The legend and the truth

To travel is amazing. Is cool. Is exciting. But to travel is also tiring and exhausting. Now that I’ve been back for a month, I realize how tiring traveling can be. The fact of moving constantly, the fact that you have to readapt every other day and face new realities and new people can be tiresome. I don’t how many times I had to repeat my story. Where I’m from, where I’m going, why I’m traveling and so on. Over and over again. Everybody goes “Wow! I wish I could do the same!” and maybe they really mean it, but then they don’t do it. Maybe because they know deep down inside that to travel is actually a “job”, it takes a toll on you, like every other job. Maybe they know that it can be lonely, and that sometimes you feel lost and abandoned. That traveling is not just about money and meeting people and see cool stuff. Traveling is also getting to know yourself, testing your limits. And sometimes it is scary. Sometimes you don’t know if you’ll make it, you don’t know what you’re going to eat that day, or if you’re even eating at all, you don’t know where you will sleep and who you’ll meet. Of course it’s all part of the adventure and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in this world, but sometimes we all need to stop and make home even if for a couple of days. We all need a little consistency, for some peace of mind. And then your feet start to itch again and you’re ready for your next adventure, for your next connection, your next flight. Now that I’ve been back for a month, I feel the urge to move, to pack my bag and go. I’m nervously checking the flights and I’m already thinking about my next trip. I have this need to meet new people, see new places, eat different things. I need to feel free, to be out in this world, the travel bug had infested my body and there’s no cure. I just need to travel. I can’t explain the adrenaline that rushes through your veins when you arrive in a new place, when to talk to someone new, when you have to face a new problem in a strange land and you manage to solve it. I really miss all that, and even though I love my family and I like to spend time with them, the call of the wild is stronger. I left this instinct sleep for a few years but now that it’s awaken again there’s no way to put it back to sleep. I watch the pictures from my trip and I’m back there, with the sounds, the smells, the breeze and my heart starts to long. I have to be patient and wait just a little longer and I know it’s for a reason. But it’s really hard, I’d take the first plane out if I could, but I’ll try to calm myself and use this time to organize better my next trip. I’m like the scorpion from the tale, it’s beyond my control.

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The end is the beginning is the end… 

And like everything else this trip has also arrived at its end.  I left Goa with a bitter taste in my mouth as I knew that I was not coming back. At least for a while.  Arrived in Mumbai in the morning I went to my host house.  Rintu is a nice guy from the north east of India that has moved to Mumbai for his studies and has not moved back.  He smiles from down the road,  a nice and honest smile that makes his round face shine.  He looks more Indonesian than Indian so I tell him but he confirms that he is Indian.  After a shower and a quick chat we have breakfast in his place and then we take a bus to go to the train station to go south where the historical area is.  Mumbai is a big city but I like it more than Delhi. The weather is much nicer and people seem more relaxed.  Rintu takes me around,  we walk for a couple of hours and I’m in owe of the beautiful crumbling buildings,  remainings of the British era.  I take a lot of pictures as usual and the heat is quite hard to stand after a while.  So we decide to go for lunch at a local unnamed restaurant where we have thali.  My last one… 

I was on the mood for beer so after a shower and a quick nap for dinner with Rintu we go for beer and food at a place nearby his house.  The following morning we wake up early but we’re both very lazy so we chat,  have breakfast,  we take tea and chat some more and only at 12 o’clock we decide it’s time to go out.  We go to a mall nearby (India distances) where we meet a couple of Rintu’s friends and where we shop the ingredients for the dinner that I’m asked to cook.  Brunch was nicely offered and cooked by Rintu so for supper is my turn.  I happily agree as cooking is always a pleasure to me.  I cook spaghetti with vegetables in tomato sauce and Rintu is very satisfied. We chat some more and then it’s time to head out to go and get my 3.00am flight to Venice.  

