Living a Triple life

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Living between three professions

I have just read that an average PhD takes about 8.2 years to complete. Keeping that in mind, I should feel rather good with myself that it took me almost 8 years, considering that I had to work all these years and undertake extensive, self-funded fieldwork in Latin America, and make a film as a fruit of that. Somehow, I also managed to have several photography exhibitions and present at multiple academic conferences. And I visited an impressive count of over 50 countries. But this is where the good news end and the confusion starts.

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0109.JPGHaving participated in an exciting debate at my last conference, I realised that I live a triple life. Not even a double, like a protagonist of cheap detective stories, but triple. The conversation which inspired this realisation was focused on the analysis of the relation between art and research. Since I have a solid background in film and photography, and I actively use both methods for my research, I felt compelled to contribute to the conversation. As I analysed my efforts to remain loyal to my passions, it became evident that I did not manage to merge them into one, and they keep separate, with me clinging to one at the time, frantically trying for the other two not to get forgotten. I am a filmmaker and photographer, who often exhibits her work, but who has no time in her daily life to even look at my cameras. I am a researcher who publishes and presents her work internationally, but I make a living travelling the world as a global trainer, which has nothing to do with my photography or research. True, it lets me see the world and I spend more time on a plane than on my sofa, but there is a price to pay, which is time and stability to plan my research, art projects, and anything related to that.

The results of that talk stayed with me days and weeks after the conference. I realised that depending on who asks, I introduce myself as a photographer, researcher or a global trainer. I have three different personalities with three separate agendas, but at the same time, I cannot be any of them fully.

That leads me back to my PhD effort – I came to me that I achieved many relatively difficult things, just not to do anything with them as soon as I have them in my hand. I collect skills and achievements just to feel like I am starting again. And it never ends. Endless pages have been written about the insatiability of human nature, and even if you realise that, you are never set free.

 

Living between three languages

But my triple life is also reflected in the languages I use. Between the 8 of them which I know to some degree, I am fluent in 3.  My mother tongue, sadly, is the one I am the least fluent it! Outrageous and absurd is it might sound when I speak Polish, it takes an effort to remember the word I want to use, and sometimes even the construction of the phrase! That only proves that your daily habits really shape who you are, a valuable lesson to remember. To justify this embarrassing situation, I have to admit that my use of Polish is limited to calls and texts with my family and very few Polish friends I still have.

I also think in Spanish, the language of my research. Over the past decade or more, I travelled to Latin America multiple times, and this is where I REALLY gained fluency in that beautiful and by far my favourite of languages. At some point I even lived in Colombia, working on the last stage of my research. I don’t even begin to imagine what accent I had when speaking Spanish (a mix of all the languages I pretend to speak?), but it is enough to say that I managed to confuse some people by playing a prank that I am in fact half-Colombian. My biggest success was when I managed to convince a local cab driver in Bogotá that although I look like my (Polish) mum, I learnt to speak from my (supposedly Colombian) dad. Anyone who ever met me knows that my origin could not be less diverse, considering that my both grandfathers went to the same primary school…

Finally English, my work and everyday language. There is no need to elaborate on the fact that although I might never be able to imitate a real British accent and I will sometimes excel with some nonsense expressions translated literary from Polish or Spanish, I dream in English, I think in English, and this is the language I feel most comfortable about.

And this is where I come to a similar conclusion as with my professions: being fluent in three languages, I cannot feel FULLY fluent in any of them! As if when you divert your attention from one subject, you can barely touch the surface of any of them and never be the real master. Does it prove that multitasking is an illusion?

 

Living between three continents

There will be no surprise when I tell that my national identity is equally confused. Considering that I have new even considered or dreamt about living abroad, it is somewhat astounding that I have lived on three different continents and I am emotionally linked to all three of them. Being born in Europe, I grew up surrounded by history and diversity, good food and certain European charm which became visible only from the outside. Moving from Poland to the UK at the age of 23 or so, I thought I settled for life. And when I did my research in Colombia after visiting the continent for over a decade, I wouldn’t even dream about living in Asia, which at the time was of no interest to me, maybe apart from Japan. Now, writing this post from South Korea, having just came back from Malaysia, Japan, and Indonesia, I totally consider this part of the world home. Just imagine how difficult the question ‘Where are you from?’ is for me these days… ‘Well, where do I begin…?’

Autumn is an excellent time to reflect on things. Who am I, where do I belong, and in which language do I express it? Perhaps the lesson is that it does not really matter, as long as you feel comfortable and well-balanced like I do right now.

