Author: floriandavid

Travelling

India

A big fat Namaste from the holy town of Rishikesh!

I am still in northern India and I just successfully completed my Yoga teacher training here. Yay! The last five weeks passed like I was in a trance which might be due to the fact that I was completely inundated with yoga. Yoga in its full extent. Postures, mantras, philosophy, anatomy, breathing practice and meditation. Nine hours a day which was exhausting at times. Also we had quite a bumpy start because the yoga school was still in the process of finishing constructions during the first days of the course and everything was quite unorganized which caused some irritation among the students. Most of the students underestimated the cold weather too. Everybody knew that it wouldn´t be warm, but nobody expected that you would need to put on clothes before going to bed. In this part of the world heating a room is not common so it was cold outside and inside which was especially tough during the morning classes. The worst was probably the fact that some things were changed last minute which led to us having a different schedule and different teachers than advertised. That was quite a bummer.

Luckily I quickly learned that I had some amazing fellow students. People from all walks of life and different countries and with very interesting backgrounds and life stories. I think if it wasn´t for some people I met I would have struggled more than I did, but we quickly became a family and took care of each other. I can say that I found friends here and I am sure that I will see some of them again. This whole course was a very bonding experience. Not only because of the many hours we spent together everyday but also because of the sometimes extreme and unusual things we were expected to do in order to get a better understanding of the different yoga practices. Many times I thought or even mumbled to myself “What the hell am I doing here?”. For example one yoga practice is the so called Shatkarma which are methods of cleansing your body. One we also know in the west is the flushing of your nasal cavities with warm salt water which is actually a very nice thing to do when you are having a cold. A more extreme version is inserting a rubber catheter into your nostril and shoving it all the way in until it comes down at the back of your throat where you can then catch it and pull it out of your mouth. It`s basically nasal flossing. A third one we practiced was the stomach cleansing in the morning. We chugged a liter of warm salt water and then induced vomiting with a certain posture and by the use of fingers (all together in the yoga hall). My buddy Saul stood next to me and cheered me on because I had trouble getting anything out. I was gagging and laughing at the same time. Nothing I am planning to practice on a regular basis, but definitely a bonding experience.

We practiced yoga postures twice a day. Two hours of vinyasa yoga in the morning and two hours of hatha yoga in the afternoon. Especially the morning classes with our drill instructor Vikas were physically challenging. The traditional Indian training methods are not necessarily in line with modern sports science and anatomy. One cold Monday morning we began the 7 am class with an hour of intense stretching and in my mind I could literally hear my thai boxing coach Jan (who is also an accomplished physiotherapist) yelling “Stretching is not a warm up!”. Especially in the first two weeks I was in pain and sore most of the time but it got better after a while.

The teachers were of course all Indian and some of them were quite special characters. The philosophy class was taught by a guru who lived as a travelling monk for several years. I can not say how close he is to his goal on the path of enlightenment, but I can say it was a spectacle too see him teach. His lectures were constantly interrupted by his either spontaneous room shaking laughter or almost childlike giggling which always were very contagious and made the whole room laugh. Luckily I am a quite skeptical person and I usually don`t take anything, especially not spiritual theory, at face value. Otherwise I would now believe that there are only four thousand suns/stars in the milky way and that I will be reborn as a politician if my life consists of 90% good deeds or as a dog or cow if it only consists of 49% good deeds. One of my fellow students just commented “He`s just trippin` his titts off” which still makes me laugh when I think of it.

A class that really surprised me in a positive way was the mantra class. I didn´t really care much about mantras before started the course but I quickly realized how effective and powerful the monotone chanting of some of the mantras were. Especially when you do it in a big group with a good teacher who has a great voice. Whether it was just a psychological phenomenon, the physical vibrations of my own voice resonating in my body or an actual spiritual process I do not know, but after chanting I always felt very energized and emotionally balanced.

