These are a few...: part 1

 

Ok....let's be honest....my mind can sometimes dive into the deep end of the pool on some o these posts...so I thought it was time I just share some of my favorite things/moments/memories/randomness in a picture cornucopia I'm now going to serve.

Fork and spoon ready?

Let's do this shit!

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Egg coffee (Hanoi, Vietnam): this is what I would call "crack in a really tiny cup"! The Vietnamese  delicacy of eggy, caffeine and sugar laden deliciousness that was worth every belly ache from possibly having had two in an hour window....I miss you....

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Scooters: my previous experience on scooters was a 30 second flash of me nearly meeting a tree...so when we found ourselves in Pai, Thailand, my 5 minute training session with Luke left me even more assured that me and two wheeled creatures should not date.....

But give an independent person a week of no personal transportation, and it's insane how fast one can learn! 

I drove this baby all over pai, which set me up well for Phuket, Koh Lanta and Bali! 

There is a blissful beauty to these metal stallions (really old and slow stallions).

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These guys: from the students in Baljeet Nagar, our guys at the Muscular Dystrophy home , my offering teacher in Bali and everyone else between....our hearts are full.

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Ambitious bike riders: 'nuff said,.

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 Skyping with my folks: again...'nuff said.

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 This dog (Pai, Thailand):

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Upgrades to honeymoon suites (Hanoi, Vietnam): when not on a honeymoon...and with awkward bears...

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Rainstorms: Luke and I found ourselves the only people in some of the most amazing temples in Thailand thanks to a little and lot of wet stuff and ponchos! Recreation of "Singing in the Rain" was optional...and totally utilized.

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This deer: that looks like WOrf from Star Trek.

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Making mandalas: while stranded on a beach in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.

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Elephants: especially those that aren't afraid to check someone out right in front of them...

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Park walks (Rotorua, NZ): that bring you this....

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Trees (Rotorua, NZ): they need hugs too!

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Black Swans (raglan, NZ): that don't include Mila Kunis

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This guy: and Luke too ;)

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To be continued....... 

 

Traveling with Taryn

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Following our blog, Instagram, and Facebook accounts (as well as knowing our general good-natured personalities), people who know both me and Taryn will often ask "how much do you like traveling together???"  Recognizing our love for each other and our general good-natured personalities, the only thing missing is a big emoticon smiley face, assured that the question has only buttercups and rainbows on the other side.  Those who know us a bit better (try family), often phrase it just a little bit differently when they ask "so how do you feel about traveling together now?"  A slight intonation, most easily visible during Skype video-chats, leaves unsaid their knowledge of my abhorrence for doing anything termed "soft", Taryn's unshakeable stubbornness, and our joint (ironic though it may sound) need for extreme independence.  Given that I've taken a full blog post (Two People, One Trip) to answer the familial question and lay out the fact that travel is not, in fact, always easy, I think it comes high time to share the rest of the story.  That is, exactly how I feel about traveling with Taryn:

Let me think...

I love her energy (and the fact that bugs also love it so much that I've gotten 1 bite for every 50 she has). That she makes anyplace that we're staying our home, with bags unpacked, makeup on counters, and our rules/suggestions for living taped up on the wall.  That one of those "rules" is No Electronics in the Bed... but a long, hot day will still find us side-by-side laying down watching the latest movie trailers.

I love that she teaches me patience with a single question ("Why hurry?"), combats attachment with a simple phrase ("Comparison is the thief of joy."), brushes away my mistakes with a sweet smile ("Welcome to the human race."), and tells me when she's not feeling her normal happy-go-lucky self usually without saying a word.

I love that she apologizes and accepts apologies, that she has strong desires yet compromises, and that she's a partner-in-crime in both the ordinary and the not-so (like our decision to lead a day in full silence just for the heck of it).

I love that she ferociously and stubbornly tries to grow both individually and in our relationship, that she pushes me to do things that might get stuck at consideration without her (kung fu? colonics??), and that she never lets it pass when I'm not my best self (except when I really need her to, at which point she's firmly in my corner).  That she's a mirror for me, and I for her, neither allowed to hide the bad or fail to celebrate the good.  That in her mind, she's Rene Russo in The Thomas Crown Affair and I'm Sean Connery in any Bond film.  

I love that with her, a map is an itinerary, the universe is full of miracles, and everything happens for the best.

In three weeks, this magical mystery tour will be over.  We've gone through so much and had our own fair share of highs and lows. What I'll always remember though, is that when I did a 5.5 day juice and colonic detox cleanse (spoiler alert: the story about that is quite shitty), I spent more of my time thinking about Taryn than I did thinking about food.  So to answer the question: yeah it's awesome traveling together.  :-) 

Showering in the Trip

I've traveled for so many short periods of time with jam-packed schedules that I'd almost forgotten the joy of longer form trips.... trips that are no longer trips, but morph themselves into a semblance of, dare I say, real-life.  As Taryn's blog post expounded upon, and as we regularly discuss, the highs of this type of travel don't have the same adrenal rush of jumping out of a plane ("I can't believe I'm doing this!!!!"), but rather the routine creation of a peaceful resting face ("I'm here.").  As the ritual of daily practice comes to dominate, strolling the same streets over and over smiles become ones of recognition ("how are you today?") rather than novelty ("where are you from?").  Much similar to how the exaltion quickly evaporates after you've dowsed yourself under a steaming shower, the travel’s immediate burst of sensory pleasure quickly recedes and leaves the mind time to wander and wonder.  It's a few of those wonderings that I'd like to share this blog post, so enjoy.

