Alone

[Translated from original post: “¿SOLA?”]

“I am amazed,” our Dublin tour guide tells us as we sit down. “Ninety percent of the people in this group are women, and they’re all traveling alone. It’s a bit unusual.” I look around me. Sitting at the bar, and at the tables crowding the stuffy room, are approximately ten women. Their ages vary, and the air is filled with the capricious will of youth and the sagacity of experience. We chat and nod our heads while sipping on polychromatic glasses of beer.

True, there are many women in this group. But there’s something about the word “unusual” that catches my attention. I wonder if these women also feel “unusual.” I realize, then, that our friendly guide’s comment doesn’t surprise me. Even before I had bought a plane ticket and put on a backpack the mention of the word “alone” had made many eyebrows rise.

“Alone?” they asked. Then there was usually silence, coming from those who didn’t want say what they really thought. I also heard “You must be crazy,” and “Aren’t you afraid?” many times. I never knew what to answer then. I laughed politely and said I wasn’t, then quietly wondered if I should be afraid. My personal favorite, the one that made me determined to do it- and gave me a reason to reconsider the definition of “crazy”-  was when someone gave me a lecture on dangerous reality of travel for women and ended with the question, “Haven’t you seen Taken?”

I was scared; uncertainty, whether its physical or abstract- a place you’ve never been to, a new idea, the future- is composed, in part, by fear. But my fear didn’t have anything to do with my gender.

It’s riveting, like stories that last an eternity. The moment I decided to travel alone I became a potential victim of all that could happen to me for doing it. Was it wrong to not feel like at every corner I turned there might be a villain waiting to tie me down to the tracks of a train?

A month and a half after leaving home, I continued to come across people, men and women alike, who found a woman traveling alone to be something “unusual.” Their reactions varied between awe, some kind of admiration that wasn’t quite that, and worry. Some even doubted my family’s common sense.

“That’s very brave,” says a man whom I came upon while hiking one of the Tatra Mountains in southern Poland. “Walking in the woods and mountains all alone is not something a woman, certainly not my wife, would do.”

I didn’t feel brave, or unusual… I felt normal- for the first time in my life. Being there, being everywhere, alone, just made sense. I owned the ability to do so.

 

I may have been lonely, at times, but I never felt alone.

Sometimes I walked up and down streets, in silence, with my thoughts to keep me company, and that felt just fine. I’ve always been someone whose mind is like what a close friend of mine calls “a washing machine.” The problem with these is that you can’t enjoy them in the daily grind, when there’s no time to think a lot. So I thought a lot, and in my solitude learned how to pay attention to the inconspicuous details threatening to go unnoticed around me.

Once I sat on a bench, on a cold night in Bruges, to listen to a violinist play Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. I didn’t feel alone. History, musical notes frozen by the cold winter air, a dim enveloping lamp light, all squeezed me tightly in their arms and suddenly I was home.

I carried two backpacks, one was twice my size, and walked over 20km every day. I felt my legs strengthening, making it easier every day to carry the bags. My steps became lighter, and lighter, over time; as I moved my doubts and fears fell like crumbs, but I didn’t leave trail. I wasn’t interested in going back.

I wasn’t “alone” when I decided to spend an hour walking up a hill to watch the sun set over the city of Edinburgh.When I reached the top and lie on the grass and I feel my breathing slowly settling down as I place my hands on my chest. My lungs filled with fresh air. Free air. As free as I am in that moment.

Not even, when I hiked Mount Tatra for nine hours, just to get a sight of an elegant, gray, frozen lake surrounded by snow capped mountains. My thoughts, my reflections, my few years keep me company. Everything I want to do and see. The person I was and sometimes can’t remember; the person I am and the one I’m turning into.

I was accompanied by the warm smell of recently baked bread on the streets of Istanbul and the low murmur of people waking up to get to work. The memory of my grandfather held my hand when I found, hidden in a small, narrow street, a house selling ceramic statues that look just like the pictures he would draw before time grabbed him by the hand.

I’m accompanied by my memories: many good and some bad. All part of the unending puzzle that I continue to put together within and without.

Uncertainty makes itself known often. I can’t remember how many times I got lost, or how many times I didn’t understand what others were saying, or how many trains and planes and buses I chased. But in those moments, where I felt lost, and vulnerable, and “unusual,” I managed. And if I needed, someone was always there to lend a hand; to give me a reason to think I was in the right place.

Later that night, after the tour of Dublin, I sip on a pint in a pub on the outskirts of the city as I talk to Mike, an Irishman who tells me the stories behind the traditional ballads sung by a band in a corner. We share tales of our travels, while we avoid distant glances judging the outcome of a simple talk between two beings: one young, the other old; one waiting anxiously for the future, the other lingering on the past.

I rant about the expectations everyone has for each other. The necessity to instill the “right” way to live life. The mold, I tell him, the glass box- so transparent that we end up believing it doesn’t exist.

“Stop looking for excuses in others and star doing” he says stern-fatherly way. “Respect other’s choices and views, but go for what you want. You know exactly what it is.” We don’t know each other but in a second his words pin my restless, unusual feet back onto the surface of the earth.

