New Wanderings. Santiago.


First stop in South America was Santiago. I’d decided to forgo the laptop and just depend on my smartphone, one more way to be minimal. Just took an extra 16GB hard disk for my camera. I also gave myself an upgrade from the usual hostels to airbnb accommodations through the trip except La Paz but more about that as I write about those places. I booked a tiny room with Esteban and Arturo in Santiago Centro.

The plane manoeuvered itself through mountains and clouds to land on a rainy winter’s day, the Andes looming surreal as we touched down. They grew larger and intimidating as my shuttle went towards the city.

Slums on the outskirts, crumbling buildings, magnificent presidential palace, old world edifices, Santiago is a wonderful city. It could be in Europe but it is a remnant of colonialism and then the after effects of Western imperial interference.

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My first morning I walked to the Bio Bio flea market. I had assumed it started early but it was closed. So I took the 206 bus back to the city not knowing that buses in Santiago don’t take coins. The bus driver gave me a free ride to Santa Rosa and a wee lecture on getting a bus card. My host Arturo advised me to take the metro instead. I have been on the London, Paris, Berlin and Shanghai metros, I have done Singapore and Hong Kong but I give my gold medal to the Santiago Metro. Smooth travel, spacious stations, super security, signage, lots of art. It was a pleasure. No one stopped me taking photos or filming, a complete contrast to India where even a minor activity requires paying obeisance to self important overseers first.

The Centro Cultural de la Moneda is a small arts space in Santiago Centro, just below the Palais de la Moneda. Free entry, small and immensely interesting exhibitions, crafts shops and a cafe. This is a place worth visiting. I love art galleries and museums so I spent a lot of time here at the exhibition Grandes Maestros Del Arte Popular De Iberoamerica Coleccion Fomento Cultural Banamex-the great folk masters of Iberoamerica. Folk art from across South America reminded me of Madhubani and Warli art, Tapa cloth, various Pacific and indigenous weaves, sculptures and pottery. There was Christian art, lots of reference to death, mermaids, and tree like installations that I did not understand but assume are about Catholicism.

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Santa Lucia is like Mount Eden in Auckland except that it has lovely old structures and easy steps. There were lovey-dovey cuddling couples kissing endlessly in every nook and cranny. All other visitors, from skater bois to grown men everyone loved their selfie stick. There is a great artisan market on the other side of the road.

A little further up the road still in Santiago Centro (Alameda # 20) I discovered the best pizza ever at Pizzeria Bella Italia. I was careful to mostly eat vegetariano as they say in Español and there was quite a choice.

Chile must be the rare non-Western country that has a poet for a national icon. I searched and searched for English translations of Pablo Neruda’s poems but did not find any. It was at the Fondo De Cultura Economica in Santiago Centro that I found a an entire shelf dedicated to poets but no Neruda. Instead I bought a book of poems by Oscar Hahn for a young Colombian boy I am mentoring.

The place I was most interested in visiting was the Museo de la Memoria y Los Derechos Humanos, the museum of memory and human rights.

A modern structure on a very European looking street this building holds the stories and memories of the toppling of Salvador Allende and the cruel regime of Augusto Pinochet that was supported by Western ‘democracies’. This is a permanent exhibition. There are posters of the victims, torture instruments are on display, there is a section called El dolor de los niños, the pain of the children, all reminding me of the Stasi Museum in Berlin. I alternated between being very angry to tearful and then saluting the spirit of the Chileans for bringing back democracy. History is made by the people and while democracy and liberty are not perfect concepts they are worth fighting for. Even a ‘state of democracy’ is not static but a work in progress that should still have at it’s base and as it’s aim human betterment and independence, where social hierarchy and religious hegemony are disrupted constantly-not for the purpose of unrest but for mobility and hence freedom. And there are other exhibitions that look at other countries, their struggle for human rights. There was a photo exhibition on the complexity of the ‘war on drugs’ in Colombia called Violentology. A quote from another exhibition called Los Durmientes El Exilio Imaginado (The Railway Ties/The Imaginary Exile) by Enrique Ramirez said “Time as experienced through memory is not linear but rather a kind of pileup of events that become linked, tangled, blended together.” There is an audio-visual archive in the top floor that stores from across the world material related to this period of Chilean history. The librarian told me his memories of Pinochet’s return to Chile and his frustration that he never stood trial. We chatted via broken English and Español about democracy, refugees, migration and what not and would have gone on. Random conversations with strangers are most often the delights of low brow travel. But one has to go to the next destination. It was time to say ciao to Santiago.

