Posts Tagged ‘comfort’

I am back at harbin once again and feel like i have entered a different world – one that is more urbane, prosperous and polished. and when i sat in my tent and at my picnic table in that national forest campground outside Gasquet this is what i yearned for. i felt so far removed from the mainstream and that my life was to be on the edge of the road and i would crawl into the forest and reside in there. and i have written about harbin before – but how it feels to you depends on the direction from which you come.
I have previously arrived from the city, twice from the bay, and once after a day in seattle but had been out in small town zone. Now i come from the oregon coast and northern california and rather than being a retreat from the mainstream it is a way of entering back in – cars (mainly shiny and newer) fill the parking lot, i sit in a cushioned chair and earlier sat on a lawn. last night i watched a movie. and there is the kitchen, the cafe, the restaurant and the store so easily at hand. and from my tent site a short walk to the toilets which are individual affairs. and of course there are the pools, a place to soak. And the people seem so well dressed when they are wearing their clothes, cute pants and dresses and tank tops – first hand and quality made. And this is not just harbin, but the california of my mind, that represents this change – though this california is not the whole state, and was not many of the northern towns though i saw it more and more as we moved on south, out of the grey coast zone.

And this morning as i sat in the garden after a long soak and drinking an excellent americano i thought what i different world i was in that where i stood waiting for the bus outside elk prairie campground up on the coast 24 hours before waiting for the bus to pull off the highway in the cool grey morn waiting on the on ramp from the scenic parkway, with very little else around, i had packed up early and walked by the open land then stood on the road saying goodbye to the redwood trees, feeling that it would be a long time before i saw them again. And then i sat on the corner waiting, had set up with del norte transit to stop at the location the previous afternoon before i left crescent city and decided to camp down there.

And on the way down i passed through so many zones – that now seem like a blur – the greyness of northern humboldt, the greyhound bus, the heat and sun coming out near garberville – that strange hippie town that usually agitates me – but this time did not lash out as we passed through quick, the 101 as it becomes a divided highway, mcdonalds in willits as we stopped for lunch, two hours on the edge of ukiah – eating a burrito at a mexican store and resto across the street from the bus stop – lake transit to lakeport which looks like a cute town, then down the west side of the lake on highway then twisty road – so much not written here.

How easily it is to shift between worlds and i feel that this is fantasy land, make-believe, pretend – not only the retreat center per se, but this whole stretch of california extending for over a hundred miles in each direction both north and south of the bay. It is the land of luxury, of the boho vibe, of good living, organic foods and new age thought but of course not for all but that is what i see here.

But back to up the road – and now this afternoon i feel in a different world than i did before yesterday on the edge of ukiah waiting 2 hours for the lake transit bus – greyhound was late, so missed the connection and that felt so different than the same time the day before as i got on the bus to leave crescent city,

and the day before as i sat in the campground outside gasquet, and the day before as i walked highway 199, as the day before when i sat in the sun in the redwoods,

and the day before when i arrived there after a long trip and had just recently set up my tent and the sun emerged and i was so happy to be off the coast,

and the day before in brookings – i think i was heading back to the campground from town, but that day (which was just over a week ago) was not so different from the day before as i had done similar things but felt very different inside)

and that was different than the day before when i arrived in brookings at that time, and the day before at humbug,

and the day before eating fish and chips in bandon

and the day before on the cold cape, and so on, and between each of those moments at around three, so much had transpired. but now i think i will be here through the weekend, a bit of time to live life more slow.

now i have been at harbin for several days and all that seems but a blur – i have more to write about my time here but somehow the words will not come out – i have indulged – soaked in the pools, layed on cushions watching movies on the big screen, lounged in a comfy chair for hours on end, eaten full healthy tasty meals, gone to yoga a couple of times and more, but somehow this seems empty to me and i feel more disconnected than when i was out on the road and here in the coffee shop in middletown i feel more real. And the world of the harbins and the nice shiny vibe does not seem like the world i am meant to live in – though i appreciate it’s comforts and luxuries that abound. But it is a retreat center and feels cut off like a fantasy land, but one where i really do not fit in. And i have felt old emotions and feelings coming back to me – another person arising within.

it is more than harbin per se that produced this change in me – coming here that day on the greyhound bus with the grouchy driver, and the highway that became a divided road, and once out of the grey zone, the buildings and cars that were new and prosperous so it seems – but also the division seemed more real. and i felt a loss of the friendliness of the grey zone though i still encounter it in many places.

