Danger: Falling Rocks

Nature is inescapable. Often this realization strikes when we find ourselves at its mercy; when a tornado hits, when a polar vortex seeps into our bones, when an earthquake claims its victims. Living here, in Oahu, however, that phrase translates exclusively to mean that every single day, is a day to be astounded by nature.

Surrounded by nothing but the powerful Pacific Ocean, the islands have much more to boast than I could ever know. Even a simple, quick walk into the woods, leads to jaw-dropping wonder.

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I followed the trail towards Manoa Falls today. It is an easy hike. Besides the sometimes slippery slopes, it was a walk in the park. The scenery along the way however, is fantastic.

No matter which direction you turn to, in Oahu, you simply cannot escape. Which makes living here, a bit of an oddity. Usually, we head to the trails, to the beach or to the mountains for a retreat. We indulge our desire to be lost with Pacha Mama. But when you live in the midst of it, there is no escape. It is simply there. It is a constant. Consistent, unchanging, and always.

All you need to do is look up.

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And look down.

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And all around…

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As it is with life, after a long journey the time comes to reap the rewards.

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And as true as it is in life, so it is on a journey, beware.

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Peace and Quiet: Meeting Ayahuasca

We arrived at a small commune. A happy boxer roamed around, approaching the new gathered visitors but never getting too close. Various paths seemed to lead to small, simple homes. There was no lack of shrubbery nor flowers. And the trees stood tall, over us, the faint blue of the darkening sky just right above. A small, narrow stairway wove its way down a hill and we came upon our shelter for the night: a large, spacious yoga studio in the shape of a pentagon. Large windows and glass sliding doors enclosed the room and outside I could see the green of the thick valley, with scattered homes here and there. On one wall were mirrors, an image of Ganesh on a woven fabric hung on one corner, and Vishnu sat on the other.

I sat on my yoga mat, changed into comfortable clothes, observing the others I had come with. Many seem prepared, the ones who had mentioned of having done this before. They came with mattresses, thick cushions, pillows, blankets. I look at my yoga mat, throw pillow and a thin blanket and realized how ill-prepared I was for my first Ayahuasca retreat.

The invitation to come took place a month before, a friend told me “we’re going to the mountains, take this drug and trip.” I took that at face value. He recommended that I watch a video on Youtube, but I was always game for anything so it hadn’t mattered. I watched the video about an Ayahuasca experience but I must admit true to my nature, I only watched a few minutes of it, simply to get an idea. I like to dive into things with only a glance before I leap.

In retrospect, that might not have been the best route to go considering that this experience turned out to be above and beyond trippin’ balls in the mountains. Earlier in the day when we met with our guide, the shaman, in the parking lot he asked us what our intentions were for participating in this ceremony. I was unluckily enough to have been chosen to go first and I mumbled something to the like of “wanting to receive some guidance.” So, did most of the newbies. The ones with more experience were more specific; wanting to “come to terms with my mother’s death,” as an example.

As we were about to begin, the shaman gave a bit of an explanation of what we were to expect. He tells us that we will take 4 shots throughout the night, he says “There might be a time when you feel you want to purge but it’s possible nothing comes out. But just in case, the are 5 plastic buckets for that purpose on the floor in front.” And certain rules, “Do not engage with your neighbors, you don’t know what they are going through.” He talks about the Ayahuasca, how it is more than just medicine, that it is a divine being that if allowed to can help us; with our lives, our purpose, our meaning. He reminds us that this is not just your normal “trip” and we’re not here to kick it and have a good time. “We’re here to work,” he says.

What? We’re not having a good time?! Work? Another queasy moment passes as I regret not being more prepared.

I take everything with a grain of salt. I try my best to be respectful and listen with an open mind. Though I couldn’t help but think about how I might be very much in the wrong place. As a skeptic, an atheist and someone far from what I’d consider “spiritual.” I don’t pray, I don’t meditate, I despise organized religion, and I have no patience for the hypocrisy of those who claim to be religious.