More photos at https://www.flickr.com/photos/drsapna/albums/72157657651187374/page1

 

Wanderings again. South America. Prepping.


Long time since I posted anything. The intention is there not the time. Sometimes procrastination, sometimes fear. I might have lost my touch, I am a fake writer…then I remember..this is to share my thoughts and be grandiose enough to think people actually want to know. The thoughts were cooking and maturing. Ripening. There is a Hindi word for it पनपना.

I was coming to the end of my hospital runs, eighteen months in a hell where love and empathy are at the bottom of the list, and I needed to go somewhere to renew myself. I had two weeks paid leave (that I’d applied for months in advance), dreams of losing myself in a new adventure and finding the purpose of my existence again. I mean I know the purpose of my life but it requires reiteration from time to time. Especially when you are coming out of a black hole called hospital that has sucked your life blood and left you purely in survival mode existing day to day. I had just been to India (post about that later), I love Asia but it is not out of my comfort zone; Asia is home. I could have gone to Europe again but I am comfortable there too. The U.S does not interest me yet and anywhere in Africa is too far away.

I don’t know where and how South America came on my radar but the more I looked at it the more I liked the idea. The original plan was to do Chile only. Santiago is a direct thirteen hour flight from Auckland. However Chile is a vertical country and it was going to be either the North or the South.Chile Map

So it had to be Bolivia, a square-ish country. That I did not speak Español or that Bolivia had/has the reputation of being dangerous did not deter me one bit. If I could survive Shanghai knowing only three sentences in Mandarin, then Bolivia was a cakewalk.

I read Lonely Planet and blogs about Bolivia. It is not an easy place to access. My travel agent Shane Lust (yes you need one to do these out of way places) and I went back and forth working around dates and flights. Even then he could not book the domestic flights in Bolivia. Amaszonas is the only airline that you can book from outside Bolivia. There is a government airline but it is unreliable. I spent many anxious moments trying to confirm flights and pay online. Then I phoned their call centre and the process was smooth after that.

My travel doctor not only gave me my yellow fever shot but also advised me on how to plan my itinerary. La Paz, the highest capital in the world, was where I should spend time at the end of the trip; I had to avoid altitude sickness. So it was going to be La Paz-Uyuni-Sucre-Rurrenabaque-La Paz.

It was winter in New Zealand and winter in Sud America. The temperature drops to 0° in Bolivia but it was going to be hot in the Amazon rain forest! I had to buy a new backpack because I’d given my old one to my niece who was going on a school trip to Japan. Buying a backpack is quite an exercise. There are many, many helpful articles from other wanderers/travellers. Since I had gone through that process once I knew what to get the second time. It was easier because I found a really cheap one at Kathmandu. Next on the list were woollen socks, a light merino jacket and other bits all from Macpac. The idea was to take 4 pairs of clothing  such that I could wash and dry locally in laundromats. Layered winter clothing is essential, as any New Zealander will tell you. Then there is sunscreen, lip balm, a hat, gloves, beanie, scarves. All essential whether winter or summer. That I would not get clean water in Bolivia was a given but I worried about my environmental clutter buying bottled water. Until I discovered this beauty.

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Simple, easy to use and carry. A life long investment for travellers like me. Of course I also took water purifying tablets and coffee filters to strain water.

For this trip I upgraded myself from hostels to airbnb accomodation. I also decided to forego my laptop and only connect with my phone.

One last thing, the most important thing. Travel insurance. Medical students getting ready to go overseas on their elective told me about World Nomads. Cheap, effective insurance. I even got myself air evacuation, just in case. Another thing, on par with insurance, was to register on safetravel.govt.nz a New Zealand Ministry Of Foreign Afairs and Trade initiative that not only offers travel advisory but are able to count Kiwi heads via local embassies and consulates in case of emergencies. They will come looking for you even if you are deep in the jungle. Because they know. After what happened at Bataclan in Paris I will register wherever I go, except Australia. I was all set to go wandering, again.

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Ready, steady, go! Souff America!

 

Brave New World of Yoga


Source: Brave New World of Yoga

Here is an inspiring post from a yogi. I often laugh off skinny white women in their Lululemon Athletica and spray tanned skin talking about ‘yoga’ because I believe that the truth cannot be appropriated, that for every such instant-nirvana seeker there are yogis who, with their truth, will carry on and that stream is ever flowing. (I don’t mean the angry Baba Ramdev types who propagate Hindu extremism through their teachings, that is equally corrupt.)