Work-Life Balance
It's hard to spend more than a few days outside of the major cities without being struck by the fact that the separation of work and life is a relatively recent phenomenon.  For most of history (and in many parts of the world now), people have built their work around their life, operating a shop out of their house, building crafts within their neighborhood, or the like.  Thinking this, it's easy to rapt nostalgic about a simpler time when "life was simpler and fuller".  The truth is these people are consummate entrepreneurs who, unlike the wunderkids of Silicon Valley (and Austin and Cambridge and... ...) aren't looking for their world-changing idea to cash in on, but rather practicing innovation and scrappiness to survive.  

All value judgments about the nature of the work done in these disparate places aside, the biggest thing that strikes me as I view this way of living through fresh eyes is that the artificial separation of our "work life" and our "home life" has inherently changed how we experience both of these deeply human things (the commonality being that truly, they are all simply part of "life").  If I had to put a finger on it, I’d say it feels a bit less filling with them so disparate in our lives and minds.  It's a bit like when you're hungry and so you eat a block of cheese and then shovel down some ground beef.  It's not the same as eating a cheeseburger.  You might get both more meat and more cheese than before, but it also might lead you to get sick and it sure as heck won't be as fulfilling anyways.

Defining and Measuring
Thinking about the way that work/life and life are looked at in the Western world versus these places we've been blessed to visit and something deeper starts to become obvious.  Namely, the utter obsession we have of breaking things apart to their constituent parts and defining things.  And then measuring measuring measuring.  Whatever we can measure, we track.  Whatever we can't measure, we either ignore or make up ways to approximate.  

As a business school acolyte, I'd identify these as the tools of management.  What power they have in increasing productivity and making us better at everything that we do!  

As an economist, I'd recognize these as the pre-requisites of trade and the ensuing birth of capitalism.  How miraculous that they've flattened the world, allowing communication and connection with every contact.  

As a human, I'd say that they're exhausting. At the end of the day, what is it that these tools allow us to do?  They create a default lens of observation, in the process destroying foreign-ness and confusion.  They invite comparison into every facet of our life, at once letting us know exactly where our deficiencies lie.  They value control and all of its constituent parts over the freedom to just accept things are they are and the now as the now.  

Truly and extremely, we've invited attachment into our lives with our naming, measurement, and sharing obsession.  In fact, we've embedded it in the DNA of our culture.  To see the wonders of this, think no farther than the fact that you're currently reading this blog post.  But don't lose sight of the fact that this indelibly shapes how we experience the world.

Measurements as Value
We have a saying in the business world: "what you measure is what matters".  What it means is that whatever you measure is going to quickly gain importance when, as a manager, you make decisions that you believe (whether truthfully or illusorily) have an impact on whatever metric you're looking at.  Importantly, the saying is not "what matters is what you measure".  Because of that, I think it's a curious quote to look at as a wave of quantification and measurement overruns our lives.  In a very short period of time, we've lived through the proliferation of smartphones and FitBits, the rise of Facebook and TripAdvisor, and the increasing willingness of people to keep track of and then share every facet of their lives.

As we invite these truly wonderful tools into our lives, we dance with the temptation that any manager faces: choosing to value those things that we can measure a value for.  The cult of efficiency that we live in forces comparison.  The cult of productivity makes optimization the default mode.  And in doing so, it puts us in a position to push towards imbalance, whether we mean to or not.  The most important lesson I've had this trip came from (you guessed it) Taryn when she reminded me once again that comparison is an enemy of the present and can be the thief of joy.  



To someone reading at home, the thoughts above are surely somewhat rambling, light on examples, and far short of conclusive.  That said I hope they're illustrative of one of the truly amazing things about long-term travel.  It allows you to step back... as in wayyyy back.  It's as impossible to see a group of tourists line up for selfies at a 9th century temple without asking who we are at the deepest levels, as it is not to have "a-ha" moments that make the most sense to you as relax into the 5th month of your travels.   They're indefinable, unmeasureable, and as real as you'll ever get.


To the astute reader at home, you'll start to notice that my last few blog posts have started to gently scratch at some of the teachings of Buddhism.  The earlier post about the specialness of travel could easily be construed as a grasping at impermanence.  This post is a faintly-covered reflection on attachment and its root as the cause of all suffering.  Both the trip and Taryn's very being have certainly exposed me much more to the Dharma, and it's very interesting. Having experienced it a bit more first-hand recently, it’s no surprise that it’s lessons of mindfulness and balance are resonating so deeply in today’s developed world.  Beyond the spiritual implications, the practices that are held dear in the Eastern world have survived since ancient times for a reason.  I highly recommend checking out some of the teachings.

Two people, one trip

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In the past month, so much has happened that it's almost hard to reflect back to the last blog post I wrote and consider just how far we've come.  At the highest level, we've spent one month in Thailand and one week in Vietnam.  For seven days, Taryn and I trained at a Kung Fu camp hidden in the misty mountains. For another week and a half, we settled into life inside Pai getting back into the practices that keep us each healthy and grounded in our daily lives, creating friendships and rituals that were all our own within the idyllic town.  Upon returning to Chiang Mai (and after a day-long roundabout to see the famed White Temple of Chiang Rai), we separated for five long days so I could continue to explore energy and spirituality through Qigong and Taryn could explore the old town.  Finally, for the past week, we've settled into the rainy weather of Hanoi, sampling the local fare and exploring one of the true natural wonders of the world in Ha Long Bay.  

Deeper in the good stuff though, so much has happened.  In each case, Taryn's deep faith in the universe has led us through, by helping us reframe challenges as lessons and changes-of-plans as serendipitous paths to explore.  Further, it's hard to overstate the positive impact of her continual ability to find reasons to celebrate one or both of us (example - silly things like 30th birthdays).   We've had (and continue to have) our highs and lows, our days of silence and our days of glee, but I can truly say that this trip has deepened our relationship beyond any expectations we may have had coming in.  And yes, to all of you who have been asking ("Now... I know things must be tough sometimes so let me know how you REALLY are getting along..."), we still love each other.  The two hardest heads I know continue to meld at the heart, sunk completely into the presents of the present's presence.