I definitely learned a lot. Not in a way I expected but more through the process I went through in this course. It was mentally and physically very challenging and it showed me where I need to improve. It also made me appreciate the way we practice the physical yoga in the west. It too made me realize how much bigger and richer yoga is than that what we practice in the west. It showed me the importance of introspection and meditation. I learned a big deal about self-acceptance. And… it showed me how much I am longing to go home now. A couple of times when I lay in the relaxation pose at the end of a yoga class, my mind started processing the past one and a half years of travelling. Pictures of places I have been, situations I was in or people I met just flashed up in my mind and it started to dawn on me how big all of this is. I am humbled by and thankful for who I met and the experiences I made. It’s all good and I am looking forward to what ever may be next.

Flo

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Myanmar

It’s me again! This is probably going to be one of the last posts for the time being. I am still in Bangkok waiting for my visa from the Indian embassy. On the 17th of January I will fly to Delhi and then make my way to the “Yoga Capital” Rishikesh which is about 300 km north. There I will immerse myself in yoga in all its aspects and varieties for over 30 days. The day will begin at 6 in the morning and will end at 8 in the evening and everything in between is going to be filled with postures, anatomy, meditation, philosophy and more. Until then I will have to kill some more time though.

I came back from Myanmar on the 31st of December after I spent the full 28 days in the country that were granted on my visa. And I can consider myself very lucky that I was able to stay with friends who are living in Myanmar now. Not only did they have a guestroom for me, but they also took their time to show me around Yangon (e.g. taking me to a Tote Hosen concert) and to put a cherry on top they also shared their stash of German sweets, cheese and home baked bread with me which made me incredibly happy! It was one of those breaks I really needed and I am thankful that they provided me with a hideout and made me feel like home.

With the perfect home base in Yangon I explored parts of the “The Golden Land” which was a part of the British Empire until 1947 (for that reason some elderly local people speak almost perfect Oxford English). The easiest way to comprehend why it is called the land of gold is to go to Myanmar’s most important religious site which is also one of the top tourist attractions in the country: the Shwedagon Pagoda. It is a stupa wherein eight hairs of Buddha himself are said to be enshrined. For Buddhists this is reason enough to worship the stupa by donating gold leaves, diamonds, and other precious gems. By now it is covered in a layer of gold that weighs up to 27 metric tons and is adorned with over 5000 diamonds, over 2000 rubies and is crowned by a 76 carat single diamond. This wealth is a harsh contrast to the poverty I saw in the streets of the big cities and in rural areas.

Nevertheless the economy is picking up very fast and a lot of money comes into the country through global companies and investors that are trying to secure their share in a market that is just opening up due to to change in the political system of Myanmar. Change is coming fast and after years of suppression by the military regime the people are hungry for it. It is a two edged sword though. On the one hand the economical development will bring money and jobs into the country and things like the health care system (which is hardly existent at the moment) and infrastructure will improve. On the other hand the country will be westernized by companies like Starbucks, McDonald’s and the likes. Consumerism will take over and a great deal of the people’s cultural identity will be watered down. It might become a switch from one extreme to the other. I was surprised by how many people got a brand new smartphone on their waist taking into account the low wages they earn. Apparently loans are easy to come by at the moment and are taking rather carelessly by the people of Myanmar which, by the way, are hands down the friendliest people I have met anywhere in Asia.

Travelling the country and visiting my friends were not the only reasons for me to come to Myanmar. Before I arrived I booked a course in a meditation retreat in Yangon which I started a week after I came into the country. Ten full days in a meditation center without speaking or any other way of communication. No distractions whatsoever: no books, no laptops, no phones, no paper, no pens. Only meditation for eleven hours every day starting at 4:30 in the morning. Needless to say that this was a very intense experience and it tested me in patience, discipline and willpower. But it also taught me a lot about how my mind works. The meditation technique it self is not spiritual or religious even though it is a Buddhist practice. For the first three days I had to focus only on my breath and the sensations I perceived. Day by day I had to narrow down the focus on a smaller area below my nostrils to sharpen the awareness of my mind and to strengthen the focus. It was quite amazing to see how difficult it is to keep my mind focused on a simple thing like that. I also was amazed by how my mind and my body seemed to team up against me and tried to divert my attention with all kinds of garbage: itches, memories, future plans, fear, joy, sorrow and pain were thrown at me but I tried to keep my focus which was not always easy. On the fourth day I was instructed to start scanning my whole body part by part for any kind of sensation. The main sensation everybody feels at first is quite obvious: pain! Sitting cross legged for such a long time everyday there was a lot of pain. My knees, my hip joints, my back, my shoulders everything was just in so much pain. But pain is just a sensation too and what I was taught was to observe any sensation objectively and treat it with equanimity while realizing the fact that it is an impermanent phenomenon. And what can I say, even the worst pain vanishes after a while and sitting became easier and easier. After the seventh day I was able to sit over one hour without moving any part of my body at all. The sensations I perceived got more and more subtle and my focus got stronger while my mind became calmer and clearer. Definitely a life upgrade which I will keep practicing. Unfortunately after leaving the meditation center the whole effect wore off quite a lot but I still have the feeling of being more aware in general plus I can sit very straight for a long time now.