Japanese people tend to wear oversized shoes…

Japanese people tend to wear oversized shoes. And considering that high heels and even higher platforms are very popular in this country, the fact that the shoes are SIGNIFICANTLY too large (at least by one if not two centimetres!!!), it must be a very hard task to walk, I guess. That’s yet another reason why watching the wild nets of pedestrian crossings is kind of a spectacle. Now, the oversized shoe phenomenon doesn’t concern girls only. I’ve seen a significant number of boys dragging their feet in a funny manner (Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks seems almost boring next to that), trying very hard to no leave their shoes behind. If it was an isolated case, I’d ignore it as a funny one-off incident. But is it possible that this has some deeper cultural meaning?

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But let’s start from the beginning. I’ve arrived to Tokyo at sunset and left at the sunrise (luckily, not the immediately following day). Tokyo bay sunk with sunrise, as you land almost on water (Haneda airport is literary built upon the sea), is truly breathtaking. My first amusement waited for me before I even officially entered Japan, namely: at the airport’s toilet. This all-in-one transformer device is more sophisticated that all my technology taken together.  It can sprinkle you from the back, and from the front. It can just spray at you gently. You can adjust the temperature and the strength of that experiment, and you can make your toilet play some noise-reducing sounds. Ah, it can also dry you here and there once you’re done. Needless to say that the toilet seat has a built-in heating. And just to warn you, I haven’t explained even half of the buttons you find in this incredible device. I imagine it must come with a pretty thick user manual.

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It seems like the personal hygiene is significantly valued in Japan. Sauna and typical bath seem to be an absolutely indispensable element of everyday’s life. The place which was my Japanese home for the time of my stay there featured hot-watered swimming pool with oranges floating in the water, and a very much appreciated sauna with a… TV behind a glass wall! Luckily for me, it was a time of sumo tournament, and it had a main coverage on the TV, if you don’t count some samurai stories. So I gladly watched the amazingly strong sumo fighters among the steam (on my side, don’t forget I’m in sauna), and sweat (that would be on both sides, I guess), before I went to see the final day of the sumo tournament live.

But Japanese people seem not only very clean, but also very helpful and gentle. One day I was desperately trying to find the Japanese sword museum, which was on my must-see list, despite of the warnings on every possible guide that it’s extremely difficult to find. I tend to ignore these kind of warnings (they say: it’s an hour walking, veeeeeeery far away, and 10-15 minutes later you are there). Not this time. I will immodestly admit that my navigation and orientation skills are pretty damn good. So I went there with confidence. But even with my iPhone help I was walking in circles. According to the map I was already there, at the museum, when in fact I was underneath some rather unattractive bridge! At some point I started to suspect that it was some sort of hidden museum, so I began to look attentively at the men walking by, trying to notice if they have some swords on them. Tokyo is quite crazy, it could be a live-mobile museum, couldn’t it? In act of desperation I was forced to make the use of very few polite expressions I managed to learn in Japanese, and ask for help. A girl, not much older than I, took the map and the phone from my hands, and started to turn it round and upside down, like most females do (forgive me girls, but how could you not be able to IMAGINE the way the map works without having to do these ridiculous upside-downs repositioning?!). It was clear she was more confused than I. She’s never heard about the museum and her finger was travelling dangerously far away from the district where the museum was supposed to be. I was expecting to hear polite ‘I’m sorry I don’t know’. But noooo, that wouldn’t happen in Japan. She stopped a man who was approaching us. He took his own phone out, and all three of us were trying to comprehend why the museum is not where it’s supposed to be. So we started to walk, trying to resolve this puzzle. One street, second, third, finally I saw a sword behind the shopping window. Hurray! It turned out to be the shop of the swords craftsman (oh, what a  feeling to see all these beauties he was working on…!). The museum turned out to be two blocks away. I thanked my helpers multiple of times, and multiple times the answer was ‘Oh, that’s not a problem AT ALL!’. Once they left me at the very museum’s door, I saw them both running…! They must have been late to where they were going to, having wasted good 15 minutes trying to help me.. What an incredible kindness…! Oh lord, I knew I was about 5937 miles away from home…

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But let’s not be fooled. This amazing culture of gentle people has it’s surprises. One day I found myself in the public transport during rush hours. Yeah, nobody likes rush hours, I know that. But what I experienced there was totally shocking and unexpected. First two stops were ok. A bit crowded but nothing major. Then it got a bit busier and someone rushed into the train violently pushing the others. ‘What a brute!’, I thought. How strange that nobody said anything. The next stop got even worse. The wave of ‘pushers’ didn’t seem to be human. There was no consideration for anyone and anything inside of the train. Two stops later I could barely breath (from the pushing and near-panic attack). My limbs were scattered between some other parts of the body belonging to my co-passengers. At each turn of the train, the crowd dangerously moved from left to right, smashing noses and whatever else it encountered on it’s way. I am really glad I have survived that. Later on I have learnt that at the bigger stations they hire profession
al ‘pushers’ to make sure no leg or hand sticks out of the train when it gets so busy…No wonder they need sauna and toilet-transformers after such experience…!