And it is a stasis and being where i feel i do not belong, and i feel disconnected and an outsider here. While that is often the case when i am not in physical movement, there is something more going on here – something that i cannot yet write about. but this is a time to process the experiences of the past few months and remove another veil that covers my eyes.

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I am getting soft, no longer as tough as i once was, as i became. I have been sleeping in beds and in warmth and no longer want to go back outside. I wish to avoid the cold, the hardness of the ground, and can not imagine living as i once did. I am longer prepared, and i am getting tired and old.
I no longer have the tools i once did – the tent is gone, the sleeping pad too. My bag is getting thin and another strap on my bag broke off too. I imagined Alaska and remembered it too, and then said the time for travel is over, and i just want to write.

I have felt that way but god puts me on the move. the places are booked, and i may sleep outside. I pray that i can do it, for earlier today, i told myself, that time is over, it has passed you by. But now so much seems blocked, and i have nowhere to go.

I survived one night out in the cold, but now i sit inside on a soft cushioned chair dreading the night that lay ahead. I slept last night, and sleep i did, listening to the sound of the rushing creek and feeling the fresh mountain air. At times i woke, feeling the hardness of the platform that lay beneath, no cushioning for my bones, and turned my head from side to side, my knapsack making a lumpy pillow. I adjusted the emergency blanket of silver reflective plastic, hearing its crackle as i moved it over my sleeping bag. And i felt the plastic of the tarp i bought, that lay directly over my head. Still the morning came, and i had slept and could sleep some more under the warmth of the sun, but my bladder called once again and i rose to greet the day. My knee hurt a bit from where it pressed down into the wood, my neck a bit kinked, but i was fine. And i started to wonder, is sleeping outside really that bad. But the night was fine, it did not rain, and frost or thick dew did not appear upon the ground as i heard it did the day before.

The times before when i was here, i slept outside as well. Once on the platform just next door, when the creek rushed even more. I had my tent, my home back then, but still i shivered in the night. I was tougher then, at least i think, more used to sleeping out in the cold. My tent was dry, and a blanket i borrowed, and slept well for much a time. I came back later, but it was June, and slept outside too. I no longer have that tent, or the thin thermarest below and my bones are starting to feel old.

She said to me your face seems different and others have told me that too. Am i calmer as they say, or am i feeling drained? The answer i believe is both, I went to yoga today, and she remembered me well, and i realized i have changed over the year. My body moved more easily, many kinks removed. I felt more calm, more serene and i realized i have let go. I feel the energy processing through, no longer as stuck in muscles and joints though still stiff in many places. But i feel tired as well, as if the energy is slipping away and I no longer as tough as i once did before.

Still the road no longer calls, and it did not then either, when i arrive in this place the first time over a year ago. I have gone in a circle but it is a spiral. I remember the mess that i was then, and the effects that wandering has. I have seen it on the streets as i have travelled for the past few weeks, and do not feel the strength to head out there. I feel the time is now, to set it all down, the stories of the road trips i have had.

The fresh air upon my face, the stars in the sky and the sound of the night bring me peace. The movement and searching i no longer seek. Still the rains will come and it will be time to move, to where i do not know. I have gotten soft, or maybe i am just getting old. But can i remain in the softness of the chair?

I slept another – or tossed and turned in the night. i can feel the effects of the hardness creeping up in my shoulders and back, still i return for one more night. But i am getting soft, and do not know if i can become hard again.

