Soaring Away (Happily)

My soul is tethered to a sail, I think. I feel a tug to follow the wind wherever it may go. There are times of course where that sail is rolled away and stowed, when I need to focus on people or life at home but that connection never severs; waiting, hibernating. And when my soul’s sail unfurls and that rush catches me I can’t help but want to seek out every edge of the earth.

Right now I’m in the Philippines on the island of Palawan, a place that easily lives up to its reputation as The Most Beautiful Island in the World. To say that I’m happy right now is such an obvious understatement it’s almost silly, but there you have it. I’m happy here.

I’ve been anticipating this trip for a long time, as months ago I’d found an incredible deal on flights and bought two tickets on the spot before my brain could tell me not to. I wasn’t sure who my travel companion would be but I was willing to bet I could talk someone into going with me; either that or I’d go alone again since the cost of two tickets was still less than I’d been expecting to spend on only one. And, again, I’m happy with how it’s worked out now that my boyfriend, Mike, decided to leap into travelling with me. He might not have been certain at first on the idea of being on the other side of the world with me but he’s been great – always up for adventure and willing to look for the positives in any situation.

It’s early morning as I write this post, and I’ve been sitting at a small table in the sunny courtyard of the hostel. A few minutes ago a little boy walked up to me to show me something. I smiled at him and was expecting to have to try to kindly tell him I wasn’t buying anything, but he just wanted to show me his toys. In a moment he was sitting down and playing beside me. Happiness personified in a sweet little face, even though he was more interested in playing with the camera than smiling for it. My new buddy, Zander

Yesterday Mike and I were able to see a little more of Palawan when we joined a day trip tour to an underground river. The scenery was spectacular, and while I sat in the canoe marvelling at the mangroves surrounding us the guide would point out something new to notice every few minutes. I loved how proud he was to show us a bit of his world. In fact, I was impressed all around with how well the community of Puerto Princesa has worked to develop sustainable tourism. I don’t know with any certainty but it feels like this area has tried to learn from its other SE Asia neighbours and avoid some of the problems that have plagued other top destinations. I think it’ll be successful, and I hope more people are able to come experience Palawan.Monitor Lizard crossing

How lucky am I that I’m able to soar away with the wind like this? To see the kinds of places filled with a kind-hearted population like this? This wind in my sails is calm and steady again as I contentedly coast along here in the Philippines.

Seeding Good Luck

I still have two days in Bangkok at the end of my trip that I want to write about.  They were incredible, and a very different experience from my first days in Bangkok at the beginning, before the tour.  I remember so many different snippets of stories that I had begun drafting in my mind while we were there, and I was excited to share the contrasts with what I had written a month previously when I was first experiencing the city.  So why haven’t I written that?

As has been my pattern already, if I get behind in blogging I end up procrastinating.  When I let too many days pass from the emotions and thoughts, what I actually felt in the moments I write about, my posts just end up seeming stale and forced, a list of what I had seen and done.  Dull.  So I avoid it, and my blog.  Self-perpetuating non-motion.   To shake that now I think I’ll just chatter about what I am feeling currently, and hopefully as I go on I can find a way to loop it back to the topic at hand: travel and the Thai capital.

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This week I’ve been feeling a little untethered.  My 5 month leave of absence from work is almost over, so this era of being a full-time traveller is wrapping up (for now??…).  At the same time nearly all of my other external identity markers have also disappeared or changed, and it’s a bit hard to handle all that all at once.   I spent years defining myself by my job:  I was a flight attendant, not only that, but a Corporate Flight Attendant.  When I return to work next week I have a significant career change that I’ll need to wrap my head around.  I used to be a Wife; I’m not anymore, and tied to that I used to be a Homeowner until we sold our house in the suburbs last month….  Writing this paragraph has sparked a memory for me, and I had to pause to dig through my notes for a quote that was given to me by a friend a few months ago.  It fits here for me now.

Each misfortune you encounter will carry in it the seed of tomorrow’s good luck.  – Og Mandino

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I know those little good luck seeds are already germinating in my life, and I’m looking forward to seeing what great things spring up in the near future.  And in the meantime the best way I know how to keep myself sane and happy is to dream about travel.  It really is the best medicine for me!   The picture I used for this quote is from a courtyard at Wat Pho, the Reclining Buddha temple in Bangkok, and it reminds me again of my time there.  My first few days were all about touring temples and streets full of food and vendors and massage spas and backpackers. (you can read about Better than expected Bangkok) And my final days in Bangkok: restaurants bursting with personality and shopping and expats.