They do not say anything about the pushing on the train, but there is lot’s of shouting and voice raising at the Kabuki theatre. A unique experience. And despite of the visual side of it normally being explored, it’s the vocal part which completely astonished me. Kabuki theatre and sumo tournament deserve a separate entries in this blog. So does the story how I nearly murdered a young Japanese receptionist to make him express some emotions when he made a mistake which made my blood boil… Till then!

Y’am-Agata, or it’s time to visit Japan

Throughout my life I have learnt that [warning! A cheesy truism is about to follow] if you REALLY want something, it simply happens. But you need to put all your heart in wanting. You need to really FEEL it.

Japan was always one of these places I WANTED to visit. But I also knew that it’s really not a right time for me to do it now. Being in the middle of my PhD (or, I’d like to believe, almost by the final stage of it), self-funded, and therefore working, doing all the other stuff I do (Krav Maga, Italian classes and million other things), I knew I simply cannot allow myself yet another distraction and financial strain.

And here it is, a friendly art agency, which has already exhibited my work in Barcelona, Amsterdam and Barcelona once again, sends me an email about the Tokyo art show… And I simply can’t justify any excuses. It must be done. And since I booked my flight, ticket for the sumo tournament, and a seat for a ride on a bullet train towards the Mount Fuji, all the things I do seem to have some small link to Japan. Of funny links of my to Japan. Like stumbling across the ‘Y’am-Agata’ place on a map of Japan…

YamagataThis modest blog will be updated throughout all the travels. Japan is being directly followed by a two-weeks long drive around Sicily. Later on this year I’ll take you for three months to Colombia, and to some divine corners of Mexico. Ah, let’s not forget about the Polish mountains Till then!

It smells like Havana

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Few observations about Havana:

Having eyes closed you can recognise you are in Havana by it’s smell. It smells of heavy fumes of the retro 50s cars, and it also have the sweet stink of rotten food, or rubbish exposed to a hot, humid climate.

Cuban men are quite difficult to get rid of, and pretty much every single one of them – regardless of age – will try to chat to you. On some occasions it could be useful, for example when you want to ask for directions. All you need to do is to ignore the cheep compliments and questions about your husband, and get straight to the point. Confused by your fluent spanish with slightly unidentified accent, and complete lack of embarrassment, they will politely answer all your questions and even walk you to where you need to go. As they do, they are likely to come up with a marriage offer.

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Havana itself looks like a post-war city. This must have been how Warsaw after Nazi’s bombarding looked like. Pretty much all the buildings are very beautiful, but in complete ruin, literary falling apart. Heaps of rubble on every second street just adds to the climate. First thing I did in Havana was obviously go to where I shouldn’t, namely: to suburbs and districts where normal people live. Stop number one: meat shop. Empty walls took me back to times of my childhood in the communist Poland, which I scarcely remember now, but empty hooks in the butchers are unforgettable. Stop number two: pharmacy: standardised brown bottles, with paper labels around them. No fancy packaging and advertising. No vitamins, but heaps of fresh fruits on the streets.  Regular people in Havana live in an extremely basic conditions, which is nowhere near to European standards of poor. Missing doors or windows are standard. Most of houses are crowded, tight spaces looking at the street through metal the bars, often featuring car’s back seat as a sofa or a chair made of strings of wires. Beauty of such life is that literary nothing gets wasted in Cuba.

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Things are bought out of deep necessity. Now can I please ask every single one of you who read this blog, to look around you, and reflect on how many things you bought out of our greed to posses, things you would not use even once. Starting from food, clothes to the electronics and other items, which ‘might be useful one day’. Now shame on you!!! Speaking about shift-made taxies (see the image below), the seats could be taken from: old cinema seats, bus chairs, old armchair or just a bit of wire. At the end of the day: is chair not just a thing you sit on, regardless if it’s in a car, house or a steer?

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Another observation: regardless of 36 degrees heat (which feels like 42), it is almost impossible to buy a bottle of water in Havana. All the tiny local shops sell rum, rum and rum. No need to mention what happens to you if – in act of desperation – you decide to take this measure to avoid dehydration in that heat… Maybe that’s why all Cuban man are so talkative and tireless…?