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Pacific Grove feels old. It is not merely the age of the people but the feel of the place. Few children are to be seen, and grey hair predominates but it is not that. It is an energy to the place, one that feels stale and stagnant, not rushing and moving like the ocean nearby. The main street is cute, independent restos and bakeries and little practical and it reminds me in some ways of a new england town. Yes, with warm sunny air at this time of the year. Trees line the boulevard and small upkept cottages with gardens and tended lawns line the side streets down to the water. But there is a conservative air to the place, one that makes you feel that you should see tweed despite the warmth of the day. It is nice, and nice is the best word to describe it.
Maybe it is the heritage of the place, its beginnings as a methodist camp, a town that remained dry for many years despite it proximity to cannery row and the drinking there in days of old. A liquor store now sits on a corner on main street, but the staid feel remains. Maybe it is the conservative dress, loose jeans on older women and loose tshirts and fleece. And there is a flaccid appearance among many who walk or even jog by on the water – not necessarily fat or old but loose skin, not taught as energy has slipped away. Yes, many women are post-menopausal, and i sensed that energy, but it is not always part of aging, for among them you see vibrant souls though the bodies appear worn with time, and you also sense the old slipping away energy in some that are chronologically young or middle aged.
It seems to be a safe community, one where you can sit or walk your dog in the middle of the night, though you may be questioned on what you are doing, that you are not posing a danger. But it is safe, but a safety that feels constrained, like life is not bursting out, not dancing with joy – no a middling contentment, and one that lets energy slip out.
There is life nearby though, and flowers and trees in town. By the water the dunes are a riot of colour with yellows and oranges and a variety of purples as wildflowers bloom. Seagulls fly, harbour seals swim and watch the people and sit on rocks by the beach where water is calmer, and further out the water speaks with waves washing up on the rocks.
In the afternoon, at the point, lovers point, life dances or more truthfully picnics, with families with kids playing, and barbeques going, and people talking and laughing, many latinos or other immigrants or tourists, the languages vary, but there is joy on a sunny saturday afternoon. Four blocks down and a different world, and different than it appeared in the morning.
The energy in the downtown, a cute downtown made me sad in a ways for it is an energy i have felt elsewhere on the coast, in my time on the oregon coast, and when i was back east closer to the great lakes and in the rust belt. And it makes me feel the slipping of america, the energetic force fading in the search for comfort and security and safety and predictability. I do not sense a zest for life, a can do, we will make it work somehow, in some way mentality that i sensed more in central america and maybe among those who have come and now work the low wage jobs here in California. Is the flaccidness the physical manifestation of complacency. But it is not just that for there is good – clean streets are maintained, walking paths, parks, space and safety and a sense of beauty and aesthetic appeal. It is smooth, not at all rough around the edges, smoothed out and bland and calm. It is proclaimed as an ideal community, and maybe it is, but to me it seems frozen in time.
What is ironic is that it represents the peace and quietude i craved for so long on my journey through bustling places of noise, chaos, smells and movement, of life lived loudly and to the extreme. Is is possible to have both life and serenity?

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Those Mexican buses – i forgot how luxurious they are, with cushioned reclining seats that you reserve, plenty of leg room, curtains on the windows, reading lights, air-conditioning, toilets (with soap and paper), and movies – and now with over head speakers that you can turn off (but still have the sound around) and baggage claim tags for your bags that are placed in locked compartments under the bus, and even a real ticket office.

I took the bus from Palenque to san cristobal today, a journey of about 6 hours over mountainous roads full of topes (speed-bumps). At first the luxury astounded me as i sunk into my individual seat, and for a moment i loved it – especially after cramped vans, chicken busses and the like. It has been two months since i rode a first class bus on my journey up from Managua , and this was so much nicer. But then i began to feel removed from the land i passed through – a feeling i remember having on the Tica Bus.

I looked through my window at the villages, the homes, the low lush mountains and then the higher drier mountains with pine and coffee and scrub, and the people wanting to sell fruit and corn and barbeque chicken at the side of the road, and those who walked the road and i felt so separated from them all. High above, peering through. The movie could be heard in the background, a film with willie nelson, a film which most people watched with curtains drawn. I did not hear the sound of outside, or feel the air, or smell the smells, and i was one of the few who saw. The window was a barrier, acting like a veil, something between us.

