On the road again... not aimlessly

Tonight I feel trapped in the same cycle lots of people feel trapped in. Doing the same thing day in day out, somewhat aimlessly. I have the same questions as everybody else. What the hell am I doing? And what for? (Are you looking for adventure? Why are you here? Alone?) The only difference is my days in days out seem more edgy than, say, an office job. So what in tarnations am I complaining about?

Even while I am thinking that I am ready to be done, I know these have not been aimless years on the move; they have been for their own purpose. I needed to hop off the teeter-totter and ride the merry-go-round for a while. Itchy feet. Wanderlust. Whatever centripetally propelled search. My favorite playground activity has always been swinging, though. I suppose that means I need a little of both sides and to find balance. It's also (interestingly) one of the few recess pastimes you can do by your lonesome.

But I really wasn't looking forward to traveling by my lonesome again. It's not that one way is better than another way (accompanied or alone). They are completely different creatures. Once you are familiar and OK with both, you probably don't mind doing either one, but it's normal to have a preference--and even normal for this preference to change depending on circumstances and the time/space you occupy in your life. It's kind of like pets. Some people prefer dogs; some people'd rather have cats. Just because you think you like cats more, doesn't mean you won't someday have a dog, which you love like a child.

In some ways I started to get excited to travel on my own. The freedom! The easiness. But traveling with Serkan hasn't been difficult. On my own I might do more girly groomy things like do something with my damaged mane, or skip it all and go to farm-like yoga retreats. But the other repetitive travel crap is tiring. Men. I am not single. I'm not in the mood for flirtations. It's annoying not to be to be left alone when solo. When I am with Serkan, guys don't follow me around like the stray dogs of Puerto Natales, and the gross noises from their spittle spotted mouths are fewer. I miss that peace I have with Serkan and that sense of ...well... I guess it's security.

Lisbon and lost luggage

I arrived to Lisbon today. The day started at 3.30am with a short, expensive ride to Schipol Airport. Just me and my great big many-galloned backpack. Archteryx, blue, some black, patches on the lid. Each detail has its own special sku number at the airport. If I had it right now, I would take out a stick of incense and light it. But it still hasn't arrived. I should have known it was no good when I was told to lug it to the odd-sized baggage area before 5 a.m. Nobody was there, so I waited. A Dutch family also had some odd-sized baggage to drop, we walked around and found a manned drop.

It will get on the flight, right?
Yes, of course, no problem.

After waiting two hours at belt #9 for odd-sized items in the Lisbon airport, I describe my pack to the overly busy lost luggage office. I fill out an official lost luggage report, and I am on my way to the city center. I have no load, so I figure instead of queueing up for the taxi and paying some outrageous fare, I would just bus and metro it. I get directions and make it fine. I have even planned ahead this time, and not only do I have a place to go, I have the address and phone number of the hostel handy.

I walk up and down Avenida Altamirante Reis. It's hot, I am still in heavy travel jeans, and I lumber through the sketchy hood shouldering the most uncomfortable laptop bag I have ever met. I cannot for the life of me find the place. I pass by where it is supposed to be a couple of times and find a public phone. (Thank goodness there are public phones here.) I call. They say yeah, that is the number, you have to walk down the street more, closer to where the avenue turns into a smaller street. OK. Another hour. I am starting to feel whiney and desperate. Nobody knows the hostel, though everyone wants to help, tries to help. Normally I wouldn't be so attached to a hostel I couldn't find, I would just let it go and look for another one. But I gave the airport this invisible hostel's address, and it's where they are going to deliver my pack, if my pack ever arrives.

Eventually I hail a cab and ask if he knows where the place is. He doesn't really, but I get in anyway, because I figure we can cover more ground by auto and maybe he can call them on his cell to get better directions, in Portuguese. It turns out to be exactly where I thought it was the first time, you know, an hour or so ago when I called and they said I should keep walking downhill. The driver is horrified and says how muito perigoso this neighborhood is. I already know it's pretty dangerous, because I had been walking around the same area for hours already. You don't have any friends here? You are here all by yourself? Why? Are you looking for adventure? This is no place for you to stay. You could stay at my house. I am just driving the taxi all day anyway, and it's only seven km from the airport.

So that's where I am now. Haha, just kidding.

Really, I ended up in Portugal for reasons of yoga, rural farmlands, and dishwashing galore. I'm not looking for adventure, rather for peace, solitude. In having someplace quiet to go, I am, in fact, trying to escape travel for a bit. Traveling's hard. So often nothing works out the way it's supposed to, the way you plan it to. Just. Like. Life. This is starting to sound like a Black Sheep article. It's just that when you're out there on the road, it's only natural that you and life come within grimace distance of each other more often. How we divide ourselves from our lives is a whole other story altogether.