Parting time is a difficult moment for me. Although I know it’s good for me to go home it’s still very sad.  These last 2 days spent with Rintu and his friends have been very good and made me think of all the good things I lived during the last 7 months and all the beautiful people I met along the way and that it will be be hard for me to readjust to “normal” life back in Europe,  a lifestyle that I’ve often longed for during these months but that at the same time I don’t feel mine anymore.  In India,  in Asia people are maybe less “civilized”, trash is very common in the streets and hygiene level is not what we know.  But people seem more carefree,  happier,  they dress in color and talk to each other.  Once again Asia has been a good school of life for me.  I learnt so much of myself,  of the world,  of the fact that I call myself open minded but in the end I’m prejudiced and racist as those that I judge.  I have tried to get rid of all the conventions acquired during my life in a privileged society that considers itself better than the eastern society (unknowingly most of the times) but where we’re all stressed and grey,  where the colors we use to wear in general reflect the status of our souls,  grey and black.  A friend of Rintu just got back from Paris and complained of the fact that people look sad and angry and they dress all in black (comment made also by a friend from KL). 

It’s good to travel abroad,  I know.  And at every trip I realize how much I don’t know about life and about myself.  Landing in Paris to catch my connection to Venice I shed some tears.  I’m happy I will soon see my friends and my family but I know already that I will miss these last months. I will miss the train rides,  the colors,  the food, the smile on people faces,  the interest that people have shown towards me (although at the time it was really annoying having to repeat over and over the same things).  I will miss my portable wardrobe and the excitement to try a new restaurant,  to visit a new city.  It will take me some time to grasp the entire experience that I lived in the last months and probably when I’ll see the whole picture I will be taken aback.  In the meantime I will try to enjoy my family and my friends that although miles away have been with me the whole trip.

Poha and techno music at breakfast 

At Mumbai train station I bought my ticket to Goa for the following day and then I booked a Uber to go to my hostel.  The stupid driver took an eternity to get to the meeting point and he dropped me off half way through.  I protested of course but there was really nothing else I could do so I got off the car,  I told him to f#ck off and booked a second car.  And this time the driver took me to the right address in a very polite and friendly way.  Arrived at Welcome guest house  I was taken aback by the horrible choice I made.  Of course I checked first on Trip Advisor and Booking.com before but somehow I got tricked.  The reception of the hostel was smaller than my bathroom and the room (just one) is behind a curtain behind the reception.  Basically on the street.  Thankgod the place is located in an alley so it is still pretty quiet.  But I had the “last” bed,  in the middle of the room,  no electric socket,  no head lamp.  Of course I asked to get a better one but the guy at reception replied it was all booked.  All the guests were local except from me and another western guy.  

I resigned myself and said that it was only for one night but when I woke up in the middle of the night because this Indian guy was snoring like a pig with sinusitis (he woke up the entire dorm!!!) I realized that the place was “all booked ” because there were a few friends of the receptionist passing some hours there and now they were gone.  I was furious and changed my bed with one close to the wall so I managed to at least charge my phone (my tablet,  iPod and power bank were all dead…) and when it was 6 am I got up and left for the train station where I boarded the 7.10 am train to Goa. It was supposed to be a 12 hours train ride but we left 20 minutes late and by the time we arrived at destination we were 1.30 hours late.  From the station I had to drive 20 minutes to get to the hostel and I had to bargain some 1/2 hour to finally meet a guy decent enough to not take complete advantage of me.  With the wind in my hair (…) we drove on his motorbike and when I arrived at the hostel it was already almost 9.30 pm.  

I usually book 2 nights wherever I go but for some reason unfathomable to me this time I just booked one.  The managent at Folklore hostel were super nice and professional in a friendly way when I did the check in and when I told them I was planning to stay 2 nights they told me that they were fully booked for the next couple of days.  The hostel is recently opened but it works very well.  Spotless both the rooms and the bathroom, decent Wi-Fi and good breakfast.  I had Poha and black tea and it was nice and quiet in the garden but then for some reason they decided that they needed some music to accompany the breakfast.  And they thought that techno music full blast at 9.00 am was the best option…. But then in the following days I discovered that techno music is pretty popular here.  It doesn’t matter time or place. It always sounds appropriate… Figures…. Since I couldn’t spend another night at Folklore I booked a couple of nights at Caterpillar hostel some 10 minutes drive from my previous location.  And it was one of the owners and managers of Folklore to drive me there!!!

