A Travellerspoint blog

Closer to Earth, Closer to Goddess

all seasons in one day 15 °C

A spontaneous decision from an old dream brought me to Nepal, finally.

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A small landlocked country, 800km long and 200km wide, Nepal is gepgraphically divided into the southern flat jungles of Terai, the Middle Hills from east to west where cities of Kathmandu and Pokhara are located, the mighty Himilayas ranges in the north & the western deserts of Trans-Himilayas. The growing Himalayas started to form 60 million years ago when the Indo-Australian plate were pushed under the Eurasian continent when collided.

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My two-week trek to the Annapurna Sanctuary (Base Camp) in Central Nepal took me from Pokhara, through various Gurung villages and rice terraces, at 2000m, to bamboo and rhododendron forests at 3000m, to raging rivers and rugged terrain of the Modi Khola Valley, finally into the heart of the Annapurna Himal at Annapurna Base Camp (ABC), at 4130m.

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Ram, my wonderful and experienced guide, had recruited his cousin to be my porter. Belonged to the 'Gurung', he introduced me to his grandfather in his 80s before staying at his mother's and his twin brother's lodges. During Nepalese holidays, relatives and children will leave Kathmandu and stay in the mountain villages learning different skills and nature. After a difficult trek, I enjoyed thoroughly chasing rabbits and feeding goats following the guidance of these children. There is, however, a sad side behind these innocent, smiley faces. Many are orphans or stateless souls because of poverty and the lack of responsibility of men in these rural areas.

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Long trekking is always a good time for self-reflection. There were times of enjoyment during downhill trek in the shade. And there were times of intense self-questioning when there were no end to the uphill steps in the punishing sun. Fortunately, a few chocolates, friendly smiles and a dip in the icy river could rejuvenate my spirit. Not to mention the egg veggie noodle soup and daul baut.

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And then, there were times of enlightment in the embrace of the Annapurna ranges (Annapurna I - 8091m). A Sanskrit word that means full of food or Goddess of the Harvest, Annapurna, is a Hindu fertility goddess. However, it is also the most dangerous 8000-meter peak with an expedition fatality rate of 40%. While the gentle Annapurna ranges stretches over 34 miles, Machhapuchhare (FishTail), 6997m, with its signature sharp peak generates more awe than any other peaks in the sauctuary.

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Sleeping over 4000m in zero degree is never easy even with the warmest sleeping bag. A toilet run becomes a chore rewarded with the rare sight of the moon & stars kissing the snowy peaks. Trekkers must learn to adapt to the frequent mood swing in high altitudes. Mountains love to play hide and seek with their admirers. Is this an intrinsic nature of women.

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Buddha must have a reason to be borned in Nepal. It is truly a natural paradise where the mind and soul can almost touch the mountain goddess.

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Posted by shinenyc 20:34 Archived in Nepal Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

One week, Three Parks & Lots of Hiking - Part 4

Jejudo

rain 13 °C

Finally, I had some time to sightsee. I took a bus from Jeju-si to Seogwipo, a small town in the south of Jeju, then to Jungmun to see a stretch of coastline known for hexagonal rock columns. Similar to a miniature Giant’s Causeway in Ireland, Jungsanjeolli Rocks are formed as a result of rapid cooling and contraction of lava when pour into the sea. I was astounded by this nature’s sculpture. My astoundment, however, was quickly dampened by huge number of students. I disappeared into bodies of teenagers reluctantly.

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Nearby Jungsanjeolli Rocks, there is an impressive four-storey Buddhist temple, Yakcheonsa. I enjoyed some Jeju famous tangerines under the orange trees surrounded by bird songs before entering the shrine. Buddhism is not a religion, but a philosophy on how one’s spiritual world should conceive the physical world, with humbleness and altruism for others by living a basic and meaningful life, instead of egoism and materialism.

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After my prayers, I left Yakcheonsa and walked towards the bus station from a small back road lined with small tangerine plantations. From the new Jungmun bus terminal, I boarded an eastbound bus to Seongsan-ri at the extreme eastern tip of Jejudo. Passing through town after town, local got on and off. More than an hour later, I was in awe when this majestic extinct volcano appeared by the coast. Ilchulbong is famous for its sunrise, hence its name Seongsan Ilchulbong.

