Felicidad es… / Happiness is…

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La felicidad de hoy vino en forma de… Chaturanga!

Chaturanga Dandasana es una de las posiciones en la secuencia de saludo al sol que se practica en yoga
/chaht-tour-ANG-ah don-DAHS-anna/
chatur = cuatro
anga = extremidades
danda = columna, soporte del cuerpo
asana = posición
(hay una fotito más abajo. No, no soy yo)
Siendo pariente del primo sin huesos de “La vaca y el pollito” cualquier actividad que requiera fuerza en los brazos es un gran desafío para mi.
Después de un mes y medio de casi romperme los dientes contra el piso varias veces, logré hacer la pose como corresponde! iupiiiii!
Y fui feliz! 🙂

Qué te hizo feliz hoy?

Today’s happiness came as… Chaturanga!
Chaturanga is one of the postures in the sun salutation sequence practiced in yoga.
/chaht-tour-ANG-ah don-DAHS-anna/
chatur = four
anga = limb
danda = staff (refers to the spine, the central “staff” or support of the body)

Being a close relative of “Cow and chicken”‘s boneless cousin, any activity that requires upper body strength is a big challenge for me.
After a month and a half of almost falling on my face several times, I finally got it right!! woohoo!
And that made me very happy 🙂

You can learn more about this pose here

What made YOU happy today?

The mystery reveals itself. Kuala Lumpur, My.

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I have a confession to make: when I was in Bangkok I’d met this girl who kept talking about a place called Kael. I kept nodding when I actually had no idea what she was talking about. It seemed so obvious that I had to know it that I didn’t dare ask. This happened again with other people I met along the way. Turned out, I was now heading there without even knowing it.
Kuala Lumpur, or KL (K-L, for Christ sake!), was the first mega metropolis (exaggerated much?) I was going to encounter since leaving home 2 months ago. I was excited. I loved my month and a half island-hopping in Thailand, but a part of me, even if it’s small, will always be a city girl: the lights, the chaos, the feeling of being alone surrounded by thousands of people and the certainty that there were lots like me out there.
Going around by foot in KL is difficult and most people just don’t; when we asked for directions for things we eventually realized were 15 blocks away locals would emphatically point that walking was not an option. Then again, you have… MONORAIL! So why would you want to walk? The monorail is tiny and often smelly but it’s a must and it offers a great way to see the city while enjoying AC. However, I recommend walking around the Petronas twin towers area while every so often lifting your gaze, it’s like they are playing hide and seek between other buildings. And you always win.
Aside from the twin towers, you can visit the KL Menara to get a view of the city. We chose to go up the twin towers because we wanted to see them from the inside. A renowned Argentinian architect was involved in the design, so we have a soft spot for it. If you want to go up, you have to go buy your ticket a couple of days before or go at 8 am. Access is limited each day so it doesn’t matter if you’re leaving the next day, if it’s sold out, you’ll miss it.

Most of our time in KL revolved around the towers. By day. By night. For breakfast. For lunch. For dinner. They are just so magnetic! And it made it obvious that we were where we where. It was a little traveling milestone: I´m in Kuala Lumpur, I´m on the the other side of the world. Happiness.

Look at that! / Miren!!

Look at that! / Miren!!

Ermahgerd! / Ohpordios!!

Ermahgerd! / Ohpordios!!

My great gig in the sky

My great gig in the sky

Inside the Petronas Twin Towers

Inside the Petronas Twin Towers

The other option is to go up the Menara and get a look at the twin towers from a distance and seeing them immersed in the whole grand scheme of the city. Or, if your budget and time allows, do both!
KL is a great place to indulge in a bit of comfort while backpacking. They have everything you need and want and more! Need tech gear? Hit Low Yat Plaza near Imbi station. Need a new change of clothes? Hit H&M, Forever 21 and tons of other, affordable and not so much, choices in Bukit Bintang station. If you get a chance, stroll around Pavilion: it’s a gigantic mall with over the top decorations year round. I got to see both their Christmas and Chinese New year’s ones. While you’re in there, go to level 4 and head to the 5 RM store. It’s the Malaysian version of a Japanese store called Daiso and we learned about it through our Japanese friend, Takako. We wanted to buy some stuff at Muji and she suggested we checked this other store first. She was right. Everything in the store is, you guessed, 5 RM (1.5 usd) and you can get kitchen ware, Japanese snacks, toiletries, blankets, stationary, batteries… you name it, it’s there!