Even still, the environment alone, the vibe and energy felt undeniably serene and positive. Our shaman tells us some stories of others, how many of them have used it to help themselves; whether it is dealing with grief, depression, an addiction, an illness, or bad habits. We’re asked to repeat our intentions and share them with the group and as I listened to the rest and waited for my turn I thought to myself that this might be a good time to find some resolution to some hate, anger, and guilt I carry around. There were several who asked “for the journey to be mild,” and to be “brought back at a reasonable time.”

“Brought back?” What does that mean? Where are we going? “Reasonable time?” Is there a possibility we won’t be coming back on time? Is it possible to not come back at all? I wondered, amused and curious at the same time. Only afterwards would I know the full meaning of this request.

When my turn came, I said to the group, “Well, now that I have a better understanding of what this experience might be like, I think this is a good opportunity for me to try and work on forgiving my mother, my father, myself and others.” I thought that would be a good start. Considering I didn’t know how exactly this would all work.

So, we begin. All the lights are turned off, and we only have the shine of the moon and the stars and a single lit candle in front of the shaman. My eyes adjusted soon enough. I watch him prepare the medicine, they come in large clear mason jars and he pours some in a shot glass and takes a drink. Then one by one, we came up to take the shot. We sit in silence, though sometimes there was coughing, sneezing, and heavy breathing could be heard, otherwise, we sat in silence.

I sat wondering and observing. Mostly I began to wonder whether this was a waste of money. Though we were told to try to sit up as that would allow the medicine to work better, I grew tired and uncomfortable and so I laid down. I might have been falling asleep as memories of my past came circling around. Though they were not memories I would have thought would come. Memories from the time that I lived in Spain floated in and out of my mind, memories of my time with my ex and our dog, memories from college. I vaguely had control of my thoughts so I pushed those away and my mind drifts. I find myself in different scenarios, different places. I seem to have gone to the mountainside, Boston, and finally a beach at night. The sky was dark, the stars were twinkling, the coconut trees were somehow clear in the darkness. Figures floated in front of the image of the coconut trees, the trees themselves seemed to become illuminated. The water looked strange, the water was of different colors, it looked as though someone had spilled different colored inks and there were colors everywhere. I could hear the ocean. I could hear music, and I began to feel as though I was floating. The air was cold, and I felt as thought I was everywhere and then I realized that the drug was working.

I opened my eyes and I was right. I was tripping.

The ceiling was moving and opening to the sky and I could see the sky from inside the room, the other people were shadows, there was music playing, beautiful music playing, most everyone were still just sitting or laying down. I could hear someone laughing. No one was moving around too much. I look out the window the stars were gorgeous. Everything was fuckin’ weird. It felt short and it felt like forever. It stayed that way for some time, I sat mesmerized and time froze. I watched figures, random images float around and nothing was making sense and yet I understood everything.

We take the second shot, and this was what I think was the strongest. And when I felt the worst. Everything was so dark and scary, and then I felt sick, I felt like throwing up, and I was purging, laying down and throwing up but I wasn’t throwing up anything. It was all just air but it felt like so many things were coming out of me. I felt better when it felt as though my stomach had emptied. Then it became freaky, I kept feeling bad, feeling lost, feeling like I wanted someone to stop it and I wanted to get out of there. I kept muttering “Save Me” I don’t know if anyone heard me, or even if I was saying it out loud, but I kept saying that over and over. I even wrote it in my journal, in the dark so seeing the words in the morning looked like it was written by someone who was possessed. And I just felt alone and bad. The music goes from loud to soft and the Shaman plays music that’s calmer to bring us out of our “trip” and we sober up after each round.

