Tag Archives: adventure

Look As Long As You Can At the Friend That You Love, No Matter Whether That Friend is Moving Away From You or Coming Back Toward You

When you travel to faraway places, you expect to feel displaced and disoriented. You expect the strangeness of an indecipherable language, of unknowable aromas and unimaginable sights. Even when homesickness strikes, and you search out something comforting and familiar — a pizza, for example — a part of you knows that no matter how close to the “real thing” it is, it will be just different enough to make your homesickness worth. It will have corn and oyster mushrooms on it, or the cheese will taste like butter; it will be a Bizarro Pizza.

What you do not expect to happen is to travel thousands of miles into the unknown only to experience something so intimately connected to the story of who you are that it doesn't just feel familiar, it feels like a flashback; an emotional echo rebounding through time, distorted, but clearly and eerily recognizable. This is what I felt when, after a helmet-less ride through Thailand's northern forest, I pulled up at the doorstep of The Cave Lodge, 9km north of the dusty town of Pang Mapha.

About 10 years ago, I visited Brasil for the first time. I flew into Curitiba, in the state of Paranà, where my dear friends Pati and Andrew picked me up at the airport and gave me my first taste of fresh coconut water. I had a one-month ticket and since I didn't have a lick of Portuguese and had no clear idea of what I was going to do, I was planning on relying very heavily on the two of them. The first excursion they had planned was to a place called Iporanga. It was a town bordering a a tiny sliver of the once great Mata Atlântica rain floresta that had blanketed São Paulo state. I checked my Lonely Planet guidebook and there was no mention of such a place.

When we arrived in Ipo, as I came to know it, we drove to the top of the town where a lumber yard had been turned into a hostel. Albergue Capitão Caverna, named for the cartoon character known in the States as Captain Caveman. It was a place unlike anywhere I had ever been. I remember orchids and other epiphytes tied into the branches of trees. I remember showers that provided hot water in demand and — if you didn't do it right — a frightening electric tingle that rebounded down to your toes. I remember little translucent pink lizards with eyes like papaya seeds. I remember hammocks, and banana trees, and a German Shepherd named Astor, and sweet black coffee, and a thin curl of moon rising above Morro da Coruja (Owl Hill). But what I remember most of all are the people. Jana, who ran the hostel. Luciane, who worked there. Queila, visiting from São Paulo. Guiné, a registered guide for PETAR (Parque Estadual Turistico do Alto Ribeiro), a state park preserving about 140 square miles of old growth rainforest.

Originally, we had planned to stay in Ipo for three days; one weekend. In those first three days, we hiked through the forest, dazzled by the diversity and sheer thickness of life, we swam in rivers and waterfalls, we ate arroz e feijão, and we visited a scant few of the over 300 caves that dot the park — Morro Preto, Agua Suja, Santana. Just the sound of these names, rolling around in my head, bring back memories so sensual that they eclipse the world I am currently inhabiting. This strangely proprortioned room in a guesthouse in Luang Prabang, Laos fades away into the impenetrable sound of an underground waterfall, into puffs of black dust rising from our footsteps, into the warmth of sunlight after hours in darkness. On what was to be our final day, we explored Alembary, a cave whose entrance I remember as an unassuming hole in a patch of grassy ground, its depth obscured by water. We scrambled into this dark mouth and plunged into icy waters.

On our way back to town, golden in the setting sun, we stopped at a cluster of ramshackle structures. We ate pasteis fresh from the fryer and sublime in their warmth and comfort. We drank caldo de cana, an emerald brew pressed from rods of sugar cane, in flimsy plastic cups. The sky turned lavender as we drove the rest of the way back to Ipo. In the distance a single mercury light blinked into existence, a tiny green star illuminating a square building and a stand of banana trees. An emotion welled inside of me, something deep and primal and unnameable in my first language. Desire and Hunger were the wrong color. Need was too mundane. Longing came close, but even this is too melancholy, too absent of joy and the blissful divine. In Portuguese, I later learned, the word for this ineffable feeling is Saudades.

I wanted to stay in that river valley, wanted to slouch in the redes that lined the alburgue's veranda, wanted to learn enough Portuguese to sufficiently express my love of and gratitude for this place. I wanted to hold on to this feeling forever, until the seed that had been planted in my soul had burst and taken root and given flowers.