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I realize that I have a tendency to talk in generalities that make perfect sense to me (having lived through the experiences that birthed them), sound flowing to anyone reading them (I do love flowery prose), but don't actually share what's going on (a well-built defense mechanism that lets many people feel that they know me well, while keeping most at a distance).  Hence, I thought I'd extrapolate a bit and share some of the things that are difficult about traveling for us.  

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Travel is rough...

... it's so easy to get out of balance in your typical daily practices.  It isn't possible to control what you eat, how you sleep, and how much you exercise.  

... it is tremendously ungrounding.  When you're on the road, everything is new and has to be looked at with a somewhat cautious eye.  You're never safe and, more importantly, you're never at home.

... the number of decisions that have to be made is absolutely mind-blowing.  Every thing becomes a decision that is either happening now, just happened (and thus opens the potential for regret), or will happen very soon (and thus opens up the potential for stress).

... with the way the internet works, there is a pressure to do the best thing possible (and thus get stuck in the world of reviews during the decision-making), to get the best value possible (and thus negotiate and judge everything that you do), and to make sure every time is the best time ever.  Using the tremendous tools that exist (and they are tremendous) can come at the cost of balance, exploration, and serendipitous discovery.

... everything going on around you can put you in a bad mood and can be internally poisonous.  When you're traveling alone, you deal with it on your own time.  When you're with someone else though, it's as if you have a mirror up to you (and you're a mirror for them!).  It's so easy to see the places where these things negatively affect them and to miss (or ignore) the ways they affect you.  

... the world of social media sharing has increased the difficulty of staying in the present.  This is especially true when traveling and a positive intention to share your trip (with both others and with a future you!) tries to make things that are inherently impermanent, permanent. 

Of those, some are very individual and some are made harder by traveling with someone else.  By far the one that gets the hardest when traveling together (to me) is the decision-making.  Always having another person who thinks about things differently, has different needs (both expressed and unconscious), and is experiencing each moment through their own lens makes pair decision-making really tough.  Allow me to give an analogy, imperfect though illustrative.  First off, remember how much you used to love to color.  Got it?  Good.  Now imagine inviting your best friend in the whole wide world over to color (sounds good so far, right?) and then locking yourselves in a room (uh oh...) with 1000 coloring books and 10,000 colors of crayons (eek...) and making the decision that you must do all work together and can only work on one picture with one color at a time (wowzers).  Now imagine that you're in this room and every hour you're forced to choose a picture from a book and a color to use.  Sometimes you want to be working on different pages... sometimes you want to be in different books!  Sometimes you'll think that you're on the same page ("Let's color the sky blue." "Sounds great!") only to quickly find you had a different understanding ("Why are you using teal???? I meant aquamarine!")  Think you'd still be best friends after a few months?  The decision-making while traveling can be a bit like that.  Every picture, every book, every color is possible... and every decision is either unanimous or dead-locked.

So how is it that I can honestly say that I think these three months have deepened us and brought us closer rather than tearing us apart?  Well, honestly, I think we built a group of obvious, simple truths that took us only a couple of months to discover.  

1. Always put the relationship in front of anything else.  In the off-hand parlance of one of my Qigong classmates talking about his marriage: "we both want to be in a relationship, that goes a long way."  In this case, we both want to be together more than anything else going on right now.  It pays to remember that.

2. Communication, communication, communication.  It really is the only way to work through things.  Disagreements do come up.  It's life.  So talking through what we're each going through is uncomfortable, but crucial to our life on the road.

3. Give each other the benefit of the doubt.  There are many times where something is ambiguous and could be interpreted many ways.  Whether we each believe what was done will lead to good or bad for the relationship, we're usually right.  

4. Compromise is a way of expanding our own singular worldviews, a way of coming to a solution that actually is better for both.  If we view it as a sacrifice, it builds resentment, brick by brick.  If, instead, we use compromise as a way to learn each other's point-of-view so well that we actually can understand and appreciate where they're coming from, we often come to a better joint solution anyways.

5. Develop a way to continue to maintain your own roots.  Sleep, nutrition, and health require much more thought (even routine!) when on the road.  Finding out what is needed is a process of recognizing seemingly insignificant (but crucial) truths.

6. And create a way to continue to maintain the relationship's roots as well.  Every day we end the day by sharing three things we loved about the other person that day and our favorite part of the day.  Reflection, appreciation, and processing can be so strong in maintaining the positive connection.

So, to all those who have asked (thanks for asking by the way), we're doing pretty well.  And, every day, working more and more on creating something more lasting than a trip around the world. 

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A special trip

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Why are trips special?  For the last 6 months, it seems like all the conversations that Taryn and I have been having with friends, family, and random acquaintances have been about our "big round-the-world trip", and how excited we are for it.  The discoveries, the sensory overloads, the confusions, the creations of this half a year trip have been imagined, dissected, and anticipated as a "once in a lifetime opportunity".  But I'm done with that.  If this trip has shown me anything in our six weeks (and counting) on the road, its something that Taryn could have (and did) tell me from the get-go: it's time to make fulfilling dreams a daily life practice, not just one cordoned off to a trip around the world.  I spent a lot of time pondering this while riding a motorcycle in the Himalayas, participating in ancient Hindu river ceremonies, battling through stomach ailments, living in an ashram, and, of course, looking forward to kung fu school.  I thought about this as we settled into our life as a couple in Vrindavan, in Agra, in Delhi, and in Kathmandu, and found ourselves integrated into village life, full on with our own mala guy, masala guy, custom jeans shop, suit and flannel shirt guy, massage parlor, and slew of restauranteurs and innkeepers. And I've come to believe the following: the largest driver of the full-on experience that we're living through right now is the fact that the trip will end.  In three and a half months, Taryn and I will be back in Texas in the flurry of settling our jobs and starting our own retreat center.  But why does that make this six months the only time that we can manifest the dreams we have?  A day has 24 hours and a week has 7 days, wherever we are.  And isn't life just like this trip?  I can't help but think of one of the most marvelous Steve Jobs quotes I've ever heard (hat tip to Steve and his Stanford Class of '05's graduation speech):

“Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.  Almost everything--all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure--these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.  No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it, and that is how it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It's life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.”