In Amsterdam

My friends greeted me at the Amsterdam airport in true Holland style, bikes and all. We first took a train to where the bikes were parked and then cycled home, weaving through the green parks in the breezy evening. Nico shouldered my pack and I sat on the rack behind Marjan.

First I must say that the fact of being picked up at the airport was a trip in itself. I can't remember the last time someone was inside the airport waiting for me. Normally I walk coolly past all the hugging or tearful reunions, sometimes with balloons or flowers and often with kids; and the anxious people waiting for loved ones--the faces that light up with the sight of their beloved behind me, or that slight let-down look every time another body comes into view, and it's not the anticipated body. I normally like this part of arriving and of airports in general. People giving each other the ol' once over, arms out and a step back and the upanddown looking. At this moment everybody looks good, refreshing even. The waiting's over and you get to drink each other in, tall glasses of cool water. These reunions make me smile and, admittedly often choke me up a little. So it was cool to be hugging this time and not just watching everybody else hug.

Rain scented that first evening, but it didn't start to tip until the next morning. And tip it did. I kept thinking, July? I am sissying out to the cold again after being so long in Turkey. But even though it rains, just a little every day, the days are also lovely. Green and flowery. Songbirds and rustling leaves of ubiquitous trees, which sound like rain even when the sun's drying everything off.

We've been having a lot of fun, cooking, catching up, museuming and eating delicious meals. Marjan and I kayaked through the canals for a few hours on Sunday up north a little in Waterland. We parked the kayaks at a tea garden for some tea and cake about halfway. The whole time I was amazed at how "perfect" everything is. I don't think I have ever been to a place so manicured. The houses are all different, so it's not like the wacky manicured look of our new age of cookie-cutter, tract housing. Here it feels simultaneously cute yet strange. What makes perfect perfect, and when is perfect too perfect? All super picturesque in any case.

For dinner we met up with Nico to eat Thai food, which I haven't had since I was last in California. Red coconut curry, mmmm. We took a detour on the way home to stroll through the red-light district, where apparently there are guided tours. I suppose that is obvious, but it is a pretty funny sight: one tour leader showing off a window full of spiffy condoms or elaborate dildos to 10 some odd pot-bellied tourists donning cameras and hats and, yes, even Hawaiian T-shirts.

Museums here are amazing, though overfull. I think the only way to enjoy them is to take the audio tours. The stories they give, for example, of Van Gogh's life and the history surrounding certain works whisk you up out of the crowd. Informative and moving, the audio slows you down so you can enjoy each piece a little more, with less sensitivity to the big heads that inevitably and frequently block your view.

Learning to swim

It's summer and it's Monday. Today was my last day running on the Black Sea shore, Samsun-side. It was my most quiet run since I've been here (at least three weeks?). The water, like glass. Not even the tiniest beginning of a wave. The high tide pushed me further up onto the sand, which was stained with seaweed and milky blobs of jellyfish.

The kids are out of school and many people are out of work, so enjoying the beach before the high sun at noon seems to be the best plan. Blond girls sunbathe. Grandparents watch their grandkids play in the sand. Dads teach their sons how to swim. Hardly anybody is in the water, because it's Monday and the beach isn't near as packed as it is on the weekends. In the sea are some young boys playing with beach toys, toddlers with neon-colored arm floaties, old men with hair backs, and a little futher out, the dads teaching their sons swim. No matter what part of the beach I run on, there is a dad out there with his crying child. Trying to get that kid to swim. The kids yell for their mothers and say they don't like it. Every scene is the same: the dad laughing slightly, saying come on, come on, just try it one more time.

A side note on languages. When I was thinking about the absurdly waveless see, I thought, "Nothing to wave hola to." And then I thought how in English the word for the ocean's waves and the act of waving hello or goodbye is the same. In Spanish, ocean waves are olas. And hello is hola. Our languages seem to point to wanting some sort of interaction with our environment. An ebb and flow kinda thing. End side note.

Afghans in Turkey

I have plotted my next adventure. In a couple of days, I leave for Istanbul and then off to Holland to visit a friend, Marjan, who I first met in Patagonia. I hope to see another couple of scattered-about Dutch friends while I am there as well, if it works out. The ticket there was an amazing 4 Euros + minimal taxes. Super.

It will be good to be on the move again. I enjoyed settling down for a bit at Serkan's parents' house, but I've also found it difficult to develop my routine. Some element of weirdness is to be expected, since we can't really communicate with each other. (It's been good for my Turkish. I still can't really speak, but I do understand more than when I started.) Plus I have officially spent more consecutive days in Samsun than Serkan has since he first left when he was 18. I've just spent a beautiful day with his mom and his brother's family. I still have the kids voices ringing in my ears. It's funny, but I can tell already that I will miss them.