Caterpillar is more expensive and less nice thank Folklore but still a nice stay,  as I could use the kitchen and cook food for myself.  As soon as I checked in I walked the 10 minutes that separate me from the beach and what a disappointment when I got there!!!  There were lost of bar all playing loud music,  people screaming on the shore for getting splashed by friends,  water scooters and banana boats.  Not what I really expected.  

On my second day there I had breakfast at this place called Michele’s Garden Cafe (there is also a guest house annexed) . The place is very nice and the food pretty good but a little too pricey for the amount they serve. Then for lunch I followed Happy Cow advice and went to Bean Me Up where I had the best vegan lunch so far.  It was massive and a bit expensive but it’s all local organic food and they make their own bread.  But this unfortunately was not enough to keep me there longer and although I finally managed to move out of the city and get to the beach I was still not satisfied and after a couple of days in Anjuna I decided to try my luck and move further south to Palolem.  

Summing it up : Nepal 

I’m on the plane to Delhi.  Kathmandu and Nepal are still a fresh memory.  All in all I can’t really say that Nepal has been a pleasant experience.  Since the moment I’ve touched land I’ve had problems and worries.  Until the last moment. 

 The Annapurna base camp trekking has been nice,  although cold. Being in nature,  away from cars and traffic and people and chaos has been a refreshing break.  The last few days I had a roommate – Paul – that literally saved me from going mad.  I met a few nice people,  even locals,  I had good food but I don’t really think I’ll be back to visit Nepal,  at least not in this life.  I also cancelled my volunteering because goimg to the Dang would have meant to travel “12” hours on a bus. And honestly I wasn’t ready to do that.  It would have been too much.  It would have been fatal for my nerves.  The “6” hours bus back from Pokhara had already been very tiring.  I was not ready and willing to face again another “ride in hell”.

 So I decided to buy my visa to India (which surprisingly enough was extremely easy) and leave the country before planned but at the moment of buying the ticket I was stuck as the website didn’t accept my cards and according to Nepal laws you cannot fly on a ticket bought by someone else….and once again I was stuck.  Chance though sent me a guardian angel called Paul from France.  Without even knowing me Paul offered to buy the ticket for me and soon said and done he booked the ticket to Delhi and paid it with his own CC (of course I have to pay him back). And finally, at peace knowing that I was finally able to leave the country I managed to enjoy my last moments with Paul and some other cool people met thanks to couchsurfing. But I really think that Nepal has been a big disappointment because I was expecting so much.  I was so looking forward to visiting that I had imagined a land of fairy tales.  But that doesn’t exist and Nepal is just another country in Asia.  With its pros and cons.  Anyways… 

Once again I met a few cool people that by themselves made the trip to Nepal worthwhile.  I trek up to 4000m without any training.  I escaped two or three life threatening situations (in traffic)  so I guess I can still consider this stop as a positive one.  

Maybe next time – if ever – I come back,  I will just skip Kathmandu and move to nicer places. 

The good thing about Kathmandu are the restaurants.  I tried a few,  here is the list in no particular order :

 

Bangladesh – summing it up 

October 16 – 9.01am. Gate 1X at Dhaka international airport.  My flight is in 2 hours. 

My adventure in Bangladesh ends here,  where it started 2 weeks ago.  Just 15 days have passed but I feel I’ve been here much longer.  In these 2 weeks so many things have happened,  so many wonderful people have crossed my path.  I still cannot believe at what I’ve faced during my stay in Dhaka and surrounding.  Dhaka,  a city that I didn’t even know it existed, has stolen my heart.  And not for the city itself.  As I said time and time again,  Dhaka is not a beautiful city.  It’s not even a friendly city. 

 

Everything is a mess,  it’s dirty,  is tourist unfriendly,  it’s chaotic,  it’s hot but Bengalis  are the most amazing people I met in my life.  To them the guest is the king,  the guest deserves all their attention,  the guest has to be attended in every possible way.  The guest doesn’t have to miss of nothing.  

