Wednesday, December 26, 2007

the great affair

In Diane Ackerman's A Natural History of the Senses, her final call to act is in her postscript --the finale of non-fiction works -- and she calls for movement:

In REM sleep, our brain waves range between eight and thirteen hertz, a frequency at which flickering light can trigger epileptic seizures. The tremulous earth quivers gently around ten hertz. So, in our deepest sleep, we enter synchrony with the trembling of the earth. Dreaming, we become the Earth's dream.

It began in mystery and it will end in mystery.

However many of life's large, captivating principles and small, captivating details we may explore, unpuzzle, and learn by heart, there will still be vast unknown realms to lure us. If uncertainty is the essence of romance, there will always be enough uncertainty to make life sizzle and renew our sense of wonder.
For my part, Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote, I travel not to go anywhere but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. The great affair, the love affair with life, is to live as variously as possible, to groom one's curiosity like a high-spirited thoroughbred, climb aboard, and gallop over the thick, sun-struck hills every day. Where there is no risk, the emotional terrain is flat and unyielding, and, despite all its dimensions, valleys, pinnacles, and detours, life will seem to have none of its magnificent geography, only a length.

It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery, but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between.

It is the end of the era of calls for rides and favors and laundry from home, of intuiting my way around a landscape-grid of the city, of the bored simplicity of the known, of complacency and trust and knowingness. The beginning of movement, fear, wonder, the unknown that moves the soul through its newness. Travel.

Friday, December 7, 2007

No, really, it wasn't all bad

Now, for all of the wonderful things seen and done.

1. Chinatown. Here we found a wonderful little nook of honolulu worth spending time in. Although parts of it are being gentrified, a majority of it still holds strong with generations of chinese immigrants and markets that are straight out of Beijing. There are fish and mangoes and shrimp and leaves and ginger root and live crabs and things I am not sure are animal, vegetable or mineral. The smells are overwhelming, and there are tiny chinese people everywhere bartering for food. As we step cautiously through one marketplace, an elderly man is singing in Chinese to a little boy who is evading his responsibilities. Family members join in, imploring the boy to pick up his slack, and passing down much lost generational wisdom. Then, as we stroll along the river, we find groups of older men playing mah jong, being rooted for by the younger novices, who are obviously learning from these masters.

2. Shinto and Buddhist temples. After Chinatown, we fall upon this traditional Shinto (Japanese) temple. There were people performing a ritual inside which involved offerings of fruit and grain. Not wanting to disturb them, we did not go in, but I did wash myself in the water provided to purify hands and feet before entering the temple and felt refreshed. After this, we went looking for the entrance to Honolulu's botanical garden and found a peaceful buddhist (chinese) temple. In it, there was a 15-foot-tall golden statue of Buddha and shaved-headed-brown-robed lady monks.

3. Botanic garden. After our lesson on Eastern religions, we thought we'd give a little offering of our time to the nature gods. We found trees as big as 20 story buildings, oogles of orchids and palms galore. It was nice to relax and explore the intrapersonal for just a moment.

4. The hike up Manoa falls. Even though it had been raining - therefore making the trail extra muddy, we decided to go for it. The beaches were a total failure (who likes the sand without the sun?) and this was a last resort. The first part of the hike was only 1 mile, up to the 100 foot waterfall. The way there was actually pretty challenging, even though it was filled with tourists - old ladies and babies and the like. Along the way were gigantic trees with vines climbing them. The sounds of tropical birds filled the air, and we could hear the falls as we got closer. When we got to the falls, we encountered some hippies with a tiny toy dog attempting to swim the treacherous (falling rocks) water below the falls, so we decided to keep going onto another harder and more muddy trail that takes us took us to the top of the mountain. We instantly found it more difficult, climbing over boulders and sliding through the mud. The trail almost felt like a fairy tale - bamboo forests, dark patches of overgrown gigantic trees, and howling wind. Despite the fear of rain or becoming lost, we made it to the top, getting a spectacular view of the valley and the mist hanging in the air, getting heavy enough to release some rain every once and again.

5. dinner at town. Alex and I found a fantastic (that word always implies pricey) restaurant whose motto is "local first, organic whenever possible," which instantly caught our eye. It was glorious to eat something besides plain bagels for breakfast and PB and J's for lunch everyday. Worth every penny.

6. hanauma bay. It finally became sunny enough to snorkel in Oahu's best spot. You just swim right off of the beach into the coral, and the fish are spectacularly brave, letting you come so close you feel fishy yourself. I swam for a bit through a school of shiny silvery fish, and after having swum through them for a while, a large (3 foot or so) parrot fish swam by, and I actually became nervous, feeling a bit like prey. Interesting how easy it is to enter the mind of a fish, when you are in this new and strange environment, huh?

7. yokohama bay. This is the beach where the sun stayed for only 45 minutes, but it was worth it all the while. Firstly, the beach was closed so we had it all to ourselves (the lifeguard was nice enough to let us sit over to the side so no one could see us). The mountains cradled us from behind, the ocean rose up and swaddled our legs, with the stark black contrast of the lava-rocks providing something interesting to look at. Hawaii really is a paradise, believe it or not by my rantings.

8. sandy beach. This is one of oahu's best body surfing beach, but certainly for experts. It took all of my strength and skills not to drown to get past the crashing waves. Once I did, the swells carried me up and down tens of feet, and when I looked down I could see straight through to the bottom. It was exhilarating and scary, I just kept imagining seeing the silhouette of a shark below me (even though it was surely only coral).