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Before dinner, I enjoyed some solitary time watching sunset at the foot of Ilchulbong on a prairie full of asters. Early next morning about 4:30am, I headed to the ticket office that was still closed. So I walked around in darkness listening to the waves. After I purchased my ticket, it was only a 20-minute walk up to the forested crater where crowds gathered for sunrise. I must admit that I had seen better sunrises in various mountains in other parts of the world. Ilchulbong is still by itself a timeless and statuesque formation. Thick layers of lava curved into the coast while the splashing waves allow microscopic algae buildup to add a touch of blue and turquoise to this geological beauty, another nature’s work of art.

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I concluded my trip by taking a bus from Seongsan-ri to the airport in Jeju-si. There I flew to airport in Seoul and left South Korea. Without setting foot in Seoul for shopping or eating, I thoroughly enjoyed natural beauty of this country. A country that has its own share of turbulent history in recent times. A country deep rooted in the value of Buddhism that breeds the slightly shy yet warm and kindhearted souls.

Posted by shinenyc 00:30 Archived in South Korea Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

One week, Three Parks & Lots of Hiking - Part 3

Hallasan National Park

rain 10 °C

When backpacking in tight timeframe and budget, sometime a whole day can be spent in transportation. Some people loathe these days. I, however, rather like it for the simple fact that this is the time where I have to interact and surround by local people. My final destination is a motel or minbak close by the bus terminal on Jejudo. My mean - buses and ferry. My route -undetermined. There is no consistent information on the official website about when or where the ferry depart on Sundays. Some says Mokpo and some says Wando. Some says 3 and some says 3:30. Nothing I can do. I found the closest city Gwangju on the map and took a bus there from Jinju.

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At the modern Gwangju bus terminal, however, the girl at the customer service kiosk could not speak English. She called an English customer service representative who told me the ferry leave at 3 from Wando. While all these time were wasted, I missed my bus to Wando by 3 minutes. Taking the next bus means that I wiould certainly miss the ferry. I became slightly impatient when I showed my ticket to the conductor who told me to board a bus to Haenam, a town in between Gwangju and Wando. This bus, of course, encountered major traffic jam. I tried to calm myself down by sleeping. Once we arrived at Haenam, my bus driver explained my situation to the conductor so I did not have to pay again. Of course, again, the bus to Wando is delayed for almost 30 minutes. I had already given my luck to destiny. When I finally arrived in Wando, I made my last-minute dash by taking a taxi to the ferry terminal not knowing if the ferry is still there or not. ‘There it is,’ said my taxi driver, pointing to the Hanil Car Ferry. I bought a ticket and ran to the ferry. The gate closed behind me. I made it after all these delays. Why did I bother to worry about things I cannot control anyway?

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Once I was on board, I found myself a spot to sit down outside. I needed some salty air. I had not been in the open sea for a while. My last experience of on board a Greece island ferry was terrible because of the smoking. This time around, I managed to do some soul searching for the next few hours while watching the constantly changing patterns of the waves. The ferry docked before I knew it. Busloads of travelers and hikers boarded their shuttle buses while I waited at the bus station with a hazy sunset. A few buses changes later, I finally arrived at the terminal. I found a small motel nearby and finally checked in after 9pm. My stomach was yearning for food.

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Early next morning, I took a bus to the entrance of the Hallasan National park and started the 9.6km summit trail at 8am. Getting to the Jindallaebat store/rest area on the relatively flat trail only took me little over 2 hours. For the next hour and a half, however, I ascended along the steep rocky trail until the surrounding opens up to a flat grassland. Well-made wooden steps led me to the summit (1950m), highest in South Korea, around 11:45am.

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Within minutes at the summit, the fog gave in to rain. Drizzle became shower. Shower became downpour. I carried my soaked but invigorated spirit down the rocky steps again. After a much-needed cup noodle at Jindallaebat, I continued my wet journey. The louder the splashing sounds on my raincoat, the quicker my steps. At the end, I hopped down so fast that I felt like running in the river, or swimming in the mountain. I was back at the park entrance at 3pm.