During my stay in Bangladesh I’ve felt like a movie star.  Never in my life I had so many pictures taken.  Strangers in the street,  at the restaurant,  in the park stopped me to take a selfie with me.  I have been stared at and scrutinized to the point of being uncomfortable.  But I felt like home everywhere I went. The Bengalis heart is bigger than anyone’s heart.  I’ve been helped by total strangers,  I’ve been given food and drink for free,  just for being a guest.  I’ve been asked time and again where I’m from and what do I do in Bangladesh (just visiting???  As if they could not believe that someone wanted just visit their country). 

Bangladesh,  where men go hand in hand on the street,  where the ads are still hand painted on the walls,  where having drinks means drinking tea at the closer “tong”, where there is no official bus stop and traffic lights are non existent, where Barcelona is know for Camp Nou (Sagrada Familia… What’s that?), where people eat with their hands,  has a special place my heart. 

But many of the people that have accompanied me these days have a dream to leave the country.  Usually to Canada or Germany.  I discovered that there is a big community of Bengalis in Italy.  Youth don’t like their country,  they wanna flee,  they believe that everything is corrupted and that there is no future for them here.  Government doesn’t make things easy for anybody.  This is a jungle (especially in the traffic)  and everybody tries to survive as best as they can.  

Once again I didn’t travel to the “best” parts of the country.  I haven’t been to Cox’s bazar,  the longest beach in the world,  I haven’t been to the islands or haven’t seen any waterfall.  But this place will always be special to me.  

Thank you Joy,  Shoshee,  Rossi,  Rasel,  Pryom,  Adnan,  Shammi,  Mukul,  Shariful, Dola,  Ishti and everybody else for making this trip memorable.  You will always have a friend in my.  I will never forget you. 

Vipassana (or the wanderous mind)

(DISCLAIMER.  The following words are just a reflection of my experience and feelings regarding vipassana.  I don’t mean to pass in any way a judgment on vipassana and people who practice it

I did it.  Well,  not really.  I started it and I left after a few days.  It was just not for me.

I entered the gate a little nervously as I felt like an aspiring monk entering the gates of the monastery.  But I was sure of what I was doing.  I really wanted to experience this thing of which everyone who done it before spoke wonders. Registration was quick and uneventful (although they took our passports,  as per law,  and told us to leave all our important things,  money,  phone, credit cards in the locker and it felt a little like a kidnapping) and we were showed to our rooms.  First deception.  In the webpage it was indicated that we would have a double room but instead I was given a bed in a dorm with other 30 beds.  OK,  no big deal,  I slept so many times in a dorm,  I’m not here on holiday so it’s OK (kinda…) 

At 6pm we were served dinner and after that we were to go to Dhamma hall for presentation and there again another strange thing happened.  We were given our seats and we’re supposed to stick to them for the entire time. No free sitting … Strange,  but again,  no big deal. 

Presentation over we did some meditation and I realized that my back was suffering.  I thought to myself that it was normal,  it would get used to it. Time to bed. 

The morning after we wake up at 4 am,  time for some toiletry and then meditation from 4.30 to 6.30. My back was soar so I was shifting position every 5 minutes,  no much concentration was possible but again I thought it will pass.  At six comes the next surprise.  An excruciating chanting in Sanskrit (or whatever the language is…) from a seemingly dying man.  Here an example. 

At the beginning I laughed but after 5 minutes I was going mad and wanted to scream ENOUGH!!! Thankgod I refrained myself.  At 6.30 the whining was finally over and we had breakfast.  A little break and some napping.  At 8 we were back in Dhamma hall.  More meditation and more shifting position,  more chanting and it was time for lunch.  At 11am.  One hour break and at 1pm back to meditate.  My back was already screaming in pain but I wanted to resist.  It was my duty because I had been accepted and took some else’s place so I had to stay.  Some more meditating,  suffering,  shifting and chanting later and it was tea break when according to the website we were to be served some fruit juice or a piece of fruit.  But arrived to the dining hall all we found was a fluorescent carbonated soda that I would never even dream of drinking in real life.  But that was the dinner,  no more food until next day so I got my bottle and drank it to the last drop.  Some more sitting,  chanting, suffering later it was time for an explanation video in dining hall.  