Japanese lesson with Takako / Clase de japones con Takako

Japanese lesson with Takako / Clase de japones con Takako

Near Bukit Bintang you have Chinatown. During the day is a market that bases its existence on knock off merchandise. You can get gorgeous Celine bags, that of course aren’t Celine but they look so much like the real thing! The same with Chanel, Prada, Chloe and many more. Being a recovering bag junkie it was hard to walk away empty-handed. But there’s no place for a faux designer bag in my backpack and in my life and they were still a bit out of budget. By night, on Petaling street, there’s an incredible street market that revolves around FOOD! Amazing pork, duck, seafood. It’s packed with people and waiters chase you down the street to get you to sit at their table. It can be a little overwhelming, but just stare at what other people are eating and when you see something you like, try to seat nearby, that’s what we did.

We had the chance to visit the National Mosque. To get in, it was mandatory to be covered from head to toes so they gave us a purple robe. We met a man that explained most of Islams basics and we then got into what I consider a complicated subject: women and Islam. We asked him a few questions, thanked him and just left the thing be. Gave back our robes and roamed the city one more time.

Muslim get up

Muslim get up

We were there during rainy season, meaning it was hot and sticky and it rained every day so when we were in need of some cooling down, we just entered the first mall in sight and enjoy the free AC.
We left KL feeling renewed, with the adrenaline rush only a city can provide and ready to tackle our next destination: Melaka.

 

 

It’s cold in here! Cameron Highlands, My.

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(“There must be some Toros in the atmosphere”, right? couldn’t help it!)

While being in Penang, we were trying to figure out where to go next. “Lonely Planet says there’s a place south of here where it’s cold…” I don’t care where it is, how much it costs to get there or if there’s nothing to see. Let’s go! After more than 2 months being sweaty 24/7 and having crazy, frizzy hair, the promise of cold sounded like heaven. What do we want? To be cold! When do we want it? Now!

Our van picked us up from our hostel in Chinatown. It was supposed to be a 3 hour ride on an air-conditioned transport with lots of legroom. Not really. No AC. No legroom. Luckily, I got the seat by the “hop-on” step and was able to stretch a bit. We hit the road and a traffic jam, simultaneously. Long story short, the ride lasted 6 hours.
On the way to our lodge, I noticed people on the streets wearing jackets. Oh, happy day! I’d been dragging a pair of boots for 2 months. I was FINALLY going to use them. Woohoo! (Yes, I get happy easily) We got to the lodge mid-afternoon. We went up to the dorm to leave our things; it looked more like an orphanage than a dorm, but hey, it was 5 usd a night!! Love it!

We hit town to get acquainted with our surroundings. 5 blocks. That was it. We were already acquainted. Ok… what should we do now? The answer was obvious: EAT! Indian it is. I had been craving naan since Thailand and had a mediocre one in Penang, so when we saw the guy rolling the dough and cooking it right there, our mouths watered. Indeed, awesome naan and raita. We planned our activities for the next day and called a night since we were super tired. Surprise, surprise! I got into bed and suddenly I started to feel itchy. Very. Of course, my mind jumped into the obvious conclusion: finally, bed bugs had found me and my delicious blood. Bet mosquitoes told them I was coming, since they love my delicious blood too. I must admit that I am a very conflicted hostel-bed user. I think about the sheets, if they’ve been washed… I distrust patterned sheets. And don’t get me started on pillows! So, I’ve been travelling around with my own pillow case. I’m a filthy animal with many other things, like, I can wear the same socks for weeks, but it’s my filth, get my point? So, I put my pillow case and used my sarong as a sheet. Then, I proceeded to cover my entire self. Slept in leggings, socks and a hoodie. No part of my body was going to touch anything. Still, itchy itchy itchy!!! I know by then that it was going to be a long night, especially since we had an early start the next day. As expected, I fell asleep an hour before having to wake up. Well done!
We started our day trekking through the mossy forest to see the famous Raflessia flower. It only lasts for about 7 days after it blossoms so we were lucky to see it. There it was with one cabbage patch kid of her own, it was amazing, it looked like an alien flower. We also found the root that is used to make Tiger Balm! Very amusing. We were sweaty and muddy and happy.

