Saturday, February 27, 2016

Aloha from Hawaii

Welcome to paradise. What does one think off when one hears Hawaii? For me it was beaches, volcanoes and pineapples. I'm not a great swimmer (I always look like I'm in survival mode, flailing around), I don't surf (except on the internet) and I don't need to work on my tan (I'm already a rich mocha). But I did enjoy snorkeling. It was like being in an aquarium. The colorful corals and fish set in stunning turquoise blue waters was breathtaking (no, I wasn't choking on the snorkel mask). It's a whole other world out there that we don't think about. So much color, so much life, so much beauty. I have always said that I wish I could fly, but now I think swimming to the depths of the ocean would be a nice super power as well.

The volcanic landscape is from out of this world. The Halleakala crater has been rightly described as a lunar landscape. It is completely barren and so quiet that it is unnerving. The brilliant rock colors kaleidoscopic. As an aside, the sunset from 10k feet, above the clouds made me feel like I was in heaven. While Halleakala on Maui is an older volcano and has been eroded, Kilauea on the Big Island is younger. I walked on lava that was completely hardened only 20 years back. Hiking on a lava lake while listening to birdsong is an surreal experience. It's a stark contrast of beauty and destruction. The rocks splintered and cracked rocks make for fascinating patterns. And while life has begun to find it's way onto the lava field in the form of grass and shrub, it was fascinating to imagine the volcano with its blazing cauldron sloshing and exploding. The raw power of nature in all it's glory. One evening, I viewed a glowing lava field from a distance. Even from a mile, you could sense the power of the underworld forces. I visited a town that was threatened by lava flows last year. It's unnerving to see that wherever the lava had flowed, the land was completely destroyed with no hopes of rebuilding for a long time. Damn nature, you are scary. Oh and to top it all, you land on a lava field at the Kona airport.

One thing I noticed was that there were only Hawaii plate cars around. Then I realized that I was on one of the most isolated islands in the world. And how they hell did the Polynesians find these tiny pieces of rock in the vast Pacific? One of humanity's great mysteries. They navigated to these islands without modern instruments. Look it up. I talked to one of the guys who moved to Hawaii 10 years back about the difference between life on the mainland and life on the islands. He said there is a greater sense of community and belonging as the land and the people are finite. You can't be rude to anyone as you never know when your paths will cross again. There is a greater involvement in community affairs due to the culture and the small size of the community. And imagine there actually being a limit on options available. For e.g cars, doctors, lawyers, hotels, etc. If you don't find something you like, you actually have to accept it and you can't say I'll drive a 100 miles to find it.

A few thoughts about travel in general. For me being on vacation is not a matter of checking things of a list. I do like taking pictures like the ones already there on the internet. But being on vacation is more than that. It is being: present to yourself and to the sights around you. It is about seeing something new and experiencing something different. It is good to identify the goals of travel. For me setting expectations is the first step towards satisfaction. The goals could be bucket list, pictures, nature, food, people, experiences, getting away or being open for something new. It also helps to understand the difference between pleasure, happiness and joy. And I believe the questions to be answered is, how does travel lead to joy?

In these early days of my trip, I do feel a little overwhelmed. A sense of loss after the farewells coupled with being on the road for the next few months makes me a little uneasy. But I know that as I settle into a routine and learn to be more present to myself and to God, I will be more at ease with this whole adventure. After all this has been my dream for a long time. I look forward to new sights, experiences, food, people and adventures.

If you don't like raunchy humor, please stop here and wait for my next post in a few days. So I was at a beach the other day. The turquoise blue water and white sands made for a spectacular setting. As I pondered on how to capture it with my camera, I spotted a path leading up to a small cliff at one end of the beach. As I neared the top with my camera in hand, I saw the path continue further down to another beach. And lo and behold I was at a nude beach. It was as unexpected as the Spanish Inquisition. There were no signs expect for one that said no life guards on duty. I guess naked people have a natural buoyancy? I quickly put away my camera and selfie stick, because who wants to be seen at a nude beach with those things in hand? I avoided eye contact as it was difficult to make eye contact and I wasn't sure if it was against nude beach etiquette. I didn't want to butt heads with anyone. Now, nudists are usually the kind of people you don't want to see naked. I would say it wasn't the case this time. For a split moment, I considered putting and checking of 'swimming naked at a nude beach' off my bucket list. And as Nelly says "It's getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes." It was a hot day and it was tempting. I could end this post right here, but I'm not the kind of guy to leave anything hanging. At that moment I was too afraid of raising any red flags as I wasn't sure of the do's and don'ts at a nude beach. What if they went nuts all of a sudden? What if they didn't appreciate my assets? Some of them looked a little testy. So I threw in the towel and left, saving my birthday suit swim for another day. All puns, real or imaginary, in this account are intended.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

In America, we do road trips.

Road trips are a quintessential American vacation. Open roads, spectacular scenery and the ubiquitous McDonald's make for memorable experiences. I usually avoided road trips as it violated my law of travel. "Time spent at a place should be greater than twice the total time spent in transit in a car/plane/train. Time spent sleeping is not counted." And then there are the annoyances of driving, which I'll get to after extolling the merits of a road trip. But this time, since I had the time and a car which I have to get rid off after driving only 40k miles, I decided to do a road trip up the west coast.