We took the third shot and that’s when I really tripped balls. I went outside to go to the bathroom. They put out little tea lights to guide the way to the bathroom because it’s dark. I didn’t have a flashlight and that walk to the bathroom which was probably just 50 feet felt like a mile. The walk, this very short walk during the day and when without being inebriated takes less than a minute, but that night it was an adventure. Every step was taken cautiously and occasionally I’d stare out into the dark woods, only a small tea light as my illumination. I was about to go back inside the room and get comfortable again when I decided to watch the stars. I went to the balcony, it overlooks the woods and I stare at the stars for so long. It was amazing and beautiful and just wow. I think, even if we weren’t tripping it would have been just as gorgeous. I stared at it for so long, and that’s when I felt a bit of peace and I really loved the stars. I had a strong urge to be with the stars, a feeling that hoped someone would take me up there. I even climbed up the seats of the balcony and leaned out so I could see more. This was dumb and dangerous and this is why you don’t do drugs. I kept doing that until I finally talked myself out of it. Then I laid down on the balcony because I felt like I wanted to be with the stars. Until I got cold and went back inside. I laid down, and it was very cold. I only had a thin blanket, and so I laid down anyway, and tried to get warm. Then I felt something magical happen because the small thin sheet I had felt very big all of a sudden, felt like a large thick, tent and I kept playing with it with my hands thinking… wow, I wish it to be warm and here’s a magical blanket out of nowhere and now I’m able to stay warm, wow. I’m amazed and I laugh. And I fell asleep.

The music stops, we take the fourth shot. People are becoming more interactive now, someone went around each person and waved feathers around us, there was sage burning, a single candle stood in the middle of the room, people played instruments, really beautiful music. There was singing. I sang without knowing the words. Then I fall asleep and my mind is just rushing everywhere, I feel so much. Then I get waken up. It’s daylight, people were awake, I still kept falling asleep, they kept waking me up. I finally was able to sit up and join the group and be back in ‘reality” and then that’s when I realized no wonder others had asked for “grandmother” to bring them back at a reasonable time.

To this day, weeks after, I still don’t really know what happened. We sat in our circle the morning after and shared our experiences. What we felt, what we learned, how we feel now. Many mentioned feeling loved, something that I did not feel that night which I found to be odd. I shared as well, and I told them “I always considered myself a very unemotional person, I don’t quite allow myself to feel whether it be love, or anger. I often shut my feelings out, and do things to distract myself from how I feel. And I’m quite good at it. But after taking the medicine, in a way it left me unguarded. I couldn’t control my emotions, I felt so much. I didn’t realize I could feel so much.” Surprisingly, I began to cry. I was very confused and exhausted and amazed and so many things that I couldn’t even begin to find the words to describe.

The shaman looked at me for a long time, he was watching me as I spoke and finally he says, “I can see a vast well of sadness behind those eyes.” Tears flowed and I couldn’t stop it. He suggests to me to work on allowing myself to feel, to take some time to cry, to let the tears flow, and then maybe if I decide to come back we could work on family matters.

Soon, the ceremony officially ended, we said our goodbyes, and gave our hugs. Before I climbed up the hill to go back to the car, I went out on the balcony, curious to see the difference between what I had seen and felt the night before to how the world looks now, in the daylight. I looked at the sky; blue, the clouds white. I looked at the valley, green and lush and beautiful. I wondered about the vast contrasting worlds of day and night. Everything was amazing. Everything that was, was peace and quiet.

Well, wasn’t that fuckin’ eye-opening!?

There is Nothing on this Island

“Do you know how long before we run out of food on this island if a disaster struck?” my taxi driver asked me as we drove down H1.

“I don’t know, two weeks?” I guess.

“That’s correct. Two weeks and then we have nothing,” he replies, the word ‘nothing’ weighs heavy.

There’s something to think about. It’s fascinating to truly think about the fact that I, along with almost a million people on Oahu and another close to half a million on the other islands, are in complete isolation.

That idea, I think, contributes to the attitude and culture of the people who live and who thrive here. There is a sense of satisfaction. There is no hint of expanded desire. No need for more. There is an all-around contentment. All we have is this and this is all we have.

But then again, what need is there for more when everyday is paradise.

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I arrived here only several weeks ago, so don’t suppose that my thoughts and ideas about Honolulu and its people are in anyway precise. I am still a stranger, still fresh. I am still savoring the process of being new. I am far from the edge of the waning excitement that comes over time. I am still absolutely full of excitement.