We were able to meet up with a friend who has lived there for the past four years, and she was a perfect host and guide!  It’s aways fun to laugh with an old friend so we would have enjoyed ourselves regardless, but Corrie knew so many great spots we were almost run off our feet trying to cram it all in.

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speaking of feet
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Ali and Corrie

Here we are stopping for a quick selfie at the MBK Centre.  This place is a massive, seven storey mall used by locals and tourists alike.  I don’t even feel like I’m exaggerating when I say it has everything!  I definitely made good on my plan to wait and make the bulk of my purchases on my last day before going home!  Souvenirs such as curry mixes, tea, exotic fruit candies, clothing, jewelry and watches…. my list goes on.  Tricia and I had to get reallllllly creative in packing to get everything in our luggage for the flights home!  And when we weren’t shopping, we were eating.  Which I love!

 

Look at that – I did circle back and steer this post to Bangkok!  I know it’s a little light on details and funny stories this time, but considering the mood I was in when I began writing this post and how much better I feel now, I’m calling this a personal win anyway.  Thanks for reading along with me.

Travel Light

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If you wish to travel far and fast, travel light.  Take off all your envies, jealousies, unforgiveness, selfishness and fears.”   Glenn Clark

Have you ever sat back and just marvelled at the power of words?  At how something you hear or read can halt you in your tracks as it grabs your subconscious and forces you to pay attention?   Tonight I had another one of these moments with the quote above.  And I can’t believe I’m going to write about it publicly since those are qualities I would prefer to keep locked away, out of reach of my own attention and certainly anyone else’s.

This quote from Glenn Clark first found its way to me about 6 months ago, I don’t remember where I saw it but I added it to my little notebook list.  I liked it then, and also the other times I’ve seen it when I open that page to add another quote or thought.  Somehow though, I didn’t need those words until right now.  I sometimes passively wonder when the others I have jotted down will spring to life….

I’ve been travelling for the past 12 or so weeks, and as I absorbed these words tonight I had a flash of recognition.  A vision of myself and the backpack I’ve had with me, smiling for the camera in front of some far-flung location.  That smile is genuine, by the way, full of hope, the excitement of adventure and pride of accomplishment in equal measure.  But my pack is too big and becoming more unwieldy as I pose and I realize I’ve brought along too much with me – those negative emotions I’d stuffed in with the rest of my dirty laundry.

In just this past week I can easily list off the times I harboured envy, nursed petty jealousy, felt unwilling to forgive and thought selfishly.  It has been a significantly harder week than my usual, but I don’t want to allow that any foothold in my life nor do I wish to get used to the idea that my circumstances control me.  I still get to choose my reactions.  So I choose now to ‘unpack’ and leave these behind.  I know this won’t be the last time I’ll allow negatives and fear to burden me, but for now I’m repeating this quote as my mantra until I can travel lightly enough to fly far and fast to the great things ahead.

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P.S.    I did say in my very first post (Introducing: aimlessly + anywhere) that my blog may end up with a bit of everything.  This one certainly fell under the ‘therapeutic diary’ category rather than travel journal….  But I’ll be back on the road before long and hopefully have some good stories to tell soon!

If you’re as inspired by the quote as I was, and would like to keep it with my picture you are welcome to save the image at the top of the post.  In case you’re curious, I took that photo from the Citadel at the top of the Gellert Hill in Budapest.

Being Brave in Bogota 

My first impressions of Colombia’s capital city are admittedly coloured by its dangerous reputation, so it’s not very surprising that the things I notice on my first day here seem to line up with that.  Confirmation Bias – “I think I’m right so I subconsciously look for things that prove my opinion” – can be tricky to overcome.

I knew that Bogota has been an immensely dangerous city, and that within the 8 million or so people living here the extremes between extravagant wealth and utter poverty are jarring.  So when I arrived and saw a city full of graffiti and security guards with rifles, police with dogs, or soldiers on every block it just seemed scary to me. 

