A Travellerspoint blog

March 2014

The three day thing

As this Chapter nears its end.

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It’s been six months since I left Mexico City. Two of those I've been in South East Asia.
As I approached Kuala Lumpur a fourth time, I felt as unready and lost as that first time, six months before. I still don’t know what lies ahead of me. My map is still covered in fog. I cannot see clearly anything past a few weeks, and anything beyond three months is so blurry as to be a waste of time even trying to fathom it.
If all had gone according to plan, I would still be sailing, marveling at the ocean’s vastness and the beauty of islands and sea. It would have been a great time, I know, just a completely different experience to what I've had.
During this two months in Asia I have journeyed here and there, catching barely a glimpse of what the region has to offer. Someday I’ll come back. And in the rainy season too! There is just too much that stayed beyond the horizon this time. Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, and the North of Thailand. And that’s without looking South. But I am now to enter the silence, to digest all that’s taken place in the last weeks and months. To let sink all the smiles, all the kisses, the hellos and goodbyes.

I've been doing the three day thing this past weeks. Days merged into one, and it felt like I spent more time in vehicles and walking to the next place than actually there. After leaving Angkor and Siem Reap, I passed through Kampot, Kep, Phnom Phen, Sihanoukville and Koh Rong. I kept going deeper into Cambodia, but didn't find the kind of effortless belonging of those early days in Siem Reap…

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I spent a grand total of two days in Koh Rong. It’s a nice yet difficult place to explain… The only reason I went to there in the first place was because I read online that the island was beautiful, yet cheap, and that I could find 1$ dorms. This is not so. The cheapest dorm, at least this season, is 7$, escalating all the way to 60$ thatch bungalows and treehouses. It is not a cheap island. Having said that, it is a gorgeous place, and the people are great. Hippies, locals and expats, most understood my situation as a confused and broke traveler and were very sympathetic. ‘If you want anything cheaper than 7$, you´re gonna have to work for it’ they said. It took less than an hour after setting foot on that pier to get a place to stay. I spent the next two nights on the furthermost point of 4K Beach, a 40 min walk away from town. All they needed was someone to be there, so the place would never be completely alone. So I had a tent, noodles, beer, soft drinks, and red bull in exchange for just being there and keeping an eye over everything; for hanging out on the beach and selling the occasional beer. Basically for doing nothing. Heck I cleaned the place up, even raked the sand and burnt some leaves just to feel productive. It was great. I could have stayed there for days, weeks even... So then I left in the morning. After having camped, danced, walked at night in the jungle and swum in the dreamlike, shiny, phosphorescent blue sea… It just could not get any better than that. Not there. So Bangkok, Padang Besar, Langkawi and Penang soon passed under my feet. And then I was back in KL, back at the beginning.

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Here are some things I've experienced in the last days/weeks:

Stay away from rocky outcroppings, or be ready to limp for a couple of days.

Even small coral can be very sharp, and cuts on the sole of the feet are very, very uncomfortable. Noted, learned.

Sometimes the $1 dorms are amazing and awesome. Other times they mean bedbugs. Flip a coin.

In Siem Reap I stayed at the Garden Village Guesthouse. It was awesome. I made friends and got great memories from there.
In Sihanoukville I stayed at the Utopia Hostel. Don’t stay there. Don’t go anywhere near that place. Just don’t.

Send messages to strangers. Couchsurf. Say yes.

When last I was in Bangkok I contacted on Facebook a girl who lives there. Turns out they have a spare room they are trying to set as a small B&B, so I stayed with Alexander and Abigail for 3 nights, with Petrina meeting me there. It was awesome![/b][/center]

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Wine is best after not having any for months. Even more if it’s free.

One of the nice things of meeting locals (as in people who live there) is that they tend to know what’s going on. And that might just be the anniversary party of a nice, hip bar. I hadn’t had any wine in six months.

Travel with someone. Separate. Meet them again.

We met in KL that first week, then again after our sailing adventures. Now we coincided in Bangkok a third time. We could exchange stories from the time apart, and had someone for a few days we didn't have to introduce each other to, rather build on the friendship. It’s a great relief!

When crossing borders, double check the local time zone.

When Petrina and I arrived in Padang Besar, Malaysia, neither of us bothered to check the local time. As such, we missed the last bus out and got stranded there. Nothing wrong with the place, it’s just not somewhere you want to stay in for longer than necessary.