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DO ask if the price you see is in local currency or the convertibles (tourists’s cash). Places which are unlikely to see tourists can be a nice surprise. I paid equivalent of £0.70 for a fat book about Cuban cinema and few magazines about Cuban cinematography. Money well spent.

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Cuba advertises on the street. There are some interesting sale offers:

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…and educative offers (not sure I would send my kids to that school…;)

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There is also a celebration of 1st of May, the celebration of working efforts, we know it all too well…

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Now, boys and girls, there is a looooot more to say. But as you all know perfectly well, Internet is rare commodity and an expensive luxury in Cuba. Few minutes cost more than a decent mojito in the very heart of Havana Vieja. And If I have to choose between internet and mojito, I definitively go for the latter one. So appreciate my effort and don’t expect to hear from me anytime soon. Till then!

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Next step: Cuba

Having left it to mature a bit, like a good wine or whiskey, I have very much enjoyed re-reading some of my posts from that recent field trip. The blog was left abandoned for some time since, it didn’t documented my return to my beloved land of cacti and volcanoes, with the emergency landing on neighbouring island, it didn’t witness my helmet-less skiing, and it hans’t seen my first experiments with Go-Pro. Time of the big travels is to be resurrected again. Having won some modest travel awards, I am planning to head off to my most beloved Colombia and Mexico for an extensive period of few months next year. But before that, time to witness the changing reality of Cuba. And it’s an interesting moment to visit the island: the strict rules of the regime are loosening almost day by day, and Cubans slowly start to have an access to what we call a ‘normal life’ (by the way – who makes the norms? Eurocentrism was always quite annoying and problematic concept for me, but let’s leave it for another time). Just few days passed from the death of one of the greatest writers of past century, and as we all know, Gabriel Garcia Marquez had a very controversial romance with Cuba. It will be an interesting experience to see Cuba in transition, to feel Cuba’s reactions and  -let’s not be shy to admit that – feel the Caribbean sunshine on my face.  After pretty turbulent 2013, I am ready to go again. I will keep you posted. Image

My fake Colombian Identity

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I have noticed a very interesting thing. Whenever I take a taxi, buy fruits, go to the terminal or do other quotidian things, people do not ask me IF I live in Colombia, but FOR HOW long I have been living here. First I thought it was a one-off joke, but then I kept getting the same question over and over again.

It made me laugh, and I started to build a fake reality around it. So first I started to invent stories: sometimes I would say I came here for holidays four month ago and stayed, sometimes I say that I am studying here (which is closest to the reality, and even possible to be true!!), sometimes that I work here, or looking for a job. Occasionally I say I am half Colombian, from Polish mother and Colombian father, and I came back here to lear about my roots. The funnies thing is that they all believe me, and sometimes it end is long and passionate conversations about my (fake) identity!!!

But it is true that having spent some time here (and it’s my fourth time in Colombia), I have slowly start to learn this country, recognize some typical aspects of it and sloooowly melt into this reality. It doesn’t come too difficult, if you keep in mind how much I love this place. So when I go somewhere, I usually know where I’m going and how to get there, I don’t look too confused and my communication skills reached some more or less decent level. I am frequently asked how I have learnt Spanish, to which I usually respond that I didn’t noticed when it happened. Sometimes I admit I learnt with friends (although it’s worth mentioning here that one of my best friends, who is Colombian, have persistently been refusing to speak Spanish to me for past eight years. Whenever I speak Spanish to him – he always responds in English. And we can have long and sophisticated conversations this way). I also learnt enough about the reality here, that I don’t let anyone treat me with a ‘gringo’ prices. Whoever tries to do this (although it hardly never happens, only in touristic corners in the coast), I laugh it out and quickly make them understand I’m not gonna fish that trick.

I have my Colombian mobile number and huge network of contacts. I know wayyyyyy more people here than in my own country!!! And many influential ones. Whenever I leave Colombia- I miss it, I am getting a Colombia-home-sickness.

Some time ago I thought about making my fake identity more legitimized, and I checked the procedure of applying for Colombian passport (speaking about this – I highly recommend a great documentary by Brasilian filmmaker Sandra Kogut, called ‘Hungarian passport’. It tells the story of the filmmaker herself, applying for Hungarian passport, supposingly based of the fact that one of her grandparents was Hungarian. Excellent piece of cinema!) For some reason I never thought about applying for a british one, having lived in the UK for over eight years now, although I have all rights to do it and it would be a mere formality. I never felt I a slightest need of it.