Maybe I should defend yoga more often when the next skinny white woman rubs it into my face?

New Wanderings. Castles And Cathedrals. Strasbourg 3.


And a bit of Deutschland.

It is kind of weird I started to write this while on my trip to India in April because the obsessive compulsive kind of person that I am, it was necessary to finish stories and impressions from my trip to Strasbourg first. Then I was meant to talk about my India trip but by the time I’ve completed this post I have also been to Chile and Bolivia. Strasbourg is like, so last year. :-)

Alsace is full of medieval castles and Gothic cathedrals. The Strasbourg cathedral is a case in point. The first time I saw it, bang in the middle of the town square, dark, imposing, intimidating, sharp angles and jutting bits, I was not impressed. I mean as a structure itself, it is quite an achievement. Must have taken a lot of labour and time to complete it. The fear of God perhaps being the biggest driver. Who wants to face the wrath of the Almighty, and then the monks/clergy/whatever the church dwelling types are called. But as a religious building it is unwelcoming. Of course I wandered through as did so many tourists. The stained glass windows are quite amazing, so is the imagery, tea lights and candles adding to the atmosphere.  I climbed to the top of the spires, got a super view of Strasbourg. But imposing does not mean invitational and inclusive. I don’t have a single photo of the cathedral. They disappeared from my memory card; some sort of conspiracy of the universe. I can’t prove what I said, this ugly cathedral that is the main attraction in town.

My friend S and her friend took me on the Route des Vin D’Alsace. Little villages, medieval castles, an interesting fairyland Christmas shop, vineyards, poppies growing wild, cherry orchards, liberty monuments, the French countryside in the summer.

My trip to Alsase was memorable. I loved Strasbourg, loved the Black Forest, loved Baden Baden. S and her parents were such lovely hosts. I will go again. To Strasbourg.

Check out my photos here

The French Approach to “Anti-Racism” — Pretty Words and Magical Thinking


This is just me procrastinating some more and avoiding completing my travel stories from my trip to Strasbourg last year (this time last year I was house-sitting, cat-sitting, cruising around through Alsace with the mad Alsatian.) I have been to India and back and that is another post but being the OCD person I am, I have to finish telling my stories according to the timeline. Non-linearity is for my fiction. So I came across this post which I had to reblog. Just this afternoon I had a discussion (more like me putting across my points vehemently) about increasing the refugee quota to New Zealand. My argument being that I am tired of white bleeding hearts who want to save lives but don’t have a plan to support refugees once they are here. Resettlement is not integration, where are the resources, what about the racism, health, jobs, education etc. All on Twitter. The ‘pretty words and magical thinking’ in this title made me want to read it and I was transported to France, the people of colour I saw, who were so visible yet not included in mainstream discourses…I have mentioned this before… Anyway, this is an interesting piece.

Aware of Awareness

I first came to France twelve years ago during my junior year abroad. I was the first person in my family to get a passport and I could barely contain my excitement. In the winter of 2003, two years before the riots that followed the untimely deaths of 15 year old Zyed Benna and 17 year old Bouna Traore, I landed in Paris bright-eyed and bushy tailed, armed with a very shaky grasp of French and a naive fascination with this beautiful country.

As an African-American, I was vaguely aware that France did not deal with issues of race the way we do in the United States. And when I happened to forget, French white people were keen to remind me. In one of the sociology classes I took at a university in the south of France, I hesitantly raised my hand to ask a question. The white French professor had…

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New Wanderings. Musée et musing, sort of. Strasbourg-2


I love museums. To go to a new city means to visit at least one museum there. Strasbourg has so many museums like every city in Europe.

I took the tram to Museé d’Art Moderne et Contemporain, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.

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I can live in a museum. Nah actually I can live in a library ;-) I would be dead and preserved if I lived in a museum eh. :-D The Louvre can tire you, there is so much to see and absorb but this museum in Strasbourg is compact and just right.

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Then I discovered Gustave Doré. This here is one of his most famous paintings-Le Christ quittant le prétoire.

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He illustrated Danté’s Inferno, he was cartoonist and sculptor as well. He was modern and contemporary and a pioneer whose influence is especially obvious on almost all graphic novels I have read until now.

There is a reason why I love museums. Because I learn new things all the time. How does Doré’s work affect my life? I now I have a reference for the ‘comics and cartoons’ I see AND work I look at in creative moments.

Next time I am in Strasbourg I will visit this museum again.