Smile.

I smiled at a girl in Siam Reap. Our eyes and smiles met again in Kampot. Fancy to meet again, and sharing a cab with her and her brother, in Padang Besar, all the way to Langkawi. Then going out drinking with them in Penang. Who knows, maybe I’ll see her again in KL. Or in Germany someday!

Help someone.

I met a somewhat lost Australian waiting for the bus. I guided her to where she wanted to go, and stuck with her the rest of the day. A nervous little thing, she would have never eaten in the indian restaurant I took her to, nor ridden the bus all the way to the Kek Lok Sie temple. The thing is, I was ready to let the temple pass, but it is one of the best places Penang has to offer. It is beautiful, and its commanding view of the city, gorgeous. I would have missed out greatly and wouldn't even know it. I still don't know who helped out the other more.

This is not Kek Lok Sie Temple. I very smartly forgot the camera battery.

This is not Kek Lok Sie Temple. I very smartly forgot the camera battery.


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And now I ready to enter the silence. It’s the last adventure in SE Asia for now, and one that’s been long overdue. I've wanted to take part on a Vipassana meditation course for months now, but somehow it didn't work out before now. Most of the centers open for applications several months prior to the course, and it’s been a while since I've known where I’ll be so long in advance… But this time all is set, and I’ll be there for ten days, away from everything, in a new experience. I've never done extended sitting meditation, so I’m not quite sure what to expect. But I feel it will be great.
So, world, see you after the retreat!

Posted by Zaspirucho 22:38 Archived in Malaysia Tagged kuala_lumpur food ocean nature beach travel cambodia meditation malaysia city island beautiful paradise camping asia koh nomad learning Comments (0)

The Traveller's Curse

We talk about what we know

Once, while traveling, I met a philosopher. He’d been on the road for three years, at a time when I had only been out there for a mere three months. This number interested him for, according to his experience and observation, “At three months the journey stops being a trip, he said, and becomes a lifestyle”. I took note of this and started asking other travelers, until I felt the idea somewhat confirmed. Some of them casually referred to this moment as the “three month crisis”. Its effects though, I'd rather them call the Traveler’s curse. Yet it was only after looking at this phenomenon through the glass of Echeverría’s ideas that I could understand and explain some more of the reasons behind this.

In his essay “Juego, arte y fiesta” on culture and society, the late mexican/ecuatorian philosopher Bolívar Echeverría explores the notions of temporality and historicity through the juxtaposition of the common and extraordinary experiences. He defines time as the combination of routine and rupture. On one side we have routine: the moments of automatic behavior, when there is no questioning of attitudes or codes of conduct. And on the other hand, there are those moments of play, of party: the times of uncertainty. Rupture he presents as the moments of joy, of shadow, of unknowing: they are situations during which the history, values and identity of a community may be changed, rewritten. Or reflected upon at least.

Echeverría thought of whole societies; he wrote about their collective experiences, however, I find it that his ideas may be applied to the individual experience too. I find it particularly interesting to analyze from this point of view one of the “extraordinary” experiences of most intensity and transformation a person can experience. Travelling.

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A voyage is, by its very nature, a constant onslaught of novelty for the traveler. Leaving the comfort zone is always difficult for us human beings. Yet even if the change is only geographical, the experience tends to be rewarding. It is even more so when we exit our own culture and encounter different worldviews, idiosyncrasies, and languages. Few things force to introspection and thinking as much as a nearly absolute incapacity of communication with the surrounding people.

He explored three types of rupture moments: playing, party and art. I shall now explain what his three concepts have in common with travelling.
The main element of his definition of play as a rupture in routine is his take on ludic pleasure. Just as some spicy food drive the senses wild, the tongue not being able to define whether salty, sweet, sour or just what, play intrudes into the historicity of daily life. The notion of linearity takes on a secondary note and “the impossibility of establishing whether a fact owes its presence to a causal linking of previous facts, or precisely to the breaking of such causal linkage”, generates an extraordinary moment: it ruptures the flow of time.