Some of my friends in London like to joke that I am fake Colombian. It looks like my fake Colombian identity gets more stable each day! 😉

Jungle experience -part 2

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ImageI managed to interview an elderly Kogi, with rough face, mouth full of coca leaves, green lips, cataract on one of his eyes, his white, traditional cloths and poporo. And wellington boots. First I asked him if he doesn’t mind to have a picture taken, and if he is ok if I film our conversation. Then I went deeper, asking if he doesn’t mind me showing this material to people in my part of the world. He was happy about all of this. So I scarified my scrambled eggs with arepa, and all the breakfast time, in order to conduct the interview. He would speak in hardly understandable mumble about many aspects of his life, and he would’t stop. I was quite surprised by his willingness to collaborate. 

 

We head off from the camp, to climb along the river. Without going into details – let me summarize one thing here: all possible European health and safety rules are brutally broken here. And jungle is really not a fairytale, although it does look like a paradise and it sounds like. But most of the time there is no path, you walk on the stones, mud, river, tree, you have to watch out for a danger all the time (bloody snakes!!!), you have to climb steep, slippery rocks or fell down going down a dirty muddy and wet path. There is no source of safe-to-drink water and you sweat like you never imagined you could, so you have to carry a decent supply of water with you. Your skin is swollen from mosquito bites, your shoes and all your clothes and CONSTANTLY wet, your backpack seem to weight a tone and you really are tired. After hours of this you finally get to the camp, just to realize you are in the middle of nowhere and all you are left with is a hope that nothing happens to you and that you will be fine. Needless to mention there is no electricity in the camps and no mobil phone ever works there. Especially if you live in a big city with all the services within the reach of a phone call – it might be quite a shock for you. I do regularly spend a lot of time in wold nature, but this time I really felt it was quite extreme. Your body and mind and your stamina are your best friends. And you must rely on them. And in spite of eating double of your normal portions, your clothes soon become too loose for you. And your bum hurts. Oh yes it does, from constant up and down, down and up, and the backpack making this exercise even more ‘efficieint’. But it is all soooo worth it. The beauty of the jungle is breathless. My peruvian jungle experience was nothing in comparison in what I was getting trough now. 

 

 

The evening before the guide told us the story of jaguars, snakes and other dangerous animals inhabiting the jungle. Snake was a common refrain in almost every conversation I had during these days. You went to have a chat about anything with anyone there, and you might be sure they will mention snakes and warn you about them. The guide made an explicit request to use a torch every time you need to go anywhere at all in the darkness, i.e. toilet. This, plus his jungle ghost stories he would serve every evening, would make me a bit paranoiac, and before going to sleep I throughly checked every corner underneath my mosquitiera. I would fall asleep full of fear of the jungle animals, isolation of the camp and – what follows – lack of any rescue in case of it’s needed. Few hours later I woke up to the sound of painful scream. I found my way out of the mosquitiera (now noticing all the holes it had…), to find out our cook on a hammock, twisted in pain. I asked what happened, and they showed me a corpse of the scorpio which bitten the boy. Twenty minutes later there was another victim. To my surprise it was an old, experienced indigenous guy, whose bitten finger has swollen so much, that he literally couldn’t move it! Funny enough, it didn’t prevent him to get himself hired to carry somebodies bags, together with his seven years old son! (well, I must admit here that I am guessing his age, because if you ask the boy about his age, all you get is a mute head shake. None of the kids know their own age, and the parent’s don’t seem to know it either). Couple minutes later the ‘scorpion boy’, as we started calling your young cook, also stood up, loaded what was needed on his back and went running to the next camp, to be there on time to prepare our rice, meat and platanos. I was amazed. I could’t imagine I would be even able to think clearly if it was me, and these guys treat it like a mosquito bites. 

 

Speaking about mosquitos – here I was a real feast for them. Herds and herds of them during all the week fed themselves on my blood, not living a centimeter of my body untouched. All the ‘jungle mosquito sprays’ proved utterly useless. Initially I have ignored the bites and itching for all the reasons I have listed in the previous part of the jungle blog – heat, tiredness, hunger etc would’t let you lament over a mosquito bite. But last night I couldn’t stand it any more – all my body, completely covered with mosquito bites, was begging me for a little scratch. In the evening I tried some cream, antihistaminic tablets and strong will, but at night I finally succumbed. It was a cold night, the camp was just next to the river, the only thing protecting me from the cold was my mosquitiera, so I decided to sleep in my trousers – the only dry thing I have left. Half an hour into sleepless fight with my itching, I decided to take action. In desperation I pulled my trousers down, and passionately started to scratch my legs, from the buttocks down to the feet. Suddenly I felt a strong light on my bum. I frozen. whoever was pointing the torch on me, he/she found me in the most embarrassing position: with my pants down and my hand on my swollen bum… Shamefully I put my trousers back and tried to forget about all the things my body was asking me for. 