That's kind of how I feel about about our trip, What a change agent. The dreams, both magical and messy, have manifested over and over.  Just since my last blog post (during our journey down to Vrindavan from Delhi), so much has happened. So, as I share a smattering of the stories (the good, the bad, and the straight up dirty) below, I urge you not to get lost in the details. Rather, remember that whether on a trip or not, it's all going to end at some point. And that, in and of itself, is plenty of a good reason to make it special.  Whatever that means for you.

 

 

Ashram volunteering in the birthplace of Krishna (Jan 12-20)

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For two weeks, we lived in a Hare Krishna ashram in the midst of Vrindavan, the birthplace of Krishna and the home of 5000 temples (and tons of monkeys!).  An extremely well-run volunteer program (once again, found through HelpX.org) at Vrinda Kunja, we kept busy with mornings of work cleaning up trash at holy sites and afternoons of yoga, crossfit (!), jiujitsu (including a Borat-esque battle between our instructor and French-volunteer Arneault), and communal meals with the ashram. Living in a small community and experiencing local Hindu customs, our initial difficulties with the chaos and the poop-filled streets subsided as we grew to feel welcomed and comfortable taking our daily walks to get masala tea and paranthas.  The time there was a challenge where Taryn and I had to sleep in separate rooms and, in fact, limit our physical contact to a minimum state (it was frowned upon for us to hold hands in public).  While incredibly difficult for us both, I think it left us stronger as a couple (along with 1,397,643 other experiences on this trip...)

 

Visiting the Taj Mahal in Agra (Jan 21)

At the end of the Indian trip, we visited the Taj Mahal.  A sadness certainly set in when we heard stories (whether factual or mythological) about the creator killing the architect and cutting the hands off all of the laborers so as to ensure no one ever equalled the work.  Yet, works that are so amazing simply must be seen at one point in life.  They define what is possible and how beautiful it is really believe in both humanity and in love's power.

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Motorcycle riding in the Kathmandu Valley (Jan 25-Feb 1)

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Since we first planned our trip and Taryn shared the information about a motorcycle tour that travels through the Himalayas, I've been captivated by the idea of riding a motorbike through the hills of Nepal. As we've shared that idea, I've heard the constant refrain of people telling me how unsafe it is and how I shouldn't do it.  Now, if you know me, you know that I'm resolute in my need to use my own judgment and abhor the idea of allowing the fears of others (or even myself) shape my decisions.  So, I arrived in Kathmandu with an open mind as to whether or not to do it. From our very arrival, I was both relieved and nervous.  Nervous to find that the streets are chaotic maelstroms, with dust swirling everywhere as bikes, taxis, tuktuks, buses, and trucks maneauver with minimal concern for either physical safety or auditory health.  Relieved to find that they're better than India.  So, it was with a fast-moving heart that I finally paid my $63 ($9/day) for a 220cc Avenger and puttered away through the pedestrian-filled alleyway.  With an inoperable instrument panel (odometer, speedometer, and fuel gauge... all broken), I set off for day trips around Kathmandu Valley.  In multiple days of riding, I think I had 5 relaxing minutes when I wasn't dodging potholes, beeping at local fruit vendors, getting passed by giant Tata and Mahindra trucks, or otherwise planning my next move. But boy was I alive.  And most importantly, I was doing it. Was I Che Guevara?  No way (South America is much greener than the dust-filled Valley for one).  But did I follow my dream and make my own judgment?  Yeah I did.  And that's alright with me.  (Oh yeah, the views of the Himalayas in the distance as you ride a bike are not bad.  Not bad at all.)

Super Bowl Monday in Kathmandu (Feb 2)

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ESPN.com.  Every day, it's one of the first sites I visit and its topics set the agenda for so many conversations in my life.  So when the Super Bowl is coming AND it's my favorite team (Seahawks) vs my adopted home for the last 5 years (New England), it's going to feel like a big deal.  Only a funny thing happened; no one in Nepal cared.  Waking up at 4:45 am on Monday morning, I found the bar where I expected to watch the game locked and dark.  Only by going to the local Radisson and convincing the concierge to put it on in the lobby was I able to quietly* watch one of the most amazing Super Bowls ever, interspersed with commercials about the latest Indian wrestling superstars.  And truthfully, it was amazing.  I was literally bouncing the whole way home as I cherished the fact that I had experienced something special with over 100 million people around the globe.  More importantly, I was able to just experience my reaction, instead of explain it to anyone (did I mention that no one here cared?).  I wasn't sullied by listening to sports media caw about who had screwed up and where to place the blame. This athletic-based euphoria was reinforced later in the day when I was lucky enough to find a school of kids playing basketball on an outside court.  What a time I had teaching them to box out and showing them how to dunk (when you're 29, it helps when the rim is only 9.5').  Sports was just a game again; probably my best Super Bowl Monday yet. 

* - My solitude was only broken briefly by the American military men passing through the lobby at 7 and the State Department employees at 8, both on their way to contract work.

