Friday, November 23, 2012

South America 2012

After past journeys to Brazil and Ecuador, the spirit of South America beckoned me to return, shining reality on three travel dreams: Macchu Pichu, Easter Island, Patagonia. Again, the beauty of nature befriended me and presented the gift of illuminating the world--a light of memories that burns life-long.

Peru.

Felt welcomed by the Peruvians: even strangers on deserted streets greeted me with “hola”.
  • Lima, with its oceanside location, old town, and markets where good paintings were offered, was impressive. Children seemed happy, playing hopscotch or jumping rope. Families seemed intact. At the food markets, the offer of vegetable varieties surprised me, especially black corn. As for archeology, the library-shelf looking Inca site, with its stone-spined books was a splendid masterpiece widening over present-day urban architecture.
  • Cuzco, the former Incan capital, appeared to be Florence set in a Peruvian valley, only with sienna brown tiled roofs instead of the burnt-orange Florentine ones. The Incan spirit breathed on the hill-tops, in the cathedral paintings, on the symbols mown into the mountainsides. An air of creepiness leaked in the unlit cobblestone lanes. Also, the presence of llamas, alpacas, and vicunas flavored the Andean meadows nearby. At times, altitude sickness seized me: Cuzco is 2,600 meters above sea level.
  • Machu Picchu, world-class sight, mystical, breathtaking in several ways, almost spiritual—the mountains inhale you. The citadel remains are exquisite. The richness of the shades of green atop this Incan paradise pleasingly stuns the senses. The shape of stone abounds: trapezoidal doors, an arrowhead compass, triangular rooftops. Also of interest in the Incan valley, Ollantaytambo, a little-sister archeological site to Machu Picchu; yet, a worthwhile visit, with its Incan-cross designed water conduits, carved mountain faces, and lookout towers—a site of cultural heritage indeed.

Rapa Nui (Easter Island)

  • The feeling of being orbited to another planet. An isolated, eerie-landscaped island, a sea castaway, on which wild horses outnumber people and statues stand, kneel, bend, slouch, and lie prone and supine on coasts, hillsides, and coves. One crater contained a slope-sized patch of pink bourgainvillea flowing into sapphire waters dotted with massive lily-pad islands on which three-meter high grass sprouted. Like the Galapagos Islands, Rapa Nui possesses an unearthly uniqueness that roots itself in a memory fascination harbors.
  • The presence of horses created a Wild-West atmosphere. There were times in the day and night these unsaddled animals strolled down steep streets at will. The sound of hooves added to the surrealistic mystique of the island. One horse actually walked into the post office. Another night, three cowboys rode into town, tethered their horses to a post, went into the bar, returned an hour later and rode back up the hillside, disappearing under the dusty moonlight.
  • The 1,000 statues speak for themselves and about themselves.

Chile

  • Santiago, A metropolis that grows on you. First impression: fractured smog, a la LA, with wraparound mountains veiled in a haze that only lifts itself at sundown. Bellevista, sociable part of town, fresh, energizing: Santiago neighborhood of Pablo Neruda, whose house opens as a museum filled with odds and ends: Picture-tube-less TV converted into a shelf for cutlery, watermelon scenes, sailing collectibles—compasses, portholes, bars. All in all, a hodge-podge of souvenirs and gifts he amassed—an artist’s thrift shop feel pervaded. Yet it was special to be in Neruda country, to be near the spirit of his poetical genius.
  • Patagonia, The flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas took place under clear skies, which enabled spectacular views of the Andean lakes, fiords, glaciers, and volcanoes in Chile. One volcano was active. These snow-capped peaks looked like scattered vanilla ice-cream in moss-green cones.
  • Punta Arenas’s winds were gale-force level, making it hard to photograph the 9 condors and hosts of Magellan penguins that frequented the area.
  • The cloud formations over Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales are every painter’s dream. They have a 3-D look that makes them come alive right before your very eyes.
  • Torres del Paine National Park. One of the most beautiful in the world, with glacier chips floating on calm lakes, lakes whose colors are so varied it astounds. Also, a canary-yellow shrub makes for a fairy-tale landscape in this expansive park. Unfortunately, a tourist allegedly made a campfire and the winds spread the flames and much of the park burned: this wonderful nature haven had to be closed indefinitely—this fire took place just two days after my departure.