 

The next morning I realized that the elderly Kogi I interviewed was insistingly staring at me. I approached him and asked how he was, but then came back to do my backpack, before a looong day of walk. He wouldn’t stop staring at me. Few minutes later he found an appropriate moment and approached me. There is a point here, he said, pointing at his poporo, which is our yesterday’s meeting and conversation. Bring it to where you go. But there is another point , which is our next meeting. I want you to bring me a hammock. 

I opened my eyes in amazement. But I promised that if I come back, I will bring him a hammock. 

 

There are many untaken photos, like for example the Kogi family running through the jungle, with their traditional white clothes and transistor radio playing some bachatas. 

Or the one with the militaries in the jungle, withe  a pig, which will be their dinner hours later. Unforgettable. Or later on, in Taganga, a big lovely dog, who entered to the sea and sat down in the water, leaving just his nose outside, and stayed like this, cooling himself down. And many many others.

 

To be continued!!!

 

Jungle day one. Or the Experience of my life ;)

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Let me be clear from the very first lines: to climb the mountains of Sierra Nevada, in the jungle full of snakes, scorpions, mosquitos and wild cats (sic!), in mad humidity and equally mad heat, is NOTHING easy. You’ll be wet all the time, could it be from the river you’ll need to cross (and you’ll need to cross many), heavy rain, or your own sweat. And your clothes won’t get dry overnight, in fact sometimes you’ll find them even more wet the next morning. You’ll be tired, really tired, and the only thing you can do to relieve yourself will be to swear with all the most cruel swear words you know. But you can’t stop. for many reasons you can’t. You’ll have to continue in the rain, heat, water, with your bum squeezed from muscular pain. You’ll be constantly hungry and thirsty, no matter how much you eat and drink. And your diet will be quite monotonous for couple of days. Although you’ve probably never appreciated your food more than these days. Occasionally you’ll be scared, for example when you realize that the bite of the purple snake staring at you is absolutely mortal, and there is no antidote for it, and even if there was – you are three days away from any civilization, and no helicopter will ever land in the insane landscape of the jungle. And the only mode of transport, other then your own legs, are donkeys, who quite frequently die on a way, from snake bites or simply from exhaustion. Or when you jump to blissfully refreshing river, after all day of walk, only to realize that you are trapped in the current and the way back seem more difficult with every second. Or when you sleep in your hammock and realize that the only thing protecting you from the dangers of the jungle is your mosquitiera.. 

 

As a result of all of this: if you ever have any worries, problems, broken heart, anything that you can’t get out of your mind – do some rough traveling. Go to the jungle, climb the mountains, or ideally – climb the mountains in a jungle – it’s the best soothing ingredient. After couple of hours, and even better – couple of days, you will start  feel hungry, tired, thirsty, and it will slowly push all the other problems away and make them look quite silly. Your own guts will take over and they will free you out from anything you left behind. 

 

To enter the Lost City you MUST go with the guide. Otherwise the guards stop you and take you back. So I had to break my golden rule and for five days become a tourist. But my desire to see La ciudad Perdida was stronger. After few days I understood why you can’t get in without a guide. Even with him, it was a pretty rough experience. 

 

First the jeep, which surely has celebrated its golden anniversary, took us from Santa Marta closer to the mountains. We stopped for a short lunch, before starting five days long trek. I went for a little walk. Two Indigenous guys, one in wellington boots, and one barefoot,  walked into the tiny local shop and asked for a beer.  Both of them in their traditional white clothes, and long dark hair. This long hair always thrills me, so I frozen in excitement and could not stop staring at them. They stared back. We all smiled in mutual appreciation of the encounter. 

 

As we were about to start the trek, I could hear some roar. Something like a distant thunderstorm. As soon as we made the first step – the sky opened. And when I say it opened – I really mean it. Within seconds, literally, I was soaked to the last thread… But I didn’t stop. The guide mentioned we have to harry up, to cross the river before the level rises too much with the rain. If it does – we have to camp in the forrest until it gets down so that we can cross it. He didn’t mention we have to cross the river three times. Or was it three rivers, they all looked the same to me. 