And i thought of the bus as a container, one that takes people from place to place. The journey is only a means to an end on this bus, as it is on all for most. But here you have your own environment and need not be affected by what is outside – yes you feel the twists and turns and a bit of a bump as you fo over the topes, but the ride is smooth and you need not hang on on the curves. You become contained, a world onto yourself.

And i thought of meditation practices, of the stillness inside, of not being swayed back and forth by what is outside, but does that mean being disconnected. For the bus acts as a barrier, the in and the out firmly defined. For in reality all is porous and connected.

I arrived here, rested, back and legs in one piece, my ride was comfortable and safe. Yet somehow it did not seem as fulfilling as many other journeys though the landscape was spectacular and varied, crossing zones, lush jungle to what had been pine forests, through villages and towns, of plankboard homes with dirt yards, to build up towns of painted concrete blocks, sweeping vistas and close up view of chickens and pigs and people and children working and playing. Yet in the comfort a feeling of separation grew, with both outside the bus and within as bodies were not forced to touch and vendors did not come aboard with food and other smells, and except for the group of young mexican tourists in the back who joked between themselves for a while, no one needed to interact, no ayudante calling out a stop, or people jostling for position. It was comfortable and safe, but cut off from life outside.  The life i saw looked beautiful, one i wanted to see, but what if we had cut through harsh lands, industrial landscapes, – would i then want to be in the container. The stillness with meditation it to be still in all, for all is connected and all we pass through.- 

And i felt something missing, a disconnectedness. But when we pulled into town and passed the lines of crowded collectivos, or through another town past lines of camionettas (trucks) i did not want to crawl down out of my comfort. The other looked so hard, though i have done it before. The zone enclosed me, and made me hesitant to step outside of it.

I will ride another bus in another time, for all is part of the journey – from the back of trucks, to the painted school buses, to vans of varying quality to the luxurious first class mexican buses – all is different but similar.

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As i travelled through Nicaragua, and then passed through a poor corner of Honduras and then El Salvador i began to understand the ¨tica mentality¨a bit more – i know i generalize here, but the feeling that i had in Costa Rica was different, a country that prides itself on being middle class and peaceful and in many ways it is. When i was there i sensed an underlying conservatism, not in the sense of right wing at all, but in the sense of playing it safe. And it does that in my mind. But the people there seem to be aware of how good they have it compared to their neighbours, and are grateful for what they have, something that i think we have often lost in North America, for we know no different than the life we have had. There a focus on the dailyness, yes the family which we lack, and on simple consumption, but knowing that they are much better off than the neighbours to the north and south, acutely aware of it ‘ though poverty exists – ive read about 20% or so of the population ‘- about the same as in ¨the north¨ they do not focus on it – perhaps a blind eye, for it is not as bad as elsewhere, and they have education, healthcare etc – things that are not blindly taken for granted. And there is peace – and has been for a while – not the wars and conflicts and dictatorships that have plaqued its neighbors, and an awareness of it. In North America we have know life without war on our lands for so long we take it for granted. There is an appreciation for what they have.

And much of the land is preserved, not deforested or stripped away, much sold to tourism, but i guess thats the price to pay.

But there is also the feeling of being under seige – of crime and gangs in the cities where most people life, of no-go zones, (like in some places in the usa) and an economy in trouble, where ends are harder to meet, work hard and long, but can you make do, can you hang on. And much of the land is now for sale, not a bubble, for the world is global and a crisis in one land hits another, as the gringos try to sell the homes they can not longer afford, and neither can the locals.

But while there is a clinging and a consumer mentality, there seems to be an appreciation for what has been achieved. An appreciation us northerners do not always know.