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After the 7-hour, 19-mile soaking hike, I was desperate to go back to my hotel. My taxi driver picked up two more hikers. Shivering in the taxi, I worried about getting sick. After driving around the east of the island for an hour, my driver, Mr.Kim, stopped at the folk village on our way back to Jeju-si where my hotel was. ‘I was in no mood for sightseeing,’ I told him honestly. However, I did need get a flight ticket to go back to Seoul in two days. Since none of the local budget airline websites are in English, I asked Mr. Kim to take me to the airport instead. In no time, he was writing down flight information for me after reserving my ticket with a new budget airline, JinAir , through his travel agent friend. He turned up the heat in his taxi to the maximum until I started sweating. After taking me to several ATMs with failed attempt to withdraw money, Mr. Kim finally dropped me off outside my hotel, 3 hours later. Another example of how strangers went completely out of their way to help me. One more time - Korean hospitality.

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Posted by shinenyc 00:29 Archived in South Korea Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

One week, Three Parks & Lots of Hiking - Part 2

Jirisan National Park

overcast 15 °C

With no time to waste, I caught a local bus before sunset from Sokcho to Daegu, with my smelly body. Even as a frequent traveler, when confronted with unfamiliar environment and language after dark, all I can depend on is my common sense and instinct. Not knowing where I am since there are a few intercity bus terminals in Daegu, my guidebook became useless. I looked around but can only see Korean characters everywhere. The woman who was on the same bus pointed me at a direction when I signaled 'sleep' to her. As far as my eyes can see, everything seems to be closed. My common sense, however, told me there must be accommodation somewhere around the bus terminal. It's just a matter of time to find it.

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I walked along the quiet street for a good while. Finally, I see a tiny neon sign says 'motel'. Overjoyed and desperate for a shower, I lowered my guard about the 'cleanliness' of this motel and stepped right in. Many motels in South Korea can be rented hourly with free pornography channels and even 'bedding equipments'. Luckily, a friendly middle-aged woman offered me a modern and meticulous room with a very friendly price, 20000 won. I gladly settled for the night.

When I checked out early next morning, the same woman told me that she lived in San Francisco for a few years and showed me the Express bus terminal only 10-minute walk away! I boarded a 2-hour express bus to Jinju, a student town. After lunch and internet café, I walked to the intercity bus terminal 45 minute away. Feeling bewildered with all Korean bus schedule, I showed a conductor my Mt.Jiri map. He smiled and pointed me to the ticket counter for the bus to Jungsan-ni. Next to the cherry trees, I slept early at a new minbak.

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Next morning around 7, I walked towards the entrance of the Jirisan National Park. One will never feel lonely in national parks here. Hikers of all ages and sizes crowd the summit trail everyday. I followed some, surpassed some, and surpassed by some. Most use hiking sticks. I found it cumbersome. Half way up, a professor from Jinju offered me his guidance. He summits every weekend! I gladly accepted and followed him. We rested at the Beopgyesa Temple and started the final ascend up the steep rocky trail. We reached the summit Cheonwangbong (1915m), second highest peak in South Korea, at 11am. 'Good timing,' he said. I felt a rush of exhilaration being surrounded by nothing but mountain ranges as far as my eyes can see.

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We took some photos and headed to Jeseokbong (1806m) before returning on a long and windy trail passing waterfall and massive boulders in the river. A handful of purple azalea started blooming and added a tint of color to the otherwise blend landscape. It took us about 4 hours to get back to Jungsan-ni.

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Professor Yang invited me to go to a public spa near Jinju. This is what he does every weekend after hiking and before going home. Once inside the spa, we split. I went to the female area. Naked bodies of all shapes and sizes were all I could see, busy rubbing and cleaning every inch of their skin from head to toe. Small children screamed and cried when being forced by the mothers to sit still and wash. Massage and exfoliation were offered at a price. Although I have done this in Istanbul, it is still not quite easy to feel totally comfortable here. Nevertheless, I undressed and dipped into the hot tub to relax my muscles. My shyness and consciousness was soon overcome after realizing that no one actually know that I am a tourist. I could not help myself but stared at the voluminous women rubbing their breasts and buttocks against the coined exfoliating machine. (Sorry no photos here)

We joined outside the spa and went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. Prof Yang insisted on finding a motel for me with free Internet connection. I gladly accept his help and sincerely thanked him for a unique experience. Another example of Korean hospitality.