 

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The Netflix Generation

Focus on class

obstructing human individuals

We are the Cultural De- Generation.

Social substances

imperiled by a market

of risk takers.

Cloud hoppers

hoping our feet won’t sink in the mist

of their mechanic wing.

Modern colonization

of ideas

thoughts

minds

bodies

soiled souls.

We are predatory ghosts to our

would have beens

scrolling with our eyes

and our fingers

living through lives that are not ours.

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Para Mila:

Somos mosaicos
Compuestos de pedazos
Que se quiebran con el tiempo

Enguijarrados de colores que cuentan historias

Trozos de carcajadas que hacen doler la panza
Fragmentos de llantos que hicieron doler el alma

Un cacho de marmol frio
Que se desprende de un corazon frigido
Cuando se enamora

Piedras de colores a la orilla del mar
Donde un pensamiento repentino
Se convierte en idea

Las Musas se mueven sin cesar por el aire y la tierra
Recolectando materiales silenciosamente

Uniendo las partes de esta obra existencial
Sobre el hilo rojo
Que conecta nuestras vidas

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¿Sola?

“Estoy asombrado” nos comenta un “walking tour guide” en Dublin. “El 90% de las personas en este recorrido son mujeres y todas viajan solas. Digamos que no es algo normal.”

Miro a mi alrededor. Sentadas en el bar hay aproximadamente diez mujeres; las edades varian y eso hace que haya una mezcla particular de juventud y sabiduría en el aire. Charlan y asienten la cabeza escuchando, mientras que degustan cervezas y esperan a arrancar la siguiente parte del recorrido.

Me encantaría decir que el comentario de nuestro simpático guía me sorprende. Pero no. Inclusive antes de que comience mi viaje la palabra “sola” suscita discusiones.

Escucho: “Sola?” del que no se atreve a decirme todo lo que piensa. “¿No te da miedo?” del que no sabe que más miedo me da todo lo que no voy a llegar a hacer. Y me instruyo de los que están bien informados: “Mira que es todo muy lindo, pero la realidad es que para una mujer viajar sola es mas peligroso…. No viste Taken?”
Desde que me fui, me sigo cruzando con gente, hombres y mujeres, que parecen pensar de la misma manera. Las reacciones varían entre asombro, horror, preocupación y duda en cuanto al sentido común de mis padres ¡¿Como puede ser que no me hayan encerrado en un cuarto hasta que se me vaya la fiebre- la locura- de querer viajar SOLA?!

“Que valentía,” me dice un hombre que me cruzo subiendo uno de los Montes Tatra, al sur de Polonia. “Estar caminando por el bosque y las montañas completamente sola, no es algo que haría mi mujer.”

¿Valiente?

Puede ser. Pero mas que valiente, me siento normal- por primera vez en mi vida. Estar acá tiene sentido. Simplemente porque este mundo es tan mío para explorar “sola” como de cualquier persona.

“Y usted señor, que sube la montaña solo, también se siente valiente?”

Es triste e interesante, como cualquier historia duradera. Desde el momento que decidí hacer un viaje sola me convertí en potencial víctima de todo lo que, sin haber siquiera armado la mochila, me podía llegar a pasar. Mentiría si dijese que en momentos no me plantee esperar a que alguien me acompañase. Mentiría también, si dijera que en este ultimo mes no hubieron momentos en donde surgieron dudas, miedos, inseguridades- inculcados en mi hace años- por todo lo que me puede llegar a pasar estando sola.

Como si un maleante con bigote estuviese esperando en cada esquina para atarme a las vías de un tren.

La realidad es que viajo “sola”, pero no lo estoy.

Porque cuando camino por la calle, por la montaña, en silencio, y dejo que me llene todo lo que me rodea, estoy mas acompañada que cualquiera.

Cuando me siento a escuchar un violinista tocar las cuatro estaciones de Vivaldi, una noche fría en una plaza de Brujas, no me siento sola porque no lo estoy.

Cargo con dos mochilas-una que parece ser el doble de mi tamaño- y camino mas de 20 kilometros todos los días. Siento que mis piernas y mis brazos se fortalecen y cada vez me pesan menos. Mi andar se vuelve más y más ligero con el tiempo, no solo porque mi cuerpo se endurezca, pero porque con cada paso dejo atrás dudas y ansiedades que cargue por veintidós años.

Las dejo para hacer lugar para las que están por venir.

No estoy “sola” cuando decido pasar una hora subiendo una colina para poder ver caer el sol sobre la ciudad de Edinburgo. Tampoco cuando paso nueve horas recorriendo el monte Tatra, para encontrarme con un lago gris, congelado, rodeado de montañas negras con capucha blanca.

Cuando llego a la cima y me acuesto en el pasto y siento que mi respiración se va des-acelerando; que mis pulmones se llenan de aire fresco, aire libre: tan libre como lo soy en ese momento.

Me acompañan mis pensamientos, mis reflexiones, mis pocos años. Todo lo que quiero ver y hacer. La persona que fui y que aveces no recuerdo; la persona que soy y en la que me estoy convirtiendo.

