Total Pageviews

Sunday, 31 May 2015

You Are Now Entering Nomad's Land

Since I came to Europe after India I became completely and totally absorbed by the nomad lifestyle. It had the appeal of a no boundaries, unconventional way of travel that happens to be cheap and not as bad for the environment.
Above: hitchhiking towards Montpellier, France; Below: my last dumpster dive, Dublin

I discovered an awesome Facebook group called "Nomads", which opened a small window into an amazing online community of low budget long term travellers and wanderers, sharing stories and advice.

The Intelligent Nomad

A post on the group shared an article about how nomads have higher intelligence. Well, of course, I am subtly (well, not so subtly) hinting something here! But I do agree that my travels have been one of the most intellectually and emotionally challenging activities I have ever undertaken. No doubt a better education than university (though not necessarily more practical) as it has taught me a lot about myself, about not regretting things, and what freedom truly is.

Travelling has exposed me to wildly exotic and stimulating new cultures and environments and, at my carefree pace, provided me time to open my mind, absorb these experiences and ponder about them. I have consistently noticed these traits in other long term travellers too.

Now with a broader understanding of what a "nomad" is, and how it is interpreted by people in this community, I would say I rank about a 7 or 8 out of 10 on the nomadic scale. That is, my travel lifestyle is highly nomadic, but not completely.
India - nomad beginner level
India is not a breeding ground for nomads because I, like most foreigners lived like a king on a menial budget. In fact, it's rather unfair and my conscience felt the tension of dealing with the inequality that existed. India is good practice for travelling under adverse conditions, but I much preferred the true nomad life in Europe. In 3 months in Europe I paid for just a few days of accommodation, mostly hitchhiked and occasionally dumpster dived for food. I did spend money more freely at times, especially when I was in Italy and Ireland. But, for the most part, I only purchased bare essentials, avoided costly attractions and mostly walked around cities and got spoiled by friends, returning their hospitality in exchange for my time and stories.

Throughout my travels I met those extreme nomads who got by almost completely without money, relying solely on hitchhiking to get around and playing music on the streets for cash just so they can afford their next meals. These people are the 9 and 10 out of 10 nomads.

Believe it or not, the digital age has done wonders for nomads, who you think would typically abstain from modern technology. In another article I read on the FB Nomads group, nowadays, nomads and hobos alike tend to own a smartphone and use free Wifi spots to go online and exchange useful information, such as hitchhiking, dumpster diving and free camping spots.

It seems that some modern nomads are not meant to live in isolation and need community after all. I, for one, find solace in the FB Nomads group, because it can be rare to meet travellers on the road like myself. I have even met up with a few people through the group!
Wen, the journeyman Malaysian from FB Nomads group, Dublin
The Suffering Nomad

My own journey into nomadism has been really eye opening. I've thought a lot about the concept of suffering, how people fear it, and are constantly gratifying their needs to avoid it. When waiting on the side of the road while hitchhiking I felt a mix of sensations. One of them was suffering - from waiting outside for long periods, feeling hungry, and experiencing rejection from passing driver, losing faith in humanity. Sometimes that waiting was like a meditation. But whenever it became too long, it was very difficult to deal with.
A throwback to my meditation days
I felt kind of like the Buddha, who gave up his princely life for one of suffering to attain enlightenment. My own journey has been very enlightening and I feel like I have grown tougher, more humble and appreciative of life's simple things.

Now that I've concluded my second long term travels, I'm at the point in my life where I'm ready to settle back into a bit more of routine. But I'm afraid (though not really afraid) I will always be a nomad at heart, and a wanderer in my soul.

I still want to cross an ocean by boat, go farming in New Zealand, and my grandma talks about visiting distant relatives in remote SE China. I still hope to do all these things one day, and by taking the rough road.

This restlessness inside means I may never fully conform with the rigidness and rules around living in a big city and working a full time job. My next challenge will be to find my own niche, a life that provides space for routine but allows flexibility for me to take off when the next case of wanderlust arises.

3 Months in Europe (2 Months, not including Italy)
Distance hitchhiked: 3500 km (3300 km)
By train, bus, rideshare: 4500 km (1500 km)
Paid for accommodation: 5 nights (2)
Average daily expenditures: $27 CAD ($23)
Welcome back, Canada!
Oh, by the way, I'm brewing beer today! This is me brewing back in Feb 2014 (and with short hair)

Thursday, 28 May 2015

The All-Inclusive Hangover

After spending 8 months backpacking like a zen nomad through India and Europe, with some hitchhiking and dumpster diving, I finally came back to Canada, but for just 3 days before heading straight to an all-inclusive resort in Jamaica for one week.
Give me a break! It was my sister's wedding and I wouldn't miss it for the world.
An oceanside wedding and dinner - congratulations Amy & Kris!
So much cheese... so much wasted after. I wish I could eat it all.
This was certainly not my type of vacation though. And upon arriving at the resort in Jamaica, I got the all too familiar feeling of being out of touch with my surroundings, as if I was floating above it but couldn't touch it, or if it was all a mirage. Or just one big hangover after my 8-monther.

The buffets seemed excessive, the food waste unbearable, the service overbearing and unnecessary, and the rooms too squeaky clean. The all-comfort at-your-service experience was in full force, but the cultural experience was non-existent, aside from the palm trees, Red Stripe beer, and Jamaican workers saying "yea mon."