9. windward house and maria. We stayed in a hostel for the first four days, but the hostel people told us of a house they run on the other side of the island (windward), so we spent our last four days there. What a great decision! Do you remember the introduction to Jurassic Park where they are flying in a helicopter to this island with sheer green cliffs? Yeah, that is the windward side of Oahu. We stayed in a house run by an Austrian grandmother type, Maria, who shared story upon story of her traveling experiences - from 100 mile pilgrimages through Spain to raising four adopted sons to getting lost in the Hawaiian jungle five years ago (when she was 69!).

10. The last sunny day: kayaking and body surfing. The last day, we got some sun! We rushed to catch the sunrise, and hurried to the kayaking spot to get in some adventure sports! We kayaked a few miles out to a couple of different islands and back. Alex and I are both too stubborn and proud to work well together, so kayaking was a challenge, to say the least. But the views were awesome, and we saw two green sea turtles, coming right up close to our kayak, poking their little heads out and going back under the water. What curious little fellows! Then we went to makapu'u, a body surfing beach that is a little tamer than sandy beach, and I spent the afternoon riding the waves, only nearly breaking my neck in the surf once (yay)! It was pretty much me, the only white girl, and a ton of little native hawaiian boys. I can thank Lake Michigan summers for my body surfing skills!

Overall, the pluses outweighed the minuses, but I had to be honest about the awful aspects. It can't all be perfect all the time!

click here for more pictures from the trip

sunny hawaii

We arrived in Hawaii with bright spirits and high hopes, not knowing how much would be shattered as the week went on. Instead of describing all of the wonderful things I have encountered thus far, I am first going to focus on everything that could/did go wrong this entire week, in chronological order.
1. missing the bus by less than 5 seconds that took us from the airport
2. subsequently, waiting 40 minutes for a $30, 10 minute cab ride
3. alex finding an obese elderly man in his hostal room snoring as he were choking and calling for his life
4. waiting outside to figure out what to do about the snoring man, it started pouring rain on us, and that was the beginning of a rain storm that didn't stop the entire time
5. trying to take the bus to walmart the next day and getting on the wrong one that only took us about a block closer, then having to walk in a nasty part of town with the dirt and mud slinging up onto my legs from the ground
6. finally making it to the beach and it is cold and windy and overcast and the sun sets within 20 minutes of being there
7. getting up early the next morning to go to the beach and it is too cold/stormy/windy to swim. great. just great. but hope is still alive at this point, that the sun will return to this god forsaken place.
8. we ditch the beach idea and go to honolulu's best museum, only to find its best exhibit closed until 2009 (!), and the only nice hall that is open has its fire alarm going off at random intervals, causing us to get used to the quiet and then be bombarded by noise all of a sudden. wow, foiled at every turn!
9. so we just give up and eat at mcdonalds - which just proves even further that we are at a low low point
10. we get up extra early the next day to get a rental car because the bus system has failed us so miserably, only to wait 30 minutes for one bus and an hour and a half for the other, causing a four hour commute to the rental car place
11. when finally getting to the rental car place, and are greeted with "the aloha spirit" - everyone shakes our hands and introduces themselves. We think that maybe our luck will change at this point. So of coarse, they charge us an extra $40 that wasn't on the original online order, and then fight with us for 40 minutes before taking off half of it as if they are doing us some huge favor.
12. we drive from the rental car place to our hostel in 10 minutes, just making out 4 hour commute on the way there even more obviously horrendous.
13. trying the beach yet again and being shut down hard by the rain and clouds
14. maybe the sunny desert side of the island will not fail us? we drive to this side, only to find power lines down on the only highway in and out of this side of the island, we sit in traffic for two hours to get there
15. only to find all the beaches there filled with homeless shanty towns and ominous locals, very nice! thanks hawaii, super classy!
16. finding one partly cloudy beach at the far end of the island that is closed, but we sneak into, to find a lifeguard who makes us sit in the litter-infested part of the sand so no one can see that we are on the beach and will follow us.
17. the sun on this beach lasted 45 minutes (btw, alex spent 35 of those minutes putting on sunblock, ha!)
18. sustaining the same traffic jam on the way out, and as we sit in the car, the sun comes out and now we are stinking hot and sitting in this traffic jam and staring at the beautiful blue water that we wish we were in.
19. rain, rain, rain and wind and storms ruining everything else we planned to do.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

the perfect storm

It is the perfect storm and I am in the eye...calmly and passively waiting for time to slowly pass. One week until Hawaii and there is so much on my mind. This blog will serve to document my changes as the scenery around my life alters rapidly through the next six months. From the deadening northern city winter to a tropical island and back. All the while contemplating my future and attempting to determine my place in the world. This week, I am just wrapping up the warm family gatherings of Thanksgiving while trying to put together the pieces of my graduate applications. I am faintly holding onto three jobs while preparing for my whirlwind adventure. Hawaii to Chicago then California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Utah to Chicago to London, Morocco, Spain, France, Italy (Rome again!), Prague, Amsterdam, Salzburg, Austria and then home and off to wherever I find myself for grad school.

Right now I am feeling overwhelmed by the change that is about to take place, and hoping I can finally mend some old wounds before I begin.