Every day ends on a beautiful sunset, and I am elated that after a day’s work all I need to do is step out the back door to watch another day over.

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The island is dazzling. Only a few weeks and I am hypnotized by the ocean, and the mountains. The trees and the flowers, the sun and the sky reminds me of home, the Philippines where every flower bloomed bright and every tree stood majestic. I am in my element once more.

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There is gorgeous scenery at every corner. And the backdrop to the volleyball games every Monday is a crater thousands of years old.

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The mundane, the everyday, the humdrum, the daily grind happens in a place that has a constant desire to take your breath away. IMG_3669

Often, I am asked, what brought me here. A common question as there are many who are not ‘from here.’ I quite honestly don’t have an answer. The idea was brought to me last summer, it simmered in my mind until the time came to leave Boston in late spring and here I am.

If the world crumbled tomorrow and all I have is nothing but this. I’ll gladly have nothing everyday.

 

 

 

My One Year (kinda) in Boston

Boston has a special place in my heart.

Last year, after an absence of over six months, traveling in Asia and a short stint in Las Vegas, I returned in June. It was the perfect time to come back; near-perfect weather conditions, or as perfect as New England will allow. Here summer begins, and a story is told through the changing seasons in Boston and the activities they come with.

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The summer months are spent idle at the beach. Where friends, and friends of friends sneak beer in inconspicuous coolers. Where the day ends at the ice cream shop in the corner, hurriedly devouring a melting sundae.

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An intimate show, at a nondescript bar

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or at Fenway Park, taking in one of the greatest legends of our times, Paul McCartney as he indulges us with our favorite Beatles songs.

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Even George Washington joins in the spirit of things and dons a Bruins jersey, in full support of their run for the Stanley Cup.

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And the Fourth of July marks the summer in full swing.

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Before long, the clouds roll in. The days are dimmer.

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The colors of Autumn are everywhere.

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Then almost suddenly, everything is white.

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The frog pond finds its use.

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And water freezes over.

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All the while, the good times roll.

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The cold never bothered us anyway.

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But soon, hints of spring.

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Colors return.

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Spring is in bloom.

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Time to hit the outdoors.

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And make our way back to Fenway Park, for summer has returned.

 Now, it’s time for somewhere new, and I’ve found myself in Honolulu.

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Stay tuned. for more tales.

My Five Favorite Places Around the World

I think my friends can attest to the fact that I can never shut up about all the beautiful places that I have been to and how they’ve made an impact on me. Indeed, it’s true. The world just has that much to offer that my amazement is boundless.

However, I’ve decided to pick five that are my favourite places in the world.

Number 5. Los Roques, Venezuela

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Years before when I was in Caracas I was told about Los Roques, a small archipelago off the northern coast of Venezuela that at the time I was told was a popular destination. I knew nothing about it, of course. Nevertheless, I boarded the small plane, that flew me to a small island, where I got on a small boat, that took me to a much smaller island. There were very few people on this beautiful island. Just myself, my companion, another couple, and a handful of people who prepared the food, served as snorkelling guides and set up the hammocks. The island was very small, so small that there were only a few palm trees. There was nothing else around, no other land in view of the naked eye. It was one of the most tranquil and solitary moments of my entire life. I highly recommend that you should try to find yourself on a tiny island at least once.

Number 4. Camiguin Island, Philippines

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Last year, at the very start of our island hopping adventure in the Philippines, our first stop was the island of Camiguin. From the port of Baligoan, the island was in clear view. It was an incredibly amazing spectacle. The small island had a volcano in the middle and therefore managed to give a very picturesque, very island look. The island is only about 9 kilometers in diameter, though it is quite full; full of people, of life, of culture and of wonder. There were several waterfalls, numerous choices for snorkelling, giant clam farms and scuba diving, hot springs and cold springs, plenty of beautiful beaches and even a sunken cemetery. This is one of my favorite places in the world because it feels very much as if, Mother Earth has so much to show us, even in just a very small space.

