Three Years to “Sweep Off”

frodoI’ve been wanting to read Eat Pray Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert for ages, and yet it sat by my bedside table for far longer than I care to admit, mainly because I’d seen the movie and so it was hard to justify the time to read it as well. Thank you “42 books” goal for that justification!

I have now read it, and I must say that I absolutely adored it! Elizabeth Gilbert’s emotional honesty is inspiring, her journey is heartfelt, and third, the woman can WRITE!

Fourth, and best of all, some things that didn’t make a lot of sense in the movie finally made complete sense, including the romance at the end. In the movie, I wondered why they had to add a romance to a perfectly good adventure, as if someone thought that was the only way a “woman’s” movie could possibly end. However, the book explained it very well. The last challenge for Elizabeth to fully heal after a devastating divorce was to prove to herself that she could be in a new romantic relationship and not lose herself.

I know from experience that it’s very hard to write a good script from an existing book, especially when (as in the case of Eat Pray Love) so much of the story’s power is expressed through the protagonist’s thoughts. You can’t put a thought on a screen, and unfortunately, what you put on instead sometimes doesn’t carry the same emotional integrity. As an aside, if you’ve ever wondered at the process that a lot of script writers and a growing number of novelists use to create their stories, click here: The Simplest Tool for Fast, Fun Screenwriting.

What I thought about while reading this book:

I CAN DO THIS!

Yes, I can eat, pray, and love, but that’s not what I mean. It has been a long-time dream of mine to be a nomad, and as I vicariously enjoyed Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey, I gathered an even stronger belief that I too can travel, learn, explore – when the time is right of course.

To repeat one of my favourite quotes:

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.

~ J.R.R. Tolkein, Lord of the Rings.

I look at this as a promise. Maybe that’s why I take my passport with me everywhere, even if I’m just going to the grocery store or to pick up the mail. One of these days, me and my “company of adventurers” will simply sweep away on our own mega-adventure. 🙂

When we do, I’ll keep an account of my travels here. I promise.

ROAD TRIP and FREE BOOKS

Winnies1 FrontCoverSo excited to be off on a new adventure in the morning. I am full of anticipation and dread, a lovely road trip combined with being the only driver for almost 8,000 km. Yikes! But hey, all things are possible, right?

Before I go, I want to do a shout out about my good friend, Ev Bishop, who happens to also be a very talented writer. If you’re into warm hearted romance, I can’t recommend her books enough. Her understanding of human nature simply brings her books to life. 🙂  Even sweeter, the first in her RIVERS SIGH B&B series, Wedding Bands, is now FREE as an e-book, so you can give it a try without risking a penny.

And hey, I guess I should tell you about my book too. The first book in the WHINNIES ON THE WIND series is FREE right now at most e-book sellers. Search for it – Winter of the Crystal Dances – on your favorite e-book site, and if it isn’t free, let me know. I’m happy to contact the seller.

Wishing you all a joyous  spring, and for those of you who are travelling, maybe I’ll see you on the road!

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I am living this year with the view that ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE. What this year may include: adventures in travel, career, personal growth, and more. If you didn’t catch my first impressions of beautiful Colombia, click here.

Ciudad Perdida

Two days later, we hiked into Ciudad Perdida. The trip up to that point had been amazing: the cloud forest vegetation and flowers, the river, the indigenous dwellings, coca plants, and so much more.

The second day of hiking, we passed an elderly indigenous woman on the trail. She asked with hand signals for a hiking stick from a woman in our group, then with stick in hand, flipped a scorpion out from beside the rock at her feet, and proceeded to pound it to death.

Weird Catepillar

Weird Neon Catepillar

Another time, Quapak, our guide, told us that a snake had bitten a mule right there – and he pointed to the creek bank I was standing on. Two days later, when Quapak hiked back, the mule was still at the water’s edge, but it was dead. Needless to say, I crossed with exceptional care.

I was pretty happy to not see a snake close up, or a tarantula, but I was a bit disappointed that there were none to be seen from a distance. However, we did see this strange creature, which to me, looks like it could be related to a nudibranch if we’d found it underwater.

A few of the 1,200 stairs up to Ciudad Perdida.

A few of the 1,200 stairs up to Ciudad Perdida.

 

Finally, on the morning of the third day, we crossed the Rio Buritaca, and climbed the 1,200 stone steps into Ciudad Perdida, gaining 400 meters (over 1,300 feet) in less than a kilometer.  It was a brisk climb but not as challenging as that first day when we climbed 640 meters (2,100 feet) beneath the blasting afternoon sun. Now, trees, some with hundreds of pounds of epiphytes attached, towered over us, vines hanging to the ground.