After the retreat I set out to explore more of the country. I went to the temple filled plains of Bagan where I spent a couple of days riding my e-bike through the vast area that is covered with over 4000 temples with some of them being over a 1000 years old. The temples were impressive in number, size and architecture but what really got me was the mystic atmosphere that was palpable especially during dusk and dawn. After Bagan I went up further north to the city of Mandalay where traffic seemed to be equally mad or even worse than in Yangon. Still I found Mandalay to be the more interesting city. There is a lot going on out in the streets and it is obvious that there is less of a rush regarding the coming changes. While in Yangon new tall buildings are being raised on every second corner, Mandalay takes it a bit slower which makes it more rewarding to explore.

With Myanmar being the last country I really traveled I am now looking forward to my stay in India where I will be in the same place for over a month practicing and learning and I can’t help but think that this is a perfect way to end one and a half years of travelling. Hopefully coming home fresh, relaxed and energized.

Korea & Thailand

Time flies. It has become a phrase but sometimes you sit down and you realize how fleeting time actually is. I look back at the past year and I look at a year of travelling, adventures and a lot of new things learned and experienced. I honestly can not think of a better way how I could have spent this year. In the past weeks I realized though how tired I have become and that it is time to plan the end of my trip.

I am currently back in Thailand organizing my visa for India where I will take part in a yoga teacher course in the city of Rishikesh in northern India. This course will take a month and every day is going to be filled with yoga in all its forms and varieties from 6am to 8pm and I am really looking forward to it. It will meet my urge to settle down and work on something more permanent. After That I will fly home with a stop or two in Europe to visit friends. I will be back in Hamburg by late February or early March and I am really looking forward to it now.

About my recent travels: From the US I flew to Korea to spend a couple of days in Seoul. Most of the time I spent enjoying the great Korean cuisine or dealing with a terrible jet lag. I did some sightseeing but not a lot. Nevertheless I got a glimps of Korean life and culture and I must say I really liked what I saw. The people were very friendly and helpful and the city is quite easy to explore with its vast subway network and free wifi literally everywhere.

I was craving some nice beaches and underwater activity so off to Thailand I went after only five days. In Thailand I headed for the beautiful little Island of Koh Tao in the gulf of Thailand to finally learn scuba diving. Great reefs and low costs due to the fact that it was off season made it the perfect spot. So I didn’t only do the open water diver license, I went for the advanced open water license including the nitrox diver (diving with oxygen enriched air). From the first dive on I liked the feeling of zero gravity and the meditative state of mind you get in. Seeing marine creatures in abundance up close like this can’t be anything but fascinating. Sometimes it got a little bit too close though. On one of the first dives I encountered a great barracuda which was a huge fellow. It got curious and swam directly towards me. I was mesmerized by its piercing gaze and the big teeth so I didn’t realize how close it got. Only when I felt my dive instructor grabbing me by my tank and pulling me backwards away from the big fish I understood that I should maybe back off a little. In another situation I encountered a mad trigger fish which started attacking my dive instructor and me. We had to back off immediately because they have a sharp beak which can inflict some deep wounds. But even these encounters only added to the adventure and made me want to dive more. I decided to go to the western coast of Thailand, the Andaman sea, which has one of the world’s top dive spot: Richelieu Rock. I was lucky to get on a liveaboard for a very good last minute deal on the same day I got to the west coast. I spent four days on a boat and did nothing but dive, eat, sleep, repeat. Loved it! Amazing visibility and thousands over thousands of different creatures. That was when I really started loving scuba diving even though I didn’t encounter any big things like sharks or manta rays. I will definitely keep it up.