Cruise through the Straits of Magellan, Beagle Channel, Cape Horn

  • After an almost midnight-sun experience at Puerto Natales, a harbor where cloud formations boggle the mind and the eyes, I joined a mini cruise (100 passengers), on a 5-day ride ending in Ushuaia, Argentina. Once a-sea (an ocean feeling indeed), I noticed we were always alone. Saw no boats and no lights ashore—generated an explorer feel to the entire cruise. Also there was an ever-present rough sea, a storm-approaching aura hovering over our passage through the waters. We rode the Zodiacs (rubber boats) to uninhabited islands, which offered diverse sights: Magellan penguins, tropical forests, beaver-gnawed woods, topaz-ice glaciers. On Cape Horn, the southernmost point in the world, the rains came, forcing us to scuttle back to the Zodiacs, but not before crossing the boardwalk to the iron albatross monument and testing the view from the desolate lighthouse.
  • The whole cruise route presented a cornucopia of wildlife: penguins, cormorants, condors, albatrosses, elephant seals, dolphins, and whales.

Argentina

  • Only a brief stay in Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego. A respectable harbor town that has to cope with the disembarkments of hotel-sized cruise ships.
  • Buenos Aires. Strong European flair here. Quay area made into an upscale waterside setting hotels, restaurants, and sailboats edge.
  • Street life interesting and honest.
    --The Boca neighborhood. Reminded me of the Prater amusement park in Vienna. Colorful corrugated-iron facades, boasting balconies plastic figures peer from: Evita and Maradona seem to dominate.
    --South of the city, ranch visit. Enjoyed tango show and a solo dancer who spun bolas from his teeth while hot-stepping it (temperature: low 90s Fahrenheit). The horse show presented the skills of the gauchos, particularly a horse-sprint under a bar on which rings were suspended on leather straps. The gauchos, on their half-tailed horses, dashed at breakneck speed under the bar, stabbing at the rings with pens. These cowboys then proudly rode to appealing women seated in the front row of the performance and spilled the captured ring onto a finger these spectators teasingly outstretched. The prize for the gaucho was the woman’s joining him for a 5-minute ride around the ranch.
Note: for me, the beauty of Argentina still lives in the pristine world of Iguacu, the waterfall paradise I had the good fortune of visiting five years ago. The walk across the metal bridges enables nature lovers to ensconce themselves in the beauty of sound, wildlife, and water. Unforgettable.

Uruguay

  • Montevideo. Authentic South American capital. Has its own flair. One of standing still in time. One which missed the boat to high technology and modern architecture—which makes it appealing.
  • Punta del Este. The opposite of Montevideo. Miama beach set on the Atlantic. Beachy culture and atmosphere. Still far from the predatory yacht harbors of North America and Europe.
  • Casa Pueblo. The Antonio Gaudi/Friedensreich Hundertwasser version created by Uruguayan artist, Vilero, who happened to be there. He generated a gracious, humble impression. Word has it, his son was one of 5 survivors of a plane crash in the Chilean Andes; and the house/hotel was built by the father to pay respects to the unfortunate who didn’t survive the 70 days in grueling conditions. In this regard, Casa Pueblo is designed like a glacier that tongues the sea. A sight that’s more than what meets the eye.