Raflessia & me

Raflessia & me

After a 3 hour trek, we went to a tea plantation. I never gave much thought to how tea is actually made so I didn’t really know what to expect. It blew my mind. It looked like a green ocean, with waves rolling through the hills covering everything on their way. The plantations are just there, next to the road, no entrance fee, no nothing. They are part of the landscape. So are the workers that everyday go harvest the tender tea leaves that will later be processed in the plant. After wandering around the plantations for a while like little kids and staring in awe at everything, we made our way to the processing plant. We went to Boh Tea Plantation, founded in 1929 during the British colonial era in Malaysia. We saw how tea leaves are dried, chopped and classified. We made a quick stop through their store and picked up a Lychee and Rose one and an Earl Grey with Tangerine one. Both were really good, very aromatic and a pleasure to drink during our cold nights and mornings in Cameron Highlands. We then sat down at the cafeteria and enjoyed a cup of freshly brewed tea while overlooking the tea-covered hills. The cafeteria had glass walls, so we felt like floating over the plantation.

Tea with a view / Té con vista

Tea with a view / Té con vista

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Tea Plantation / Plantación de té

Tea Plantation / Plantación de té

Ater that, we stopped by a strawberry farm! Oh my god, I was so excited about this!! We got the chance to go to a farm and collect our own strawberries. They gave us a little basket and a pair of scissors and off we went. I felt like Strawberry Shortcake, one of my favorite cartoons as a kid. Then they weighed them and place them in a box, and all mine! Loved them, I ate the whole bunch in one sitting as soon as we got back to our lodge.

Dreamy strawberry fram

Dreamy strawberry fram

Harvesting my strawberries / Cosechando mis frutillas

Harvesting my strawberries / Cosechando mis frutillas

During day 3 it rained all day so it was a chocolate-and-movie day. The lodge had a DVD player and a broad movie selection so we hit the supermarket, stocked on chocolate and enjoyed the afternoon being a couch potato.
Cameron Highlands is a solace of green and coolness that we really enjoyed. But it was time to hit the road again. Next stop: Kuala Lumpur!

Oh Bali, where art thou?

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There’s a phrase in Spanish that claims: “el que quiere celeste, que le cueste”, which translates into something like, “if you want to get to paradise, you’re gonna suffer… muahahaha!”.

In the past 3 days we’ve only slept 8 hours, which is nothing for a sloth like me.

We are sitting on the side of the road, under the blazing indo sun, waiting for the bus that will take us to paradise: Bali, here we come!

They told us the bus would come in 20 minutes. An hour later, here it comes. Confirmed: we’ve been tricked, to say it politely. 100,000 Indonesian Rupiahs for this??

The bus is crowded. Wait, is there a word for “more than crowded”? Packed? Bursting? Cramped? All of the above? Ok, that. People are smoking like it’s their last chance ever to do so. Salesmen get on the bus every 30 meters (and I’m not exaggerating), selling mostly food and drinks. And, to make sure you see them, they put the things they’re selling in your face. Literally. IN. YOUR. FACE. It’s hotter than hot, the hottest vehicle I’ve ever been in. I stare at covered Muslim women thinking “how do they do it? I would pass out!” Hell, I’m about to pass out and I’m wearing a tank top!

We don’t find seats together, so I snuggle up to this kind-looking lady.
We do 200 meters and we get to the ferry pier to cross over from Java to Bali. Everybody gets off the bus to enjoy the AC in the top deck of the boat. We do too. But before everyone gets back to the bus we hurry and get seats together. I’m feeling guilty about it; but then I see that, not only seats aren’t assigned, but that nobody gives a damn. I just hope the nice lady doesn’t think it’s because I don’t want to seat next to her.

Anyway, 3 hours of this unbearable heat, sweating profusely while just being seated, sleepy… The only way to explain it is: stupor, that sleepy/groggy state you sink in when being extremely hot and possibly dehydrated. We quickly pass out, heads hanging and banging, with an occasional gain of consciousness for drool-cleaning, and back to passing out.

Finally, Denpasar! Let’s get our crap together and find a way to get to Ubud. Yeah, we still have a few more km to go.
We find a driver, who lies and overcharges us. But we’re so tired we don’t even care anymore. “Just get me to a shower or I’ll kill you, slowly and painfully. After I take a little nap, of course.” This is just a thought that never materializes into words, I’m a pacifist after all.