Posted by shinenyc 00:28 Archived in South Korea Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

One week, Three Parks & Lots of Hiking - Part 1

Seoraksan National Park

semi-overcast

'Why is she going to South Korea for hiking? It is for shopping and eating.' said my cousin.

Why do people go to South Korea for shopping and eating when they can enjoy magnificent natural scenery in perfectly managed national parks, well-indicated trails, enthusiastic companies and good transportation system?

While South Korea is marketed as an international city with the same luxurious amenities as any other international cities, it is the proximity of relatively grand mountain ranges and their diverse seasonal beauty that locals indulge on the weekends. I follow one of my travel motto: ‘Do what the local do to truly understand and appreciate a country.'

So I hopped on a shuttle from the airport straight to the bus terminal in Seoul and took an express bus to the northeast town of Sokcho. It was dark, quiet and chilly when I got off the bus in this small town. A few strange-looking men gave me a brief glance while I walked towards the small castle-like motel across the street. A middle-aged woman eagerly took me to a large room with TV, water cooler & private bathroom for 30000 won (approximately US$30). A decent price for a budget room in South Korea, a monstrous price for a backpacker who is more used to a $10 bunk bed with shared amenities. Nevertheless, I gladly settled in with an empty stomach after a long day in transit. I even entertained myself with thoughts of using the long-forgotten necessity called 'hair spray'.

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Early in the morning, I checked out, bought a pack of cookies and boarded the local bus that goes to the entrance of Seoraksan National Park. After storing my laptop & clothes in the lockers at the visitor's center, I started my first trail, to Ulsanbawi. Standing like a fence over the Seorak mountains, Ulsanbawi is a a series of six granite, quartz & mica peaks that rise as high as 873 meters, covering an area 4 km in circumference and named after its reverberated sound of thunder in the rain ('Crying Mountain Rock' in Chinese translation.) About an hour of easy trekking followed by another hour of over 800 steep steps later, I was greeted by a breathtaking view of this giant rock formation. Each rock is an artwork created by nature. Ulsanbawi is nature's fortress, with hundreds of stone soldiers on duty guarding the Seorak Mountains, the East Sea, Dalma Peak, and Haksapyeong Reservoir around it.

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I had a much-deserved bowl of noodle on the trail back with a Taiwanese in his 50s, who was also traveling solo. We took the cable car up to Gwongeumseong, the site of a ruined castle. Of course, I wouldn’t give up a chance to scramble a little to the top. An ice cream and cable car ride later, my Taiwanese friend recommended his hostel, The House Hostel by the intercity bus terminal. Upon arrival, I found the friendliest host who let me stay for free since the hostel is fully reserved. I shared a large minbak room with an English girl that night.

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After a little bit of persuasion at the gate, I managed to charm myself into Seoraksan again on the next day, for free this time. I headed for the Biryeong Falls, a graceful waterfall above a series of cascading falls. Student groups came and went. I managed to arrive in between and owned the tranquility to myself for over half an hour. The sound of water put me in a meditating mood. This is the moment I long for, in nature alone, completely merge with my surrounding in spirit.

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With my spirit renewed, I decided to hike up to Geumganggul cave. A turquoise stream led me towards Biseondae, an area with gigantic boulders scattered along the river as if nature's decorated rock garden. Poets expressed their feelings by engraving on the flat rock surfaces with elegant calligraphy for generations to share. Once pass Biseondae, the ascend became very steep and rocky, which is a nice change. It took me another 45 minute to reach a tiny cave, with a tiny Buddhist temple inside. Although I was expecting a larger cave, my slight disappointment and exhaustion quickly evaporated after I was awarded with sweet spring water from the tiny waterfall on the cave wall. High above overlooking Cheonbuldong Valley, I sat down and prayed shortly, imagining myself as a Buddhist nun spending days and weeks in this isolated cave to meditate with nothing but the wind and an open heart.