After the diving adventure I went down to Krabi to do some free climbing which I haven’t done in a long time. I guess I don’t need to tell you about how sore my muscles were after three days of climbing up the surreal karst rocks in southern Thailand. I could barely move without pain.

Back in Bangkok I made preparations for my trip to Myanmar which I returned from yesterday. What a wonderful country it is. I will add a post about Myanmar to my blog very soon so stay tuned!

See you around,
Flo

U.S.A.

America The Beautiful it is called and oh how beautiful it is. I knew that the US had nice national parks and scenic landscapes but I was not prepared for this abundance and variety of unique and breathtaking places. But let me start where we started…

After a long and painful flight from Lima in Perú we touched ground in Fort Lauderdale in Florida in early August where we had a 15 hours lay over before our flight to Denver where we were supposed to meet Juliaan´s relatives. But instead of waiting at the airport we decided to hit the beach right away. Later that day we caught our flight to Denver where Juliaan´s cousin Leo picked us up from the airport and let us stay in his house. We spend only two days in the mile high city which made a really good impression and was great start to an even greater trip through the US. Juliaan´s uncle and aunt, who were on the way back from a trip through the US themselves, picked us up and took us to their beautiful ranch in Oklahoma which seems more like a serene oasis (check it out here) than an actual ranch. But like on every ranch in the world there was a lot of work to be done. And after spending so much time on the beach in Mancora and being lazy I was looking forward to do physical work. We cleared out brushes, built fences, and worked on a tool shed. It felt good to be productive again. On the other hand Claire and Chris helped us finding a car for our roadtrip. They did not only find a car for us but also took us to Dallas to buy it, fix it and get the paper work done. Especially the insurance seemed like an insurmountable problem but with a little trick they fixed even that. So after spending three weeks on the ranch it was finally time to start the roadtrip with our 2005 Dodge Caravan which we bought for pretty good price from a Mexican family in Dallas, Texas. Since Chris who is a semi professional trial bike rider had tournament in New Mexico we did the first leg of our journey together. We spent a couple of days in his absolutely stunning cabin in the Rocky Mountains in New Mexico. Juliaan and me then set off to start our trip which took us through Arizona, Utah, Colorado, back through Utah and Arizona, to Nevada to see the madness of Las Vegas and then through California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and back to Colorado and from there back to Oklahoma. It took us about six weeks and more than 15.000 km (almost 10.000 miles). On the way we have seen many national parks, mesmerizing highways, dirt roads, hip cities, back country towns, rivers, lakes, the ocean, monumental woods, and we met many many people. We basically traveled every day with our Dodge which not only became a friend but was actually our home since we also slept in it. Most of the times we stayed on campgrounds. If we could not find a campground or did not want to pay for one (some of them were ridiculously expensive, up to 65$ a night) we camped out in the wild and some of the places where just unbelievable. One particular comes into mind where we found a spot on a mountain with the best view on the surrounding mountains of the Olympic national park. One challenge we did not think of before hand was the lack of showers a long the way. Only few campgrounds had showers so we often washed ourselves in rivers, lakes or the ocean. They all had one thing in common: they were cold and getting even colder the further north we traveled. Sometimes we just lived up to the stereotype of smelly Europeans.

The six weeks were packed with so many impressions, experiences, places and people that it is impossible to give a detailed version of the roadtrip but I guess that the pictures will transport some of it. When it comes to talking about what I liked best I can´t really give an answer either. Some highlights were definitely the dry and otherworldly canyons and rock formations in Arizona and southern Utah, the majestic Sequoia trees and Redwoods in California, the pristine woods of the Olympic National Park in Washington and the remote and almost abandoned Glacier National Park in northern Montana. Well, I guess the visit from the two grizzly bears that strolled right through our campground in Yellowstone National Park was a thing I will never forget either. And I have to give credit to the American people we met on the way. Most of them were incredibly friendly and helpful (we even got invited for breakfast by an older couple who liked to hear our travel stories).