It was supposed to help us during our journey in vipassana but the audio was so bad I got only half of what was said.  At 8.15 pm we were back to Dhamma hall and at 9.30pm we were in bed.  

The following day was the same thing only I managed to have a low chair to help with my back problems.  And it did help – my back – only now it was my neck that took all the pain.  And the second half of the day I started to question myself and to wander if that was really what I wanted.  But I decided to take some more time and see if it got better.  But I was not able to concentrate and “work” properly.  I started to see what in my opinion was wrong with the situation. 

My back was getting a hard blow from all the dullness,  the chanting didn’t mean anything to me (and I  bet I didn’t for the majority of people in the room …),  everyone was suffering from the sitting position as we were all trying to stretch as much as we could during the short breaks we had.  No physical activity is allowed,  nothing,  nada,  niet, rien, niente! So what about the old saying “mens sana in corpore sano“? According to vipassana even the physical activity is “bad” as it distracts you from meditation.  So the only thing allowed is to sit,  concentrate on your breathing and clear your mind.  And think about nothing. And I asked myself : what’s this?  What’s the good in this?  What kind of living is this? What’s the good I can provide just sitting all day and thinking of nothing?  If we were born to do NOTHING  the whole day we would be clams so… Why am I here?  I’m not condemning the entire meditation practice  and as a matter of fact I actually enjoy it for a short period of time (one hour is enough for me)  but 11 hours a day is a bit too much (again my opinion).  I know I’m an action-holic and I like to DO,  but I’m genuinely convinced that physical activity is the best practice to clear the mind and at the same time fix your body (as long as it is done in the right way).  Stillness is not a natural state,  everything moves, flows and evolves, nothing is immutable not even the rocks and sitting like a lotus flower the whole day cannot be positive.  Getting good shouldn’t necessarily go through suffering (and sitting in that position is suffering for everyone).  Listening to some incomprehensible chanting cannot have any good return on people if they dunno what it’s said.

I was expecting something else, I thought it was more like a free meditation place,  with some guidance provided by the teachers. I was expecting some real teaching on Buddhism,  I was expecting some guidance but the teachers  just limited themselves to sit and tell you to breath deeper if you could not concentrate.  It was all more like a military camp,  a dogma place where you are told what to do and you do it no questions asked.  That was really too much for me.  I don’t work like that. So on the morning of the fourth day I made up my mind and decided to leave.  I was not happy there and it didn’t make any sense for me to stay. I inform the teacher and what he did he just laughed at my face probably thinking that I was a weak mind and didn’t get the enlightenment, I was not a noble soul. I don’t care. Life is more than that,  people are around us to help us, to provide us of the security we all crave,  not to be ignored and not even looked at (because it was “noble silence” and no eye contact was allowed), they are not some pollution in our lives.  They are not there to “distract us”, they are not,  or should not be treated as ghosts walking around us,  the breeze is a good thing,  it give us a good feeling of fresh and relief.  It’s not a nuisance that mingles with our own breath (contrary to what the webpage says no walking meditation was allowed either).  Maybe I wasn’t doing it right,  maybe I wasn’t doing it for the right reasons, maybe I’m not enlightened enough,  maybe I’m not a noble soul,  or maybe I’m just too stupid to understand the real meaning of all that.  But I’m a very pragmatic person – some say I’m too pragmatic – and I don’t like to do things just because someone said so,  I like to understand what I do,  I like to feel I’m DOING something and if it’s good for me and beneficial for the society it’s even better.  Vipassana is the contrary of what I believe in.  I probably should have asked more questions before doing it but I don’t see this as a negative experience. Maybe I’ve been too ambitious,  maybe I should have done the 4 days course but I’m still glad I did it. My goal to do vipassana was to get to know me better and I do now.  I know what I want,  what I’m good at and what I’m not good at.  For me it is still a success. Know thy limits.  If people can really get a benefit from vipassana I’m more than happy. It’s just not for me.  Whatever works.  That’s what matters.  