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Tica Bus

I travelled from Managua to Guatemala City by Tica Bus, the international bus company that runs from Mexico down to Panama. A well-organized bus company, with finer buses, you know, with air conditioning, comfortable seats that recline, movies and bathrooms and curtains for the windows to block out the midday sun should you wish. And it was a comfortable ride, my day and a half on the bus, and am glad i took it – crossed three borders during those days, and while honduras, el salvador and guatemala are all part of the C4, the bus company made it all easier – at times took our passports to the immigration desk for us, at other times, entering or exiting a country, the officials boarded the bus to check our papers, or we drove up to the office and lined up en mass – and it was so much easier than negotiating the complexities and disorganization of these crossings on my own. And cutting through the corner of honduras that seemed harsh, or riding the divided highways of El Salvador where police in black with large guns seemed to pull over many cars, i felt protected. Yet, somehow, i felt more distant from the land that we passed through than the times travelling on the chicken buses, bodies often pressed tight, vendors coming off and on the buses selling food, the windows wide open letting in the air of the places we passed through, and the frequent stops where you catch a glimpse of those getting off and on, and a still look at the places. And the tica bus was so much higher off the ground, and a luxury bus compared to those others we passed by. And while i was on it, i was glad for the comfort, and wondering if i could stand a chicken bus (ie school bus) again – yet, when i got to guatemala city, and passed through by cab, not wanting to take an expensive cab ride to antiqua (and i trusted the cabbie less than i trusted the ¨dangerous bus¨ , but when i got on the latter bus, i felt just as comfortable, though for a while we sat 3 to a seat and had to hold on tight as we turned the corners, and stopped in many places, it felt more real and connected to the land and people around.

And the ticabus was a container – and for me who stared out the window, less so that for those who sat with drapes closed watching the movies on the screens above. And it made me think about containers, even the cars we ride in, which distance ourselves from the world around, creating our own unique environments, separated from that outside. And how we are split off. And once we are there, how hard it is to step outside, for we imagine the discomforts and the dangers and remain where we are in a privileged world. On the bus, the goal is the destination, put up with the journey in as much comfort as possible – and you get where you had planned to go safe and secure.

I write this from Antiqua, another container, one that is comfortable, but where dangers lurk on the hills outside, and you do not venture out there on your own, and i think it is kind of the same thing. Or when we lock ourselves away in our communities or ourselves, in that which is comfortable, standing above, and on the straightest route, and do not see or interact with that which is around. Or i wonder, do we need to do that in order to make it to our destination unchanged.

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I have walked around the centre of Granada too many times, circling the central squares, walking the restored streets in the centre of town so many times that i should know them by heart by now. Finally had the guts to walk down to the lake, had been wanting to for several days, but i felt afraid to venture beyond the zone, the zone that is marked in darker green on the tourist map. Still, i have not really felt the energy here, have not really looked, too consumed by the voice in my head that says “what the fuck have you done now – just what have you gotten yourself into this time girl.?” wondering just what i am doing here, why i have come to this land.

What is it that i hope to see? What is it that i have to prove? I pace the streets, the same ones over and over, feeling like a street walker of sorts – see a few others who do the same.

Maybe it is because i have not really met anyone since i arrived despite moving between hostels – the first one empty, talked to a couple, her mainly as he was sick for a day and a young german girl who i could tell felt as caged as i but i was exhausted that first night and just wanted to sleep. It was recommended by the woman who i met on the bus, attached to a non-profit centre which felt good. Yet it was the people who used the centre who took up the common couches in a group and i felt like hiding in my private room – a guys bonding and tv watching and i felt lonely. I walked around, not in the present, wondering where to move to and checked out the other places – most seemed just as bare except 3 – one a party place, the other a pothead place, and the one where i am now – a much younger crowd and i do not seem to bond with any – more in groups sticking to themselves – and many who are on the way to the beach and spend intense late nights at the bars – so that may influence how i feel here.