 

Visiting the DMD center (Feb 3)

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In a trip of wonderful experiences, it's truly hard to top a day that Taryn and I spent in Bhaktapur.  Nestled down an alley, in a labyrinthine complex of rooms, sat Suraj 1, Rohiit, and Suraj 2.  All three were in wheelchairs as muscular dystrophy ate away at their bodies from within.  For one afternoon, they shared their space with us as we played bocce ball, taught card tricks, and, of course, talked WWE (who knew wrestling was so big in Nepal??).  Honestly, these boys were awesome to hang out with and, through their humility, patience, and humor had a lesson ready for two world-chargers like Taryn and me.  The time in Nepal would be the same had we skipped a stupa visit or even gotten one less custom piece of clothing; but it would not have been the same had Taryn not found their center* on workaway.com and was adamant that we visit for at least a day after her illness finally subsided.  For that I think we're both thankful.

* - Run by the dad of one of the boys for the last 8 years, I don't think I've ever seen an organization that more deserves volunteers/funding/supplies so if you're interested in any of the above, let me know.  I guarantee you'll get more out of it then you give.

 

And a little ditty to end the post with!!!

"Delhi Belly" (wayyyy too often)

You'll find us along the world's streets

Sampling soups, veggies, and sweets.

But who would have thunk

Twas the water we'd drunk...

It's time to change both pants and sheets!

 -

On to kung fu school in Thailand (www.kungfuretreat.com)!

The Bodhisattva and the Crosswalk

 

It started out like any other day in Nepal...when one is infected with a burdensome stomach bug....

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The yearning to see the sights, sounds and smells of such a sensorily orgasmic place was enough to let the pain and nausea take the back burner....for a little while.

Luke and I explored temples, wood carvings, infamous roads and palaces ( basically what looked like the set of 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom'...minus Harrison Ford...oh the misery), but as our day came to an end, the illness was triumphing.

But a consensus to return to our home and cozy up with a heater and a bar of chocolate is one thing...getting there is a whole other adventure in itself!

Nepal is not a place known for order, actually, it's one that thrives best when simmered with a bit of chaos. So navigating even a half mile stretch will put one's toes within three inches of a motorcycle wheel or make crossing the street seem like playing a game of Russian roulette...which was exactly where Luke and I found ourselves situated while standing at the crosswalk that separated us from comforter and Snickers bar heaven: 10 lanes, 200 motorcycles and 100 cars.

With no crosswalk lights or foreseeable future for a break to come where I could practice my sprints ( I was in marching band for a reason...it counted as a P.E. credit, mind you), I leaned on Luke's shoulder and started trying to focus on anything other than the feeling that a dozen gremlins had stayed up past midnight and were having the party of the century in my belly.

A second later, a 5'2" elderly man who looked to be dressed in weekend Buddha apparel (flip flops, loose cotton yellow pants and top, and face mask to protect him from the dust storm that is Kathmandu) and looking oddly similar to Mr. Miyagi, walked up to my right and bowed his head.

Luke was looking in the opposite direction and hadn't yet seen our newcomer, who I smiled back at with a "namaste" nod and the odd sense that this man was reading my mind/gremlins.

Fascinated, I watched as he looked into the unwavering traffic, then back at me, and even though his mouth was covered, his eyes told me the story of a huge grin in hiding.

He waved at Luke and I, catching Luke's attention, then basically took my arm and walked us into the road!

Horns were blasting, lights were blinding, motorcycles zipping on each side of us! The man's body was directly in their path and protecting ours. Then it came, a metal behemoth going about 40 miles per hour, straight at us!

I held my breath in this state of timelessness that I found myself in. I remember this strangers eyes looking into mine, blinking, in what seemed like slow motion....all thoughts of the ensuing impact of the metal into our bones wiped away, then I blinked once more to have time fast forward and to find the car (and the five behind it) had stopped. We walked forward to the sidewalk in eerie silence.

As our feet touched safe ground, Luke and I suddenly looked at each other in amazement and said something a bit more cordial than "Holy shit!".

We turned to our escort who was smiling at us with his eyes and simply bowed his head.

We bowed at him no less than 20 more times, repeating "Namaste" and "Thank You!"  In between the breathless exhilaration of feeling like Moses himself had just walked us through his vehicular sea parting.

As we slowly staggered on, he walked ahead, every now and then turning back around to bow (as we bowed on, starting to look like something from a hurt back commercial).

Suddenly he stopped and we walked forward to catch up, to see that he wanted to show us something.

Directly to our left were three sacred Buddhist stupas!  In the haze of near death and pitch dark, we were about to blindly walk by this jewel! He must have sensed that and in his broken English just wanted to show us!

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We thanked him (have you gotten the sense that we thanked him?) once more and turned to check out the intricacies of the centuries old spiritual hubs.

I remember Luke exclaiming something along the lines of "I feel like something crazy just happened..." And as I turned to look at the man, I saw he had vanished ( but really had just crossed the street, as Luke pointed out as I started exclaiming "He disappeared! He disappeared!").

A bodhisattva, in Mahayana Buddhist beliefs, is someone who has reached enlightenment, but puts off nirvana to help others reach a state of peace in their own lives.

They are someone that understands the real truths in life and lives accordingly....lives fearlessly, and yet always present...as an example to those (knowingly and unknowingly) seeking his lessons of liberation.

To me, that night, I had my first encounter with a bodhisattva...and not just an encounter, but a smorgasbord of teachings.....

A teaching in not letting others stall our route in life.

A teaching in not suffering anymore than we truly need to.

A teaching in trust, and how when we release to it, all the amazing beauty that arises.

A teaching in never letting the past (whether good or bad) stop us from seeing what's right in front of us.

And a teaching that compassion is an endless well for us to draw from and share with others.

I awoke the next day feeling better.

I awoke the next day feeling a bit more enlightened.

And I awoke grateful for my time with the bodhisattva and the crosswalk.