This set up where I live with my sweetheart's family with whom I can hardly communicate while he is away has been quite the experiment. There's been a psychologically interesting part, mainly what's triggered when I start tiptoeing inside someone else's world. (The bastard question marks dangle their feet: "someone else's world?" "tiptoeing?" Though I am a master tiptoer, it's still kind of uncomfortable. My discomfort has only to do with me--nothing to do with anybody else (of course). Everyone has been crazy welcoming. In fact, I've received so many gifts, there's no way we can bring everything back with us to Patagonia. Some gifts are too precious, like the handstitched body scrubber from Serkan's mom. She crochets these amazing, exfoliating, super sudsy foaming wash cloths for the whole family. Her son-in-law loves his so much: To make sure nobody else uses it, after he bathes he stores the washrag in the pocket of his robe, you know, for safe keeping. Each rag could be one square in an afghan. Someday I think we should unite all the cloths into a hodgepodge family heirloom. Would that be gross?

Anyway, yeah, the discomfort is a mini psychic trigger for me. It has to do with revisiting childhood roles. We all have them, and they are, for the most part, bad habits meant to be tamed or flat out broken. Otherwise we end up playing out our Oedipal disasters in our adult relationships, and who wants that?

My role was that of the anemic tiptoer. Invisible bullet dodger. Mostly nobody even knew that I was anemic or that there were bullets to dodge. I have, I hope, sloughed off that kid identity. But it crops up again sometimes, especially in uncomfortable situations where I feel trapped in "somebody else's" world. Part of me refuses to enter that world and part of my is utterly incapacitated by it. Stuck inside, forever outside. There's something so familiar about this kind of discomfort, which dusts off the little girl in me. She says: Time to blow this popstand.

My zen side says, "You are not your past. You are not your identity. You are not a you or an I. You are light and love and one... just like everybody else. In which case there are no human separations. Your ego mind is creating these separations to keep itself in power, in control and in tact. Om. [white space] My literature side is intrigued by the idea of identity and identities and could write essays on the subject, has written essays on the subject. My therapy side says to turn the rock over in my hand until it becomes glossy from the grip. Crack open the stone, come to terms with it, understand its guts and its voices, listen to each and reunite them. [Time-is-up-buzz of the 50-minute alarm] My writer side says, "Ummm. OK. I am just going to Amsterdam and it's really not that big of a deal." My crafty side says to make a hodgepodge afghan outta this.

Understanding noises

I sit on a balcony about seven stories above the noisy street. Birdsong and saws, car alarms and hammering, motorcycles, diesel vehicles, horn honking and dropped metal tools. Occasional hollaring and calls to prayer over the loudspeakers.

Beside me is a 1930s radio, which Serkan's father found and repaired a decade or so ago. The station dial has numbered frequencies, but it also lists locations all over Europe, a bit of the Middle East and northern Africa. I keep it ever on the station closest to Moskva/Moscow. The music is crazily varied, but mostly it plays jazz, big band, some blues and classical. Old music melodying out of the old speakers puts the radio to best use, at least it seems more authentic to me.

The music splashes out of its borders sometimes. Earlier this morning: Shakira, Turkish pop songs, Like a Virgin and Pet Shop Boys. Then some Sunday morning music for the kids, some choir songs and now a little opera. Friday and Saturday nights are my favorite, mostly blues and big band tunes, which remind me of one of my favorite radio shows back home. Crazy 'Bout the Blues hosted that sexy-voiced diva, Kathleen Lawton.

Now a circumcision party is parading by below. 'Tis the season for circumcision. The young boys (usually between 6-9 years old) dress up royally in white sultan-like suits with gold embroidery, crowned by fancy white hats. People here seem to hire the same red classic Mustang convertible for the parade. The boy stands up in the convertible and waves at passersby, while a line of balloon-adorned cars trails him, honking. The caboose always seems to be a pickup with three old men drumming in its bed. I wonder if they are hired too. The procession and happy boy waving is, I imagine, pre-circumcision.

I am still in Samsun. Serkan found work a few hours away, damn dam construction, dangling down a canyon on a thin cord in sweltering heat and knocking out the loose rock. There's really no way for us to be together for the next month or so. We had spent pretty much every minute together since April, which is just insane if you think about it. It's good to have a break, I tell myself, but mostly it is strange to be separated.

The idea was for me to set up shop at his parents' house, catch some solitude, run, write and so on. I've been wanting to settle down for a while and enjoy some semblance of a routine. His folks were planning to leave to "the village" for a month or so to tend the hazelnut fields. But plans change, as plans do. His dad never left and his mom is returning in a few days. So, with solitude not so solo, I am also mapping out a temporary escape. I have to hop the border anyway to renew my tourist visa.