Trip summary

It’s hard to top southern South America. I felt like I was hopping across stepping stone of paradise, feeling how some of the biggest travel dreams in my life not only became true, but also became a sturdy reality and a solid path of sure-footed memories I wish to use again and again.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Around the World 2010

To round off my global poetry collection (ten years in the making), I recently completed a world trip. Destinations included Nepal, Tibet, China, Japan, Thailand, Cambodia, Australia, New Zealand, and Samoa.  I was fortunate to write some 85 poems because these destinations unearthed impressions tempting to capture. Also, the pure-Polynesian flair of Samoa, with its timeless nature, soul, and heart became the perfect backdrop for a novella set on a South-Sea island, a story about an elderly man who carries on a conversation with an object, a dummy,  while a series of unexpected events unfolds between or during the “interior monologues.” The sea represents the world and serves as a  “body of water” that narrows into an inland stream of consciousness.

Nepal
  • Clear blue skies enabled me to melt in the Himalayan world. On a flight to Everest, I was allowed to enter the cockpit for photos and the panoramic view was so spectacular my eyes welled. The whole time I flew near the Himalayas I had the feeling of experiencing a bird’s eye view of paradise.
  •  Kathmandu, with its Buddhist aura, breathes a veiled religiosity, while possessing a density in which fumes, congestion, motorcycles, and inhabitants crowd a city, sadly, in the valley of a poverty that victimizes the inhabitants. Still, the Himalayas tower over them, an expanse of colossal beauty. There remains something special about the link man-to-mountain.
  • I toured Kathmandu on the back of a banana seat and enjoyed being woven through the city on a motorcycle. It felt good to travel the way locals do. It made me feel like a local.
  • Witnessing the Hindu cremation ritual had a spiritual effect: a sacred air seemed to rise from the pyre, a cloud of life and death. The whole experience transcended human scope.
Tibet
  • One of the most eye-opening flights to take is from Kathmandu to Lhasa. The wraparound view is breathtaking and the outline of the mountains changes from snow- capped to sand-dune-like in minutes. Unforgettable.
  • Seeing a yak fascinated me as these muscular black fleecy animals make the landscape Tibetan. Also, the human touch adds to the area: monks paint boulders high in the mountains. Bright-hued Buddha depictions and sprinkled streamers for New Year’s celebrations color the hills. Additionally, prayer flags hang like pennants in the trees along riversides.
  • Of interest to me was the manner in which the pilgrims to Lhasa prayed on the main square as a ceremonial fire in a hob was burning. These pilgrims went through their prayers employing a roller-skate-type device they slipped their hands through, making it possible for them to roll forward on the stone surface.
  • The smell of burning butter offered to the Buddha wafted through the monasteries I visited. I still have this scent in my memory.
  • Viewing the exiled Dalai Lama’s quarters humbled me. Seeing the simplicity of his rooms made me reflect on why some leaders in the world need such luxury and prestige to accompany them through public life.  
  • The braided hair of Tibetan women cast an exotic impression and sent me back in time. Their looks belonged to an age of yore. Looking at them, I was looking at life in another century.
China
  • The plane ride from Lhasa to Chengdu provided a dazzling 90-minute mountain-top view the size of a whole country—peaks protruding in every direction, grandiose. The sight was only curtailed when the thick fogs of Chengdu barged in on the view.
  • The Great Wall of China in Beijing took on a mysterious air in the morning fog. The hike up the mountainside was harder than I expected and 13 stations dotted the path. I lumbered up the high steps, which tapered at the top, with a bad cold, and imagined I felt like a Jesus-figure going through the 14 stations, minus one of course.
  • The walkway through the Ming Tombs’ site was also shrouded in a mystical morning fog. There were few tourists so the stroll carried a lone-progression-down-an-aisle flair—I parted flanks of marble animals including elephants, camels, and xiezhi, a mythical Chinese beast. The willow tree branches hung like wooden strings.
  • The vastness of Tiananmen Square impressed me, yet its immensity made me feel out of place and I couldn’t find a feeling of being connected that suited me well.
  • More spectacular was the Forbidden City, with its labyrinth of passages and walled quarters that likened a metropolis. The whole area seemed to be a village with a town around it, then a town with a city around it.
  • Off the ancient track was the egg-shaped performing arts building, a golden oval out of which hatched only the sunset. The architecture of this building was designed for angles of light and reflection, making it a photographer’s dream.
  • The terra-cotta army outside Xian is an excavation site unique in the world. Also unique are the six thousand figures—each sculptured astoundingly. I found out that a new site (to be opened in a couple of years) has been discovered by a mound close to the museum halls housing the clay generals, soldiers, and horses.
  • Xian at night, with its illuminated buildings, creates a mind-boggling world of color that makes for an interesting contrast after a daytime visit to the terra-cotta army. Pictures of precious metals and gems still hover in my memory—golden facades, ruby-red pond reflections, emerald trees along the streets, silver teardrops hanging from trees.
Japan