India Part 1: Jan 7 to Jan 13

India, India, India... It's truthfully hard to find the words to explain the experience we've had here.... and it's only been a week at this point!  Our plan upon coming to India was to give our first two weeks to volunteering at two different helpx opportunities that we had found, and then spend two days in Agra (Taj Mahal) before returning to New Delhi and flying to Nepal around Jan 23.  

Things got off to a typical start when we arrived 3 hours late into Indira Gandhi Airport on the morning of Jan 7th with our pickup still waiting for us sporting a sign that said only "Luke and Tarya".  Santan was a smart young Indian man (about 22) and he was our guide to make it back to the Wahoe Commune.  When the cab dropped us off and we mazed through alleyways full of trash fires and stray dogs, we realized that our new home was in the midst of what is an area that is one step up from the slums.  By the time we turned into the building that housed our organization, we were not surprised to settle into a 8 ft by 10 ft concrete room, with the equivalent of a few carpets and a sheet on the floor.  Further, having a muddy bathroom with an assurance of one bucket of hot water a day for a shower didn't phase us.  And even when we actually started living there and found that A.) winter in Northern India is REALLY cold (case in point, we shivered through our nights there, despite huddling together and buying a blanket in the market), B.) the reason the bathroom floor was muddy was that every flush of the toilet put 3/4 of the water into the drain and the other 1/4 onto the floor, it was okay with us.  As Taryn always says, India is a place of letting go and we had already come to peace with the fact that this was not a part of our trip full of creature comforts.  To be honest, we relished the opportunity to contribute to an organization that was doing good work within a place where a little goes a long way.  It was with this mindset that we set aside any judgment and began trying to contribute to Wahoe and get ourselves ready for teaching kids in the slum.  And it was there that we found ourselves most disheartened.  

Spoiler alert: it wasn't the kids who left us feeling helpless, frustrated, and a bit angry.  They were absolutely amazing, full of energy, and excited to learn. The older ones would shout out for me to put more math problems up for them to do and the young girls thought of Taryn as a goddess as she taught them the phrases of basic English conversation.  Smart AND good judgment, eh?

What was most disheartening was seeing the inside of the organization that we had offered ourselves to.  The founder used his mouth to sermonize us about what we needed spiritually in our lives* and his hands to try to extract more and more money from us.  Extra taxi costs, "registration fees", upfront costs were charged and tours, classes, and jewelry were offered. The truth is, the money, so much in the world that we were living in, was minimal in the world that we come from (we paid $210 for 7 days stay with 2 vegetarian meals a day**).  What made it unbearable was to see the school where we were "teaching", a cold, crumbling, concrete cube where an extra pencil couldn't be found, where 14-year olds with no organizational support herded the children, where an unpaid electric bill for $1 sat beneath a dusty, dark halogen bulb.  By the time I stumbled across the accounting books for the NGO one evening***, it was with little surprise that I saw that A.) the amount of money coming in FAR outstripped the costs and investment he was making in the actual projects, B.) the money that we had given him had been put into the books at a lower number than we actually gave.  Honestly though, that was one of the last straws for Taryn and me, and so, after 3 days at the commune, it was with sadness that we decided to leave early to see another side of Delhi.

Our three days in the more typical tourist roles had everything you would expect.  We experienced the joys of discovery and the sensations of scrumptious vittles.  There was awe at the temples and achievement during our market negotiations.  The prevailing feeling I had though was a continually growing frustration of being, as some would call it, 'marks' many of the places that we went.  I think our relationship with the private car we hired for the day (1200 rupees or $20 for 8 hours for our own driver) really exemplifies this.  At first, we hit it off quite well and his English, though not great, was plenty good for him to take us everywhere we wanted to go and discuss whether we were getting good deals in our negotiations****.  For two days, he took us around and we thought of him as a friend as we bought him lunch and even walked through the market with him.  That's why it was so frustrating when, the day we were to get a car down to our next helpx in Vrindavan, he told us he would take care of us and then proceeded to try to take advantage of us.  In story #1,207,504,673 about the wonders of the internet, I had looked up the price and found that it would cost around 3,000 rupees. Imagine my surprise then when we came to pick us up and tried to charge us 10,000!  After coming down from my initial anger, I told him we would arrange our own ride, and we parted ways with him apologizing*****. 

The interaction left me with quite a complex web of emotions.  On one hand, I felt anger at someone I had trusted trying to fleece us.  On the other hand, I felt guilty that the amount of money we were discussing was a write-off for me but would have been a godsend for him.  Further, there was navel-gazing, as we thought through the impact of conversations we had had with him about our negotiations and our relative flippant attitude to a few rupees that were both a lot (to him) and a little (to us).  Finally, there was understanding of the harsh tone that so many people here take into negotiations.  And how to untangle this web?  I hardly know so don't look to this blog post for an answer.  That said, isn't tackling these kinds of feelings why we travel?  Taryn and I have both stated many times that we aim to impact the world.  Shape the systems that currently make situations like this not just a possibility, but an inevitability.  Open our eyes and look at the world as it is, not just it looks on the web.  

Yesterday we arrived in Vrindavan, worn down and a bit disenchanted by our experiences so far.  In fact, we had considered leaving and going to Nepal a couple of days early.  But, that wouldn't be right.  Because we didn't just come on this trip to look at the world, but also to let the world guide us in a look inside ourselves, beyond the stories that we share and that others share about us. India is so full of wonder, beauty, and amazing people.  And it's a place where it's impossible to not both appreciate and actualize.  It's all right here.  We've settled into our second helpx opportunity, a Hare Krishna ashram in the midst of the land of 5000 temples. So here we go, India.  Keep it coming.  Wish us luck. 

 -Luke

 

*- His reading ability, already questionable, lost a lot of credibility when he gave his assessment:  "Luke, you are too emotional... You need to be more practical!" 