But i also feel like Granada is a large tourist city – an old montreal, a quebec city where you do not venture beyond the walls. Is it because i have entered a poorer country and notice the difference, the street dogs are skinny not like in Costa Rica, and when i do see the side streets and look inside the homes i see it, as i did when we crossed the border and the simple country homes of costa rica (which looked poorer as we approached the border) became shacks. Is it just a city vibe descending upon me? Is it a new culture shock? Or is it travel without a purpose? My plans messed up by the time on my tourist card 30 vs the 90 in my passport so it is hard to commit. I spend time sitting in cafes, in front of the computer, yes, maybe this is gift i had been given since i said i wanted the time and focus to write and it has been forced upon me. Or is this a realization of what i have felt before, travelling, observing, standing on the outside. That the difference between those who visit and those who reside is so great – and i am on the other side.

I visit the churches – magnificent outside, but so plain within – high ceilings but devoid of much decoration. I climb the tower in one and look out over the city, much greener than it appears from the street, as all the trees are in the courtyards to the homes. The centre area is nicely restored, smoother sidewalks, fresh bright paint of blue, orange, yellow etc. on the buildings you walk beyond, sidewalks crack and paint fades. It does not seem dangerous like a big city, few policemen or armed guards, just outside the banks where they sit bored, watching the money changers who patrol the corners outside.

It is dusk, i hear the birds sing outside in the park, gathering in the trees.

I was not the only one who feared the walk to the lake – just a few blocks beyond where the dark green zone and the pedestrian area of Calle la Calzada ends. I went today, a Sunday, and a few families walked down the emptier boulevard. I had walked some side streets on my way there – past homes, a few horses grazing on an empty lot, kids playing ball in a street. There is little down there at the lake, polluted is seems. A few from the hostel were wondering about going down and had been told to be careful so it was not only me.

My new hostel is on the edge of the market area which goes on for blocks – narrower streets with vendors selling shoes, lotto tickets (everywhere) food, bras, DVDs with tvs set up on the street which at night a few sit on chairs and watch, taxis (not the uniform red of Costa rica) but a variety of cars, many beaters, most older, some independent, others granada taxis, and a few buses mainly longer distance, and the bicycles other with more than 1 person, and the mini bikes and motor cycles, a few horses with carts (the nice horse-drawn buggies do not include the busy market on their route), and the people, buying, selling, bread comes out at night, a few men carrying large bags on their heads, and a few women baskets, all walk on the shady side of the street (it is hot here and the sun is strong) and the sidewalk is full of vendors, so it is a mix of pedestrians and vehicles. The market building itself is dark inside and a bit of a maze – i enter breifly – in the front section many bras, tshirts and shoes, yes more shoes.

I venture beyond to the bus area to Rivas where i might go, a block beyond the market down a narrow side street. All are helpful, i look at the unpaved lot with old yellow school buses, a crowded one pulls out, and i wonder about the romance of bus travel in this area. The expresos that go to Managua and then with a transfer to Leon, while cramped mini-buses with open doors to let in some air, do not seem so bad.

I shut myself down and hide inside quiet a bit. Most are friendly, the vendors are not agressive, a few beggars, and a few kids that seem to be trouble, wanting food from the table at restos, but seeming strung out.

So many kids, in arms and all. the sidewalks and streets vary from packed to empty with little in between.

Still i wonder why i am here? That as a poor gringa i am a rich nica and can enjoy the cafes and places to stay that i could not at home? What do i want to do here – write but about what if i shut myself down and do not reach out? I feel caged – makes me appreciate the freedoms of home.

I do not know what to do with myself? Volunteer – but where – i want internet connection so not an isolated farm. my time here is shorter than i imagined – need to cross north or south and that has been eating at me. but with that, have wasted at least a day, which has become valuable, mulling over it. I am not as in love with Granada as i had imagined. Yes, the colonial centre has been restored, but i had been expecting something more, had rushed up here, had built it up in my mind perhaps too much so.

I have taken few pictures here – do not feel as comfortable pulling out the camera. Do i head north up to Leon another colonial town or down to isla ometepe? Only tomorrow will tell. Or is this just culture shock?

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