New Wanderings. Strasbourg-1


I must have told this story so many times, once more does not matter.

When I went to Europe in 2009, I mixed my Schengen visa dates (I had an Indian passport) so I had to cancel the Strasbourg leg. I don’t know why I chose to go to Strasbourg that time. It just seemed like an attractive city that no one I knew had travelled to or had even heard about. Which is strange because the European Parliament, the International Institute of Human Rights, Arté and the University Of Strasbourg are some of the institutions in this city. I was gutted I could not visit but let it go. I had been to Europe, my very own OE, and we all make planning mistakes. (Ha, wait till I write again about how I missed my flight back to NZ from Berlin because I forgot the date :-))

There I was, in Strasbourg. Through the last week of May and the first week of June 2014.

We drove from Surbourg into Strasbourg. We were flat and cat sitting.

We stayed for three days then moved to another part of town, again, flat sitting. This time for S’s cousin and her partner.

Moving gear at night, searching for a place to park, I almost did not notice the three young sex workers at the entrance of the building. Very young and one very pregnant, all of African origin. Before that, as we stopped at a set of lights, there stood a beautiful, slender woman. Only in her shirt it seemed. I looked closer. Was this a new French fashion? No she wore nude stockings under her shirt, appearing nonchalant on the street. Seeking business. My middle class bleeding heart cannot fathom what compels a woman to be in this industry. A very difficult life with no light, no love, and … I can imagine as I wish but it is not so simple is it?

The third time we moved to flat sit was to Gershteim, a village an hour by bus from Strasbourg. I thought the flat was ultra modern, S just laughed. She did not think so. And although the view was not great it was peaceful and quiet, not far from Strasbourg, with a good bus connection. Gershteim was lovely. 

So although I was a tourist I got to see Strasbourg from the inside which I would have never managed if I’d visited in 2009. I loved wandering the streets, I cycled, very afraid to crash into a person or car, I almost walked into a tram forgetting that in Europe they drive on the other side of the road, I really liked Strasbourg. I could live there. I see myself working with the Institute Of Human Rights with relation to refugee health/medicine, and telling stories for Arté.

 

New Wanderings. Part 6. Alsace.


Alsatians are from Alsace. And no I am not talking about dogs but a French-German human subtype from a region that was in Germany, then France, then Germany and finally in France at the conclusion of WWII. My friend S is a native of the Alsace region. Her grandfather cared for the forest on the French side bordering the Rhine. He even planted trees there. S told me stories of her ancestors who grew up speaking German then had to learn French when Alsace became part of France and then their children who had to learn German when it was taken over by Das Vaterland. So on and so forth. But they all spoke Alsatian, the language and so does S. Her parents live on a farm in a village and they were curious to meet me, They had never seen an Indian in real life before! So many questions they had. The dot on the forehead, poverty, dirt, chaos, food, Bollywood film songs…I was exotic, from another world, and S getting more and more embarrassed of her parents. :-) Then they took me out for lunch. Real French local food in a restaurant in a neighbouring village.

Bouchées à la reine

Monsieur M drove me to see oil in the middle of the French forest. Oil in France! There used to be a budding oil industry in France. What would have happened if it had burgeoned and France became an oil supplier for the rest of the world? Language barriers meant I could have have proper discourse with Monsieur M but it did make me wonder. Oil producing countries have a ‘special’ place in our world. Whether as bullies or cultural and religiously rigid. Or just as hotbeds of conflict. Maybe France would have wielded more imperial power?

The little villages in the region were so interesting.

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Alsace pottery is a speciality so of course I went into the local studios and bought myself souvenirs.

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If I were to compare the rural Alsace region to say, Samoa, then the disparity, the idea of rural idyll and subsistence within are so vastly apart that the inequality could not be imaginable to anyone in Alsace. France tested nuclear weapons in the Pacific not so long ago. I mentioned the Rainbow Warrior only once, no one knew anything about it. That world does not exist for the French, for most Europeans. Except in an exotic sense perhaps.

I travelled a lot through the Alsace region, through wine country, wandering through medieval castles, eating organic local food, being a tourist but with an inside view. My main hub though was Strasbourg and one of the museums I visited was the Alsace museum.