Now, coincidence is the queen of traveling. Lack of communication, language barriers and such difficulties, make meetings with people of similar backgrounds something of special importance, even if only for the common language. This encounters shape and redefine the experience, shaking up set plans and opening new paths of exploration to the point that, when looking back, seemingly random encounters tend to feel as predestined. To try and analyze the chain of events leading to, say, two acquaintances to meet on a road on the outskirts of Berlin, or high school friends to bump into each other someplace in Thailand, it could drive someone mad. It becomes easier to just accept the happenstance and enjoy the moment. Thinking decision followed which and affected what is nonsensical, and in this respect traveling has a lot of play in it.

There is also a lot of party, or festive rupture, in the travel context. In this kind of rupture with regular time, the burst of the extraordinary moment occurs during a ritual ceremony, as Echeverría calls the height of the moment. It is an event during which all social values enter in a state of suspense, during which the routinary way of existence is compromised. During this instance, he says, a sort of “fullness” may be glimpsed; it is a sacred experience, a trip onto the land of imagination, to the world of objective and subjective purity, a place to just “let go.

Because of the constantly present onslaught of novelty in a journey, this kind of festive experience occurs during the exploration of new places. The recurring encounter with different ways of living, thinking, eating and dressing expose the own values and worldviews. The traveler naturally enters a state of epojé, of suspension of judgment, which brings her closer to that pure, sacred and ritual, experience. The daily routine is so broken that the everyday is exceeded, it becomes an extraordinary moment full of creative potential; a festive rupture.

And third, art, or the esthetic experience. This moment is much related to the two previous ones. It is not perhaps an activity in of its own, rather the interruption in the daily, for an instant, of that almost divine world of purity and imagination. It is catharsis, and the reconstruction of everyday life around this moment. The search for this rupture is not performed through substances, ceremonies or rituals, but rather through other techniques that project the essential into this functional, pragmatic world.

In this sense, one might think of a journey as a prolonged esthetic experience. Daily life is reconstituted around the encounter with novelty, with judgment-free purity.

So now, back to the “three month crisis”. This moment occurs when one walks through the mirror, so to speak. It happens when, during a journey, poles are inverted. Traveling is the greatest rupture of everyday life; an adventure that has no place in the daily life. But when this experience is prolonged, extended, then things change. Through repetition, everything loses its novelty. Even novelty itself.

Events and moments that were so impressive at the beginning of the journey become commonplace. Deciphering a map, looking for a place to sleep, meeting new people, new strangers, finding one’s bearings in a new city… By being met them time and time again, this experiences lose their edge of extraordinaire. It is now that the traveler longs for home. She misses not having to introduce herself again on every conversation, even meeting someone more than once becomes precious. The traveler becomes sullen and introspective. She will miss her having her own space and to just do nothing for a day. Friendships with people in a similar state will bloom very fast and conversations will turn deep in no time. As both parties tend to be tired of introducing and defining themselves every single time, social norms and procedures lose importance, and the experience takes on a whole new level.

Suddenly, people with whom the traveler has shared just an instant, a few hours or a drink maybe, they become friends for life; even if they may never meet again. The bonds created thusly become stronger than those developed for years with some others. Coworkers, schoolmates, even family may lose their place to someone that is, by any usual standards, a complete stranger. And so, the traveler loses part of her roots, detaches herself from the past and drifts away from her history and all she’s known before.

When, eventually she returns to the everyday life, old friends are met again, family embraced and the traveler thanks the routine just as much as she acclaimed novelty at the beginning of the journey. Everything falls back into place and it feels great to be back. That is, until all becomes commonplace again. It may take weeks, months, even years but one day she will find herself longing for open spaces, seemingly random encounters and unending possibilities. The adventure, the rupture will call to her, and her heart will find no rest at home.

And such is the traveler’s curse. It is this cycle of nostalgia, the paradox caused by the normalization of the extraordinary and the longing for the routine, which makes the traveler a traveler, and no longer a tourist. It makes her gaze return always to the horizon, for she’s realized that she’ll always be far away from someone, from somewhere, no matter where she may be.

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I had this words somewhere in my backpack, I think they're better here.

Here's Echeverrías essay, for you spanish readers: http://www.bolivare.unam.mx/ensayos/Juego, arte y fiesta.pdf

And a good related read! Georg Simmel's essay on Adventure: http://condor.depaul.edu/dweinste/theory/adventure.html

Thanks for reading!

Posted by Zaspirucho 05:21 Archived in Cambodia Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises nature culture travel train road time human philosophy stranger thoughts essay crisis Comments (3)

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