  • Tokyo is a coin: the face up side displays a modern, skyscraper metropolis that is seen well from the Tower; the back hides a muted beauty and respect—divine shrines and Japanese gardens emboss the city.
  • The people possess a welcome politeness and a pride that at first lurks in the background but later becomes evident.
  • Cleanliness abounds.
  • Sighting a blossoming cherry tree in December conjured up a vision of global warming.
  • The two-hour express train ride to Kyoto unfolded like an elevated amusement park ride in which views of the mountains, harbors, dense Japanese life, and bizarre sights such as torii in the sea and a gothic-like cathedral amid a modern city appeared.
  • Kyoto impresses and leaves an indelible impression. Its shrines are simple and majestic. The temple containing some 1,000 golden statues fascinates. The trees still stood in autumn, with bright red and yellow leaves. The seasons in Japan came across as being shuffled.
 Thailand
  • I only had time for a city tour, which led me through the ornate, exquisite Royal Palace, premises crowned with spires of every shape and size. One palace displays an extraordinary Buddha work of art: the Buddha with the jade face still lingers in my mind—a haunting complexion for a Buddha cloaked in choice gold. The jade skin is mask-like, neutral, stoic.
  • The river tour took me across chestnut-colored waters that paralleled houses and hotels and Bangkok itself. A relaxing afternoon trip. A good way to side-step the congestion of the downtown area.
  • I did little in Thailand this trip because of my journey to the country two years ago, which included a tour to the floating market outside Bangkok, an overnight in a tent along the River Kwai, a tiger-hugging experience at a Buddhist monastery, and a river-crossing elephant ride.
  • Thailand almost always has a smile to it.
Cambodia
  • I entered the summer in the winter and this is always a good feeling, imagining the snow and cold back home while the sun is beating down on your face during a holiday abroad.
  • The area and surroundings of Angkor Wat make it a world-class sight. These ancient ruins are tucked in the low-lying woodlands of western Cambodia. The experience gained here is outerworldly, like the shape, colors, layout, and composition of the ruins themselves. A visitor instantly realizes this is striking territory. Some travelers compare the feeling you get to the one reaped on seeing Macchu Pichu in Peru.
  • The main temple, Angkor Wat, is reached by crossing a bridge that leads to corridors that open to the main ruin, whose towers recall a pine-cone effect, but one hewed with detailed art work. In fact, much stone around the structure boasts singular impressions, chariot sporting events, five-headed horses, Cubistic-like wall sculptures.
  • The pond in front of the main ruin surprised me: a white horse stood by the waters as if it were an equine sight straight out of a medieval fairy tale. It looked like a unicorn.
  • The friendliness of the people was ever-present and natural. The poverty they live in hurt me and still does.
  • The temple of the strangler figs is eerie; these trees choke the ruins and worm through the remains of civilization. A sign of nature’s ability to adapt in a world where nature doesn’t always have the upper hand.
  • Passing through the temple ruins was like being a laboratory animal encouraged to run through a maze of corridors. The end was near, yet far. An experience that made me feel like a child. Getting lost or losing yourself can be a pleasing fear.
 Australia
  • I landed in Brisbane and flew over the flood area, but could still see the high brown waters from the plane. Cairns itself served as a hub to reach some of the cays on the outer reef, Mossman Gorge and Daintree national parks, Cape Tribulation, and the Tablelands—all interesting sites within a day’s ride.
  • My snorkel tour was guided by a marine biologist, who showed me the rare sights, which included a sleeping ray-shark, mesmerizing coral, crawling blue-spotted rays, and a slithering white-tipped reef shark that swam by me. I was afraid, yet pleased to see a shark. Its sleekness, grace, and elegance impressed me.