That first visit to Iporanga changed my life. Somewhere on a dirt road in Brasil, a part of me awoke, took the steering wheel and pulled. The maps that I had been given became useless. In a very real sense, this is where The Endless Road Trip began.

These pictures were not taken in Iporanga, or even Brasil. They were taken in northern Thailand, just miles from the Myanmar border. These are not the caverns, or the forest, or the rivers that greeted me in beautiful PETAR. These are not the friends that I made while staying at Alburgue Capitão Caverna. But they might have been. They were that familiar. The tastes were different; the sustenance was the same.
The view from atop Morro da Coruja, the highest point of Iporanga, was breathtaking. Emerald green forest, leaves glittering like dew, stretching in every direction, disappearing into a hazy eternity. Fragile infinity. I encountered it again on a mountaintop near Ban Tham Loc. An echo reminding me of the simple choice that I made more than ten years ago. To stay in Iporanga for my entire month in Brasil. To listen to a part of me that I had forgotten existed. To become permeable.

To find myself confronted by this view, experiencing something so similar to Iporanga and yet so different, was an unexpected and comforting confirmation. The person that I was stood face to face with the person that I have become, and both incarnations were filled with gratitude. So much time has passed, so many things have changed, but some underlying, essential form remains. The tides have come and gone, but the ocean is still whole. Iporanga, Pang Mapha; threads in a grand pattern. Fragile, but infinite. Saudades for the world that is receding, Joy for the horizon drawing me forward.

California Chaos ~ Amtrak Adventure Day 2

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Yesterday, I foolishly wondered what would happen if the Southwest Chief was so late that we missed our connection in L.A. Honestly, it seemed like such an innocent question; as speculative as wondering what might happen if I found a magic ring or a secret doorway hidden behind a patch of ivy. As far as I can remember, Tim said something about a “guaranteed connection.” He might have mumbled something about a bus, but I was so busy formulating my next sentence — “well that’s not going to happen anyway, so why even worry about it? — to pay close attention.
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You see where this is going. At eight o’clock in the morning, we were woken by our car attendant, Evan. He informed us that our train had been delayed throughout the night and that if we were lucky, they would hold the Coast Starlight until we arrived in LA. When we went for breakfast in the dining room, our waiter Scott told us that in all likelihood, we would miss our connection and we would be forced to take a bus to catch the Coast Starlight somewhere up north. Later, as I was entering the shower/toilet booth (or the shoilet, as Tim calls it), a disembodied voice came over the intercom, letting us know that all passengers heading north to Seattle would be detraining in San Bernadino, catching a bus to Bakersfield, and then boarding a California Amtrak commuter train that would take us to Martinez, where we would finally catch up with the magnificent Coast Starlight.
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Tim was nonplussed. We would be missing all the gorgeousness between LA and Martinez! no breakfast on Olveras Street, no gawking at LA’s Union Staton. no visit with the old Fig Tree at the Santa Barbara Station, no sea lions or surfers frolicking in the Pacific Ocean.
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But what could be done? We, and all of our fellow northbound travelers, got off at San Bernadino and crammed ourselves onto a bus bound for Bakersfield. We crested Cajon Pass, a famous railroaders landmark, and arrived in Bakersfield with barely enough time to catch the northbound San Joaquin, Train 715. While searching for and hefting our luggage, we were unceremoniously hooted and hollered at by various Amtrak representatives. “You better hurry up!” “The train is about to leave in a couple or minutes!”