I could do with the wake up at 4am,  I could do with the chanting (with a big effort)  I could even do without dinner (if you do nothing the whole day you don’t get that hungry) but I certainly couldn’t do with the sitting and suffering in silence for something that it’s no good for me. But again I don’t regret doing it.  Things are just things and what matter is the lesson you can get from them,  what matters is to get the good out of them and use it to have a better life and that’s what’ll I do.  Now I know myself a little better and I’m gonna use this knowledge to have (or try to)  a better life.  Things are for a reason and no matter what happens they are good because they guide you to the place you are supposed to be. 

 
If you want to know more:

http://www.joti.dhamma.org/

THE COURSE TIMETABLE
The following timetable for the course has been designed to maintain the continuity of practice. For best results students are advised to follow it as closely as possible. (but you’re really not allowed to do differently…) 
4:00 am Morning wake-up bell

4:30-6:30 am Meditate in the hall or in your room

6:30-8:00 am Breakfast break

8:00-9:00 am Group meditation in the hall

9:00-11:00 am Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher’s instructions

11:00-12:00 noon Lunch break

12noon-1:00 pm Rest and interviews with the teacher

1:00-2:30 pm Meditate in the hall or in your room

2:30-3:30 pm Group meditation in the hall

3:30-5:00 pm Meditate in the hall or in your own room according to the teacher’s instructions

5:00-6:00 pm Tea break

6:00-7:00 pm Group meditation in the hall

7:00-8:15 pm Teacher’s Discourse in the hall

8:15-9:00 pm Group meditation in the hall

9:00-9:30 pm Question time in the hall

9:30 pm Retire to your own room–Lights out

Tha Bar Wa

So.  My week as volunteer as come to an end.  Next Monday I will begin my vipassana.  I’m a little worried that I won’t make it but I don’t wanna call it off even before starting it. 

My week in Tha Bar Wa has been interesting.  I’ve met nice people and seen things that I couldn’t even imagine. Volunteering always gives me back the faith in the human race.  In a society where all that matters is money and appearance,  it’s good for the heart to see that there are people ready to work for free,  ready to give something in return for nothing if not in return for some personal satisfaction.  During my time here I’ve been practicing massage on poor people, suffering from hard labour and stroke.  It was good to give and get in return their gratitude.  It made my day. 

Of course not everything is nice and beautiful.  Life here can sometimes be hard,  hygiene is a different concept from what we think.  People are very clean,  they shower at least once a day everyday but then houses are barracks,  trash is everywhere,  animal have free entry wherever they feel like (there are plenty of stray dogs around here – and mostly are sick,  there are 5 cows and they shit everywhere). 

But life has a different rhythm,  people help each other,  nobody goes to bed with hunger.  And our help is very much appreciated. 

I had the chance to participate to the alms and see how people can give just for the sake of it.  There is no shame. You give what you can.  Being money or food.  Or both.  Someone gives an apple,  someone a bag of rice,  some a tube of toothpaste. Nothing is too little.  You give according to your possibilities. 

I also had the chance to see the other side of the mirror.  Monks are not necessarily saints,  they are people and for this reason they’re not perfect.  Far from it I would say.  And they are not necessarily nice persons,  they don’t smile to you,  you don’t feel your life is in good hands when you’re with them.  They live their lives detached from everyone else.  They don’t mingle. The first day I did the alms I was carrying the bowl for the money and the first thing that the “first” monk did after we finished the tour was to snap it out of my hands. And they are bit supposed to use money.  I was a bit shocked.  I would expect that from a priest,  but from a monk…. 

But still.  Even some of my coworkers have been here a long time and think they are “so spiritual” and feel the need to give you advice about meditation and detachment,  it was a good experience.  I like to see things with my own eyes and this time I’ve learnt so much.  On many different levels.  Now comes the hard part.  Vipassana is said to be a magnificent experience although very hard.  Another step to get to know me better I guess….