Number 3. Angkor Wat, Siam Reap, Cambodia

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I will forever be fascinated by the ruins that that been left behind and sometimes forgotten. I feel that these majestic temples are a testament of the wonder of humanity. Empires are built and empires fall but we persist. We’ll build magnificent empires and enormous symbols of our ingenuity and prowess but we are human so we will err, we will be conquered, destroyed, forgotten at times, but we persist. We are still here. We move, we fight we run away and we take back. This is what these ancient beauties say to me when I walk through their halls.  Just a few kilometres from the town of Siam Reap in Cambodia, Angkor Wat is a magnificent complex of many different but equally majestic temples. I spent a couple of days going from one to another, exploring every dark corner and dusty corridor while my mind begins to imagine what they walls could have said if they could talk.

Number 2. Machu Picchu, Peru

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Nothing can ever equal to the feeling of being at Machu Picchu. At some 8000 feet on top of a mountain surrounded by mysterious peaks, sits Machu Picchu. A marvelous human achievement, Machu Picchu is a stone city designed with precision and offers only a hint of the might of the ad    ncient Incas. At the end of my tour, the guide told us that the Incas considered the mountains to be very sacred and powerful. And perhaps we should take some time and talk to the mountains. I wandered away from the crowd and gratefully found myself in a quiet and deserted area. I sat on the ledge, stared at the beautiful mountains that surrounded me and possibly for the first time in my life, I felt truly connected to the Pacha Mama, the people in my life, and I felt somehow that I was precisely meant to be exactly where I was, at that exact moment; sitting at Machu Picchu talking to the apus.

Number 1. Cabo Polonio

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Sitting at the table with the friends of my friend in Montevideo our talk turned to travel and where might I, the yanqui spend my time in Uruguay. It was, I remember clearly, unanimously decided that I must simply go to Cabo Polonio. So, I did. I discovered that Cabo Polonio is a very small beach town on the coast of Uruguay and part of what is known as the Uruguayan Riviera. It is isolated and separated from everything else by 7 miles of sand dunes and accessible only by dune buggies. It is beautiful. The sun was always bright and with the absence of artificial light we are bathed in moonlight in the evenings. The air tastes fresh, the water enticing, and in the distance a colony of sea lions play. This is my most favorite place in the entire world. I hope it is more or less the same the next time I go back.

Click here, to read more about Cabo Polonio. 

*It seems I really like places that are far and isolated from everything

The Proverbial Reset Button

Every year, on January first, whether it bears any truth or not, there is a general consensus that everyone is allowed to dream big once more, allowed to imagine the best of themselves, allowed to “restart.”

Last year, around this time, I was on week four of my travels in South East Asia. This time around, I am on my 5th month of a one-year lease on an apartment. I can’t pretend that I’m not itching to step-out the door and just go. So, now that a full year has passed since I was last wandering, it is sometimes hard to find that full-of-life-feeling that envelops me when I am out there. The excitement of being back in Boston has gone, the madness of drinking the summer away is well over, and I have more than fallen in to the routine of monotony. Everything is still. With snow banks on very corner, bare trees standing stiff, and frigid air filling my lungs, everything is frozen. Even my wanderlust.

It’s been about half a year since I put a pause on my travel, and I have about half a year before I go off again. I cannot help but feel unmotivated. I feel too far away from the high I felt after returning from a journey and too far away from the anticipation of the next trip. But if there is one thing that travel has taught me it is to embrace every minute and devour each day with fervent thirst. And so, while the first of the year doesn’t necessarily start anything new in my life, I’m going to take its figurative meaning literally. I’m deleting the feeling of stagnancy. I’m raising my excitement bar. I’m refreshing.

While I might not be crossing borders there is still so much to do. I’m dreaming of a winter filled with ski-trips, ice-skating, hot cocoas, and warm liquors. I’m picking up my pencil and work on those projects that I have put aside. I’m going to concentrate on those resolutions I made up. I’m going to pretend I’m trying to go to the gym. I will join friends and have good times. I will live my life as if I was on traveling, because life is only as good as you make it.