In case you are an Amtrak representative and you want to know, such exhortations are not helpful in the least. What frazzled, worried, disgruntled passengers want to hear are words of assurance and comfort. “Yes, this is the train you are supposed to board.” “We can’t check your luggage here, but we’ll be happy to help you get it to the baggage area!” or even a cheery, “you’re doing great!” All of this “Hurry up!” and “You’re going to miss the train and then what are you going to do?!” hair on fire business makes everybody uncomfortable.
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One fellow passenger, a woman dressed in items purchased at a world market, lost her shit while carrying her bags from the bus to the train. “What!? They’re not going to check our bags?” she screeched. She looked to Tim and myself in search of support and shared indignation. I averted my eyes and followed Tim wordlessly. As we situated ourselves, she kept making eye contact and flashing a look of deep and abiding exasperation. I kept thinking to myself, “what will it take for this woman t realize I’m ignoring her? How much more averted can my eyes possibly be!?”20120310-001635.jpg20120310-001655.jpg20120310-001712.jpg
You see, although this unexpected and innocently predicted diversion was annoying, it was familiar as well. For at its essence, traveling is going forth to meet uncertainty head on. You hope that your plane will arrive on time, you hope your hotel won’t have bedbugs, you hope that you’ll find a gas station before your car stops working. But all of those hopes add up to exactly nothing when an engine decides to break down or your train is brought to a standstill by freight traffic bottle-necking as it heads to LA. And one of the lessons of a traveling life is that what makes it spectacular is not its predictability; The very thing that transforms life into adventure is uncertainty! without it, we drown in routine.

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What do I do now? Whose advice do I listen to? What are my options? How much control do I have? These questions informed our second day on the train, just as they inform all of our lives. Traveling allows us some practice time with them; gives us a chance to test drive potential answers. And if you do it often enough, you emerge from the chaos and unpredictability with confidence, adaptability, resilience, and flexibility.

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Or, I suppose, you could end up bitter and angry, outraged at how nothing turned out the way you wanted or expected it to; perennially disappointed by the pearls thrown upon the mud before you.

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We never saw our angry co-passenger again. but I am willing to bet that when she tells the story of her travels, what she’ll talk about are not the hours of peace, beauty, and calm that she enjoyed once she boarded the Coast Starlight. Instead, she’ll tell her friends and family (perhaps through a blog post much like this one) about the crazy day where nothing went right but everything turned out just fine.

day 72 ~ wilmington to new bern, nc via emerald island

after a stop in downtown wilmington to meet a dear friend’s mother for the first time, we quit wilmington and head out to emerald island where we check out the ocean and hoop creek and have some bojangles. we end up in new bern, nc, birthplace of pepsi-cola.

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and here is a panorama of downtown new bern, right out front of the pepsi-cola storefront.

dday 69 ~ leaving raleigh-durham for wilmington, nc

we enjoy the raleigh for a few more hours before heading towards wilmington, nc and the beach. swimming, hot tub, delicious handground hot chocolate, and then a beautiful drive at sunset.

the historical site that tim cannot remember in the above video is the mordecai house. here is a panorama — a cubist panorama at that; check out how the bench turned out — of this historic building. and yes, i discovered that andrew johnson was in fact the president of this country…right after abraham lincoln was murdered.

the chocolate shop in the daily video journal is escazu chocolates, a pretty remarkable artisan chocolate shop with just the most beautiful sweeties. we got a couple of mexican hot chocolates and chatted a bit with the woman working the till:

also appearing in the video journal is the raleigh amtrak station. while tim and i were there, we reminisced about the last time we had been there:

and last but not least, here is an audio recording made at the market restaurant, a cute little bistro serving delicious food made with locally sourced ingredients.

museum of indian arts & culture ~ museum hill ~ santa fe, nm

on the eve of a supposed snowmageddon, tim and i took mazy for a walk on museum hill. this is the front facade of the museum of indian arts and culture.

day 40 ~ santa fe, nm ~ mazy loves barbie, more bolillo rolls, holiday hysteria

www.theendlessroadtrip.com ~ the other day, we found a barbie doll’s head lying on the street in front of our house. (more…)

day 37 ~ santa fe to taos ~ day tripping, tourist trap, mural, autumn

www.theendlessroadtrip.com ~ day 37 of my year long daily video journal finds us in new mexico. Tim was otherwise occupied (more…)

day 33 ~ winston-salem, NC ~ yogurt, frost, sunset, shoppin

www.theendlessroadtrip.com ~ day 33 of my year-long daily video journal finds me in north carolina. I had a work project, (more…)

day 31 ~ santa fe to winston-salem ~ goodbyes, airports, disgruntled travelers

www.theendlessroadtrip.com ~ day 31 of my year long daily video journal finds both Andy and myself traveling across the country, (more…)

day 24 ~ portland, or

www.theendlessroadtrip.com