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"What brand camera?” asked a Korean in his 50s. I showed him my camera. He said "Pictures for me?” while pointing at the altar and giving me his business card at the same time. His battery ran out and was desperate to take some photos with his friend at this tiny temple for memories. Mr.Sim, his friend and I shared oranges for snack and hiked back down together. Back to Sokcho, they treat me for the best mussel seafood noodle soup in my life. Then finally they dropped me off at my hostel. This must be Korean hospitality.

Posted by shinenyc 00:34 Archived in South Korea Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Star Struck

rain

There are things one will do in life for anything. For me, nothing can compare to my determination to see the person who has changed my outlook in life - LIVE. Not even the annoyance of a 12-hour drive, train, bus and yes, the plane.

As if this commune was not long enough, downtown Toronto greeted me with another hour of traffic jam on a rainy Saturday night, I arrived at the Convocation Hall at the University of Toronto, literally three minute before Ian Wright, one of TV Globe Trekker's original hosts, came out onto the stage. Within seconds, my anxiety disappeared. I was ready to be loaded with travel stories. This time - LIVE.

For the next two hours, Ian bombarded the audiences with his unusual travel experiences. For example, camping next to the Berlin Wall without knowing it, illegally crossing borders and performing the 'Big Spender' to the Mongolians etc... I had to hold tight onto my chair just to avoid falling off with extreme laughter. For two hours, I was in a trance.

What I didn't expect, however, was to see Ian's childhood and most surprisingly, his artwork. Remote open areas such as Greenland's iceberg, SE Asia's paddy fields and Mongolia's landscape came alive with his colorful palettes. Pictures speak a thousand words, in this case, a different side of this funny host. Two hours went by like two seconds. I left with a refreshed spirit and a few more destinations added on to my travel list.

My itinerary next morning took me to MEC, the outdoor equipment store, to greet Ian in person. I had already rehearsed over and over again in my head what to say while I was on the wheels. It was not after more than an hour of waiting in line to pay for some great basement bargain did I realize that the actual autograph line is 'inside' the store. Luckily, Ian was still chatting with someone when I nervously approached just in time, again. I stepped up the table while Ian was packing up his postcards. My prepared greeting was nowhere to be found in my head. 'A long-time fan,' I said, 'came all the way from Jersey.' We chatted a little about the show while the 'artist signed his paintings'. Not willing to repeat anything others would say to him like 'good work' or 'you are my inspiration'. The 'Jersey' line has to be pretty unique. Afterall, who else would do such crazy thing like traveling for 12 hours to another country to see a show? This is not Europe.

To me, it was a worthy effort for a worthy cause. I needed the assurance, and some new paint brushes.

Posted by shinenyc 00:59 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Races and Places

2 x 21km

This year, to complete my personal competitive running quota, I decided to go for two half marathons instead of one. Ok, I admit it. It is an excuse for me to travel to two places instead of one.

Similar to the NYC marathon, the International Marathon de Montreal starts from a bridge, the Jacques Cartier Bridge, with over 5000 runners early Saturday morning. The race was blessed with perfect weather and a relatively flat course. A little after two hours, I took my final sprint into the 1986 Olympic Stadium in Viau, feeling like a real Olympic participant. Considering the lack of regular training, I made pretty good time.

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Thinking that the Montreal marathon is good enough training for my next race, I felt relaxed when time comes to hop on a plane to Calgary. Honestly, I was more excited to see the Canadian Rockies than anything else, in Banff, a mere 45-minute drive from the airport. Passing through the Indian Reservation on the Tran Canadian Hwy 1, I can hear my heart pound as the mountains get closer and closer. An sense of energy had seeped through my body. Charged and alive within minutes, I was ready for the race, at least mentally.

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Physically, however, is quite a different story. Since Banff is over 4500ft above sea level, the thinner air with less oxygen makes running more challenging. My first trail run along Bow River proved that my confidence needed a little adjustment. Nevertheless, I reminded myself, what more can I ask for to run among scenery like this.

Melissa's Race, in its 27th anniversary this year, is organized by the great owners of a famous local restaurant with the same name and local volunteers. In other words, a town of just over 7000 residents support about 4500 runners every year on race weekend, plus their friends and families - a great accomplishment by itself.