Right now I am sitting in a small café in Seoul in Korea and when I think back of the past months I can hardly believe that this all happened. This was definitely a highlight of all my travels I have done beforehand it will take me a while to process it. Juliaan flew back home to Amsterdam from New York where we spend couple of days and I am on my own again which feels strange after the long time we traveled together (it was a pleasure, man!). But this comes with travelling. You meet great people and you say goodbye to great people. I will never get used to it though.

Also I want to say thank you to a couple of people who supported us. Thank you Chris and Claire who helped us so much with making this trip possible, fed us, gave us shelter and treated me like family. I will never forget that and I look forward to seeing you again! Leo and Vivi who went out of their way to help us in Denver. Geoff who let us crash his couch and got us silly drunk in San Francisco. Ben who helped us big time by letting us stay in his house in NYC. Chris Kayode for a great time at Kenka Izakaya Reloaded. Mollie for great company and free Beer.

Well, I am back in Asia now and apart from the terrible jetlag I already love Korea. The people are friendly and the food is great. A pity though that I won´t spend a lot of time here. In a couple of days I will fly to Bangkok and organize my trip to Burma and India. Also I will finally get my diving license on Koh Tao Island and have some beach time again. See you around and thanks for reading.

Perú

If you read my last blog post you might remember that I wanted to attempt a second ascent of a +6000 m mountain. After the defeat on Huayna Potosi in Bolivia I went pretty much straight to Arequipa in Peru. Looming over this nice colonial city is the mountain Chachani (6075 m). Highly acclimatized to high altitude and accompanied by my mountain crazy friend Juliaan I decided to go for it. Technically it was supposed to be easier than Huayna Potosi because there was no ice climbing during this time of the year. The real challenge was the altitude. Highly determined we took on the 2 days, 1 night trek where I learned at that night that its not only the altitude that’s going to challenge me but also the freezing temperatures. After reaching the base camp (5200 m) on the first day we went to sleep early because the ascent started the next morning at around 2 am. So our guide and us left in the pitch black night to climb up that mountain and I can say never have my toes been that cold before! As for the physical challenge I was quite surprised because we managed it quite easily. Easy enough to smoke a celebratory cigarette on top of the mountain at 6075 m. Even our guide was suffering more from the altitude than we did. I guess this is due to the fact that both of us spent more than 2 months on an altitude higher than 2000 m. So I managed to taste sweet victory and join the 6000 m high club. Mission accomplished!

After recovering from the climb we were hungry for more treks and stunning landscapes which are plenty in Peru. Close to Arequipa we did a 3 days trek into the second deepest canyon in the world. Then we went off to Cuzco where we did a 5 days trek which took us to one of the most sacred and spiritual places in the world: Machu Picchu, the navel of the world. The Salkantay trek I already did in May 2013 with my buddy Patrick but this time it was a whole different experience. We had quite lot of rain on the first 2 days and while crossing the Salkantay pass we got hit by a bone chilling and face freezing blizzard (last year I was wearing a t-shirt and shorts!). On the other hand I was much fitter this time and the trek itself was not as physically challenging. After that we had a couple of days on the coast to warm our bones from the high altitude chill and visiting my Peruvian friend Katty. Then we went to Huaraz via Lima to see some of Peru´s most stunning mountains in the Cordillera Blanca and of course to do some trekking. Suffice to say that after this trek we were done with mountains and were yearning for warm temperatures, the ocean and the world cup. All of that we got in a beach town called Mancora in northern Peru. Here we found everything we wanted which is the reason why we already spent more than a month here relaxing and figuring out what to do next.

Beginning of August we will fly to Denver where we will meet some of Juliaan’s family and prepare a roadtrip through the south and west of the US. We are planning to spent quite some time in this huge country. Also I will change my blogging frequency and will give regular updates from the roadtrip in a journal style.

And just to give you some figures about my trip so far: By now I have been travelling almost 11 months, visited 13 countries and covered a distance of almost 40.000 km (23.000 km of it in South America by taking around 45 long distance busses) overland. Yet I still don’t feel the end of my trip even though I start to miss my friends and family back home quite a lot.