At the entrance to the city, we made an “offering” to show respect to the indigenous culture. I gently tossed a leaf into the sacred circle, and after a shared minute of silence, we walked into the city, which consisted of stone walled circles, filled with earth, the platform foundations of the houses that had once been there.

The city was abandoned about 400 years ago, though the local people continued to use the site for ceremonial purposes. Only the Mamo (the medicine man) and his family continue to live there, a short distance from the main circles.

Circles and stairs.

Circles and stairs.

These days, thirty more people also live nearby – soldiers. An observation post is on the mountain above the highest circle, and the soldiers keep watch, fully armed and ready to protect the visitors.

The stone circles became bigger as we moved higher on the ridge. As in countless civilizations around the world, the more successful families had the biggest circles and the best views. When the rest of the group stopped at the biggest circle, the one reserved for community gatherings, Brad and I kept climbing, up and up, from circle to circle.

Finally at the top, with only the military post higher, we looked back to see our group grown small below. Oropendolas built hanging nests in some tall palms nearby, their tail feathers flashing yellow in the sun. A pair of green parrots flew by, and then a red bird, and one so blue it looked startling against the blue of the sky. Beyond the stone city itself, the expanse of mountains and valley stretched to the horizon, the first mist of the day starting to gather among the trees.

I was standing in a lost city in South America, something that a year ago I would’ve thought was impossible and, considering our financial situation, irresponsible. Okay, so maybe that part hadn’t changed.

A beautiful view.

A beautiful view.

 

 

But the sight before me, the almost audible hum of energy in the air, the cry of the birds as they enacted their eternal dance, the vines swaying rhythmically to the hot breaths of wind, even a hiker’s laugh from down below – they combined to make that experience far more “real” than the cost, and in that moment, the cost became permanently irrelevant.

So I guess at the end of my life, I’ll die a few thousand dollars poorer, but that’s okay, because I have no doubt that I became much, much richer during these few hours at Ciudad Perdida. And that’s what I call good value.

Cuidad Perdida or Bust

Mules passing me on the chalk trail.

Mules passing me on the chalk trail.

I seriously thought I was going to collapse. Hills should not be this high or this steep. Three hours up? In 35 degree C  heat? With no shade? Come on!

The rest of our small group had shown us their backs a while ago. I’d already guzzled most of the water by the time the trail turned to white chalk dust, reflecting the heat back into my beet red face. Dust poofed into the air at every step, sticking to my sweat and coating my heaving lungs. And yet, there seemed no end. Up, up, eternally up.

Earlier that afternoon, we started the three day hike into Ciudad Perdida, a “lost city” in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains. It had been a wonderful day. Meeting our hiking crew that morning and driving out to El Mamey, the town with such a bloody history it was nicknamed El Machete, where we would start our hike. The peaceful little village that greeted us did not live up to its past reputation, thankfully. We’d seen a massive iguana (or I think it was an iguana – it was a huge lizard in a tree, anyway) and the two snow capped peaks in the Sierra Nevadas, the two biggest mountains in the world at sea level. Incredibly impressive!

The hike itself started out easy-peasy, with gentle uphills and the occasional downhill. It was hot, that was for certain, but it was also shaded. The surroundings were beautiful and exotic, creeks bubbled past, strange fruit hung on trees, and the flowers… oh, the flowers! They’d drive me to poetry if I wasn’t careful.

Anyway, it all seemed amazing, even for a little while after the gentle slope turned into a not so gentle slope. Then the shade vanished, the sun got hotter (I swear), we hit the chalk dust – and the hike became a trudge.

Brad stayed with me, encouraging me and dutifully offering to carry my pack every once in a while. No way, I thought. I’d rather die, right here, right now. I may be suffering the ego-beating of being agonizingly slow, but to have someone carry my pack? No way, dude.

Just a random awesome flower in the jungle.

Just a random awesome flower in the jungle.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to carry it?”

“Yeah (gasp) I’m sure (gasp, stumble).”

Trudge, trudge, trudge.

“Here, let me take your hand.”

“Aw, you’re so (gasp) romantic.”

“Uh, yeah.”

Pulls me up the hill.

“You know, I can carry your pack for you.”

“Grrr.”

Waits one minute.

“Do you want me to?”

“I’m (gasp, pant) fine.”

“Okay, just let me know.”

Washing off the dust

Washing off the dust

Well, I must admit, the time did come, and then I had the added pleasure of seeing him carrying both our packs up the last of that massive hill without even breathing hard, as I panted and wheezed alongside.