But over the course of the week, I slowly got acclimated to my surroundings, and went on a few nice side trips, which really helped. I even convinced my parents to let me lead one of the side trips, and find an alternative to the door-to-door guided tours offered at the resort.
My family and I enjoying coconut water at the resort
I gave hitchhiking a try, asking tour buses in a tourist parking lot, and ended up negotiating a taxi, which was much cheaper than the guided tour rate. We did Dunn's River Falls without a guide, and watched as all the guided groups negotiated the tricky river and falls, walking in a line and holding eachother's hands, passing by without much chance to stop and take their time.

Later on, we went into Ocho Rios and witnessed the local street life. We were surprised how many Chinese and Indian locals ran the businesses there!

By the end, my dad was bragging to everyone about how we went to Dunn's River Falls and Ocho Rios, and did things our way and saved a lot of money. I let him have the credit, as it was a good opportunity for him to learn how I travel, and enjoy it too.
Dunn's River Falls, Jamaica
Irie Blue Hole, Jamaica
Amy jumping in at Irie Blue Hole

Back at the resort I relaxed by the beach, read my book, and, as usual, thought a lot. I also stayed active though, playing tennis, ping pong and beach volleyball. Without the activity, I think I would have gone crazy.

By the end of the week I managed to have a good time, but it helped me realize how it was in large contrast to the way I really love to travel. And after the week, I was definitely ready to go home! One can only lie on the beach so long.

My sister and I before heading out in a mini sailboat

Friday, 15 May 2015

An Ode to the Airport

After 3 months of going overland around Europe mostly by hitchhiking, but also with buses, trains and rideshares, travelling by airplane felt like an alien experience.
It may be challenging, but it's my preferred way to travel
Being in the airport felt not too different from being in a mega mall: a fantasy world of shopping and entertainment, housed in a spotless monument of angled steel and towering glass. Getting to my plane was quite an absurd challenge, walking through mazes of tunnels, shuttles and escalators, and passing a circus of security checks and people in funny uniforms scanning you and asking you for a piece of paper proving your identity.

At times I became disoriented, lost to civilization, the further I wandered into the depths of this underground city out of science fiction. Occasionally I got to look outside, but not to touch it or smell it. There were no windows that could be opened or rolled down, not even from the airplane, lest I suck everything out of the cabin.

Granted, the flight got me from point A to point B much faster than a hitchhike. But if I had the time I would much rather see the road before me, the country roll along, and civilization pass by instead of below, like ants.
Written from Zurich Airport. Released from Dublin

Saturday, 9 May 2015

My Escape to the Alps

Besides the four basic needs in life - food, water, warmth and shelter - human beings have two essential needs, or core values, that are becoming more and more challenging to fulfill today - community and nature.
Nature at it's best - Poon Hill, Annapurna Base Camp Trek
Community at work - Sadhana Forest, southern India
Nature is all aroud us, and inside us, in the most inner core of our beings. Nature, after all, is what created us. Biologically we are still hardwired to be outdoors, hunting and foraging. Along with the harsh demands of nature we are also hardwired to depend on eachother for survival. Hence, community.
However, modern society is increasingly segregating people from these essentials of life. They are being buried under layers of concrete and asphalt, and masked behind a veneer of billboards and advertising espousing "modern" values of individualism and materialism.
I believe that even the most hardcore "city people" are, in their innermost cores, connected to nature. They only need to escape their beloved cities to nature long enough to find the nature inside themselves. This was how my relationship went with mountains.
Stunned. - Lake O'Hara, Canada
The vast Rockies opened me to the possibilities of the world, and sowed the seeds of nature in my mind. The Himalayas allowed my inspiration to soar, as I beheld the mighty peaks of Everest and Kanchenjunga, the rocky kings of Asia. Sadhana Forest in southern India exposed me to the most beautiful mix of nature and community so far, amazing people living in a jungle paradise of thatched huts.
Lately I have spent most of my time in flatlands and in big cities in both Europe and India. A yearning to escape the claustrophobia slowly built up inside me, as the brick walls closed around me, pollution filled my lungs, and people with their neatly pressed shirts brushed by as if I was a signpost.
Adrien, who I previously hosted in Calgary, took me on a few hikes around Grenoble
Mont Blanc, just above me
Last week I found my escape. My friend, Adrien, who I previously hosted in Calgary, took me hiking in the French Alps. I witnessed Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe. I breathed the fresh air of Alpine forests. I picnicked under the sun surrounded by green hills, the tastes of French wine and cheese augmented by the peaceful silence of the landscape.
Panorama of the French Alps - Chamechaude summit, near Grenoble
Mont Blanc peeks from between the clouds
Then I made it into the interior of the Alps, staying with Ilona, who I met at Sadhana Forest, in a village near Zurich. One afternoon we made a hike through forests and hills, pointing out the diversity on our path - garlic leaves, stinging nettles and snails. The journey was nice, but the destination was sweeter - a classic viewpoint overlooking Zurich, a bustling city nestled between lake and mountains. Only the clouds obscured the ice caps of the distant mountains, like a cake without the icing. 
With Ilona, at the Top of Zurich
The view from the top of the hill towards Zurich
On the other side of the hill, Bonstetten, Ilona's hometown
Zurich's lakefront
My escape back to nature provided much needed relief from urban oppression and rounded out the tail end of my Europe journey nicely. Make no mistake, I love being in cities. And visiting friends in those cities allows me steal fleeting moments of community wherever I go.
But the mountains are where my heart and soul belong. And, above all, they are the ultimate showcase for the beauty and untouchability of nature.
Also saw the Atlantic coast most recently - Cliffs of Moher, Ireland