As I was thinking further about it, though, I came to realize that the heavy police presence was a good thing, and an indicator of the city’s efforts to stop the crime that had been so rampant.  Once I had that shift in my thinking it became easier for me to see the good side of Bogota, and I ended up really enjoying exploring some of the sights.   I was still careful as I made my way though the city streets alone, staying aware of what was surrounding me.  Before I left my room I also prepared for the possibility of being mugged by only bringing a small amount of cash with me at a time and by hiding my phone in a secret pocket in my scarf.  (If you haven’t heard of these yet, check out what I consider my “security blanket” for when I’m out….. Travel scarf.  I love it!!)   Don’t worry though – I ended up completely safe without any close calls and instead found people here to be very generous and helpful!

Everyone says the best tourist thing to see in Bogota is the view from Monserrate, a mountain right at the centre of the city.  My hotel happens to be close to the base of Monserrate, so I was able to walk and in about 20 minutes I reached the ticket office to purchase my cable car ride to the top.  Here’s a little tip for you if you plan to go see for yourself:  Anyone afraid of heights should try to stand in the middle of the cable car, the huge windows mean it can be very clearly seen that the car is dangling from high above the steep face of the mountain; and anyone claustrophobic should avoid the middle of the car that is packed shoulder to shoulder with other people and at least try to be squished up against the window. If you suffer from both, well, there is a path to walk up to the peak, if you’re patient!

On the way up
As far as my eyes could see – Bogota


As well as the panoramic views of a city seemingly unending, there are gardens with plants that look like they sprung to life straight from a Dr. Seuss book. 

I was delighted by the flowers, but I’m sure most people spend more time noticing the church, as it’s a popular pilgrimage destination, or the souvenir shops or restaurant.  Whatever the draw, a great way to spend a morning!

My next stop on my own Discover Bogota initiative is the Gold Museum, as it’s the other item always listed in the guidebooks and blogs.  I loved the museum!  It’s so well laid out over 4 floors of a large building and jam-packed with the history of civilizations that inhabited the Northern part of South America, telling about these lives by what was done with gold and other precious metals.  The entrance cost me about $1.35 and I could have easily spent more time here, so this will be back on my list of things to see when I return to Colombia one day.

Another shift I’m beginning to notice while I spend more time out in Bogota is the artistic vibe as an undercurrent throughout the community, even in the graffiti that first seemed so unsettling.  Some of the street art I stumbled across appears to be a social commentary, others beautiful murals.  See for yourself:

Maybe sometimes being brave isn’t about surviving something scary, once in a while it might be about the hard work needed to overcome an incorrect bias.

And finally, since I can’t get Dr. Seuss out of my head, here are some of his words to send us off with.

 

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Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss

Remember 


“Two things to remember in life: Take care of your thoughts when you are alone; and, Take care of your words when you are with people”     Author unknown

I have had this quote scribbled on a note page for a long time but it was one of those things that I would always forget about until each time I happened to see it again.   Do you ever do that – collect little things or thoughts because you have a hunch that one day they’ll mean more to you?   That’s what this was.   

I’ve been alone a lot lately, and for an extrovert like myself it’s difficult to spend so much time only in my own company.  Don’t get me wrong, I like my own company, but I have a brain that is wired to get energy and ideas from external sources.  I come to life after being surrounded by conversation.  That’s why the first part of this quote struck me tonight, because I don’t want to risk ruining this time by wallowing in the fear that I might fade away into nothing if I don’t connect with someone soon.    They say travelling alone is the best way to find yourself – well I have and I know I need groups of friends around me!  

Our thoughts steer us so much more than we realize, just like our words can have a bigger impact on people than we know.   I admit to being careless with this sometimes, too.  Is it narcissistic to sometimes forget that others think differently than I do?  I’ve hurt people with comments I’ve said before the thought was fully formed, or not seeing that it might come across other than I had intended.  I’m sorry, and I’m working on it! 

I haven’t met any new buddies this past week while I’ve been travelling, and for me it gets harder to do so the longer it goes on this way.   There have been friendly conversations at dinner and with people sharing my hostel room, but no one that I’ve connected with enough to make us want to hang out more. And I miss that.     Thankfully I have a couple lifelines at home, and a good conversation with my best friend is all I needed to feel better again.   
If you like this quote too, feel free to use the image I made. (The background picture is from my walk on the Charles Bridge in Prague yesterday morning, in case you were wondering… )    Oh, and if you know where this quote originally came from please tell me!