On a picture perfect chilly Saturday morning, after couple nights of much-needed beauty sleep, I arrived at the recreational ground ready to start the 22km, only to be surprised by the sea of enthusiastic runners stretching with aerobic music. The first half of the race was very enjoyable, each corner promises another breathtaking view of the Rockies, literally. I started to feel the thin air effect. Fortunately, the course was shortened two days before from 22km to 18.5km because of the sighting of a mother Grizzly bear and her two cubs nearby. At this point, my gratitude towards this mother bear was so great that it actually managed to push me across the finish line. Little did I know, after the race, runners were offered the best variety of snacks I've had in my experience, by kindergarten volunteers. (It's trick-or-treat, the opposite way.) Needless to say, the two consecutive nights of parties with great people at Melissa's restaurant afterwards made this race all worthwhile.

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Banff, totally different than Montreal, is a tourist town, naturally, due to its magnificent view of snow-capped peaks of the Rockies, thus a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bus load of Japanese and Korean tourists filled the sovenir shops lined up neatly on Banff Avenue. I fit right in, in a sense, politely nodded my head when they speak to me, and quietly sneaked away before the shutter noise ruined the serenity of nature.

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Over the course of a week, besides an hour of shopping and some running, I wandered around admiring rock formations, hiked up Tunnel Mountain, visited the luxurious Banff Spring hotel, the hot springs at Cave and Basin, Lake Louise, Johnston Waterfall, even saw a small hut built in the 1910s hidden in the wood next to Johnson Lake. Not to mention risking my life tumbling along the 1-foot pass on the eastern cliff of Bow River looking for the picture-perfect angle of Bow Fall, AND almost sighting the mating of elks. Actually, should I say in a sarcastic way, the prolonged and nonchalant seduction of a female elk instead. I guess human is not the only specie in the animal world in which female love to play mind games with male.

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Why does every vacation have to end? Especially when my heart was stuck.

Posted by shinenyc 00:03 Archived in Canada Comments (1)

The Art of Making Wishes

sunny 20 °C

Shivering in the cold on a midsummer night in August for hours was not how I envisioned this year's observation of the meteror shower. Up on a 2600ft summit inside the Mount Washington National Forest, the 'nice breeze' during the 45-minute hike along the Appalachian Trail earlier did not feel so 'nice' afterall.

Nevertheless, one after another 'shooting stars' minutes apart from different directions more than compensated my involuntary body movement. At this point, all I can think of is what can be my next wish and how perfect life will be if they all come true (Confession: none of my wishes involves any financial gain which I firmly believe does not translate to happiness in any mean.)

A night of 'five-star' accomodation later, the fresh morning air in the forest cured my sored back (from sleeping on the hard campground floor) almost instantly. Since there is no itinerary for the day, I started off driving on the mountain road until the sign for 'Bash Bish Waterfall' appeared at an intersection.

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Compared to Iguazu Falls, Bash Bish was almost insignificant although it is the tallest one in Massachusetts. However, with a rather challenging, steep hike down and a renewed mindset, this twin falls was a rewarding bonus for the day given its perfect weather. I was completely carried away by the reflection of the sun in the crystal clear water creating numerous shades of turquoise, my favorite color. Behaving like a ten-year-old, I climbed from one rock to another along the stream until my adulthood kicked back in.

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Mt. Everett was my next destination. With a summit only of 2680ft., it was an easy hour hike to the top, followed by an unobstructive view of a few states.

The return drive took me through some of the most scenic areas in rural Connecticut and upstate New York until it was ruined by traffic in the Bronx. Nothing tired me as much as this human torture. That night, I slept like a log.

Posted by shinenyc 22:25 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Heart-Proof

An unescapable fact many backpackers destine to experience but hate to admit - giving a bit of our hearts away in the streets of an unfamilar place, and 'leaving it there'. Are we more emotionally vulnerable while travelling?

Feelings that are impossible to share with friends and family at home, are often miraculously easy to share with locals or fellow travellers who are genuinely interested in you (and vice versa) given the perfect scenery and location. Timing is everything. Sharing our minds and great conversations in the parks or on the mountains will later turn out to be more memorable than any museum visits.