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New Wanderings. Part 5. Baden Baden


What it is called when, at almost 10.30 pm you are somewhere along the Western German border, driving around in a rickety car, peering through the windows at (and admiring) the German architecture but you really don’t know where you are because your stubborn friend does not possess a smart phone, refuses to use a GPS but refers to a hand drawn map that is mainly squiggles? It is called an adventure! Like being in a dream from which you cannot get out because it is not a dream. So there we were, creeping along the streets in ‘rural’ Germany wondering if we had reached Baden Baden, searching for an abbey that was to be our abode for the weekend. We almost went towards the Black Forest, then back again because we could not find the Lichtentaller Allee wherein was the Lichtental Abbey. It was almost midnight when we scrambled for the key in the cubbyhole outside the massive gates and finally found our room.

Baden Baden is famous for its spas. British royals would go there during dreary English winters to bathe in the hot water pools and enjoy the atmosphere. Feeling much like that, we decided to go to the oldest spa in town. The Freidrichsbad is tucked away in a corner and one cannot imagine the grandeur within from the external Neo-Classical structure. These baths are supposed to be 300 years old and, in keeping with glorious German tradition, one can enjoy the various hot pools only in the altogether. There are separate areas for men and women and there are spaces for both. The main pool in the centre of the building, as if from the Arabian Nights perhaps, is where, if you are brave, you can dip in the warm waters, hoping not to catch a glimpse of male bits. For all my bravado I chose the female only bathing areas and then, when I went into the central pool I averted my eyes from the few masculine dangling parts hanging around. (EEK!) Although I must declare that it is on my bucket list to swim naked in the river Spree during a Berlin winter. Freidrichsbad is an amazingly luxurious experience that is seemingly unchanged since it started three centuries ago, and that plebeians can also enjoy.

These days it is the oligarchs and the not-as-rich Russians who apparently own half the town. My friend could spot the Roossies from afar even when they spoke fluent German. There are signs of Russian favoured consumption almost everywhere. Have a look at these pictures, there is nothing more to say. And also listen to S’s running commentary in the background as I try to film a video display in the shop window. :-)

The unpopularity of Russians in Europe is historical. I have not been able to figure it out and since the only Russian I know is a sweet, mad woman who is a wanderer like me there is not much of a sample to extrapolate from a reason why.

On our last day we went for a hike up to Badener Hohe, the highest peak in that area in Schwarzwald, the Black Forest. Every tree in every forest has its own energy that gives out a collective aura that, if you let it (and you should let it) engulf you. Schwarzwald has a unique force. Inviting and calming, with centuries of history and evolution oozing from every stone and leaf. It was surreal. In den Schwarzwald zu Fuss und I hugged a tree and two. ‘Coz I love forests.

(You can see more photos on my Flickr stream.)

 

 

New Wanderings. Part 4. Crossing Borders And A Vegan Dinner


Entzheim Airport, even though it is an international airport, is a one shack affair compared to Schiphol. My friend S was waiting for me and we were both pinching ourselves, like, did we not just have a long conversation on the phone about me booking my next holiday to France? And I am here, I am bloody here! :-)

It was almost 6 pm. Her rickety car’s left side view mirror was missing and we were on the highway. First stop was a vegan restaurant where she had booked us a table for a meal cooked by Timo Franke. I’d never had a vegan meal before so I was curious. But more on that later. We were on the highway, one minute in France and nek minnit on the autobahn im Deutschland across the Rhine. The mountains of the Black Forest misting over as the sun set. It was surreal. As dusk fell we drove through German villages chocker with mansions and Mercedes. The last time I was in Europe the recession was just setting in but maybe these villagers always lived like that? The restaurant was in the middle of a paddock; ponies cantering about; pollen floating in the twilight. I had travelled from the bottom of the world, spent a night in Tokyo and was about to have a vegan meal in a paddock on the border of Germany and France. Totally how I visualise my life.

Veganism is new to me. I have yet to understand the philosophy of eating food in order to reject the commodity status of animals. I know Mahatma Gandhi advocated against drinking cow’s and goat’s milk because he did not want animals to be exploited but then that was part of his lifelong experiments with himself and his life; his experiments with truth. And he did care about the starving millions in India. I am not sure what modern vegans think about that. Many a discussion have I had with Western vegans and vegetarians about what such eating habits mean in a larger context and why they potentially spawn commercial exploitation of land, labour and human behaviour; whether animal rights more important than or equal to human rights etc. This topic is a post in itself and likely contentious. I have seen too many hungry, malnourished people to live by this philosophy alone.

However that does not take away from the lovely Timo’s passionate cooking. My first five course vegan meal was an unforgettable experience.

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Then it was on to Baden Baden in the rickety car. :-)