In the meantime, I am enjoying theatrical conversations with Baba (papa). We seem to understand each other. He has the most creative ways of explaining things, using utensils or maps or pictures, and a whole lotta gestures. I can't say much, though I'm speaking more and more... as usual, my shyness decreasing over time. Mostly my end of the conversations consists of evet evet, çok güzel, iyi and other non-word sounds. (Yes yes, very pretty/nice/beautiful/etc., good.) All very positive as you can see.

Travel or Did you find what you were looking for?

Travel is a funny concept. The whys behind it. Some people travel to check continents and countries off their list, some to increase the percentage of the world they've visited for Facebook applications. Others skip off to sunny resort spots for week-long beach vacations spent mostly by the hotel pool. For some travel is a bug, an addiction. I can't say what the addiction is exactly. It's exciting, it's constant learning, expansion and the chance to test yourself a bit, in total immersion. That little thrill you get when you fly up and away, watching the city shrink below. Your mundane problems shrinking with the city. Or when you hop on a bus, leaving town A and headed to town B; those moments between places tend to grace us with extreme aliveness. That odd joy I experience on buses is reason enough for me to travel. It feels like sticking your head out the window of a car at high speed. For a moment there's too much air to take in so that you can hardly breathe, and then you do breathe, deep, full, exhilarating breaths.

This morning I was wondering, as I occasionally do, what my family and close friends must think of me sometimes. There's Heather off to another country, trying to learn another language... For what? Even if nobody else wonders, I guess I do. In Puerto Natales, there's a pretty hefty community of expats, and we are all a little nutty. Maybe everyone who lands somewhere else is either running away from something or searching for something. Before I left the States, over two years ago now, many friends said: I hope you find what you are looking for. Someone even asked me recently if I had found what I was looking for. I can't say that I've been searching for something in particular, and even if I was, I still haven't the foggiest idea of what that thing might be.

What I have found is that everything we need, we already have. There's nothing magical to discover. Maybe just a slight flip in perspective. Instead of outside, look inside. That's the stuff of enlightened beings at least. Since I am not one of those, I have to settle for vacillating. When I notice I'm looking in the wrong direction, I try to refocus. Focusing on the 'right' thing is a constant struggle of course. (Meditation helps a lot, but first you have to meditate regularly, which is also aided by a settling down of sorts.) I certainly didn't have to travel at all to come to these probably obvious realizations.

While abroad I found some things outside myself, as well, like the love of my life. So, I feel pretty darn lucky, since it was highly unlikely we would have met if I stayed in California. Who believes in destiny? :) Of course it's pretty unlikely that we met in the deep dark south of South America, too, since I'm from North America and he's from Turkey. I certainly wasn't looking for love, especially not in Puerto Natales. Now here I am in Turkey, on the road again, not settling down as planned. Travel is a funny concept and life a green live thing, as a frog or a blade of grass.

Samsun, Turkey

I'm where the mosque is loud and the new apartment construction relentless. Mornings--since I'm up anyway with the morning call to prayer or the early hammering--I 've begun to run warm and barefoot on the beach by the Black Sea between two large rivers (one named Red River, one named Green River). The rivers empty their underpinnings into the Black Sea, mixing eventually and coloring this part of the sea a kelpy brown. Yesterday the jellyfish swarmed in, looking not mystical at all, but more like spent condoms tossed to sea, and throbbing. Today, Saturday, only plastic bags and winged black ants bobbed near shore on the nods of waves.

On the shore the men yell hoarsely shouldering their hot simits for sale. "Çok sicak! Çok sicak!" (Very hot! Very hot!). The refrain echoes the small waves curling in from the sea. His voice ebbs and flows as he distances himself and boomerangs back again, back and forth on the beach for hours walking the damp, cool part of the sand. Simits are thinly rolled out rings of bread, covered in sesame seeds and baked. Whether the bearer of simits is hotly yelling about the weather or about his pretzel-like snacks is unclear. By midday the hottest part of the beach is the sand underfoot. Although the sun-warmed simits may be mildly calid.

I am becoming a fan of sesame seeds, slightly roasted. And of hazelnuts, also slightly roasted. And feta cheese, known simply as "white cheese." White cheese comes in all kinds of flavors, with varying levels of salination, underground aging and fat content. And olives, delicious black olives, slightly wrinkled. I've been bracing myself against the moment where I tire of eating olives, where I OD, so to speak, but it hasn't happened yet, and I don't think I've gone a day without munching on at least five drops of black gold.


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