Developing trust with a stranger takes a special sixth sense. It is simply exhausting to adhere to the 'Don't talk to strangers' rule when you are in a strange place.

Often enough, giving a piece of our hearts away in the process to cultivate these special friendships make the trips linger in our memories. I wonder if I will be ever be able to get used to losing this sweet taste.

Posted by shinenyc 10:51 Comments (0)

Jazz up

Montreal Jazz Festival, World Cup Final & more

sunny 25 °C

It was the large scribble: 'The guy from Montreal where the Jazz festival is.' next to an email address of a canadian (who I met in a jazz bar in La Paz) in the back of my Lonely Planet's Bolivia guidebook that gave me the idea of going to Montreal for the Jazz Festival this year. I need this trip after backpacking in South America, believe it or not, to feel more at ease with myself during this reverse culture shock period.

My first destination after the 9-hour Amtrak train ride is a hostel with great characteristics but the noisiest mattress. Learning to share dormitory-style bunk beds with others and tolerating decent snoring is easy - privacy costs money. But making strange noises with every muscle move at night needs a bit getting used to. Since I was not in the mood for that, I picked a second hostel and learn a new skill - balancing on air mattresses and finding part of my body touching the hardwood floor in the morning.

There were not much of a culture shock here, even with the official use of french language. People goes on with their daily lives the same as any other big cities. Old Montreal, where my hostels are located, even with its European-styled mansion, cafes and restaurant lined up on cobblestoned streets, gets a bit too touristy for me to appreciate its history.

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I stopped by the famous Notre Dome Cathedral, wandered around downtown and then headed towards Mount Royal, a large park next to McGill University. Hiking up the slopes was not physically demanding but getting lost in the hidden paths was - in terms of blood supply to the mountain mosquitoes.

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The next day, I paid a quick visit to the Saint Joseph Oratory and the large cemeteries next to the medical schools before heading to little Italy to watch the semi-final match between Portugal and Germany.

A short bus ride took me to Plaza de Art, where the Jazz festival was held every year. Everything from lounge to blues to flamingo to drums, everything with an addictive rhythm and beat in different languages are shared by thousands of people on the streets. No one tried to carry lengthy conversations during the performances or speak up to override the music. Squeezing myself close to the front of the stage proved to be a worthy effort. I danced the nights away in jazzy/mediterrean beats combined with superb performances with thousand others. I even learned a bit belly dancing! I walked back to the hostel passing through streets filled with pornographic shops and prositutes, musically-satisfied.

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Sunday morning, I woke up with renewed excitment because of the world cup final and met my new friends in the Latin Quarters. We watched the unfair ending of the match at a crowded cafe. One italian fan got into an accident almost within minutes after the match ended by driving his sport car into a bicyclist, adrenline rush I guess. To cope with my slight disappointment, my friend took me for a nice walk and ice cream at Lachine, a seaside community with beautiful sunset and clouds of tiny flies.

The biodome close to the 1972 Olympic stadium was my destination on Monday. To be honest, it was torturing to see the cabayas, monkeys and macaws that I saw in the Bolivia jungles here, in captured environment. My fond memories of cabaya families rumbling in shallow banks of River Beni, sqirrel monkeys jumping from branches to branches around the Chalalan lake at dusk and macaws flying in pairs in the open sky still lingered. I admired the spoiled penguins for a moment, escaped from the biodome quickly and spent the late afternoon at the Botanical Garden closeby to recover.

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The next day, Cynthia and Ken, whom I met last year in DR and again in Peru, came to pick me up in Old Montreal. We took a 8-hr drive back to their house in Bathurst, New Brunswick, where I spent the next few days 'trying to fish' in the Atlantic Ocean, watching sunset in Captain Bob's 'Maggie Ali' captured by his Narobi adventures, daydreaming on the small stream behind their beautiful house with Cynthia's dog 'Chao' on my lap , walking on sand bars at Soloman Beach and enjoying fresh scallop for dinner. In other words, I spoiled myself rotten.

Posted by shinenyc 22:19 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

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