**- Which were quite good.  Like all Indian food.

***- Since we were expected to stay in the commune for almost 20 hours/day and there was only our room, an office that locked at 6:00 pm, and the aforementioned bathroom, there was plenty of time to look around.

****- As if I need someone to tell me that 2800 rupees ($40) is a good deal for a yak vest.

*****-  As Taryn always says, India is a place of "no hard feelings" and so I would have no problem ringing him again in the future, if we are in Delhi with need for a car.  

Norway: December 24 - January 5

A view from the cabin...

A view from the cabin...

He who would learn to fly one day

must first learn to stand, and walk,

and run, and climb, and dance;

one cannot fly into flying.

Friedrich Nietzsche

 

When Luke asked if I'd like to start our travels with a Christmas stop in Norway, I must be honest that I was a bit apprehensive.

I guess I should have prefaced this with that fact that I'm a warm blooded Texan whose experience with snow was mostly terrifying ski experiences that ended with me sliding  down a hill on my butt and spending the rest of the time drinking an excessive amount of hot cocoa (with marshmallows and whip cream....of course) in a very heated room.....ok....the room where the 3 year olds hang out to thaw out, but hey, a girl's got to do what girl's got to do!

But love makes one shove certain 20 degree Fahrenheit nightmares/memories in the back of one's mind just long enough to agree, and so with no further ado, we hopped on a plane to Oslo!

Luke's family has a beautiful cabin in the tiny ski village of Skeikampen (pronounced "Shy" for short). To get there we had to take a 2 hour train which ended up being a magical way (ok...I fell asleep 20 minutes in....but oh what a glorious 20 minutes) to see the Norwegian country side.

So you know those Christmas screen-savers that have the cabin in the snow with little winter birds flying by and snowflakes tricking down? Yeah, that one!

Well, imagine that, times 10, on crack, and you have Skeicampen! Oh yes, and the folks here look like ethereal models from the pages of 'Vogue'....like robot-like superhumans. Case in point, I stopped by their local Salvation Army and am pretty sure that the girl checking me out was in last month's Abercrombie & Fitch campaign....Because in Norway that's how they roll ;)

This place is fairy-tale-esque, especially for those who love to ski....because that is literally all they do here!

Well, correction....ski and eat the most butter-laden-ly delicious food you could imagine! I'm talking porridge pancakes, bacon wrapped sausage, cheese from the goat up the hill and lots of beer.

So you're probably wondering what I was at first.....How do they eat that way and still look like David Beckham and Cindy Crawford's love child? Well, when I said they ski a lot....I mean, wake up, eat, ski, ski, eat block of butter, ski, eat and sleep.

So now you're probably wondering what I've been doing. Especially if I eat like that and am not compensating a 6,000 calorie diet with tons of snow plowing? Well, that's exactly what I was thinking too....so I write this post 20 pounds heavier....ok, not really, but it started to seem like a reality until cabin fever set in and the bird (in this case, me), broke free from its log built cage (i.e. Luke borrowed a car and we took a trip into Lillehamer, home of the '94 Winter Olympics).

Everyone should celebrate their next meal with sparklers inserted in whip cream....just a suggestion.

Everyone should celebrate their next meal with sparklers inserted in whip cream....just a suggestion.

We checked out Olympic Park, ate these magical little pancakes (as seen on your left..sweet baby Jesus, they were good), the most delicious Norwegian Chinese food :) and roamed around the library, museums and more.

When we returned to "Shy" the peer pressure/weight of not trying to ski was like that of a semi-truck, so I decided to "try" cross-country skiing. It's like a Norwegian way to hike, in very cold temps, in snow, in skis.....oh shit.....

The first day went pretty bad, I'm talking, sliding down hills, cussing, taking off the skis and stomping up a hill while cursing myself for giving into this Norwegian lifestyle...all until I heard someone speaking in English, also cursing these ski gods....a Chilean man who looked at me and said, "I hate this!". His comment gave me the momentum to know that I was not alone in this exploration of sliding and slamming onto ice lined hills all for fun...so the next day I ventured out with the family for a cross country-ski around a lake.

First off, the lake was beautiful (as can be seen), secondly, I was informed that waffles and cocoa were at the end of the trail. It's incredible how nature and the promise of sugar can fuel one to give that icy-slippery sport another chance. I only fell about 6 times and took the skis off once, and felt that I must have at least worked off one of the 10 sticks of butter I had previously consumed...winning.

This lake + chocolate (and maybe some Bailey's) = the power to do anything!

This lake + chocolate (and maybe some Bailey's) = the power to do anything!

My third and final day of skiing would be the ultimate test: 6km up and down a mountain.....this is the type of trail that separates the men from the boys...or the Texans from the Norwegians.

In the first 2 minutes I fell a total of 6 times....it wasn't looking good, then I saw what these "small" downhill slopes looked like....in my eyes, like jumping off a 30 story building, into a fluffy, icy abyss....

Luke shouted out to me the words a shamanic hippie needs to hear in a moment like this, "Let the mountain carry you.  Don't feel like you have to battle against it."

Ok...let the mountain carry me, let the mountain carry me....

I pushed off, soft knees, and just started repeating in my head, "Great spirit....carry me....carry me....ideally without crashing into that tree, or that one....and that one too...."

Curve around curve I was flying...not falling...and I made it to the bottom with a new faith in whatever the rest of the mountain may bring my way....which would include a ton more hills, spills and bruises ( for a good time aka want to see me wipe out, click HERE) ....but now with a smile and drive to see how far she (the mountain) could carry a stubborn, curly haired fireball....

She carried me all the way back to the cabin.

Norway has been a shock....to my system, senses, and overall self.