But you know what? That was an amazing day. I loved the challenge and the exertion and the heat and the wiping of dusty sweat out of my eyes and the chalk breathing – and later that day, washing said dust/chalk off in the river while getting nibbled on by little vampire fish.

That hill was a profoundly satisfying experience. I may not have conquered it in style or even reach the top with my own pack on my own back, but conquer it I did. And that makes me happy.

 

Life + + +

Jardin SquareThe wind sways the tree tops in a silver sky, and I find I’m mesmerized by their stark northern dance. So different from what I was seeing just a few days ago. I was in Colombia, soaking in the heat, sights, sounds, and smells of a culture that is very different from my own – and very attractive. I can see why writers and other artists gravitate to South America. It is place alive with passion! Everything is less reserved than in the north: the people, the vegetation, the colours, the streets, the churches… Life on overdrive!

The night we arrived in Sabaneta, a neighbourhood in Medellin, I saw my first example of this. We stayed in an apartment with a local woman, Adriana, who was very hospitable, welcoming, and kind. From her fifth story apartment balcony, we watched the street as night descended and saw groups of adults sitting in their plastic chairs in circles on the sidewalks, talking, gesturing, and laughing. Happy, loud music floated up to our balcony. Teens hung out in small groups, joking and teasing each other. Younger kids played with a skateboard, taking turns, running, shrieking with joy, and quickly moving to the side whenever a car honked to signal they needed to drive past. A searchlight swayed back and forth in the sky, and later in the night, the fast paced music and sky was regularly punctuated with fireworks. What was the celebration? Nothing, our host told us. It was just a normal Saturday night in the neighbourhood, hanging out with friends and family in a multi-generational gathering.

As the next weeks passed, I became even more impressed by the values of the people there. Family and friends not only seemed far more important than ego and influence, but those things hardly seemed to be in the running. The people were very accepting of us foreigners too, though I must admit, at first I found the expressive welcomes a bit intimidating. It felt weird to feel so welcome – until it began to feel good.

I learned a lot of things in Colombia: things about the culture, about the plant and animal life, about the history of an amazing country. Just as importantly, I learned to a much deeper extent the value of an open heart, and once again, I was reminded of how our cultures, both societal and familial, shape us. I also learned things about my own life that I just wasn’t seeing clearly before, because my perception was wrapped in my own personal convention, built up over years, or in some cases, a lifetime.

The picture here is one of the few available to me, since one of our bags went missing somewhere in the Mexico City airport and our camera was inside. Until it’s found (if it’s ever found) this photo will have to do. It’s not even of Sabaneta, but the square in a small town outside of Medellin, called Jardin.

We may not have come home with all of our luggage, but honestly, I came home with something far more valuable. A fresh perspective. And a very strong desire to move to South America!

Creating Gold

poolTravel seems to be on my mind lately. I don’t mean the how of travel, or the when, or the where. It’s not even the why, though that comes the closest.

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” — Martin Buber

That kind of travel. The destinations that we don’t know we’ll reach, that we don’t even know exist, because in some way the only reason they exist is because we’re there, and something happens, some strange reaction. Pure alchemy between the physical place and who we are in that moment, that illuminates new places in our thoughts and attitudes and world view. By the time we leave, we are forever changed. Wiser even, or simply more aware of our ignorance. Or both. Usually both.

I just got back from Texas where I experienced a faux-move. I helped my daughter and her wonderful family transplant their lives to an apartment in Dallas – and not just any boring apartment either. It’s a huge complex, with lounges everywhere and BBQ’s all over the place. A gym, a pool (complete with fountains), a games room, a business center, and to top it all off, the world’s most amazing coffee machine. Like, ever!

As soon as the moving was done, I settled into resort living, fiddled with a novel outline, and enjoyed the amenities – a lot! Total indulgence: not what anyone would call a spiritual undertaking. I embraced being pampered (especially by that amazing coffee machine!).

And the alchemy happened anyway.

Since a lot happened beside that pool in Dallas, I’ll leave the rest for future posts, but before I go, I want to leave you a link to another traveler, someone who is much more adventurous than I.

Mars One pulled “Miss Miral” out her door and set her on a crazy path. I’ve followed her adventures for a while because I know her personally, but now she’s entering the web arena. Do me (and yourself) a big favor and follow her blog at https://eowynmiral.wordpress.com/. 🙂  She has two posts up now, and both are amazing!

And I’d love to hear your travel epiphanies, if you are so inclined! Start a conversation?