 

I saw two indigenous kinds, completely oblivious to the rain. Again: one in wellington boots, one barefoot. Is it some kind of rule here: heavy shoes or no shoes at ll?? Soon after the guide has lost the sole, and I have lost the guide. Well, I haven’t really lost him, but I have left him way behind. The monotonous rhythm of the walk, the noise of the heavy rain, repeated movements – all of this slowly became quite hypnotic. I stopped thinking about the fact that I am wet, that my shoes are completely falling apart (they survived until day 4, before they have completely opened, leaving my toes shamefully naked and vulnerable), that I have to walk like this for couple of hours, before we get to the next camp, that we have to climb and sweat, and that it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop raining. It became a kind of trans, when your body does one thing, but your mind is way beyond this. I felt so very good, so very free, besides the tiredness, I even realize it is a great, overwhelming pleasure to walk like this. Besides my body didn’t really betray me. It was walking me up and down, without bothering me too much. I never felt better in my body than these days and I have probably never been in better physical condition. In fact the very last day, when I left all the group way behind, the guide approached me with tiny shine of admiration in his eyes, saying: you are really strong, aren’t you? I laughed. I was exhausted, I really was, but my stamina wouldn’t let me stop. 

 

The rain continued. So when it came to crossing the river, I didn’t even try any pirouettes on the stones: I walked straight in. My shoe quickly filled up with water and mud, burying my feet somewhere deep down in this mixture. I hardly noticed it. 

 

Hours after we arrived to the first station. The rain stopped. Dramatically soaked, I took off my clothes and jumped in straight into the ‘natural baths’ –  a river full of pools and cascades. Real paradise, impossible to describe. I started to swim, when suddenly I realized my movements were completely ignored by the river – a strong current (after hours of heavy rain – the water was falling from the mountains with mad force) took me in its arms, and I felt trapped. The stronger I tried to swim  – the more the river was mocking my effort. I tried to stand down,  but I realized It was way too deep. All my movements were hopeless. Some people at the bank saw the fear in my eyes and tried to give me a hand. All useless, as the water was stronger then them. For a second I thought: that’s it. I thought I was gonna die. So silly. Moment later someone pulled me towards the bank, and used all his strength to push me on the wet rocks. I dramatically clung to them. I must have looked terrified, and indeed I was. I loooove water, but I fear it a bit. My worst nightmare is to get drown. 

 

The sound of the jungle was incredible. The noise was so intense that I expected long, sleepless night. In fact I slept like a baby. I didn’t remember any hammock to be so comfortable and and any music to be so soothing like the jungle at night.

 

To be continued soon…!!!

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Agataes, or should I stay or should I go

In order to start to understand your flesh and your soul, you need to travel far away, alone, and for a decent period of time. It brings wonderful surprises on a way, but also requires a decent dose of humility, as you will need to learn to leave things behind. your hair, your shoes, pieces of your soul. But if you liberate yourself from all the sorrows, unknown to nomads – the harmony you will find will be truly blissful. 

 

The heat that welcomes you once you get off the bus in Santa Marta is truly orgazmic. It paralyzes your limbs and it spreads all around your body, not leaving you any other option but to succumb. I adore this heat. It takes me to another level of happiness. 

 

Again I have many doubts if I should continue this blog or not. There is so many things I feel I shouldn’t write, so many things passing through my mind which are so irrelevant to the principal purpose of this blog, but at the same time  –  so important for me. And this blog becomes incomplete or completely off-point. It looks like the heat has increased my perception, or maybe its the length of this journey which lets me ponder on things I never have time to ponder on. I concentrate on little silly things, as these little silly things seem to me more important than anything else now. Like for example this view I have now:

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wonderful caribbean see, mountains, palms, beach – for years I have been dreaming to have a view like this when I write. I would imagine it so intensely, that I could feel the breeze on my skin. I did’t know where to find this place. It looks I have found it, I am here now. The  only problem is that in my dreams I was to stay here for at least a year. In reality I don’t seem to have that much time. And here I will reveal one of the things I don’t really want to write about too much: I am very (!!!) seriously considering the option of staying in Colombia for a longer period of time: a year, maybe two or even three. I am actually taking some shy steps towards organizing it, although it it nothing serious yet. But this idea is planted in my head and starts to grow slow roots. There are few reasons behind this yet untaken decision, one of them being: I love this country. I have this insane feeling I belong here. I have a feeling I have some unfinished job to do here. I always joked that in my previous incarnation I was an Indigenous woman on this terrain, and I was prematurely killed. Therefore my obsession with indigenous world now, and my crazy need to do what I did’t manage to do then. It came as a revelation when in January this year I was looking at the map of indigenous communities with Hector Buitrago, in his beautiful apartment with most amazing view on Bogota, and to our huge laugh we have found a distinct tribe of Agataes (sic!!!!!!!) who lived on this terrain some 5-6 centuries ago. We dived straight into Internet to hunt for some more information, but the only thing we could find was a two lines note on hungarian wikipedia!!! Nothing else!!! It looks like nobody knows of Agataes!!!! My eyes were glowing with excitement when I have discovered it. Maybe this is my task??