But through it all, she's given me the gifts of perseverance, patience and fearlessness.

Being the start of our 5 month trip, Norway was the perfect starting point in letting go....of what I know, what I'm used to and what I'm comfortable with. All the things that I find are integral to immersing myself in the full beauty of all that awaits us.

I once heard that it is only when we release an expectation, will we be able to give the universe the ability to recreate it...Norway showed me that, and for that I am grateful.

-Taryn

The end of our Norwegian leg

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Here we sit, in the middle of a cafe in Oslo sipping on a dobbel Americano and a dobbel Cafemocca, warming our fingers (and faces) as we take a respite from the frigid Norwegian wind.  It's already the end of the first leg of our journey and early tomorrow morning, we'll head to Gardermoen and hop on a flight to Istanbul en route to a 5:30 am arrival in Delhi on January 7th.  Over the last two weeks, we braved the sub-minus 20 degree weather of Skeikampen, did our best to take advantage of the six hours of sunlight each day, and generally lived in what can only be termed a winter wonderland to celebrate three (yes, three*) excellent holidays.  

Allow me to paint a picture. Two hours north of Oslo, sits the quaint town of Lillehammer.  Famous for hosting the 1994 Winter Olympics, Lillehammer's Main Street would fit right into Pleasantville's Christmas season.  On this snow-covered avenue closed to cars, a myriad of scarved blue-eyed giants walk, ski, and sled by lit up conifers. Mounds of snow provide ample battlegrounds for energetic kids to capture and defend the high ground only exacting the cost of a missing mitten (sometimes) and rosy cheeks (always).  Foggy windows hide havens teeming with tingling fingers wrapped around cups of hot skokolade and jam-covered vaffels**.   Lillehammer truly exemplifies the Christmas spirit of a snowy Norwegian town. 

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Thirty-five kilometers north of Lillehammer, lies the ski resort Skeikampen.  Twenty downhill slopes are served by the lifts, while hundreds of kilometers of groomed cross-country skiing trails zig-zag the surrounding area.  It's not uncommon to wake up to the 9:30 sunrise and see that the long night brought up to a foot of snow and that the weather has dropped to where our cross-country skis need green wax***.  Nestled on the side of the main mountain, sits the cabin of my brother, Andy.  Approximately the size of the house that Taryn and I share back in Buda, the walls are lined with the learned pasts of its owners.  Calvin and Hobbes share a shelf with a Danish bible, and economics textbooks appear next to Into Thin Air.  The lion's share of the cabin is taken up by the communal living space, where an open-air kitchen abuts a dinner table for 12 on one side and fur-covered sofas on the other.  The fireplace exudes heat from a third side and the fourth has the door to outside, leaving just enough space in the middle for a Christmas tree that can be danced around when Danish carols hit the air.  

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This was the home that we shared with Andy, Christin (my sister-in-law), Chuchu (3 year old niece), Chunky (2 year old niece), my mom, my dad, Christin's mom, cousin Emily, aunt Tina, friend Peter, Peter's wife Nadia, and Nadia's two children Amelie and Mallou.  On the regular, we'd have guests over for dinner and nights of wine and cheese.  With the short days of Norwegian winter zooming past, we spent much of our trip within those four walls. As you can imagine, it's not exactly quiet. 

But oh what a week and a half it has been.  Taryn's body reacted to the Norwegian winter in much the same way that mine did five years ago when I first ventured up to the North.  The dry air brought a sore throat while the heavy food**** was, how to say, "easier to get in than to get out".  Add to this the stress of being away from her family on Christmas (and her birthday), meeting my brother and his family for the first time, and traveling with someone who is equally as hard-headed and stubborn as her, and no one would blame her if her spirit lagged.  Yet still, her indomitable best was on full display throughout.  Warm-weather Texans may not find respite in the Norwegian fix-all ("go skiing!), but they do in cups of hot chocolate, purple full-body long underwear, puzzles***** and books, date days in Lillehammer and movie nights in the cabin, and lots of wine-soaked conversations.  We spent our days taking walks and our evenings writing poems and creating scavenger hunts.  And oh yeah, we actually went skiing for a couple of days, as chronicled beautifully in Taryn's blog and on instagram (@TarynfromTX). 

And now, of course, here we sit.  In one sense, the first part of our trip is coming to a close.  In another, the trip is really just beginning.  We're no longer surrounded by the supports (and the stresses) of a warm familial abode.  On the morning of the 7th we'll be picked up at the Delhi airport by an Indian man that we don't know, and together face out into a world that is full of foreign experiences, unknown challenges, and inspiring vantages.  Our warm clothes have all been sent back to the US and our bags are packed for a more tropical clime.  The dry heat of Texas, already yearned for in frigid Norway, will be little more than a nostalgic tingling as we sweat through the humidity of Southeast Asia.  The excitement we have for what sits in front of us is enchanting.  Together, we're facing a whole new world.  

Jan 7-13: http://helpx.net/host.asp?hostid=17276

Jan 13-20: http://www.helpx.net/host.asp?hostID=6652

- Luke

 

*- 1. Christmas, 2. Taryn's birthday, 3. New Years

**- Yup, both of those are exactly what you think they are.

***- The Norwegians, being cross-country skiing connoisseurs, have a complicated system of determining how sticky of wax they should use on their skis before setting out.  Organized by colors and roughly corresponding to the temperature (with some type of adjustment made for the wetness of the snow), the art of getting just the right grab and just the right glide separates the proverbial men from the boys.  Or at least the Norwegians from the Americans.

****- With the amount of calories burnt from skiing and staying warm, most meals consist mainly of meat, cheese, bread, and, of course, butter. 

*****- We did a puzzle that was approximately 5000 times harder than we thought it would be, and then promptly burned it so no one would ever have to go through that again.U

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