat in Ko Samui started on the 20th. It consisted of almost 7 full days of silence, a 4:30am-9pm schedule, only 2 daily meals and tea, and sitting and walking meditation. As hard as it was to leave Tonsai I knew something pretty exciting was waiting for me. And I was right.

At the stage I am in the meditation world, it still involves a lot of uncertainty. I have no idea what kind of tricks my body and mind will play with me, where my mind will wander to, how to maintain the focus on my breath once it starts wandering. The experience of a week breathing, dreaming, walking, eating meditation was, to say the least, positively surprising. While trying to tame my thoughts and concentrate on the air coming in and out of my nose, my mind wandered to imaginable and unimaginable places. I had visions, I fell asleep during the sessions, I was bored, I was frustrated, I made lists of things to do, emails to write and people to call. I even wrote emails and postcards in my head.

But to my surprise the hardest part was not the silence or the mindful breathing. I pretty much enjoyed the challenge. The most difficult part was coming back to this loud and “real” world. It took me a few days to acclimatize again to people talking to me, to cars and motorbikes on the streets,  to so many food options. So the idea to head to Ko Phangan after the retreat was just perfect. A bungalow on the beach, an awesome Thai restaurant 5 minutes away, free yoga sessions every morning. Again I felt like I could stay there – in Haad Chao Pao – for a long, long time. But the other thing I had planned was a trip to Myanmar and it  was time to move and get closer to Bangkok, from where my flight to Yangon departed.

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Sunset in Ko Phangan

On my way to Tonsai I met a Brazilian girl who was also running away from Phi Phi. She joined me in the retreat and there we met a Russian guy – the yoga teacher – who followed us to Ko Phangan. The three of us ended up going to Ko Tao together, a small island known by the infinite offers of affordable diving courses – apparently it is one of the world’s cheapest places to learn how to dive.

Diving is still not my thing. Somehow I feel claustrophobic when wearing a mask and snorkel under water, I can’t even imagine a full scuba diving outfit. Maybe I’ll try it one day, but not yet. So when my travel buddies enrolled on a diving course I  decided to make my way to Bangkok and spend time with Namsai, do my laundry – yay! clean and dry clothes again! – and organize my things to finally enter the fascinating world of Myanmar.

***

Dealing with uncertainty as I go – Not only my itinerary is uncertain, unexpected things also happen as I go and I have to find ways to deal with them without getting (too) upset. So far – knock knock on wood – the main thing that happened, forcing me to re-plan and rethink my already tight travel budget, had to do with technology and connectivity.

The last thing you want when traveling on a budget is your computer AND your phone to die. Well, that was exactly my case. First the computer in Phuket. Puff! One day it did not turn on anymore. Diagnosis: mother board. Dead. Thankfully there’s Dropbox! 🙏🏼

Then my phone died after we were caught on a heavy rain in Ko Phangan, on our way to Bottle Beach – northern part of the island. No, it did not fall in the sea, or in the toilet, or in the pool – so I told the technician who stared at me skeptically. It was rain. And it was gone. Forever.

I had to decide if I’d buy a new computer + a new phone – which I ended up doing – and how I’d recover this money so I can keep my previous travel plans. I still don’t have an answer to the latter, but as life already showed me many times before, I’m sure things will work out. (by the way, if I can do any freelance to anyone out there, let me know!)

 

Am I home?

TonSai, Railay Krabi – October 17, 2016

I find it fascinating how my mind works. I prepared myself to arrive in a place completely different from everything I am used to, but then… I was so wrong! Thailand is way more similar to Brazil than I initially thought.

After noticing that I expected something else – the different instead of similar – I spent time trying to find a rational explanation to why Thailand reminds me so much of places that were already familiar to me.

Is it the latitude?

Is it the Portuguese influence? (Phuket town has a strong Sino-Portuguese architectural influence)

Is it globalization?

What is it about Thailand that feels so homey?

While trying to find an answer to the sense of familiarity, I focused on exploring what is – for a fact – different. Which leads me to food.

OMG! Forget everything you know, or think you know, about Thai food. What you find here is a whole new advanced level. This is the real deal.

I spent the first 10 days tasting as many different flavors as I could. It was actually the perfect timing because I arrived right in time for the Vegetarian Festival – so for someone who can be picky about meat like me, the possibilities were infinite.

During the first days I indulged myself with all the flavors and smells.

Trying to pick favorites was a mission impossible.

Spicy, mild, not spicy. Sweet. Sour. White rice, brown rice, sticky rice, rice noodles. Fried noodle, fried rice, soup, clear soup, dark soup. Vegetable stew. Leaves. Fresh greens beyond Thai basil and lemongrass.

If someone out there ever heard me saying I could live on potatoes, forget it! I could live on Thai food. Four times a day. Seven days a week.

Have I mentioned the fruits? OMG! OMG! OMG!

Longan, Ngo, Mangosteen, Durian, even Guava and Sao Wat Lot (Passion Fruit) have a special taste here. I could easily – and actually I did it for a day or two – live on fruits.

For days all I did was eat, take pictures of food, and learn a few food-related words in Thai 🙂

 

 

Then, between meals and visits to the market, I realized why Thailand feels so familiar to me.

I come from a family where social gatherings always happen around food. And suddenly I found myself in Phuket island, being hosted by a Thai family who also gets together around a round kitchen table, three times a day. And the table is full of a wide range of choices to “chim”[i] at all times.

In addition to the food, they are warm, kind, always smiling. They made me feel so at home that if they weren’t speaking Thai I could be in South America.

The streets also remind me of Brazil. Street dogs. Unfinished road work everywhere. People on the sidewalks, talking to each other, being loud. If it weren’t for driving on the “wrong side of the road” I could swear I was in a Brazilian coastal town.

When I finally found an explanation to my sense of familiarity I relaxed and allowed myself to enjoy this beautiful and smiley country in a lighter way – without the need to understand it “tim tim por tim tim” and with less expectations. This approach is taking me to very interesting places and I’m sure this is only the beginning.

[i] Chim = taste/try in Thai