 

Every time I come here – it’s a journey full of surprises of this kind. If I wanted to write them all down – this blog would be endless flow…

 

Lets keep it short today: I want to enjoy my view before head off to explore la Ciudad Perdida. Even before I go there I already know it will be a wonderful, wonderful adventure. I shall come back with bunch of nice photos and inolvidable memories! 🙂 

 

 

 

Adventures of San Augustin

I admit it was quite naive to believe I would be able to write regular posts on daily basis. And it’s really not about lack of internet connection or even about lack of time (although I must admit my days are full to the last minute). It’s more about being so saturated with new things, new people, new experiences, and not being able to transform it into words without giving it some time to mature, to start to make some sense. If I wanted I could produce a daily set of paragraphs, although it would be more a kind of mechanical reportage of some kind, rather than well digested reflexions. This journey have had so many turns already, that I feel I need to slowly process it first, before I can develop some kind of word translation of this crazy experience into something more or less readable. 

 

Past few days might be summarized like this: overnight travels (last night 4 different buses), visiting amazing places and learning most surprising things, pretending I’m Colombian, getting ill, desperately fighting with extremely poor internet connection, getting better, my first encounter with the guerillas, and finding some kind of balance after all. But could anyone possibly make any sense of that?

 

San Augustin is one of this mysterious places where generations of archeologists spent years and years of research and never came to agreed conclusion about the place. Most famous and most amazing statues have been discovered on this terrain about hundred years ago. Well, officially, because before that some people managed to find them, and steal or destroy a number of the figures. For those of you who don’t like staring at anthropomorphic piece of stone it might sound boring at first. But when you see the number of the figures, and when you start looking at them and realize that each and every one of them seem to have direct inspiration from various and remote cultures (Egipt, India, Greece etc) – you slowly start to get amazed. There is no consistent theory of who made them, and when. There is no explanation of why the personages represented in stone have Asian, African, Indian and European features! Similarly to the clothes and the objects they have in their hands. How is it possible that the tombs are dig so deep down into the ground, and have immense stones placed on the bottom. Who and how was able to do all of this, when no trace of civilization os left there! Truly amazing! and the nature surrounding it makes it even better!!!

 

Probably one of the most impressive things i have experienced in San Augustin over past few days were:

 

  • 36 figures hidden in the selvatic bosque (apart from all the ones you find in the archaeological parks, spread around the area, and museum). And I must admit that what probably impressed me even more than the figure is the bosque itself, similarly like in Machu Picchu: although really impressed by the ruins, I was totally mad about the mountains, which were truly amazing!!!

 

  • the biggest waterfall in Colombia, and, closely linked to this:

 

  • two teenagers with very inquisitive look, with bulky pockets and curious faces, who didn’t stop staring at me for a second, when I couldn’t stop staring at the waterfall. I got used to be stared at here, but these two wouldn’t waste a second. And only later on I learned from the driver that these two youngsters were guerillas, and their pockets were bulky because of the guns… 😮 I’m glad I didn’t know that once I was there, although they were so persistent with their staring that I almost told them off!!! Glad I didn’t. The explanation given by the driver was quite shocking: apparently on this terrain there were plenty of them and they are the law. They usually start aged 12, and they don’t avoid action. Recently some local person have killed a woman, her child and her dog. The next day guerillas went to his house and killed him. No court, no sentence  – everything clean and quite straightforward. The driver said that thinks to them there is no delinquency in the area. This shut my mouth, I didn’t want to  disagree nor to rebel. 

 

Another amazing thing about these travels is the journey itself. Like last night, when travelled all evening, night and morning, I changed bust four times (one got broken, one wasn’t going where it had to etc etc). For some strange reason I don’t get tired or irritated by this, I jump into this reality and swim with the flow. It’s crazy, but it can actually be very pleasant. Day of rest and tomorrow I head off to the North of the country: first Santa Marta, then visit to the Ciudad Perdida (caaaan’t wait!!!!!) and then some more days in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and finally a day or two on the caribbean beach… Well deserved, iIshould say.  Till then!Image