Eventually, we find our homestay, tell the driver to shove the money up his bum and crawl to the shower to get a fresh and clean start. Literally. Oh yeah, “Hello Ubud, it’s good to be here! Ready to rock?”

3 days, 2 volcanos, a trekking from hell and a death bus later, we got to Ubud, Bali

3 days, 2 volcanos, a trekking from hell and a death bus later, we got to Ubud, Bali

Lose yourself to dance

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Skimpy-clothing, ass-grabbing, head-shaking, sweat-sharing. A middle-aged Balinese man wearing tights, banging two sticks together and yelling at people’s faces to hype them up. A couple in their early thirties: he’s wearing lime-green leopard tights and a lion’s tail and ears, she’s wearing a skeleton-print bathing suit.
It’s SUNDAY MORNING, 11 am, and people are in a trance, like they are high, chemically high. But they are just high on music, on themselves, on each other. They just let themselves go, they surrender to the music in a tribal way that goes beyond reason. Eyes closed, arms in the air, on the floor, on each other, all over the place.This is not an after-party but a gathering in a beautiful open space to basically dance till you drop. “These people are insane” is a thought that keeps popping into my mind. Eventually, I notice I’m smiling. And my feet are moving to the beat. And so are my arms. Wait a minute… are my eyes closed? Damn… it’s contagious!

It’s contagious and it’s liberating. Nobody gives a damn about what the other one is doing, what the other one is wearing, how the other one looks. There’s no good or bad dancing (although, let’s be honest, you can’t help noticing that some are more flexible than others). Everybody’s dancing their asses off and with doing so, an incredible amount of sweat starts pouring and it’s ok, it’s ok to be soaking wet. Sweat it all out, as if it’s sweat therapy.
Eventually, I start to notice that other things are going on. An old man is dancing with two little kids, the three of them holding each other’s hands, smiling; they never met before this very moment. A couple resting on a long embrace, a relaxed embrace, one that doesn’t have an expiration date, they could just hold each other for the whole 2 hours this encounter lasts and no one would look at them funny. Two other strangers locked in a synced dance, no words are exchanged, it’s just… energy? Movement, gazes.

While I stop to catch my breath, I imagine some of my friends there, they coming to visit and me taking them there. They would think I’m crazy, that everyone is crazy, exactly as I did until I tried it. But this dilemma always comes to me: who are the crazy ones? People who just go and dance with strangers every Sunday for 2 hours and obviously have a fantastic time, or people who still cling to social conventions, to social expectations, to what others might think of them?

I’ve been there all of my Ubud Sundays so far, so you know what my answer is.

Music is happiness.

“Pain or love o…

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“Pain or love or danger makes you real again… / Dolor o amor o peligro te hacen real de nuevo…” Jack Kerouac

Sometimes, while on the road, you may encounter some of these, or all, even at the same time. I guess that’s living, right? Feeling something raw and real.

A veces, en el camino, podemos encontrarnos con algunos de estos sentimientos, o todos, al mismo tiempo. De eso se trata vivir, no? Sintiendo algo crudo y real.

 

Ijen and the morning I just wanted to die.

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Tiny van. All seats taken. It’s hot outside. It’s hotter inside. 6 hours to our next destination: “Twilight Zone hotel” number 2 at the base of Ijen.

The hotel is deserted except for a few locals gathered around the tv and an overly hyped guy from somewhere in Western Europe. No wonder. He has spent the past 2 days all alone in the hotel waiting for a tour to come along so he can get to Ijen and then get the hell out of there. We’re a sight for sore eyes.

It’s 7 pm. We have to wake up at… did you guess 3am? WRONG. To make it even more interesting, we have to be ready by 1 am, so we have to set our alarms to half past midnight. Yaaay! Back to the story. It’s 7 pm and we all gather around a table zipping complimentary tea and sharing crazy travel stories. At 8 pm we call it a night. Yes, at 8 pm. We want to sleep as much as possible. Of course, the pressure of knowing you have to wake up in 4, 3, 2, f@ck-this-sh*t hours makes it almost impossible.

So, off we go, 1 am. While we’re all trying to sleep our way to the base of this second volcano, there’s a specially chatty American who’s all cheerleader-like. At 1 am. She’s kind of entertaining though and I’m not going to be able to get any sleep anyway so I just go with the flow.