Me acompañan el aroma del pan recién horneado en las calles de Turquia y el murmullo de la gente levantándose a la mañana para ir a trabajar.

Me acompaña el recuerdo de mi abuelo cuando encuentro escondida en una calle angosta de Brujas una casa de estatuillas de cerámica que se parecen a los dibujos que hace mucho tiempo hacia el.

Me acompañan mi recuerdos: muchos buenos y otros malos. El interminable rompecabezas que voy armando por dentro y por fuera.

Tomando una cerveza en un pub de Dublin, converso con Mike, un viejo irlandés que me cuenta la historia de las baladas típicas que toca la banda y del recorrido que hace todos los años por el camino de Santiago de Compostela. Evadimos las miradas de hombres y mujeres, que desde lejos juzgan el desenlace de una simple charla entre dos almas: una joven, una vieja; una que mira hacia adelante, la otra hacia atrás.

Me quejo de las expectativas que tiene la sociedad; esa manía de inculcar la manera “correcta” de vivir la vida. El molde, le digo, la caja de cristal, tan transparente que hasta creemos que no existe.

“Stop looking for excuses in others and start doing”, dice con un aire severamente comprensivo. “Respect other’s choices and views, but go for what you want. You know exactly what it is.” No nos conocemos pero su sinceridad me manda de un bofetazo devuelta a la tierra.

La incertidumbre también pasea conmigo. Como cuando me quedo dormida en un tren y termino en un pueblo desconocido en el medio de Polonia a las 2:00am, sin un alma que me diga que hacer, o como reaccionar.

Así comienzo a confiar en mi instinto: respiro profundo, lucho en contra de la ansiedad y el miedo, busco la solución. Todo tiene solución.

Sí. Extraño la compañía de mis amigos y de mi familia. Sobre todo cuando pienso en algo y quiero compartirlo, pero tengo que conformarme con el silencio de una calle, o la hoja de un cuaderno.

A pesar de todo, la breve pero impetuosa soledad no me hace perder la convicción de que estoy haciendo lo que tengo derecho a hacer, como mujer y como ser humano, para crecer, para aprender, para enfrentar mis miedos y mis prejuicios. Para vivir rodeada de gente, culturas, y lugares nuevos- y así poder entender mejor los viejos.

 

 

Introduction

“Once again…welcome to my house. Come freely. Go safely; and leave something of the happiness you bring.”
― Bram Stoker

Let me start by saying, this is not a travel blog. Yes, I conveniently decided to begin blogging as my plane is about to lift off, and I make my way through the Atlantic back to the motherland with a backpack and a camera. But travel- or what I like to call human instinct leading the body- although important to its purpose, is only a small part of this blog. If I am being completely honest, it is an excuse to finally put something down and venture into the cybernetic world of angry, opinionated, emotional, and sometimes quite intelligent bloggers. I’ll fit in just fine.

It is a place for stories and happenings; for adventure and mischief. Getting on a plane was the easy part. It’s not the doing of things, but what we take from them that really matters. I decided that the only way I could fully understand what was going on around me, was to walk in someone else’s shoes, and think about what it took to do so after. What size and shape where they? What did the ground feel like? Do they feel light or heavy? Are they comfortable for me, or would I want to change them? Could I adapt and learn to live in them?

This blog might shift and change throughout time, and I can’t guarantee it will all be pretty. As a matter of fact, its flexibility is essential to the one purpose that, regardless of the theme, the style, the stories it tells, will never change: to make me, and anyone reading, pay attention, reflect, and think. Even if it is to laugh, or criticize, or wonder why anyone would give me access to technology. Honest and raw; uninhibited and unapologetic. That is the starting goal. If it changes, I am sorry in advance; if it doesn’t, I am sorry too (but hey I warned you and can’t be held liable for any psychological damages). If you’re feeling discouraged to continue reading, think of this blog as your favorite pokemon: it can only get better as it evolves.

Now this is where things get a little serious, so bare with me because I think it is necessary. More than anything, this space is an opportunity to look into what makes us all so individually complex yet intrinsically equal to one another. If there’s one thing that I’ve come to believe is that even though our capacity to garner knowledge, think, build, and create seems almost unlimited, our need and will to empathize with one another can be but mere ideology. The theory, or my theory in any case, is that beyond our basic human capabilities our ability to empathize is what separates us from other species- it’s also the one we historically seem to use the least. There’s an empathy gap. I know there are many other factors to consider, such as social policies and deeply ingrained norms, and all the what-nots it seems we cannot control. Whether I’m right or wrong either way works. The point is to connect the dots.

Writing has always been just that to me: connecting the dots. More specifically, the ones in my head. If you’ve ever felt like your mind changes from one thing to the other faster than a race car, giving your mouth absolutely no time or opportunity to keep up with it, then you understand what I mean. Some way or another the dots in your head are connected, and as you move from A-Z in a matter of seconds the thoughts leave you before they get a chance to speak them. Until you begin writing  things down.

So here I am, putting things down on….paper? So that I can learn, absorb, live a little piece of the world one step at a time to try to understand other people’s realities (past and present), and maybe make some sense of mine. To make things short(er): that is my madness, this is my method.