Cruising along an open highway with the wind on my windshield (sorry, I don't have a convertible) and the music set to Bon Jovi is something one yearns for. Isn't it awesome that approximately 1 day of walking = 1 hr of biking, and 1 day of biking = 1 hr of driving, and 1 day of driving = 1 hr of flying? What an incredible blessing modern technology is. And the spectacular scenery whizzing by makes you feel glad to be alive. This indescribable joy that swells within you. For an instant everything is perfect. You just thank God for the gift of the present. It great to feel free, completely. No emails to worry about, no chores, no appointments. It's magical to wake up every morning and feel a sense of adventure well up from within.

For me, this joy leads to gratitude. And at this point as the farewells have wound down, my mind drifted towards the wonderful friendships I have had in the Bay Area. They say hindsight is 20/20. And truly I saw in retrospect (and after staring at I-5 for 7 hrs straight) the blessing my friends have been. I'm excited about the next phase of my life, but I can't help feeling a strong sense of nostalgia and loss. When everything is done and dusted, what you are left is with are memories. A shout out to all my friends who laughed and cried with me, who put up with my quirks, who let me share my life with them and their life with me. Isn't it ironic that happy memories make for sad farewells? Life moves on. And until we meet again, may God hold them in the palm of his hand.

I pondered on traveling alone v/s traveling with friends. Traveling alone has its perks. A great sense of freedom to choose what and when you'll do with your time. I love photography and sometimes it requires patience, which most non photographers don't understand. Traveling alone gives a lot more time to ponder and reflect on what you see and experience. You learn a lot about yourself and you gain confidence and a sense of independence after a successful solo trip. When you are alone, there's a much higher chance of talking to strangers and getting to know people outside of your daily life. Having said that, I prefer traveling with friends. I love having friends to share the memories and experiences with. Things you can laugh about years later. I love having friends give me pity laughs for my lame jokes. Also, as a team, travel can seem less daunting. But this trip will be mostly solo, because who else gets 6 months to travel?

And as promised earlier, I present the annoyances of driving. The main annoyance of driving are the moronic drivers. There are the left lane campers who believe it is their birthright to be in the left lane, no matter the speed they are traveling at. And there are the high beam gangsters who I think are signalling to their alien overlords in the night sky. What about those people who drive real slow on windy roads (understandable), but never use the turnouts and speed up whenever there is a passing lane? Finally, we have the group that believes blinkers are Christmas lights on their cars and never actually use them while turning or changing lanes. I'm sure there are many more. But I don't want to dwell too much on moronic drivers as it makes me irrationally angry and that leads me to break my lenten promise of being more charitable in my thoughts.

And so the road trip section of my travel ends. Now I downsize from my car to a backpack. The world beckons. Next stop, Hawaii!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Wander and wonder

Quit the job and travel. Isn't that the dream? Go where the wind takes you. You have months off and no real plan. Instead of the usual 'days off and every hour is planned'. Finally that dream has come true for me with a little help from corporate America. I have the next 6-7 months off and the world beckons. For the first time in my life, time and money presented themselves together. It is an exhilarating feeling. I thank God for giving me this gift and this opportunity to explore this beautiful world.

I love travelling. I love seeing new places, meeting people and experiencing new things. Travel is a wonderful teacher. It has taught me to go with the flow. It's good to have a general plan, but don't make it too rigid that you'll be annoyed if it doesn't work out. It has taught me to live in the moment. If you spend every minute planning for the next event in your life, have you lived at all? It has taught me to trust God and to trust myself. Yes, we make a great team. It has taught me to take one thing at a time and to have fun. It has taught me to avoid FOMO (fear of missing out). After all even Bill Gates with his billions, will not see everything. So why am I so bothered that I didn't see that perfect view of Yosemite valley with just the right amount of snow, clouds and sun? Well, I think I did see that. But you get the drift. 

Travel has taught me to trust people. Granted that I'm a 6 ft male and I have never been in an unsafe situation, but I have learned that people are generally nice (except while driving). People are just like you and me, no matter their culture, race, gender, faith, sexual orientation, political affiliation, sports fanaticism, coffee preference, and whatever other way we divide ourselves. Travel has taught me to see beauty in God's creation. In nature, in people, in technology. Travel makes me happy to be alive.

I'm on the road now. I'm living out of my car and have driven over a thousand miles since Feb 1. It is amazing how little you need when everything you need is in your car. Soon I'll be downsizing to a backpack. It's fun to wake up in the morning and wonder what would I fancy today. So far some experiences have remained with me. Drinking the perfect hot chocolate at Ghiradelli square on a cold rainy day in SF. Relaxing in a hot tub overlooking the Pacific at Pigeon Pt. Snowball fights with friends in Tahoe. Driving down Hwy1 in Big Sur on a perfect day with a raging ocean pounding the sandstone cliffs. Catching a street performance in SLO and laughing until my sides hurt. Chasing waterfalls in Portland. Hiking among and hugging the redwoods in Redwood NP.

I have slept in hostels, Airbnbs, motels, cabins and friend's homes. Thanks to Michael, Zach, Brian, Dan, Dan, Troy and Lindsay for opening your homes to me. Friends are the family we choose. True that. I gotta mention this one Airbnb place in Portland. She wasn't at home, so finding the key in her backyard was one treasure hunt with the fear of someone calling the cops on me. Trying to read her identity from her home decor was another big puzzle. My conclusion was hipster-hippie vegan lesbian Catholic. And her bathroom takes the cake. There is a full size window next to the shower without a curtain. I guess she likes an audience during showers? Thankfully the window fogged up pretty quickly once the shower was running.

Over the next few months I plan to hit up Hawaii, Australia, Europe and Goa. May my energy and money last the entire trip. And may God help me find Him in all things at all times.