We get to the base at 2 am: the idea is to go all the way up, then down to see the sulfur mine and the blue fire while it’s still dark and then go up again to see the sunrise. This time, the main attraction isn’t the sun but the blue lake you can see in the crater, which only looks blue early in the morning. Afterwards, the light of day makes it look just gray.

We get introduced to our guide for the night, Holili. Cool, let’s go! We start walking. By now, I’m used to being the last one in the group, gasping for air and doing things at my own pace if I want to be able to do them at all. This nice Italian guy hangs out with me in the back. OK, no biggie, I’m last as usual. Suddenly, the road starts getting steep. Steeper. Steeper. 39 degree angle steep (don’t quote me on this). I start to feel like my lungs aren’t keeping the air long enough, or that they don’t have enough capacity or something like that, I’m not thinking straight anymore. I’m struggling, very badly. I can hear the rest of the group laughing several meters ahead. How can they walk and laugh?!! And to add to my embarrassment, our guide stays behind, with me, smoking his cigarette and looking like he has just started. I tell him I’m sorry like 5 million times. He just smiles. I’m ready to give up, I will just stay here until they come back down, or until dawn breaks and I can find my way back or until a giant eagle mistakes me for dead meat and takes me back to its nest and feeds me to its little eagle kids.

My friend Julia just won’t let me quit. She coaches my way up and down and back up. Bear in mind, she’s the one that has respiratory issues and goes around with asthma medication! I can still hear her: “10 more steps and we’ll stop to rest” I hate everything and everyone. I can’t feel my legs or my head. To add to this beautiful concoction, as we’re going down to see the sulfur mines, the air becomes unbreathable. REALLY? I’m already having trouble breathing, dude! (dude: someone I made up to direct my hatred to, as if he was forcing me to do this). Out come the surgical masks we bought for the occasion. Sexy. Julia sees me struggling so bad she even considers giving me a hit of her medicine. Hilarious.

So… yeah, blue fire, very nice; sulfur, crazy. It really looks like hell down there. To add to my feelings of inadequacy, we see sulfur workers doing their thing. They hike up and down the crater, twice a day, carrying an average of 90 kgs of sulfur on their backs. It looks like exhausting, excruciating physical work. It seems that they’re in great shape, but all I can think of are the consequences of doing this day after day. Consequences for their backs, for their lungs. It makes me appreciate my good fortune in life.

Time to go back up and enjoy the sunrise. When we finally get to the top, I feel like crying. I feel like Rocky Balboa, I can’t believe I’ve made it! I even get my picture taken with my arms held high. You can tell by the expression on my face that I’m not 100% right in the head at this point. I have my friend to thank, I honestly wouldn’t have done it without her.

So we’re there. Ok, THIS IS IT??!! And as my feeling of having been bs’ed about the whole experience starts to grow stronger and stronger, there it is. The sight, the feeling of marveling at the universe, how can this be possible? There’s a blue lake in the crater of a volcano, and it’s the most stunning and beautiful thing I’ve ever seen! I realized later that I took like 20 pictures of the same thing, just because every passing minute seemed to offer a different light to the whole landscape.

It’s time to go back down. And as we’re going down a winding road, there he is, the sun. All covered in fumes, looking like this incredible black hole, making the trees below him look like Tim Burton drawings.

I’m in pain, my feet are blistered, I’m hungry, thirsty and tired. Cold sweat on my body, and I would do it all. over. again. As my good friend Jack Kerouac would say:

Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.

Ps: the trekking is really hard if you are not in good shape. It’s almost 2km of steep hike. HOWEVER, if you have good shoes, a stick to help yank yourself forward and a good trekking buddy, it can be done. Don’t forget surgical masks and water. And an energy bar in case your blood sugar goes down. If you get the chance, do it. It’s rewarding in so many ways.

Rocky "Anto" Balboa

Rocky “Anto” Balboa

People from afar at the top of Ijen

People from afar at the top of Ijen

Blue lake + pink in the sky / Lago celeste en el crater del volcan + cielo rosa

Blue lake + pink in the sky / Lago celeste en el crater del volcan + cielo rosa

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Holili / Nuestro guía, Holili

Holili / Nuestro guía, Holili

Sulfur workers / Recolectores de azufre

Sulfur workers / Recolectores de azufre