  • Daintree National Park has a grand tropical forest and waterway system that snakes inland. The water is off limits because of crocodiles.
  • A three-day sail boat tour took me through the beautiful Whitsunday Islands. I usually sat by the skipper because I figured he had a lot of sea tales to relate.
  • His experiences were interesting to listen to and he taught me how to read the clouds and the waves and the distances.
  • Whitehaven Beach, white its minute, cockatoo-white grains of sand (used in the production of glass for the world’s top-grade telescopes), was a relaxing stop on land. I avoided the water because swimming without a wet-suit is dangerous of late in Australia due to jelly fish. The boat itself was past its prime but made for the feeling of roughing it at times.
  • Two years ago I travelled to Melbourne, along Great Ocean Road, Sydney, and to the Red Center, with the spell-binding Uluru and Olgas. I saved Great Barrier Reef for this world trip.
New Zealand
  • Heading to New Zealand by jet affords a picturesque view of Great Barrier Reef, which enables the viewer to see several reef-skirted islands and changing blues along the way.
  • The north island appeared greener than the south, and lower as well. Some prefer the north; some the south. I liked the south better because its nature comes on a grander scale, in my opinion. The Southern Alps, Fjordland National Park, The Pancake Rocks, and other sights make the south hard to beat. It is said, however, that the north has the purer Maori element and native flair to it.
  • The ride through and along Coromandel Peninsula was exquisite, with breathtaking sunsets, coastal scenery, colorful wildlife, African lilies, flax, and Queen Anne’s lace punctuating this most interesting part of the north island.
  • I travelled to Rotorua area, but was weary, and almost dizzy, owing to countless s-curves I had to drive on through the hills and mountains.
  • New Zealand rarely disappoints.
 Samoa
  • The South Sea is one place in the world where I always feel at home. It has always been a life’s dream of mine to travel to this part of the world. Maybe it comes from my past reading of books set in this area, those by Robert Louis Stevenson or Herman Melville.
  • I spent the week in a simple ocean-side cabin on stilts on the northwestern side of Samoa, which fortunately was the only part of the island the tropical storms bypassed. The good weather made for relaxing days, times when I could write poetry or prose or simply daydream and stare at the sea and let myself be hypnotized by the tide line and the horizon and the shimmering sunrises and sunsets.
  • The roar of the ocean at night kept me awake the first days because it seemed like the water was about to splash up against the cabin at times. Tucked in under a mosquito net hanging like a chandelier over my mattress, I tried to sleep and dozed off periodically.
  • Robert Louis Stevenson lived on and loved Samoa. It was stipulated in his will that he be buried there, atop a lush hill with a view of surrounding hillsides. This was the view he cherished lifelong. The trail to his tomb is challenging and romantic. The path winds through the forest, crosses creeks, ascends steeply at points. At the top lies his unpretentious grave.
  • I will never forget the friendliness and graciousness of the Samoans. As much as I love the Cook Islands and the heavenliness of Aitutaki Lagoon, I will always have a place in my heart for Western Samoa.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

June 2010

In pursuit of impressions in Lisbon so that my  global poetry collection (meanwhile 300 poems) section on Portugal which had previously only contained poems about Madeira, I spent a weekend abroad in early June, deliberately getting lost in labyrinthine streets. With the blossoming Jacaranda, clusters of red bourgainvillea, colored tile facades, and ocean/ river sights, Lisbon inspired me to write nine poems. As for the rest of June, I intend to spend several hours editing a novel manuscript completed in late spring. This book deals with 13 survivors seeking refuge in a gothic cathedral, where a Chinese-doll effect bares the truth behind secret relationships--all these events air within a 13-day period of which the reader is left to interpret as a countdown to either life or death.