Bolivia

It’s been almost two months since my last blog update and I apologize I kept you waiting (if you were waiting). As you might know I spent quite a long time in Bolivia especially in Sucre in the south of Bolivia where I took a break from travelling and enjoyed great company in a great hostel. It wasn`t all relaxing though. I did a Spanish course for almost three weeks there. It really improved my Spanish a lot but I am still not there with my language skills where I would like to be so maybe here in Peru I might attend some more classes or at least sit down and practice again. After the long and replenishing stay in Sucre I went straight to La Paz which is definitely the beating heart of the country. Bolivia’s population consists mainly of three ethnic groups which are the indigenous Aymara and Quechua and the descendants of the Spaniards (and a mixture of these which are called mestizo). The Aymara people make the biggest part of the population in La Paz and it was a welcome sight to see people in traditional dresses walking around after Chile and Argentina which have a strong European touch. I finally got the feeling again that I am in a very different place and that is something I am usually looking for when travelling. In La Paz I also met my travel buddy Nick again whom I first met in Namibia last year in November. Together we cycled down the Death Road which is also called “World’s most dangerous road” because of the narrow width and the fact that there is nothing to keep you going over the edge and plummeting several hundred meters into oblivion. It was great fun! To change things up a bit we decided to fly into a more tropical part of the country. From the small town called Rurrenabaque we went into the wet lands and the jungle where we saw some amazing wildlife: monkeys, river dolphins, caymans, sloths, snakes and of course billions of mosquitos. Did you know that mosquitos can bite you through your jeans? I loved it anyway and after the high altitude chill of the alti plano and La Paz (which is on an elevation of 3600 meters) the warmth of the tropical jungle was a welcome change plus I was finally able again to walk up stairs with out needing a break to catch my breath. I didn’t enjoy this climate for to long though because after that we went off to a three days trip through the salar de uyuni which is not only the worlds largest salt flat with a salt layer up to a 30 meters thick, it is also one of the worlds largest lithium sources. And of course it is on very high altitude as well with parts of it being on an elevation of over 4000 meters. With major parts of the country being on such high altitudes I thought I was well acclimatized to high altitude when I took on a big challenge close to La Paz. The Mountain Huayna Potosi has an altitude of 6088 meters and is one of the easiest 6000+ mountains to climb. After the first night on high camp I had to turn back because of blinding headaches and my heart rate being beyond responsibility. At that time I didn’t have the mental strength to just push on so I accepted defeat and turned back. I don’t like defeat so it was clear to me that at one point I will have a second try at a 6000+ mountain. Here in Arequipa where I currently am they have the Chachani which is 6075 meters high. If I did it or not I will tell you in my next blog post. 😉

Chile

One of the many things I so love about travelling as a backpacker is the flexibility. You can go almost whereever you like and stay as long as you like or change plans when you feel like it. So it happened that I am back in Argentina after a spending only 15 days in Chile. I really loved Chile but the price level yet again was stressing my budget too much and that is why I will make my way to Bolivia soon where costs are much lower. Also I met my travel buddy Juliaan again with whom I travelled through Chile which altered my initial plans. Together we will be going to Bolivia soon and now after doing most of Argentina alone it feels good to have some great company again.

About Chile: I got there after fours days in transit and spending more than 60 hours on different busses. I made my way from Ushuaia up to Santiago de Chile where I spent four nights. Although the capital of Chile does not have any great sights, I must say I really liked the modern yet not too hectic atmosphere of the city. On we went to La Serena where we had a swim in the Pacific Ocean (the third ocean on this trip) and planned our trip into the Elqui village which is situated in a nice picturesque valley and has a lovely hippyish vibe. After spending only one night in Elqui we moved on to San Pedro de Atacama in the north of the country which is in the midst of the Atacama Desert about 2400 meters above sea level. Eventhough it is a quite touristy place the town has some amazing options for activities such as star gazing, sandboarding or cycling. Adding the fact that we stayed in a hostel with some fun people it made this part of my Chile experience the highlight.

And just in case if you are wondering: I visited the Chilean part of Patagonia over the course of six days just before my trip to Antarctica. So technically it was my second time in Chile now.

The plan for now is to go to Bolivia where I want to do an intensive Spanish course in Sucre and of course seeing some of the major sights of the country like Salar de Uyuni, the Amazon Jungle and La Paz. But as we all know plans are only plans.